By Derek Lawrence
July 17, 2018 at 12:30 PM EDT
Kimberly French/Fox

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Thirty years after starring in Predator, why did Shane Black decide to make The Predator? “I just thought there was some juice there,” shares Black, who believes the franchise has an “uncanny longevity in the zeitgeist.”

The filmmaker behind Iron Man 3 and The Nice Guys returns to his Hollywood roots with his newest film. Before he wrote and directed those films, he appeared in 1987’s Predator as Rick Hawkins, one of the film’s special forces members — and the Predator’s first onscreen victim. Now, three decades later, Black has gone from being killed by the predator to building the ultimate Predator.

In the upcoming film, which stars Boyd Holbrook (Narcos), Sterling K. Brown (This Is Us), and Olivia Munn (X-Men: Apocalypse), the universe’s most lethal hunters return “stronger, faster, and smarter.”

EW chatted with Black about why he dove back into the Predator universe, finding his own cast instead being a part of it, and if there’s room for more films.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Other than your connection to the franchise, why did you want to make The Predator?
SHANE BLACK: I think there was a bit of nostalgia involved. I remember standing in line in Westwood when I was in college and standing next to me was [The Predator co-writer] Fred Dekker as we waited to see the next sci-fi movie or whatnot. I thought that the ’80s was an interesting time. There are very few R-rated movies now, but there were plenty of R-rated thrillers back then. I started feeling old, I turned 56, I thought, “Jesus Christ, did it really go that fast?’ I thought, I just want to get back to that feeling of being a wide-eyed kid with my pal Fred. As silly as that sounds, I thought we could have some fun, it will be a lark. That’s how foolish I was. Because I thought, “Yeah, we can make a Predator movie, it will be a lark.’ [Laughs] Well, a couple years later with visual effects coming in with dribs and drabs and scrambling, it’s like the most work we’ve ever done, but I like the idea of a movie that is a throwback to a time that the first movie captured so much — not just because I was there on set, but because it was a real defining movie, combining the Rambo craze of that era with the sci-fi Alien craze in a way that for some odd reason has endured for 30 years. I just thought that there was juice there. What is it that the Predator inspires in people that seems to be this perennial that booms every few years and just never goes away?

Did being part of the first movie as an actor help you in anyway or was it just a fun fact of trivia that didn’t really matter in the filmmaking process?
I don’t think it played too much of a part except for people would be like, “Oh man, that’s kind of cool that I saw you in that first one.” Very briefly by the way. Mostly, the fun for me, came from assembling another group of guys, and a girl, of course, similar to what we had done in the first movie, but making them different, making them refreshed and sort of updated. To the degree that the first one influenced me, it was just riffing on it. I still want that group of guys, but not so perfected, maybe a little more broken, they have to struggle to regain or capture what they’re good at, as opposed to already being the best in the world.

Can you set the stage for the timeline of the film? What’s the world like in relation to predators when The Predator picks up?
I think what has happened when this movie rolls around and opens is that for years, ever since medieval times if the comics are to be included, predators have been visiting Earth, and there have been incursions, but relatively isolated in ways that have managed to go under the radar or escaped notice or been disbelieved. This current one picks up where the visits from the predators are often enough that now people have actually noticed, to the extent that the military and scientific committee has actually put together a group whose job it is to monitor and keep track of this sort of phenomenon, a kind of watch the skies kind of program that is aware that something is out there that sometimes comes and is waiting for that next incursion, so that we can be prepared and jump on it as opposed to being surprised.

In the trailers, we’ve seen glimpses of the “Ultimate Predator,” so what was the process of creating the look for this next level creature?
If the predator was to be an amalgam of, not just an ordinary predator, but also a collection of traits garnered from the various most powerful species that they’ve hunted, then you basically would have one that is stronger, faster, and smarter. We finally got an image that we liked, which captures this very canny, very cunning, and effortlessly powerful, savage predator. One of the only quibbles that I’ve had with some of the past predators is that, if you’re not careful, it can look like a guy in a football suit; big, bulky guy just stomping around. I wanted a certain more graceful, more light, more athletic quality, literally like a predator. If you watch a cheetah, it’s not clunky.

You have such a great and eclectic cast in this film. Having known what it’s like to be one of those guys in Predator, what were you looking for this time around?
I was looking for guys who had real acting chops. If they’re going to play people who on the surface are kind of glib and irritable and feisty with each other, they had to all be in service of an underlying sense of having each other’s backs no matter what. If they seem like they’re occasionally puzzled or confused or incompetent, then it had to be balanced by the notion that at one point there’s a spark that never really flickered out, that just simply waits to be reignited in these guys, that recalls for them what they’re really good at and how important it is for them to redeem themselves. So I looked for the acting chops, this group of guys that had this general angst. Keegan-Michael Key for instance is known for doing a comedy show, but it becomes very apparent to me if you watch him that he’s a consummate actor, he’s Shakespearean trained. Trevante Rhodes, I don’t think anyone doubts that this is one of our best emerging actors. Alfie Allen, of course. Tom Jane has been one of my favorites for years; he can be funny, but this guy is a chameleon, embodies everything he’s done. Augusto Aguilera, who is just a real find. He’s now working with Nicolas Winding Refn and everyone is recognizing him. If anything, I’m just kind of proud that we had a crack at him. Boyd Holbrook is the leader, the sort the Lee Marvin to their Dirty Dozen.

You’re still a few months away from the film’s release, but with this being the fourth film in the franchise, it’s easy to wonder if there’s a possibility for more. Did you leave room to possibly revisit this world should you decide to?
I think it’s part of the task to always leave room, just like leaving room for dessert. But at the same time, unless you very firmly have in mind your pre-planned and pre-structured trilogy or sequel, it’s important to focus on the movie at hand and not get lost, like day one of a movie and you’re already planning the wrap party. It’s important that we get this one right. But of course we would leave room for continuing this, because as I mentioned, the Predator seems to have this uncanny longevity in the zeitgeist that people like new iterations of it, they like the hunting aspect of it, they break down every aspect of whatever costume he’s wearing this time and make toys of it. It’s strange, but it’s so longstanding and won’t go away.

The Predator opens in theaters on Sept. 14.

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