It was the day a grand showdown fight in “Prey” was to be shot, and Amber Midthunder felt awful.
She was ailing, and he or she had lost her voice. The sequence involved the movie’s most physically intensive motion, requiring fine-tuned choreography and a rousing finish. And also you generally need to be at your best when facing an intergalactic nemesis who has journeyed to Earth to hunt people for sport.
“I actually desired to do it! So I just didn’t talk over with anybody all day long,” Midthunder said. “After which we were like, ‘We’ll just try it and see what happens.’”
The steely nerves paid off. On Friday, “Prey,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, premieres on Hulu with a novel rethink of the “Predator” motion series that is ready within the early 18th century and doubles as a coming-of-age adventure. Midthunder plays Naru, a young Comanche woman who must prove herself to a tribe that underestimates her.
But there’s no underestimating the 25-year-old actor who’s taking up the sort of starring role that isn’t at all times attainable in Hollywood. As a member of the Fort Peck Sioux tribe, she is the rare Native American female motion lead, headlining a franchise that originally rested on the pumped shoulders of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Performing death-defying leaps, flinging axes with precision and delivering well-timed one-liners, Midthunder meets most definitions of “motion hero.”
Not that she feels that way, yet.
“I just feel like an Amber,” she said good-naturedly in an interview last week at a Midtown Manhattan hotel. Even so, the actor — a vivid and poised presence in a sunny vermilion dress — acknowledged that “Prey” joins an action-friendly résumé.
Midthunder broke through together with her role on “Legion” (2017-19), the hallucinogenic “X-Men” TV spinoff starring Dan Stevens, Jean Smart and Aubrey Plaza. Midthunder’s character shared a body with a scientist played by Bill Irwin. Removed from being discombobulating, her experience on the show “solidified” her as an actor, she said, together with a small but inspiring role within the 2016 Texas heist drama “Hell or High Water.” These experiences galvanized her after an earlier stint on a Nickelodeon-style series didn’t suit her. (Though she didn’t mention the title, it sounded a bit like “The Misadventures of Psyche & Me.”)
Her film and tv work looks like a triathlete’s preparation for the challenges of “Prey.” She was a daily on the science-fiction series “Roswell, Latest Mexico” and played a fearless truck driver opposite Liam Neeson in “The Ice Road,” a Netflix thriller about long-hauling on thin ice. She also starred in and co-produced a bruising indie four-hander about two couples, “The Wheel.”
The reviews from her colleagues suggest an already seasoned performer. Irwin, an evident fan, wrote in an email to the Times that their dual role was “the simplest collaboration I feel I’ve ever been a component of.” Neeson sent along a concise but definite thumbs-up: “A wonderful young actress with a certain energy that stands out.”
Midthunder’s profession began with strong family foundations. Her father, David Midthunder, is a fixture onscreen (“Westworld,” “Dark Winds”). She remembers visiting him on the set of productions like “Comanche Moon,” a prequel to “Lonesome Dove.” He met her mother — the casting director and former actress Angelique Midthunder, who was from Thailand — while they were acting in the identical movie.
Born on the Navajo reservation in Latest Mexico, Amber Midthunder grew up mostly in Santa Fe with stints in California and Florida. She remembers hanging out after school at her mother’s office and, from her comfortable perch, watching actors come and go.
“I had a Disney princess tent with an air mattress in the underside for my eighth birthday,” she recalled. “I used to be alleged to be doing my homework, but I’d pop my head up and provides opinions.”
Midthunder’s father tried to provide some perspective on the barrage of images of Native Americans presented by mainstream culture. An enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux, he spent much of his childhood on the reservation. His own father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, helping tribe members with paperwork.
“My dad was very intentional in showing me how, from way back, Native people have been shown in media,” she said.
“Prey” contains a largely Native American forged — including a formidable first-timer, Dakota Beavers, as Naru’s brother — and a producer, Jhane Myers, who’s Comanche and Blackfeet and advised the production extensively. These efforts at representation and authenticity hit home for Midthunder.
“Oftentimes in period pieces we’re boiled all the way down to a hyperspiritualized figure or this violent savage caricature,” she said. “It affects you if you infrequently see anybody who looks such as you or represents you. That does something to your psyche, where you wonder, like, ‘Oh, are we just not adequate? Or is that actually how people see us?’”
“Prey” is one in every of a variety of recent productions that prominently feature Native American actors, most notably the critically acclaimed show “Reservation Dogs.”
“It’s a richer, more diverse scene for Indigenous performers,” said Joanna Hearne, a professor on the University of Oklahoma specializing in Native American and global Indigenous film and media studies. “What we’re seeing, together with a surge in Indigenous performers on television, is more opportunities for these sorts of roles in studio genre movies, too.” She views Midthunder’s starring role in a studio film as a rare thing.
Still, said the performer Zahn McClarnon, who’s of Lakota and Irish descent, “We’re getting more opportunities as Native actors and actresses now than we did before.” The star of the AMC limited series “Dark Winds” who also appeared on “Reservation Dogs,” McClarnon noted that “a number of big networks and production firms and movie studios wouldn’t take the danger on hiring a lead actor.”
(The unique “Predator” casting bears out the longtime Hollywood dynamic of lead-supporting actor: Sonny Landham, a Seminole and Cherokee actor, played one in every of the ill-fated elite squad members led by the indomitable Schwarzenegger.)
Besides Midthunder’s starring role, “Prey” is notable for its use of language. The movie can be streamable not only in its original English, with some Comanche and French, but additionally in an all-Comanche version, dubbed by the forged members. (The French is spoken by a band of grungy trappers who figure prominently, and brutally, within the plot.)
But even before “Prey” premieres, Midthunder’s profession momentum shows no signs of stopping: She has reportedly been forged in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a live-action series on Netflix. Asked if there was anything she could say concerning the series, Midthunder chuckled and said: “Nothing that I may be talking about straight away.”
She saw parallels between her aspiring warrior in “Prey” and her own rise as a star. (“The metaphors are countless!”) But when she felt any pressure in any respect, she kept a cool head.
“I attempted to not take into consideration all that,” she said. “Whenever you get there and also you’re doing the work, you realize, every part just goes away.”