“Predator” franchise has its new Arnold Schwarzenegger, and she’s young, fierce and pretty handy with a tomahawk.
Native American actress Amber Midthunder stars in the sci-fi prequel “Prey” (streaming Friday on Hulu) – the fifth in the series since 1987’s original “Predator” – as Comanche warrior Naru. The 18th-century action-adventure finds Naru (pronounced “nah-doo”) using all her skills and smarts to survive the arrival of an alien Predator with high-tech weaponry.
“If Arnold had been a young Comanche woman in the 1700s, then I probably would’ve felt like him,” Midthunder, 25, says with a laugh.
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She quickly figured out being an action hero has its minuses. A bear attack on Naru meant performing with a stuntman in “a not particularly great bear suit,” Midthunder says. “It was very unceremonious. There was like a wind machine and somebody was throwing Styrofoam sticks at me.” And when Naru has to escape a dangerous sinking bog, “your inner child is like, ‘Oh, my God, I get to play in the mud!’ And then you get in and it smells like poop. Not quite as cool as I had pictured.”
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While it’s not the whole point of the movie, the film’s respect for Indigenous land, culture and people is the aspect that “I’m personally the most proud of and is meaningful obviously in my life and to me as a person,” says Midthunder, who is of Lakota, Nakoda and Dakota descent. “I always have intentions in that realm of things when I’m working, but they’re not necessarily everybody’s focus.”
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Part of Midthunder’s “Prey” training involved practicing with weapons, including Naru’s signature tomahawk. She and director Dan Trachtenberg figured out a trick by tying a rope to it (so Naru can throw the axe, pull it back quickly and then toss it again) and from there “it was just honestly a lot of experimenting,” she says. “How many times can you throw it up in the air and twist it? Can you get really high?”
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Midthunder’s father, David, is an actor, and mother, Angelique, is a casting director, but they never suggested acting as a career path.
“Now I look back and it’s pretty obvious. We could have got this ball rolling a little bit earlier but it’s OK,” says Midthunder, who starred in the TV series “Legion” and “Roswell, New Mexico.”
Jeff Bridges as the one that changed everything.
“I was only there for a day (but) that experience was just so transformative for me,” she says. “I’ve thought about it a lot and there’s no explanation. There was just some type of magic that you cannot describe and that you cannot replicate by trying. I was like, ‘Wow, this is why this is worth chasing. This feeling is enough for me to want to do this with my life.’”
In addition to “Prey,” the actress stars in the indie drama “The Wheel” (available on Apple TV and on-demand platforms) as a toxic young wife intent on divorcing her husband (Taylor Gary). She’s also a producer, marking the first time she’s been creatively involved in a feature film besides acting.
Midthunder “really enjoyed that experience” and hopes to do more in the future. “It feels natural to see stories and be like, ‘I would love to participate in it somehow.’ Or maybe there’s not a place for me to act in it, but I still want to be a part of it and see it get made, and that kind of stuff I feel very drawn to.”