Shane Black's highly anticipated reimagination of Fox's Predator franchise — a comedic take on the sci-fi thriller starring Boyd Holbrook, Olivia Munn, Sterling K. Brown, Jacob Tremblay and a cast of misfits played by Trevante Rhodes, Thomas Jane and Keegan-Michael Key — scored a coveted slot in the Toronto International Film Festival lineup ahead of its Sept. 14 release.
But just hours before the Midnight Madness screening on Sept. 6, the Los Angeles Times reported that the studio had deleted a scene from the film starring Munn alongside actor Steven Wilder Striegel (playing a jogger who has an encounter with Munn's biologist character) after it was revealed to Fox by Munn that he is a registered sex offender. Striegel, a longtime friend of Black, pleaded guilty in 2010 following allegations that he had acted inappropriately with a 14-year-old female to whom he was related. According to the Times report, Striegel had exchanged sexually charged emails with the underage girl, and as a result of the guilty plea, spent six months in prison.
Despite the news, the cast carried on and traveled to TIFF to promote the film, while Black backed out and did not attend his film's worldwide debut. A studio spokesperson issued a statement, confirmed by The Hollywood Reporter, that Fox executives were not aware of Striegel's background when he was hired. "Several weeks ago, when the studio learned the details, his one scene in the film was removed within 24 hours. We were not aware of his background during the casting process due to legal limitations that impede studios from running background checks on actors," said a Twentieth Century Fox Film spokesperson.
It has been a complicated few days for the actors and publicists as they navigated a whirlwind schedule of press and on-camera interviews while being forced to walk the delicate line of promoting a big-budget action film and responding to journalists' questions about the controversial situation, which is even more charged in the #MeToo and Time's Up era. Answering a question about why she is still promoting the film, Munn tweeted Friday that she was "contractually obligated," adding that, "From what I’m experiencing, I think they’d prefer I not show up. It would make everyone breathe easier."
Munn did show up to THR's Video Lounge in Toronto on Saturday afternoon, but instead of doing an interview alongside available castmembers, Munn was joined only by Tremblay after a few of her fellow actors backed out of scheduled interviews, presumably because of the subject matter of the deleted scene. After doing a joint interview with Tremblay, Munn sat for a solo interview in which she discusses what she did after finding out about Striegel's background, what she thought of Black's apology and how she feels about doing promo on her own in the wake of this story. "It’s a very lonely feeling to be sitting here by myself when I should be sitting here with the rest of the cast," she said.
One of those actors, Keegan-Michael Key, was due to catch a flight out of Toronto and was not among those scheduled to be a part of THR's interview. Key's rep issued the following statement to THR: "His last interview was scheduled after lunch, which he completed. He was always departing TIFF early so he could be home to spend the Jewish holiday with his wife. Furthermore, Keegan reached out to Olivia privately last week to let her know how proud he was of her and echoed that sentiment in many interviews since then."
Can you walk me through and tell me what the past few days have been like for you after this news came out?
It’s been most tough on the Jane Doe that was in the story because the victim is the victim. Whatever she’s gone through in the subsequent years is most important to me. The outpouring of support online and from the media and everyone just validating that it's the right thing to do has been really uplifting and helps me breathe a little easier. … We’re making movies. We’re not in the mafia. I haven’t spoken against the family. This guy isn’t in our movie anymore. I try to do the right thing and that’s all I can do, and when I see something, you do something. You don’t just sit back and hope it protects your movie. The movie is a great movie, the scene isn’t in there. It’s going to do well. At the end of the day, it's just a movie. We can’t tell stories about people and not care about people. … There are people who get very mad at you for not just helping them bury it.
I saw you tweeted yesterday that you’re contractually obligated to be here but it might help everyone breathe a little easier if you weren't. How hard has it been walking through this with your cast and with Shane Black?
Well, I haven’t heard from Shane. I did see his apology that he put out. I appreciate the apology. I would have appreciated it more if it was directed toward me privately before it went public and I had to see it online with everyone else. It's honestly disheartening to have to fight for something so hard that is just so obvious to me. I don’t know why this has to be such a hard fight. I do feel like I’ve been treated by some people that I’m the one who went to jail or I’m the one that put this guy on set. I found out, and it was really important to me to have the scene deleted. When the press found out, they asked for a statement, I gave a statement. I found out those details like everybody else did. It was shocking and disturbing. Now when I’m being asked about it, I don’t know how to lie about it. I don’t know how to pretend, I don’t know how to skirt around the issue. I just know how to be honest about it. It’s a very lonely feeling to be sitting here by myself when I should be sitting here with the rest of the cast.
Who did you seek counsel from before you made the phone call to Fox?
No one. I called my lawyer and my manager and I said, "I need you to tell them right now about this." I found out and my very next call was to them.
Let’s look forward a bit. I’m wondering how you hope this will change the industry. Do you think this will create a more structured vetting system so that these things don’t happen again? Have you had any of those conversations yet?
No, I haven’t had any of those conversations. The truth is that the situation that we’re in over the last year or so, the #MeToo movement, it really exists because of the people online who are appalled and outraged and demanding that things be changed. The people who are at the top, the people colluding to keep abusers in power, the people who are colluding to turn a blind eye so that they can keep making money, they are the people who created this disparity in the first place, we can’t really depend on them to make a change. It's the people online and people who express their outrage. For some reason, there seem to be people out there who are only motivated by the bottom line. If the fans and public keep expressing that they won’t go support who are abusers or organizations or companies that support that, then that will make them change. Nothing really changes until people see that it will affect them personally.
I know this can't be easy for anyone, especially you.
I appreciate that people care that something like this happened, if someone wants to share their platform and their power with someone who went to prison for hurting a child. Once they’ve gotten out of prison, they’ve served their time, they are allowed to be back out in society and that's their choice if they want to help that person. I wasn't given that choice; that decision was made for me. My choice will always be to never give a second chance to anyone who hurts a child or an animal. That’s me. Everybody has their own prerogative. If you’re going to ask me, that’s going to be my choice.
Sept. 9, 3:57 p.m.: Updated with statement from Keegan-Michael Key's rep.