Over two weeks in the summer of 1987, Kevin Peter Hall played two of the most physically intimidating characters in cinema history. That the same 7 ft. 2 actor could land two iconic roles in the same year, and that those films would come out a week apart from one another, is more than just mere coincidence.
It’s also a testament to Hall himself, a versatile gentle giant and someone who could convincingly pursue a mud-soaked Arnold Schwarzenegger through the jungle in Predator, and a week later portray a loveable sasquatch taken in by John Lithgow in Harry and the Hendersons.
Hall was often encased in elaborate body suits throughout his career, his face glimpsed only occasionally. But beneath the terrifying monsters he was regularly made up in was reportedly a genuinely kind and amiable man, who loved his work despite its physical drawbacks, and whose career ambitions were tragically cut short when he died at the age of 35.
Born to parents both of whom were over 6 ft in height, Hall was the tallest of his seven, equally tall, siblings. But Hall’s height proved a liability growing up, and he was an introverted teenager as a result. He didn’t enjoy playing basketball either, a fact he only learned while playing professionally in Venuezela for a year. Returning to the US, he was one half of a comedy double act in Los Angeles, before being spotted by a casting agent.
“I was really physically insecure because I stood out so much. Acting was very therapeutic. I got to be all different people,” he told Ebony Magazine in 1988.
But while you might assume it would be difficult to find regular work as a 7 ft 2 actor, Hall seemed to emerge at just the right time. In an era of monster movies and zany sci-fi television, Hall found himself in hot demand, a magnet for the sort of gleefully absurd B-grade entertainment that rarely gets made today.
He made his debut portraying a mutant grizzly bear in 1979’s Prophecy, a film so awful that director John Frankenheimer publicly blamed his alcoholism for how badly it turned out.
A year later Hall would join the cast of another outré B movie, as a giant alien alongside Jack Palance and Martin Landau in the extraterrestrial thriller Without Warning, a role he followed up with appearances in the wax museum slasher One Dark Night and as the titular beast in the campy horror spoof Monster in the Closet, where he hunted down both a young Paul Walker and an 11-year-old Fergie from the Black Eyed Peas.
“I’ve played every single living creature you can possibly imagine,” Hall told Ebony. “I could be called the Robert Redford of the monster squad. I’ve never played the leading man, the dull part. I think the villain is always the best part. Not only does it pay the bills, but they’re fun characters. It’s physically demanding but fun.”
The TV series Misfits of Science allowed Hall to finally appear as himself in a role, but the show was critically and commercially mauled, barely lasting a season. A sort of ‘as-much-as-we-can-get-away-with-without-being-sued’ knock-off of Fantastic Four, Misfits of Science saw Hall play a doctor who could shrink himself down to a diminutive size.
Courteney Cox, who portrayed a telekinetic teen tearaway in what is quickly sounding like the greatest TV series to ever exist, said in 1997: “It was one of those shows you either loved or hated. Like Manimal.”
While Hall was reportedly crushed by the show’s cancellation, he quickly found solace in what would become his signature role -- even if it meant slipping behind a prosthetic mask once again. Hall came late to the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi actioner Predator (rebooted in 2018 by director Shane Black), arriving on set as a last-minute replacement for none other than Jean-Claude Van Damme, who was initially cast as the film’s villain.
Van Damme had even started filming, until he was dismissed from the set amid production squabbles. For much of the film, the Predator is invisible, glimpsed stalking through the Central American jungle in a blurry shimmer before becoming corporeal during the film’s final act. To achieve the invisibility effect, Van Damme was encased in an enormous red body suit which would be digitally removed later on.
But Van Damme didn’t understand the requirements needed for CGI. Believing the giant fluffy crab outfit he was wearing was what the Predator would actually look like on-screen, he often complained that it was ridiculous.
But explaining the truth to Van Damme, including the fact that the masked Predator would be off-screen for much of the film, only enraged the Muscles from Brussels further, who had hoped the role would be his stepping stone to stardom.
Coupled with his vocal frustrations with the temperature of the suit itself, Van Damme infuriated the crew so much that he was ultimately fired. Stepping in at the very last minute was Hall, who made no such complaints about body temperature in the suit.
“He would stay in for hours,” make-up effects guru Stan Winston said. “Fortunately, it was designed in such a way that the head could come on and off very quickly. So he would be in the suit but we would in fact take the head off between shots, and allow as much air and breathing as possible. He was amazingly professional.”
Hall was intent on granting his characters the same sort of inner psyche that an actor playing an unmasked character would devote to their work, and took special care in developing the psychology of the Predator in particular.
“Most people think that when you prepare for a role like this, it’s mostly just physical, it’s mostly just jogging and push-ups and movement,” he said. “And all of that is very important, but there was also a lot of thought put into what kind of movement, what kind of planet [the Predator] came from. You work on the inner things that are going on in the character, just as you would with any character, whether you’re in or out of the suit.”
Harry and the Hendersons provided a different sort of challenge, with a masked character that required more depth of feeling than the stoic monster of Predator. He told an interviewer in 1987, however, that of both roles, Harry was most similar to himself.
“I think Harry’s definitely more me,” he said. “The loveable visitor in the home. It’s a good part. There was a lot to do, there was a lot of things to play. The other? You kill people, you kill more people, and then you die.”
Hall would follow up his 1987 double bill with a Predator sequel in 1990, and another alien role on an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, having unsuccessfully tried out for the roles of Data and Geordi La Forge. He would similarly reprise his sasquatch role on the TV series adaptation of Harry and the Hendersons. But tragically, he wouldn’t be able to finish the show’s run.
In 1990, Hall was involved in a car accident that required a trip to the hospital. It was there that Hall underwent a blood transfusion, but a contaminated needle resulted in the actor contracting Aids. He would die from the disease less than a year later, survived by his wife, the actress Alaina Reed-Hall, and their two children.
Asked in 1987 whether he ever felt disappointed that he was so often cast in roles that didn’t show his face, Hall was typically self-effacing.
“I guess it’s the price you pay,” he said. “People will start to recognise me more, and I’m sure those aren’t going to be the only parts that I play. I think [Predator and Harry] are going to get a lot of recognition and people are going to ask, ‘Who is that guy?’ and I’ll be around.”