Prey’s Amber Midthunder Talks MMA, Native American Culture & Meeting The Predator | Movies
If you saw Prey already – and if not, what do you do? It’s on Disney+ right now – so you’ll know Amber Midthunder is an absolute force of nature. Not just anyone can take on cinema’s most notorious hunter and walk away with their spine still attached to the rest of their body – and as Naru, as a Native American woman who wants to become a great hunter in her own right , Midthunder proves she’s more than up to the test at Dan Trachtenberg Predator prequel.
What could be more formidable than the Predator, then? How about taking a Empire Podcast interview — tackling laser-sighted questions about meeting the Predator for the first time on set, filming on native reservation land in Canada, and the alternate path that almost led to Midthunder becoming an MMA fighter. Listen to the full interview here and read the edited highlights below.
EMPIRE: Was it always planned for you to be an actor? Has there been another path in your life?
Amber Midthunder: Yeah absolutely. In fact, at one point I thought I was going to be a professional MMA fighter.
Oh good? How it works?
People are often like, ‘Oh yeah, your parents [are actors]…it makes sense.’ But like, no. Really, I feel like they suggested all the other things to me, and they kind of sat on the secret of what they do. My parents trained in 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 band and like, I don’t know what happened, but it lit a fire in me, and all of a sudden I got very well. I think I finally really felt there was something worth investing in. I actually went there and spent a lot of time doing it, and started teaching the kids. I did for years. And then, because it was Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu just for kids but adults were doing MMA, I was going to amateur and pro MMA fights with people in the gym. And I was like, ‘Oh, this will probably be my future.’
Everything became useful, then, for Prey?
Yeah, it did. So all that to say no, it wasn’t easy. I think knowing my personality, it was pretty obvious – because pretend play was just my favorite thing in the world. When I was very young and my father was auditioning, I memorized all his scenes, just for fun. I loved exercising my ability to memorize things. I was just a nerdy kid, I guess. And I would memorize my favorite TV shows and repeat them over and over. So if you look at that, you’re like, “Oh yeah, that seems obvious.” But no, there were a bunch of different options. I was also a makeup trainee for a long time, and I thought I was going to do makeup. All kinds of different things. I did a few small parts when I was a kid, but I really researched all kinds of other things. And then, when I was 17, I decided, “Oh, no, I’m going to move to LA and play.”
Eventually someone said to me, pretty close to the last audition, “Oh, that’s a Predator film”.
Prey was a top secret movie – how secret was it during the audition process? Did you know why you were riding?
I knew it was a movie just about a young Comanche who wanted to be a hunter, and I don’t even know if I knew the exact time period. I don’t know if it 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 mother, Aruka, in the teepee, which is 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 originally read them, but they stayed the same for a long time. It was February 2020. And then it disappeared due to COVID, then came back. I heard about it and I said to myself: “What is this film?” Because he was gone for so long, and I was like, “Oh, yeah, yeah, that one! The Comanche I know nothing about! And then it started again, and finally someone said to me, pretty close to the last audition, “Oh, that’s a Predator movie.” And I was like, “What? Oh my God! How’s it going to work?”, and I went through all the questions that I think everyone has asked. “What? What… ? What will it look like? What does that mean?” I went through all these things, then I read the script, then I got it.
The Predator is a huge part of pop culture, but the first movie came out about 10 years before you were born. Growing up, was that a big thing for you, or something that you were vaguely aware of in the background?
I would say door number two [laughs]. I said it with pride, but I realize now that it’s a bit embarrassing, I was more aware of it in a pop culture sense. But it’s I think, solidified in the way it’s iconic that the lines of Predator get used to other movies now, so often, or it’s in memes or just constant references and jokes. It’s so integrated into the stuff. I was obviously aware Predatorbut I didn’t realize how well I knew them until I actually sat down and watched them, which was really fun.
It’s not a movie where you can say, “Get in the chopper!” But people are going to take lines of dialogue from this movie.
Dan said there were a lot of jokes going around like “Haha, chop-his“, or whatever. I don’t think he ever seriously considered that. That’s how he tried to tell me I had the job. He FaceTimed me, and there had a lot of stress around this FaceTime – I had someone call me and they were like, “You’re going to get a call from a number, answer it!” And I was like, “What are you talking about? So I was really stressed. I got a call from a random number, and it was Dan, and I was like, this is going to be good or bad. And he told me said, “If you had to go somewhere, but you couldn’t go by land or sea, if you had to go somewhere by air, what would you do? So I said hang-glider. He was like, “No, it’s got a motor. And I was like, ‘Oh, hot air balloon?’ Which, immediately, I knew it didn’t have a motor. He was like, ‘No, you’re supposed to say, go to the chopper!’” I was like, “Argh, I failed!” So, not quite what he had in mind, but that’s what he told me, via an iconic line I should have known. He did a similar thing to Dakota, and he also failed the riddle, so it’s not like any of us were the ones who got it wrong. We both didn’t quite understand!
I saw the Predator, and I literally thought, “Oh, I could handle it, no problem.”
Did you have a group viewing of this film?
We should have done that! No. We all stayed at the same hotel, me and Dakota and all the boys, and eventually the trappers and all. At some point we all had movie night and I think we watched Alien vs Predatorbecause we had all seen Predator. So we were trying to work in our own way – there wasn’t really a structure. We should have done it like that.
So you’re in a hotel when the film is shot, you’re not there in nature?
I mean, we slept in a hotel at night. Most of the time I slept in a car, because we were very far from the hotel, so I got up in the morning and slept in the van. We were in all kinds of different parts of nature, outside and around Calgary in Alberta, Canada. My favorite was, we were filming on Stoney Nakoda reservation land, and I’m Nakoda myself. I’m no Stoney Nakoda, but they are related. I grew up in the southwest tribes, so it was cool to be in an area where there were people who had a culture similar to mine. This whole environment was really nice.
That aspect of the film must mean so much to you, the fact that it’s so focused on the Native American experience.
Yes, absolutely, for several reasons. But even my personal experience of making the film – I’ve never done a period film before and I’ve never worked with a large indigenous cast before. We started shooting all the Camp Comanche stuff, so just coming to work for the first time and being in my outfit and seeing everyone like that, and in the scenery, and there’s tepees and stuff, that’s was just very moving to have that live. And then also very comfortable being surrounded by so many other natives. There was an internship program and so there was a local team, and that was cool too. So I’ve never worked with so many natives at work, and it was very, very special.
Did it make it easier for you to connect with Naru’s journey? For her, it’s about wanting to be seen and to be recognized as a person in her own right.
It’s changed the environment for me, overall, to have this experience of spending this time in the North. I’m sure he had no choice but to bleed into what was happening. We shot the movie in a very serendipitous way, other than 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 of week two or something, which still felt wild. But other than that, we started with the Comanche camp, 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 camp and she’s with everyone, and then she goes and goes on her own. Even that just felt fair to the movie.
When does the Predator enter filming, and what is that experience like?
I saw it for the first time by chance. There was some kind of show-and-tell or test going on with him in the woods. I just heard these whispers and people walking away, and I was like, what’s going on? I saw it, and I literally thought, “Oh, I could handle it! I could take that, no problem.
Just sweep the leg.
Sweep the leg, thank you – Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu returns. It’s not about strength, it’s about leverage. I mean, it’s also probably about strength training to be strong, and I’ve been doing that since high school. But stay!
I was mostly mesmerized by the artistry and detail of the costume and the head and everything. Because at that time, the mysticism of how all this happened on a person’s body, that veil had not been lifted. I just saw a monster in front of me and I thought “Wow!” It was so neat, because I’m not playing a tennis ball on a stick, I’m looking at a real Predator in front of me, you know, with teeth and eyes and skin color. And they put this mush on him that when he touches me, it’s disgusting. It was just very real. Then I was just very fascinated by it and figured it all out.
Listen to the full interview on Empire Podcast here – and catch new episodes of the show every Friday on your podcast app of choice. Prey is now streaming on Disney+