If you’ve seen Prey already – and if you haven’t, then what are you doing? It’s on Disney+ right now – then you’ll know that Amber Midthunder is an absolute force of nature. Not just anyone can take on cinema’s most notorious hunter and emerge with their spine still attached to the rest of their body – and as Naru, as Native American woman who wants to become a great hunter in her own right, Midthunder proves she’s more than up to the test in Dan Trachtenberg’s Predator prequel.
What’s more formidable than the Predator, then? How about taking on an Empire Podcast interview – tackling laser-sighted questions about meeting the Predator for the first time on set, shooting on indigenous reserve land in Canada, and the alternate path that almost led Midthunder to become an MMA fighter. Listen to the full interview here, and read the edited highlights below.
EMPIRE: Was it always meant to be, that you’d be an actor? Was there any other path in your life?
Amber Midthunder: Yeah, definitely. I actually at one point thought I was gonna be a professional MMA fighter.
Really? How does that work?
People often are like, 'Oh yeah, your parents [are actors]… that makes sense.' But like, no. Really, I feel like they suggested every other thing to me, and they just kind of sat on the secret of what they do. My parents worked out at a gym, and there was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and MMA. I started doing the kids classes, and I was really bad at it – and then I got my first belt-stripe and like, I don't know what happened, but it lit a fire in me, and I all of a sudden got really good. I think I finally just really felt like there was something worth investing it. I got really into it, and I spent a lot of time doing it, and I started teaching kids classes. I did it for years. And then, because it was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu just for kids but adults did MMA, I would go to amateur and pro MMA fights with the people at the gym. And I was like, 'Oh, this will probably be my future.'
It all came in handy, then, for Prey?
Yeah, it did. So all that to say that, no, this was not obvious. I think knowing my personality, it was kind of obvious – because playing pretend was just my favourite thing in the world. When I was really little and my dad would get auditions, I would memorise all of his scenes, just for fun. I loved exercising my ability to memorise stuff. I was just a nerdy kid, I guess. And I would memorise my favourite TV shows and just repeat them over and over again. So if you look at that, you're like, 'Oh yeah, it seems obvious.' But no, there was a bunch of different options. I also was a makeup intern for a long time, and I thought I was gonna do makeup. All kinds of different things. I did a few small parts when I was a kid, but really searched every kind of other thing. And then when I was 17 I decided, 'Oh, no, I'm gonna move to LA and act.'
Eventually somebody told me, quite close to the last audition, "Oh, this is a Predator movie".
Prey was a very secretive movie – how secretive was it during the audition process? Did you know what you were going up for?
I knew that it was a film only about a young Comanche woman who wanted to be a hunter, and I don't even know if I knew the exact time period. I don't know if that was decided at the time, or if I had that information. But I only had two scenes. It was a scene between me and Naru's mom Aruka in the tipi, who's now played by Michelle Thrush. And then Dakota Beavers' character Taabe, another scene of them by the fire. Those two scenes are still in the movie – very, very different now than when I had originally read them, but they stayed the same for a long time. That was in February of 2020. And then it disappeared because of COVID and then came back. I heard about it, and I was like, “What is that movie?” Because it had been gone for so long, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that one! The Comanche one that I know nothing about!” And then it started again, and eventually somebody told me, quite close to the last audition, “Oh, this is a Predator movie.” And I was like, “What? Oh, my God! How's that gonna work?”, and went through all the questions that everybody, I think, has cycled through. “What? How would that..? What is that gonna look like? What does that mean?” I went through all those things, and then read the script, and then I understood.
The Predator is such a huge part of pop culture, but the first movie came out around 10 years before you were born. Growing up, was it a big thing for you, or something that you were vaguely aware of in the background?
I would say door number two [laughs]. I’ve been saying this with pride, but I realise now it's kind of embarrassing, I was aware of it more in a pop culture sense. But it is I think, solidified in how iconic it is that lines from Predator get used in other movies now, so often, or it's in memes or just references and jokes constantly. It's so embedded into stuff. I was obviously aware of Predator, but I didn't know how much of it I actually was familiar with until really sitting down and watching them, which was really fun.
This is not a movie in which you can say, ‘Get to the chopper!’ But people are going to take lines of dialogue from this film.
Dan said that there were a lot of jokes floating around of like, “Haha, chop-her”, or whatever. I don't think he ever seriously considered that. That's how he tried to tell me that I had the job. He FaceTimed me, and there was a lot of stress around this FaceTime – I had somebody call me and they were like, “You're gonna get a call from a number, pick it up!” And I was like, “What are you talking about?” So I was very stressed out. I got a call from a random number, and it was Dan, and I was like, this is either gonna go good or bad. And he was like, “If you had to go somewhere, but you couldn't go by land or sea, if you had to get somewhere by air, what would you do?” So, I said, “Hang-glider”. He was like, “No, it has an engine.” And I was like, “Oh, hot air balloon?” Which, immediately, I knew didn’t have an engine. He was like, ‘No, you’re supposed to say, get to the chopper!’” I was like, “Argh, I’ve failed!” So, not quite what he had in mind, but that was how he told me, via an iconic line that I should have known. He did a similar thing to Dakota, and he also failed the riddle, so it’s not like one of us was the one who got it wrong. We both didn’t get it right!
I saw the Predator, and I literally go, "Oh, I could take it, no problem."
Did you guys have a group viewing of that movie?
We should have done that! No. We all stayed in the same hotel, me and Dakota and all the boys, and eventually, the trappers and stuff. At one point, we all had a movie night and I think we watched Alien Vs Predator, because we had all seen Predator. So we were trying to work our way- there wasn't really a structure. We should have done it like that.
So you’re in a hotel when the movie’s being shot, you’re not out there in the wild?
I mean, we slept in a hotel at night. Mostly I slept in a car, because we were very far away from the hotel, so I would get up in the morning and sleep in the van. We were out in all kinds of different parts of the wilderness, outside and around Calgary in Alberta, Canada. My favourite was, we were shooting on Stoney Nakoda reserve land, and I am Nakoda myself. I'm not Stoney Nakoda, but they're related. I grew up around Southwestern tribes, so it was cool to be in an area where there were people who had a similar culture to me. That whole environment was really neat.
That aspect of the movie must mean so much to you, the fact that it’s so focused on the Native American experience.
Yeah, absolutely, for a number of reasons. But even my personal experience of making the movie – I've never done a period piece before, and I've never worked with a large indigenous cast before. We started shooting all the Comanche camp stuff, so just to come to work for the first time and be in my outfit and see everybody like that, and in the landscape, and there are tipis and stuff, it just was very moving to have that experience. And then just also very comfortable to be around so many other native people. There was an internship program and so there were native crew, and that was cool, too. So I've never been around that many native people at work, and that was just very, very special.
Did that make it easier for you to plug into Naru’s journey? It’s very much about her wishing to be seen, and to be recognised as a person in her own right.
It changed the environment for me, just as a whole, having that experience of spending that time up north. I’m sure it had no option other than to bleed into what was happening. It was a very serendipitous way that we shot the movie, aside from the fact that the first scene we almost shot was the very end. We almost shot the last scene first, but we ended up shooting the last scene in week two or something, which still felt wild. But aside from that, we started with the Comanche camp and then we moved into a lot of solo stuff and Trapper stuff, and then we got into the Predator stuff. Even just that followed the feeling of, she's at the camp and she's with everyone, and then she journeys off and goes by herself. Even that just felt honest to the movie.
At what point does the Predator enter the shoot, and what’s that experience?
I saw him for the first time by accident. There was some sort of show-and-tell or test happening with him out in the woods. I just heard these murmurs and people were walking away, and I was like, what's going on? I saw it, and I literally go, “Oh, I could take it! I could take that, no problem.”
Just sweep the leg.
Sweep the leg, thank you – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu comes back around. It’s not about strength, it’s about leverage. I mean, it’s also probably helpful to do strength to be strong, and I’ve been doing it since high school. But still!
I was just mostly mesmerised by the artistry and the detail of the suit and the head and everything. Because at that time, the mysticism of how it all got onto a person's body, that veil had not been lifted. I just saw a monster in front of me, and I was like, “Wow!” It was so neat, because I'm not acting to a tennis ball on a stick, I'm looking at a real Predator in front of me, you know, with the teeth and the eyes and the skin color. And they put this goop on him that when he touches me, it's gross. It was just all very real. Then I was just very fascinated by it and taking it all in.
Listen to the full interview on the Empire Podcast here – and find new episodes of the show every Friday on your podcast app of choice. Prey is streaming now on Disney+