Jean-Claude Van Damme and the Predator. Their history is short-lived and one that is filled with many different stories as to why JCVD left the film. But a recently published photo (thank you Marvelous Videos) shows what could have been if Van Damme actually continued on with the movie.
As you can see,Jean-Claude Van Damme’s version resembles nothing like the iconic version fans have come to know and love. When Jean-Claude Van Damme was brought in to play the Predator in 1987, he was still a virtual unknown. The only thing of note that he appeared in was as a Russian heavy in the 1986 martial arts film No Retreat, No Surrender and that’s not saying much. But what he had was what casting director Jackie Burch said they were looking for.
“Jean-Claude Van Damme was someone who used to constantly come into my office, jumping up in the air, showing me his moves, begging me for work,” she told The Hollywood Reporter. “So finally I said to Joel, ‘He’d be great as the Predator because no one moves like him.’ I mean he really is quite amazing.”
It was those moves that also impressed producer Joel Silver, who was putting together the Arnold Schwarzenegger-led blockbuster. According to Jean-Claude Van Damme via an interview on Heat Vision Breakdown, “They made me run around the studio and I jumped like a dancer,” Van Damme says. “[They said], ‘This guy can jump very high.’ ‘Yes. He’s in.’”
From there, though, things went from bad to worse for JVCD. He was fit in a full-body cast, much to his dislike. Jean-Claude Van Damme says the process was a horrible experience. It was hot and his face was covered. They ended up putting a tube in his mouth so he could breathe and even that almost didn’t work for the diminutive action star.
“I like to breathe — and they’re gonna do my head and everything,” Van Damme recalls. “They put in my mouth like a tube [to breathe through]. I was covered in that cast for at least 20 minutes. It was boiling hot. My friend told me, ‘If you cannot breathe, just [wiggle] your finger and I’ll pull that stuff away from you.’ And I did it. I started to panic. And they go, ‘No! Five more minutes!’”
Jean-Claude Van Damme eventually got through those final horrific five minutes but when it came time to actually wear the Predator costume, it was worse than he imagined. JVCD recalls that his feet were located in the costume’s calves, so he was standing on stilts. His head was in the Predator’s neck, so his face was covered, and he couldn’t see. On top of all this, filming was taking place in the jungle, where temperatures reached 100 degrees. Not good in a rubber suit.
For Jean-Claude Van Damme, his decision to walk away (his version of the story) came when Silver asked him to jump in the suit. Knowing it would be a dangerous stunt, Van Damme recalls telling Silver, ‘This is impossible, Joel. I think we’re gonna have a problem.’”
From there, Van Damme says the suit was redesigned, and with that came his firing. Stan Winston redesigned the suit and actor Kevin Peter Hall, all seven-foot-three-inches of him filled the new costume. Beau Marks, the first assistant director on the film, recalls, “And when we went back to redesign it, we went to Stan Winston. And Stan decided that the way to do the suit is to start with the tallest, biggest guy he could find, not someone who was the agile mover that Jean-Claude Van Damme was.”
Stan Winston was the biggest name in creature design at the time. He turned what looked like a starving rat into the masterpiece that became Predator. Winston’s credits include The Terminator, Edward Scissorhands, Alien Nation, The Monster Squad, and even Predator 2. These are only a few of his wonderful works.
While Jean-Claude Van Damme says his dismissal was due to the reconfiguring of the costume, there have been other “accounts” of his firing. According to The Hollywood Reporters‘ oral history of Predator, there were at least six different versions. There was the “He complained too much” version, the “He broke the creatures head” version, the “He was too short” version, the “Fox hated the original creature and Jean-Claude Van Damme was collateral damage”, the “He passed out too many times” version and the infamous “Creative differences between he and Silver” version.
Take your pick, there is sure to be truth in some of those versions. Maybe JCVD’s version is the true one. Regardless, fate stepped in somehow, someway and while Jean-Claude Van Damme went on to bigger and better things, the final result that fans got with Winston’s Predator redo was for the best.
You can watch Jean-Claude Van Damme’s interview here where he discusses career rumors as well as talks about his time in the Predator costume.