The myths that swirl around Jean-Claude Van Damme may not have reached Chuck Norris joke proportions just yet — but they’re closing in fast. And of all the tall tales, conflicting accounts, and internet whispers about the action icon’s career, perhaps none is more mythic than the story of his early departure from Predator.
Like most of the outsized anecdotes that surround anything JCVD touches, the 58-year-old actor’s reason for walking away from Predator is pretty sizzling — sizzlingly hot, that is. According to Van Damme, the Predator stunt suit — the first version, and the one that thankfully never made it to the final cut — was a suffocating, claustrophobic, downright dangerous nightmare.
How bad was it in there? Bad enough for Van Damme to know early in the production that he didn’t want to stick around for hours of on-set downtime in a costume that had him struggling to breathe while trying to do stunts on stilts. Van Damme says he gave it a try but ended up telling director Joel Silver that playing a scaly alien just wasn't in the cards.
“I've got my friend next to me and I said, 'Man, I ain't going to make it,’” he added. When it came time for a stunt shot that required the martial arts star to jump while in costume, Van Damme says he knew playing this kind of man-hunting alien just wasn’t for him.
“When Joel [Silver] asked me to jump, I knew it was going to be a bad one. I said, ‘This is impossible, Joel. I think we're going to have a problem.’ Then he replaced me,” he told THR.
As we found out back in 2014 and higlighted in the video above, Silver scrapped Van Damme’s original Predator costume, along with its weird pink VFX counterpart, and let designer Stan Winston craft the suit that the late Kevin Peter Hall would go on to wear in the first two Predator movies. The second time turned out to be the charm, with Winston’s design helping spawn a franchise that’s still going strong.
While we never got to see JCVD stalk the Governator on the big screen, we’ve finally got Van Damme’s own account of how it all went down. Sure, maybe it was hot in there — but at least Van Damme didn’t have to stand by and take it while Dutch called him an ugly motherf**ker.