Dan Delegro’s hands are as meaty as beefsteaks. He can hold a whole deck of cards – fanned out – without anyone seeing them.
“They’re butcher’s hands,” offered Dario Cecchini, an eighth-generation butcher in Tuscany, where Deligro has largely destroyed cattle every summer since 2016. And those hands held the basketball as a protective father during the eight seasons that Delegro played professionally. Hoops abroad.
Lately, her hands are encased in rubber gloves, sometimes clenched into fists shaped like honeydew melons, sometimes augmented with 4-inch talons that would make Barbra Streisand jealous. DiLiegro quickly became one of Hollywood’s top “creature actors.” Man in form-fitting, foam-and-latex get-ups, he appears on screen as ghosts, space aliens and just about anything a screenwriter can dream up. It is an inner work for which he is especially suited.
Having already accumulated credits including “The Walking Dead” and “American Horror Story,” Delegro now has the lead — or more accurately, the featured creature — in the seventh installment of the Predator franchise. Titled “Pre,” directed by Dan Trachtenberg (“10 Cloverfield Lane”) and starring Amber Midthunder as the superhuman heroine, it begins streaming August 5 on Hulu.
Like the monster from the original 1987 sci-fi action horror film, DiLiegro’s Predator is a writhing, heat-seeking extraterrestrial with supernatural strength and the ability to disappear into its surroundings. He said, “I shot the whole film essentially blind with my head on this creature’s neck.” “To see the predator ahead, I had to look at my feet through two small neck holes. Sticks were placed on the ground so I would know where to walk or run.”
During one scene, DiLiegro’s fiberglass-and-foam latex pat was accidentally set on fire. He realized this when the assistant director said, “I think Dan’s head is on fire!” DiLiegro took it in stride. “It felt like a kind of monster bar mitzvah for me,” he recalled. “Rites of Passage for All Creature Artists.”
34-year-old Delegro Not an actor to be hired to play in the background of a scene: he cannot blend into a crowd shot. He is 6 feet 9 in height, making him one of the biggest stars in Hollywood and a man who dominates every scene. Since arriving in Los Angeles two years ago with no acting experience, the slim, loose-legged native of the Boston suburbs has played otherworldly misfits in half a dozen movies and TV shows.
DiLiegro follows in the thunderous footsteps of such immortals as 5-foot-11 Boris Karloff, the monster in “Frankenstein” (1935), and 5-foot-6 Haruo Nakajima, the quintessential baby boomer in “Godzilla” (1954). Sequels. His personal horror pantheon includes the 6-foot-2 Ken Hodder — best known for his portrayal of supernatural serial slasher Jason Voorhees in the “Friday the 13th” series. One of DeLiegro’s most treasured childhood mementos is a plastic knife that Hodder autographed for her at Spooky World in Foxboro, Mass.
Professional animal performance is one of the most esoteric careers in show business. DiLiegro’s voice is rarely heard and his face, encased in a mask or obscured by artificial makeup, is never seen. “A lot of times people in the production department think they’re going to stick a stuntman in there and get all groovy,” he says skeptically. “But an animal actor is very much an actor.”
Despite the cumbersome rubber suit, he must convey the essence of the varmint through profound non-verbal interpretation, conveying a sense of great power while transmitting pure emotion. “You’re telling your story with your shoulders, your posture, the way you walk, the way you walk,” DiLiegro said. “In some ways it’s more difficult than speaking.”
For an actor to create the breadth of a monster’s persona—masking in layers of latex from the top of his head to the tips of his sometimes webbed feet—takes hours of prep work and no bathroom breaks. “You have to learn to live with the discomfort,” DiLeGro said. “You’re strapped into suits that get hot and heavy and absorb sweat. You’re sitting and standing in them for 12 hours. It’s itchy and numb and confining. If the heat and the weight and the unpleasantness don’t get to you, the claustrophobia probably will.”
To carry the weight of a 65-pound suit and 40 pounds of animatronic equipment, he must remain slim and strong. By slipping into the skin of a space invader, he must drop his body fat percentage from 18 to eight. “How did I do it? Diet, exercise, lots of hikes and bikes. Restricted calorie intake. Skipped breakfast.”
The humble DiLiegro has strong opinions about everything from cuts of meat to the brilliance of the Boston Red Sox. He is also a philosopher, expounding endlessly on the Zen of lifecasting. “I find it a little therapeutic, especially when my face is covered with a shell of silicone and plaster,” he said. “You sit there and you’re completely confined and it’s warm and kind of meditative. Other people can be scared: the process involves a lot of breath control.
He took a serpentine route from Beantown to Tinseltown: a 3,000-mile journey through New Hampshire, Sardinia, Israel, the Italian cities of Ostuni, Trieste, Siena, Verona and Forli, and too many other cities to mention. It is a 12 year journey.
DiLiegro grew up in Newton, Mass. Ma, the youngest son of a Nike account manager and a wedding invitation calligrapher. “As a child, I roamed around my house like an animal,” he said. “I was always hungry and stuffed food into my mouth as fast as I could. My mother used to say, ‘You eat like a wild animal.’ Nowadays he uses a knife and fork.
He grew up in Lexington. and increased. and increased. He became serious about basketball at age 15 and, despite his height, did not make the varsity of his high school team until his junior year. He says, ‘I was not very interested in sports when I was studying in a public school. “And to be honest, I was never that good at them.”
When the University of New Hampshire offered Delegro a hoops scholarship, he was 6-foot-7 and 235 pounds. Nicknamed Psycho D for his frenetic focus, he graduated as the school’s second all-time leading rebounder. He might have been the first if he hadn’t been suspended three games as a senior for using a fake parking pass.
Passed in the 2011 NBA Draft, he went to Europe to play pro ball. He signed one-year contracts with teams in Italy (his paternal grandparents were from Gaeta and Canossa di Puglia) and Israel (his mother is Jewish). “I was a rebounder, a defender, a screen setter,” he said. “I was a blue-collar guy who did the dirty work, kept his mouth shut and accepted the fact that his job was to make the stars look good. Bringing that athlete mentality to acting has been very helpful.”
When not on the court, he learned to speak fluent Italian and filmed a web series called “Adventure Mondays.” “I would explore the Italian countryside, stumble upon interesting restaurants and interview chefs,” DiLiegro said. “The idea was to create content so I could eventually host a culinary travel TV show.”
The 2016 installment of “Adventure Monday” focuses on Antica Macelleria Cecchini, a 246-year-old butcher shop in the Chianti mountain town of Panzano. The owner, Dario Cecchini, fell in love with DiLiegro’s arm and invited the baller to stay with him during the off-season. By day, DiLiegro removed cattle to the chopping block at Cecchini’s business establishment. At night, he waited tables at Cecchini’s Steakhouse. “Butchering was kind of a tradition in my family,” DiLegro said. “My mother’s father, Al Moll, once owned a kosher meat market outside of Boston.”
In the summer of 2019, while at home in Lexington training for the upcoming Italian season, Delegro received a phone call from a casting agent who wanted him to be a stand-in in the Ryan Reynolds comedy “Free Guy”. DiLiegro arrived on set in Boston the next day.
During a break in the action, Chris O’Hara, the film’s supervising stunt coordinator, told Delegro that he had all the makings of a creature actor. He noted that there were only a handful of actors in Hollywood with Delegro’s build, flexibility and athleticism, and they almost all got monster parts. “Chris warned me that the job is cramped, unpleasant, you can’t go to the bathroom and you struggle to move,” DiLiegro said, “but you get paid the SAG rate and you get to be in the movies.”
The following week DiLiegro flew to LA to pitch his food show, look at apartments and check out some special effects shops. His break came a week later when he heard about the Netflix show “Sweet Home” that was about to be shot in Korea. He lands a gig as a stunt double for a creature actor hired to live for a bodybuilding mutant named Muscle Monster. When the actor exited, DiLiegro entered.
Roles include Halo’s Master Chief in Xbox commercials, Walker in “The Walking Dead,” FX anthology “American Horror Story,” Bigfoot in Blink-182 frontman Tom DeLonge’s upcoming feature “Monsters of California,” and the competition series on Disney+. Forest enthusiast Drago in “The Quest”.
With Predator, he takes on arguably his most iconic creature role. “I love having these monsters and creatures,” said Delegro. “When I get into character, I really believe I’m no longer human and become invincible. It’s an indescribable feeling.”
Still, DiLiegro aspires to one day shed his second skin, play a member of his own species and transcend the world of comic book geekdom. “No, I don’t mind playing Hamlet,” he said. a pause “On the other hand, James Bond . . .”