The “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 now 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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Amber Midthunder takes pride in ‘Prey’s Indigenous representation
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.”
“Prey” filmed on Stoney Nakoda land near Calgary, with a primarily Native American and First Nation cast, and placed a spotlight on Comanche lifestyle and history. The Comanche people are “very inventive, very innovative, intelligent – all things that you never see in period pieces,” the actress says. (Hulu subscribers will also have the option of viewing “Prey” with a full Comanche language dub.)
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Newest ‘Predator’ hero actually came in with tomahawk-throwing skills
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?”
Midthunder came in with some real-life experience: “A few years before, I bought my dad a set of throwing axes for Father’s Day. Just for fun, because that’s the kind of family we are, I guess,” she says. “So when this movie came up and there’s all this tomahawk stuff, I was like, ‘Oh, I’ve been practicing!’”
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Her earliest line readings: ‘Lizzie McGuire’ and ‘Hannah Montana’
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.”
Growing up in Santa Fe, she’d memorize and recite lines from her favorite kid shows, first “Powerpuff Girls” and then “Lizzie McGuire,” “Hannah Montana” and “The Wizards of Waverly Place.” (“I matured through the Disney Channel,” Midthunder quips.) And although she cycled through other potential career options – from professional MMA fighter to makeup artist – she ultimately came to a realization: “Acting is my true love.”
‘Hell or High Water’ definitively set her on a career path
She had her first speaking role opposite Alan Arkin in the 2008 indie dramedy “Sunshine Cleaning,” and has also appeared alongside Kevin Costner (2008’s “Swing Vote”) and Liam Neeson (2021’s “The Marksman” and “The Ice Road”). Midthunder, though, counts her supporting role as a bank teller in “Hell or High Water” in 2016 with 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.’”
Midthunder wants to be a power player behind the scenes
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.”