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'Prey' takes the Predator franchise to the great plains, 300 years ago

AYESHA RASCOE, HOST:

Predator, the bloodthirsty, trophy-hunting alien, is back this summer. "Prey," the latest film in the sci-fi franchise, is set in the Great Plains 300 years ago. It tells the story of Naru, a young Comanche woman desperate to prove she belongs among the fiercest warriors of her tribe. But when she warns her community of a new threat she's witnessed, a highly evolved alien with advanced weapons, no one seems to believe her - that is, until there is no other choice but to fight for their lives. Amber Midthunder plays Naru in "Prey," which premieres on Hulu next Friday, and she joins us now. Welcome.

AMBER MIDTHUNDER: Hello.

RASCOE: So thanks so much for joining us. I really, really like this movie, but, you know, I have not seen the other Predator movies, I will admit. Give a little background for people who may not know about the Predator.

MIDTHUNDER: I love this. I mean, this was the first "Predator" script I'd ever read, so I feel like I was in that boat a little bit. The Predator is an alien from another planet who hunts for sport and looks to find the best opponent and take that for a trophy, essentially.

RASCOE: Did you see the actual Predator a lot, or was that mostly CGI? There were a lot - there are also a lot of animals in there.

MIDTHUNDER: No. A lot more of it was real, I think, than people expect. I mean, the Predator was literally, like, a guy in a Predator suit.

RASCOE: OK.

MIDTHUNDER: I was not acting to a tennis ball. I was looking at a Predator in front of me who is, like, tall and big and scary.

RASCOE: So let's listen to a clip from the movie. And this is - you're sharpening one of your tools next to your mother.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "PREY")

STEFANY MATHIAS: (As Sumu) Your father left you that to cut breadfruit with.

MIDTHUNDER: (As Naru) I almost got a deer with it.

MATHIAS: (As Sumu) You can't eat almost. My girl, you are good at so many other things. Why do you want to hunt?

MIDTHUNDER: (As Naru) Because you all think that I can't.

RASCOE: You know, a big theme in this movie is being doubted as a woman, and it's a very different type of hero than Arnold Schwarzenegger had to play, right? You are a stand-in for Arnold, but you're playing, like, a very different type of hero.

MIDTHUNDER: I mean, I never thought of myself as a stand-in.

RASCOE: For Arnold (laughter).

MIDTHUNDER: I felt like I was a stand-alone. You know, there's clearly never been a female lead to this franchise, but I think that that's not to say, like, oh, look, females have their moment. It's to say, like, that strength is not anything that goes to any one specific group or person. It's something that everybody has inside of themselves.

Like, in history, Comanche people did have a female warrior society. So it's not like you're a woman, you can't fight. It's like, we know you and we don't think you should be a hunter, which is almost worse, you know? But obviously, she has that determination, and her mind is made up. And you kind of watch her go through that journey of, like, what she's doing and what she's doing it for.

RASCOE: You know, I wanted to ask you. Like, this film, in addition to being set much earlier, it is focused on Native Americans. And there has been a big effort to actually cast Native American and Indigenous actors because in the past, obviously, Hollywood had a horrible track record. So, I mean, how did it feel for you, as a Native American woman, to be a part of a project where they are trying to represent in a much more thoughtful way?

MIDTHUNDER: Oh, my God. I mean, to me, that was, like, the most meaningful part of this whole movie. When I look at the film industry as a whole or I look at my career, you know, Indigenous representation, inclusion, opportunity, like, that all is stuff that, like, I hope just continues and continues. So a project like this was amazing. And I mean, we took this movie to - like, an early version, like an early cut - to the Comanche nation. We flew out to Oklahoma just to see, like, how, you know, they would respond 'cause this movie, you know, represents Indigenous people, but specifically them.

And, like, just that, just doing that - which, by the way, it went very well. And I was very - like, that, to me, was, like, the moment I was, like, holding my breath for 'cause, like, you know, of course I want everybody to like it. But to me, it was a huge deal to, like, represent Comanche people, which - I'm not Comanche. I am Lakota, Nakota and Dakota, which is - I also come from a Plains people. But to represent their people, that was, like, the biggest responsibility that I felt. So just that I'm very proud of and excited by.

RASCOE: And, you know, in the film, Comanche is spoken. And there is actually a version of the film that I understand is dubbed in Comanche?

MIDTHUNDER: Yes.

RASCOE: Can you talk about you speaking in the language and then the importance of actually having the film dubbed in Comanche entirely?

MIDTHUNDER: Yes. So, I mean, challenging, of course, 'cause I do not speak Comanche. And then every actor went back and redid their own - and did their own dubbing.

RASCOE: Oh, wow.

MIDTHUNDER: And just - that effort towards, you know, language is historic. And then for me, the process of being involved in it - of, like, oh, what's close to my culture and what's different, and get to learn about it so intimately - to me, was, like, an experience I would have never expected to have, and I feel so fortunate that I got to.

RASCOE: I want to ask you - like, in this film, there are a lot of things that come up against Naru - the creature, they come up against some other people, some other outsiders. And then there are other - there are the people in the tribe who seem dismissive, to the point of violence, towards Naru. I mean, who do you think is the real enemy in this film?

MIDTHUNDER: There's a scene where my character comes up to a field and sees a bunch of buffalo. They're all dead, but, like, nothing has been used. And that's, like, a real thing that happened in history - you know? - like, where the people who were colonizing, like, what is now the United States were killing buffalo 'cause that was the only thing that we had for, like, food and clothing. And, like, that was what we used for so many things to survive.

And so it is, like, in the middle of this fight, in the middle of this movie that is, like, so big and crazy and epic and wild, of, like, oh, these people back in time are fighting, like, an alien space monster. And then to have a scene like that made me really emotional to see 'cause I was just thinking, like, wow, yeah, that - like, I remember, at the time, imagining, like, what that must have been like for, like, my actual ancestors to see that, and, like, what that felt like. You know, it's sad. But I'm also very grateful that, like, inside of a movie that is fun like that, we can touch on something that is, like, that real and that meaningful.

So, I mean, like, you know, who is the real threat? Like, who is the real enemy? She's fighting for a number of things, and that is her journey. But, you know, ultimately, it's like, we were a community-based society. And so the predator to me, personally, is, like, whatever is the outside threat that is, like, attacking your people, that is taking away your people, you know? Like, the trappers are that. The predator is that. So I think it's about whoever she's protecting.

RASCOE: Amber Midthunder stars in "Prey," which comes out on Hulu next Friday. Thank you so much for being with us.

MIDTHUNDER: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF BILL FRISELL'S "1968") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.