Imagine having a body that people say could be an alien, or a giant, or Chewbacca. This has been the story of Ian Whyte’s career for the last 17 years. You may not realize it, but you’ve almost certainly seen him on screen, either as an Alien or a Predator, a White Walker. At 7’1”, Whyte is the go-to guy to play large (and often scary) things in fantasy and sci-fi tv and movies. But before he was one of the best creature actors in the game, Whyte was just a really big dude. He played pro basketball all over Europe in the 90s and early 2000s, when a call came out of nowhere and changed his life.
“A casting director tracked me down through the basketball team I was playing for at the time,” Whyte remembers. “She said, ‘Listen, will you please come in and audition, because we’re looking for someone exactly like you to play this part.’” The part was the Predator in the weird, wild, wonderfully ridiculous Alien vs. Predator. If you don’t remember, it’s exactly what it sounds like—the alien hunter species known as Predators fight the giant parasite aliens known as Xenomorphs. Carnage ensues.
Whyte had never acted before, but he was about the same height as the original Predator actor, Kevin Peter Hall, and he had the same tall, slim, and fit physique. It turned out that prior experience wasn’t nearly as important as the right build and good physical fitness. He watched the original Predator movies over the weekend and showed up for the audition.
“It was the hottest day of the year and it was a tiny studio near King’s Cross Station. They gave me a wetsuit and a mock-up of the Predator head with the thick ropes and said, ‘Okay, just start running.’ And after about 40 minutes, they said I could stop. They asked, ‘How was that for you,’ and I said, ‘Well, I’d be lying if I said it was easy, but I can do it.’ That was the audition.”
So began a nearly twenty year career playing aliens, monsters, and giants. His role as the Predator led to other opportunities in creaturely universes from Harry Potter to Star Wars to Westeros. “I never approach these characters as monsters or beasts. I always approach them as characters in their own way. They’re heroes in their own story,” he says.
These days Whyte has pivoted from ice zombies to satanic plague monsters: he plays a plague doctor in the Netflix series teen adventure series The Irregulars, and he’s the devil in the period plague horror The Reckoning. He went movie by movie with GQ to talk about some of his favorite creatures, learning to speak a made-up language for Ridley Scott, and the connections between Game of Thrones and Akira Kurosawa.
Alien vs Predator & Alien vs Predator: Requiem
Ian Whyte: [Predator] is one of those timeless classics because everyone’s in a military uniform. It’s in the jungle. There’s hardly any reference to the era whatsoever. It’s just one of those things that ages really, really well.
My wife had said to me, “Do as many of your stunts as you feel comfortable with. I’m happy with that. Just don’t let them set you on fire.” But one of the first scenes we did was the scene where Lance Henriksen, playing Weyland, sets fire to an oxygen bottle and torches the Predator. Week one there was a stunt double to do the full body burn. But the closeups, they had fire gel all over the costume and for a great deal of the take I was ablaze.