Dan Trachtenberg’s Prey is unlike the usual Predator films we’ve seen in the past, where a soldier of fortune faces down an alpha-predator alien hunting other alphas to add to their trophy collection. Instead, “Prey” takes audiences to a time when Naru (Amber Midthunder) longs to be a hunter like her older brother Taabe (Dakota Beavers). Tired of living in the shadow of the hunters in her tribe, Naru seeks out an alpha predator that would help earn the people’s respect. However, the prey she stalks and ultimately confronts turns out to be a highly evolved alien predator with a technically advanced arsenal, resulting in a vicious and terrifying showdown between the two adversaries.
ThatsItLA joined their fellow journalists to talk to Amber Midthunder and Dakota Beavers at the Prey virtual press conference just days before the film’s premiere at the San Diego Comic-Con.
“Prey” marks the acting debut of Beavers, who always wanted to act but believed it wasn’t in the cards because he didn’t know anybody in the business. Instead, I was playing music and doing my thing,” Beavers said about his life before making the film. “And then I got an email that said, ‘hey, I want you to audition for this small part in this movie?’ And I was like, ‘okay.’ And long story short, it ended up being this show. And I don’t know why they hired me. But I’m forever happy that they did.”
“I learned so much. I mean, these guys, I mean, every one of these guys was fantastic helping me just knowing what things mean. I mean, I honestly didn’t even know what Dan and Jhane did,” Beavers added. “And but they were just so kind and good to me. And now I want to do it forever because I enjoyed the crap out of it.”
“Ah, it was absolutely mental, man. I didn’t even know what it was until I went there and did the audition, the screen test, or whatever,” Dakota recalled. “And I had seen the first one. And I thought it was, you know, wicked, but I hadn’t watched it habitually.”
While getting the role was a massive milestone for the actor, Dakota says he was afraid to watch the originals because he didn’t want to psych himself out.
Midthunder had a similar auditioning process where she went in for the film but did not hear anything back until much later. The actor didn’t know she had auditioned for a “Predator” film until someone else told her about it. She even admitted that she cried after she learned about it. “It wasn’t even like good tears. It was like scary,” she said. “It was like scared tears.”
“When I read the script for the first time, I remember reading like 30 straight pages of action,” Midthunder said of filming on set in Canada. “I was like, how long is this? And still, somehow, I didn’t realize what that would actually feel like in your body when you’re there, all of us together.
“’Cause, you know, we were up in Canada for six months. The country was closed. It was COVID. So, our families couldn’t come. So, it was just like us and each other,” Midthunder added. “I think the COVID element and the system that creates with everybody who was giving so much to make this movie is something I could never have expected.”
Another thing that the two actors didn’t expect was how physical the film would be. “The movie was, I would say, entirely physical. We did a four-week Boot Camp, Dakota and I, and the other boys in the movie all did a four-week camp before we started shooting,” Midthunder said. “And it had, I mean, like, weapons training. So you know, Comanche-style archery, spears, tomahawks.”
“For me, probably the scariest thing was the river. Because the idea of live water it’s both very exciting to me and also terrifying. And it was summertime, but it was glacial runoff water. So it was so cold,” Midthunder added. “So for five days, I would wake up and be like, ice bath. Like before I got in, I was watching it. I was just like filled with anxiety. But it ended up, you know, being pretty cool.”
“Yeah, it was wicked. I got to, yeah, luckily, I told Steven McMichael, the stunt guy, I wanted to do all my own stunts if I could. And thank goodness, he let me,” Beavers said. “So just the working out and for me the horse riding, that was just the best thing ever. So I got to ride horses a lot. And it was 10 out of 10.”
A lot of the physicality played a role in how the characters were portrayed on screen. And because “Prey” is set 300 years before our present day, the film had to be authentic in its weaponry and fight choreography. “If you look at it historically, that’s all indigenous people had, especially at this time period,” Midthunder said. “We didn’t adapt to using weapons like that have firepower until pretty deep into colonization. So going way back, we’ve always been quite a, like, resourceful people, whether that’s like, through strategy or weapons.”
Prey breaks barriers in other ways than just its cast. It is also the first film to be dubbed entirely in Comanche. Though Midthunder and Beavers would have loved to have filmed it in the Comanche language, the two are proud that they have the opportunity to share this language with the world.
“They gave me this full script of Comanche. And I was like, ‘dang!’ But I just went for it, man. And I just, I loved the crap out of it. And I think it would have been awesome to shoot entirely in Comanche,” Beavers said. “But I’m so happy that we got to dub it in Comanche, which we got all the original actors to do themselves, which you don’t normally get to do. So that was just wicked fun. And to have that for the preservation of the language, so kids can go back and watch it in the future. And it’ll be something fun that they can use to learn the language. So I think it was awesome.
“Yeah, this is the first time upon release that a film will be released in a native language. Like other movies, ‘Star Wars’ and ‘Finding Nemo’ have gone back, and they’ve been dubbed in Navajo. But this is the first time that on-release a film is being released in a native language which is cool.” Midthunder said. “It’s the native language of the people in the film. And it’s cool for also visibility, you know, like, I think something so important is everybody wants to feel like they have something to relate to, everybody wants to feel like they have something where they feel seen.”
Midthunder saw firsthand what kind of impact representation can have on its audience when she shared a cut of the film with producer Jhane Myers’ community. “Having that visibility of having people be able to say like, ‘oh, I hear that in my house all the time,’ that word or this phrase. Or, like, ‘yeah, I see these faces. And that looks like me, or that looks like the people I grew up with.’ Like for our community, that’s huge,” she said.
As for filming “Prey” with Coco, the four-legged co-star, that was a little bit of a challenge. But one that the cast and crew couldn’t handle. “You know, I love that dog with my whole heart and soul. It was rough,” Midthunder said. “This dog, I don’t know where she came from. They got her like two months before this movie. And she had so much energy.”
“So much of Coco being around was her like, running wild, and doing laps and like just so excited to see everybody all the time. So like for me personally, she was a dream,” Midthunder added. “For like making a movie, you know, the character of Saari is very different from the character of Coco, and that shows what a good filmmaker Dan [Trachtenberg] is.”
And it was a surreal moment for the cast when it came to filming opposite Dane DiLiegro, who played the Predator nicknamed Feral. The character’s design had a practical feel to it, which made the performances that much better. “For me, the first time because you see this six-eight, dude, you know, in the suit. And he’s all decked out. And they got stuff sprayed all over him, so it looks real. And he’s walking through the fog. And you’re like, holy crap, this is good,” Beavers said.
“It was very cool,” Midthunder described. The actor recalled how she heard about DiLiegro being on set in character somewhere deep in the forest of Canada. “And I saw little pieces and then kind of the whole thing. And it was just like you see it so much in the movies. They’re like, ‘I know what the Predator looks like,’” she added. “And then you see it in front of you. And I think I immediately said to somebody,’ I could take that.’ Like it was like some weird visceral response. I was like, ‘I can kill it.’
“Prey’ opens in theaters on August 5, 2022.