There’s a lot to be excited for in the latest film from the Predator franchise, Prey. There are many firsts in this fifth installment of the human-hunting alien saga. But there’s one first that few people are aware of. Playing this iconic role came down to one thing: neck strength.
Prey marks the first time where the Predator’s head is animatronic and worn atop the actor's head, rather than worn as a mask. Which means for hundreds of hours on set, it felt like a 15 lb weight was pulling the actor’s head down. That actor is 6’9” former professional basketball player turned monster actor Dane DiLiegro.
“I was essentially acting in this movie blind,” says DiLiegro. “All I could see was the ground through these two tiny holes in the neck.”
Not being able to easily see your fellow actors is hard, but not as hard as dealing with the prolonged pain and discomfort that comes with playing non-human, monster roles as DiLiegro does.
While he has embraced the pain that comes with these roles, the opportunity to play one of the most iconic aliens in cinematic history started as the stunt double on set.
SEIZING THE MOMENT
Three years ago, DiLiegro was preparing for his 9th season of professional basketball when he got a phone call from a casting agency.
“I was the biggest guy they knew and they needed a stand in,” DiLiegro explains. “When I was on set, the stunt coordinator came up to me and said, ‘you’re enormous, you need to play monsters in movies.’ I was like, ‘What? That’s a thing?’”
The stunt coordinator, seeing a monster in DiLiegro (or at least DiLiegro in monsters), explained how difficult and uncomfortable the work is and that you have to be an athlete. DiLiegro also learned that there are only a few guys in the industry who do the majority of this work.
“I pursued it. Came out to L.A. Two weeks later I signed with an agent and booked a Netflix show, Sweet Home, as this mutated bodybuilder monster, and it just took off from there.”
After a few other roles as monsters (and as Alien Overload in Doja Cat’s Get Into It music video), DiLiegro was cast as the Predator stunt double. It wasn’t until the first day on set, when he was given the opportunity of a lifetime.
When the lead Predator began complaining of neck pain and the animatronic head being too heavy, producers were faced with a tough decision.
“They asked me if I wanted it,” DiLiegro says. “I didn’t miss a beat. I jumped in the van in full makeup, and when it stopped I jumped out in full character and never looked back.”
PREDATOR UNDERSTOOD THE ASSIGNMENT
Playing non-human, monster roles is very uncomfortable work.
“I think the all encompassing word is uncomfortable,” says DiLiegro. “When you are in these costumes you are denied comfort. It’s hot, claustrophobic, restricting, absurdly heavy, and it gets sweatier and hotter throughout the day, and you’re in it for 16 hours.”
For DiLiegro’s Muscle Monster in Sweet Home, his latex suite weighed 75 pounds, that by the end of the day would be filled with an additional 10 pounds of sweat.
“It’s terrible, awful, painful work,” DiLiegro explains. “You really have to focus and have your breathing down and just own it. And I love it. I love the pain. I love the discomfort. I live in that and that’s where I reign supreme.”
TRAINING A MONSTER’S NECK
DiLiegro’s ability to withstand the constant weight atop his head is something that he anticipated and prepared for.
“I knew that to be successful as a creature actor, I need to have a strong, functional neck,” says DiLiegro. “I was researching neck strengthening and then heard Joe Rogan talk about Iron Neck on his podcast, so I gave Iron Neck a shot.”
Iron Neck is an innovative neck strengthening device that is used for treating neck pain, improving posture, and reducing injury risk. What’s unique about Iron Neck is that it allows users to build strength and improve postural stability across 360 degrees, an aspect DiLiegro leaned on heavily in preparing for this role.
“With Predator, I had to look at the ground for this entire role,” DiLiegro shares. “So I would anchor the elastic band under my door, which would pull my head and neck down and do the exercises like that, as opposed to having it setup with the band lateral.”
Prey was filmed in Alberta, Canada in early 2021, which required DiLiegro to quarantine for two weeks.
“I didn’t have much else to do those two weeks of quarantine than exercise and play video games, so I was putting in overtime with my Iron Neck. I don’t think I would’ve made it through Predator if I didn’t have it. It was extremely physically trying.”
MOVING LIKE A MONSTER
Supporting a 15 lb alien head atop his head for hours a day wasn’t the only benefit DiLiegro found from using Iron Neck. Throughout filming, DiLiegro discovered how he could replicate the movements of the Predator with Iron Neck on to make his movements appear more alien.
“The further away you get from the human, the more difficult it is,” says DiLiegro. “When you’re wearing something so heavy, you have to do more with your movements so that it translates on camera. Does his head turn first and then his body? Does his body turn first and then his head? I played around with turning my body and then whipping my neck around and looking up and down. The more range of motion I gained, the more I felt I could bring my creature to life.”
For DiLiegro, the Predator’s movement is about more than just creating a realistic portrayal. For an actor with no lines in a movie, movement is everything.
“When a character is non-verbal, I need to tell their story through movement,” says DiLiegro. “And my movement has to be so much more on point than every other character in the movie, because they speak, they can tell a story through words. I can’t do that.”
The journey between human and non-human is one that DiLiegro is becoming more of an expert on. While plenty of actors get their big breaks, the ones that take advantage of those opportunities are the ones who were best prepared for the weight on their shoulders. In DiLiegro’s case, he shouldered the weight on his neck.
Don’t miss the opportunity to catch DiLiegro’s out-of-this-world performance as Predator in Prey, streaming on Hulu and Disney+ on August 5th, 2022.