Predator actor Dane DiLiegro on creature roles and ‘Prey’

Dane DiLiegro’s hands are as meaty as beefsteaks. He could hold an entire deck – fanned out – without anyone seeing it.

“Those are butcher’s hands,” said Dario Cecchini, an eighth-generation butcher in Tuscany, where DiLiegro has been deboning beef almost every summer since 2016. And those hands cradled a basketball like a protective father hoop abroad during the eight seasons that DiLiegro played pro.

Lately his hands are encased in rubber gloves, sometimes balled into fists the size of honeydew melon, sometimes with 4-inch claws that would make Barbra Streisand jealous. DiLiegro has quickly become one of Hollywood’s finest creature actors. Clad in tight-fitting foam and latex outfits, he appears on screen in the guise of ghouls, aliens, and anything a screenwriter can dream up. It’s an inside job that he’s particularly well suited to.

Having already racked up credits such as The Walking Dead and American Horror Story, DiLiegro now has the lead role – or more specifically, the featured creature – in the seventh installment in the Predator franchise. The film, titled “Prey,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) and starring Amber Midthunder as the very human heroine, begins streaming on Hulu August 5.

Like the monster in the original 1987 sci-fi action horror film, DiLiegro’s Predator is a writhing, heat-seeking alien with superhuman strength and the ability to vanish into its surroundings. “I shot the entire film essentially blind, with my head on the neck of this being,” he said. “In order for the Predator to look ahead, I had to stare at my feet through two tiny neck holes. Sticks were placed on the ground so I knew where to walk or walk.”

A woman fights an alien.

Amber Midthunder and Dane DiLiegro as the Predator in the movie Prey.

(David Buchach)

During one scene, DiLiegro’s fiberglass foam latex patch was accidentally set on fire. He didn’t realize this until the assistant director exclaimed, “I think Dane’s head is on fire!” DiLiegro accepted it. “It felt like some kind of monster bar mitzvah to me,” he recalled. “A rite of passage for all creature actors.”

34-year-old DiLiegro is not the kind of actor who can be hired to act in the background of a scene: he cannot blend into a mass shot. He’s 6ft 9 tall which makes him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and a man who dominates every scene. Since arriving in Los Angeles two years ago with no acting experience, the slim, loose-limbed Boston native has played otherworldly grotesques in half a dozen films and television shows.

DiLiegro follows in the thundering footsteps of immortals like 5-foot-11 Boris Karloff, the monster in Frankenstein (1935), and 5-foot-6 Haruo Nakajima, the quintessential baby boomer in Godzilla (1954) and 11 sequels . His personal pantheon of horrors includes the 6ft2 Kane Hodder – best known for his portrayal of supernatural series slasher Jason Voorhees on Friday the 13th. One of DiLiegro’s most treasured childhood mementos is a plastic knife that Hodder autographed for him at Spooky World in Foxboro, Massachusetts.

Professional creature performances are one of the most esoteric careers in show business. DiLiegro’s voice is rarely heard and his face, cloaked in masks or covered with prosthetic makeup, is never seen. “A lot of times people in the production department think they can just throw in a stuntman and it’ll be groovy,” he said skeptically. “But a creature actor is very much an actor.”

Despite the awkward rubber suit, he has to express the essence of a vermin through a profound non-verbal interpretation, exuding a sense of great strength while exuding pure emotion. “You tell your story with your shoulders, your posture, the way you walk, the way you move,” DiLiegro said. “In a way, it’s harder than speaking.”

For an actor to create the breadth of a monster’s personality—disguised in layers of latex from crown to toe of its occasionally webbed feet—takes hours of prep work, not bathroom breaks. “You have to learn to live in discomfort,” DiLiegro said. “You’re in suits, which are hot and heavy and soak up the sweat. You sit and stand in it for up to 12 hours. It becomes itchy and numbing and restricting. If the heat, weight and discomfort don’t get you, claustrophobia probably will.”

To support the weight of a 65-pound suit and 40 pounds of animatronic gear, he needs to stay thin and strong. To step into the shoes of a space invader, he had to drop his body fat percentage from 18 to 8. “How did I do this? Diet, exercise, lots of hikes and bikes. Limited calorie intake. Stopped having breakfast.”

The mild-mannered DiLiegro has a firm opinion on everything from cutting meat to the glamor of the Boston Red Sox. He’s also something of a philosopher, explaining endlessly about the zen of lifecasting. “I find it a little therapeutic, especially when my face is covered in a silicone and plaster shell,” he said. “You just sit there and you’re totally locked in and it’s warm and kind of meditative. Other people might freak out: the process involves a lot of breath control.”

A man with a microphone answers questions.

Dane DiLiegro at San Diego Comic-Con in July while promoting the movie “Prey.”

(Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images for Disney)

He took a switchback path from Beantown to Tinseltown: the 3,000-mile journey meandered through New Hampshire, Sardinia, Israel, the Italian cities of Ostuni, Trieste, Siena, Verona and Forli, and several other cities too obscure to mention . It turned out to be a 12 year trek.

DiLiegro was raised, if not conceived, in Newton, Mass., as the youngest son of a Nike account executive and a wedding invitation calligrapher. “When I was a kid, I used to crawl around my house on all fours like an animal,” he said. “I was always hungry and would stuff food into my mouth as quickly as possible. My mother would say, ‘You’re eating like a wild animal.’” Today he uses more of a knife and fork.

He grew up in Lexington. And grew. And grew. He didn’t take basketball seriously until he was 15 and, despite his size, didn’t make it onto his high school team’s varsity team until his junior year. “When I got through public schools, I was never really interested in sports,” he says. “And to be honest, I’ve never really been good at it.”

When the University of New Hampshire offered DiLiegro a basketball scholarship, he was 6ft 7 and 235 pounds. Nicknamed Psycho D for his manic focus, he graduated as the second-best rebounder of all time. He might have finished first if he hadn’t picked up a three-game ban as a senior for using a fake parking pass.

Passed over in the 2011 NBA draft, he went to Europe to play pro ball. He signed a series of one-year contracts with teams in Italy (his father’s grandparents were from Gaeta and Canosa di Puglia) and Israel (his mother is Jewish). “I was a rebounder, a defender, a screensetter,” he said. “I was the worker who did the dirty work, kept my mouth shut and accepted the fact that it was his job to make the stars look good. It was extremely helpful to bring that athlete’s mentality to the acting.”

When he was not on the pitch, he was learning fluent Italian and filming a web series called Adventure Monday. “I would explore the Italian countryside, find interesting restaurants and interview the chefs,” DiLiegro said. “The idea was to create content so I could eventually host a culinary travel TV show.”

A 2016 episode of Adventure Monday focused on Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a 246-year-old butcher shop in the mountain town of Panzano in Chianti. The owner, Dario Cecchini, fell in love with DiLiegro’s hands and invited the baller to stay with him during the offseason. During the day, DiLiegro was boning cattle on a chopping block at the Cecchini trading post. At night he served the tables at Cecchini’s steakhouse. “Slaughtering was kind of a tradition in my family,” DiLiegro said. “My mother’s father, Al Moll, once owned a kosher meat market outside of Boston.”

In the summer of 2019, while DiLiegro was training at home in Lexington for the upcoming Italian season, he received a call from a casting agent wanting him to be an alternate in the Ryan Reynolds comedy Free Guy. DiLiegro drove to the set in Boston the next day.

During a break in the storyline, the film’s supervising stunt coordinator, Chris O’Hara, told DiLiegro that he had all the makings of a creature actor. He noted that there were only a handful of performers in Hollywood with DiLiegro’s physique, flexibility, and athleticism, and they almost all got monster parts. “Chris warned me that the work is cramped, uncomfortable, you can’t go to the bathroom and it’s difficult to move around,” DiLiegro said, “but you get SAG rate and you get to act in movies.”

The following week, DiLiegro flew to LA to present his food show, look at apartments and visit a few special effects shops. His breakthrough came a week later when he heard about a Netflix show called Sweet Home that was set to be filmed in Korea. He landed a gig as a stunt double for the creature actor who was hired to inhabit a bodybuilding mutant named the Muscle Monster. When the actor dropped out, DiLiegro stepped in.

An alien with a shield.

Dane DiLiegro as the Predator in the movie Prey.

(20th Century Studios)

The role led to a turn as Halo’s Master Chief in Xbox commercials, as a walker in The Walking Dead, as the fertility demon Ba’al in the FX anthology American Horror Story, as Bigfoot in Blink 182 frontman Tom Delonges upcoming feature Monsters of California and the wood devil Dragio in the competitive series The Quest on Disney+.

With the Predator he takes on what is probably his most iconic creature role to date. “I love being these monsters and creatures,” DiLiegro said. “When I get into the role, I really feel like I’m not human anymore and I’ve become invincible. It’s an indescribable feeling.”

Still, DiLiegro aspires to one day shed his second skin, play a member of his own species, and transcend the world of comic book geekdom. “No, I have no desire to play Hamlet,” he said. A break. “On the other hand, James Bond…” Predator actor Dane DiLiegro on creature roles and ‘Prey’

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