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LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - It has been 23 years since "Predator," a commando action film, sci-fi mash up starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, hit movie screens.
Now it's back in a sequel, of a sort, called "Predators" that opens in movie theaters on Friday, but Arnold isn't. He's the California Governor, and in his place is Adrien Brody.
The skinny kid who won an Oscar in "The Pianist" is playing a tough-as-nails monster killer on a par with the muscled-up 1980s action hero Schwarzenegger?
It can't be. Brody works in dramas and portrays characters like the classical piano master and Holocaust survivor Wladyslaw Szpilman in 2002's "Pianist." When he takes roles in war movies, he does so for a film like Terrence Malick's thoughtful "The Thin Red Line."
"Predators" is a big-budget, shoot-'em-up, summer popcorn flick. Yet, there Brody is, transforming himself into a ruthless killer who hunts down aliens.
"It's surprising to me, sometimes, when people are surprised at my choices," he told reporters at a recent gathering. "And it seems they are more surprised as of late.
"But as an actor it's been a conscious decision to do my best to not repeat myself, so that I keep the process for myself interesting and for the people that have seen my work. I've looked long and hard for an opportunity like this."
In fact, the 37-year-old said it was "a big coup, a big deal" for him to land the starring role of Royce, a mercenary loosely modeled after Schwarzenegger's "Dutch" in 1987's original "Predator."
But Brody was also very aware of the challenge involved in playing an action hero. He diligently worked-out and pumped iron before filming began.
"I did feel that I had to make a physical transformation," he said. "On one level it's exciting for an audience to see that. I like to see that, even if the character's villainous.
Directed by Nimrod Antal ("Armored") and based on a script by Robert Rodriguez ("Spy Kids") who also produced, "Predators" pits a group of elite warriors against shape-shifting and ever-hungrier aliens.
The group of commandos led by Royce include a mass-murderer (Walton Goggins), a drug cartel enforcer (Danny Trejo), a Russian special operations veteran (Oleg Taktarov), an Israeli soldier (Alice Braga) and a disgraced doctor (Topher Grace. They are stranded on an alien planet where they must band together to fight for their lives.
Brody, it turns out, isn't just an action film fan. He is a self-professed "huge fan" of the original "Predator."
"I was about 14, opening weekend, smoking cigarettes in the front row," he said. "I remember the theater, I remember my little crew who were there opening weekend and doing our Schwarzenegger impressions the rest of the week."
Yet, even if he could do a mean Schwarzenegger impersonation as a kid and muscle up his body for the role of Royce as an adult, Brody said he did not want to rely on just the physical transformation. Body and mind "go hand-in-hand," he said.
"It's an interesting thing, " he said, "and it's always surprising to me how much of an emotional and psychological transformation infuses with the physical transformation. I experienced that also with 'The Pianist.'"
He believes Hollywood has often have had an over-reliance on physical brawn as the deciding factor for portraying a strong man. "Strength has to come from within," he said.
Brody added that with the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, "we're all, unfortunately, very familiar with what young soldiers look like today and they're not dissimilar to my build. I think military leadership comes from a tactical and technical confidence... and an intellectual strength."
Editing by Bob Tourtellotte