It was the day a big showdown fight in “Prey” was to be shot, and Amber Midthunder felt horrible.
She was sick and she had lost her voice. The sequence involved the most physically intense action on film, requiring fine choreography and a rousing finish. And you generally want to look your best against an intergalactic enemy who has traveled to Earth to hunt people for sport.
“I really wanted to do it! So I haven’t spoken to anyone all day,” Midthunder said. “And then we were like, ‘We’ll just give it a try and see what happens. “”
The nerves of steel paid off. On Friday, “Prey,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg, debuts on Hulu with a new revamp of the “Predator” action series set in the early 18th century and doubles as a coming-of-age adventure adult. Midthunder plays Naru, a young Comanche who must prove herself to a tribe that underestimates her.
But don’t underestimate the 25-year-old actor who takes on the kind of starring role that isn’t always attainable in Hollywood. As a member of the Fort Peck Sioux tribe, she is the rare Native American female headliner, the poster child for a franchise that originally rested on the puffed shoulders of Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Executing death-defying jumps, throwing axes with precision, and delivering well-timed one-liners, Midthunder meets most definitions of “action hero.”
Not that she feels like that, yet.
“I just feel like an Amber,” she said good-naturedly during an interview last week at a hotel in Midtown Manhattan. Even so, the actor – a bright, poised presence in a sun-kissed vermilion gown – acknowledged that “Prey” joins an action-heavy resume.
Midthunder broke through with his role in “Legion” (2017-19), the hallucinogenic “X-Men” TV spin-off starring Dan Stevens, Jean Smart and Aubrey Plaza. Midthunder’s character shared a body with a scientist played by Bill Irwin. Far from daunting, her experience on the show has “solidified” her as an actress, she said, as well as a small but inspiring role in the 2016 Texas heist drama “Hell or High Water”. These experiences galvanized her after an earlier stint on a Nickelodeon-style series didn’t sit well with her. (Although she didn’t mention the title, it sounded a bit like “The Misadventures of Psyche and I.”)
His film and television work resembles the preparation of a triathlete for the challenges of “Prey”. She was a regular on the sci-fi series ‘Roswell, New Mexico’ and played a fearless truck driver opposite Liam Neeson in ‘The Ice Road,’ a long-haul Netflix thriller on thin ice. . She also starred in and co-produced a killer four-handed indie film about two couples, “The Wheel.”
Reviews from her colleagues suggest an already seasoned performer. Irwin, an obvious fan, wrote in an email to The Times that their dual role was “the easiest collaboration I think I’ve ever been on.” Neeson sent a concise but precise nudge: “An excellent young actress with a certain energy that stands out.”
Midthunder’s career began with strong family foundations. His father, David Midthunder, is a staple on screen (“Westworld”, “Dark Winds”). She remembers visiting him on the set of productions like “Comanche Moon,” a prequel to “Lonesome Dove.” He met his mother – casting director and former actress Angelique Midthunder, from Thailand – when they were starring in the same film.
Born on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, Amber Midthunder grew up primarily in Santa Fe with stints in California and Florida. She remembers spending time after school in her mother’s study and, from her comfortable perch, watching the actors come and go.
“I had a Disney princess tent with an air mattress in the bottom for my eighth birthday,” she recalled. “I was supposed to do my homework, but I was raising my head and giving opinions.”
Midthunder’s father attempted to provide some perspective on the barrage of images of Native Americans presented by the mainstream culture. An enrolled member of the Fort Peck Sioux, he spent much of his childhood on the reservation. Her own father worked for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, helping tribesmen with paperwork.
“My father was very intentional in showing me how, for a long time, Aboriginal people have been portrayed in the media,” she said.
“Prey” features a largely Native American cast — including an impressive newbie, Dakota Beavers, as Naru’s brother — and a producer, Jhane Myers, who is Comanche and Blackfeet and largely advised the production. These efforts at representation and authenticity touched Midthunder.
“A lot of times in period pieces we’re reduced to an overspiritualized figure or this violent savage caricature,” she said. “It affects you when you hardly ever see anyone who looks like or represents you. It does something to your psyche, where you wonder, like, ‘Oh, are we just not good enough? Or is that really how people see us?
“Prey” is one of many recent productions that feature Native American actors, including the critically acclaimed show “Reservation Dogs.”
“It’s a richer and more diverse scene for Indigenous artists,” said Joanna Hearne, a University of Oklahoma professor who specializes in Native American and world Native film and media studies. “What we’re seeing, with an increase in the number of Indigenous performers on television, is also more opportunities for those kinds of roles in studio genre films.” She considers the lead role of Midthunder in a studio film to be a rare thing.
Still, said performer Zahn McClarnon, who is of Lakota and Irish descent, “We now have more opportunities as Indigenous actors and actresses than before.” The star of the AMC limited series “Dark Winds” who also appeared on “Reservation Dogs,” McClarnon noted that “a lot of big networks, production companies, and movie studios wouldn’t take the risk of hiring an actor. major”.
(The original “Predator” cast confirms the lead actor’s longtime Hollywood dynamic: Sonny Landham, a Seminole and Cherokee actor, played one of the ill-fated elite team members led by the indomitable Schwarzenegger.)
Besides the lead role of Midthunder, “Prey” is notable for its use of language. The film will air not only in its original English, with some Comanche and French, but also in an all-Comanche version, dubbed by the cast members. (French is spoken by a band of grungy trappers who feature prominently, and brutally, in the plot.)
But even before the premieres of “Prey,” Midthunder’s career momentum shows no signs of stopping: she was reportedly cast in “Avatar: The Last Airbender,” a live-action series on Netflix. When asked if there was anything she could say about the show, Midthunder laughed and said, “Nothing I can talk about right now.”
She saw parallels between her aspiring warrior in “Prey” and her own rise as a star. (“The metaphors are endless!”) But if she felt the slightest pressure, she kept a cool head.
“I tried not to think about all that stuff,” she said. “When you get there and do the work, you know, it all goes away.”