When Shane Black’s sci-fi thriller “The Predator” premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival on Thursday night, the adrenaline-pumping action movie was missing something: a short scene with a jogger who repeatedly hits on the lead female character, played by Olivia Munn.
Twentieth Century Fox, the studio behind the film, confirmed hours before the premiere that the scene was recently cut because one of the actors featured in it is a registered sex offender.
Steven Wilder Striegel was cast as the persistent jogger and remained in the film until last month when Munn learned information about his past, the Los Angeles Times first reported. In 2010, Striegel pleaded guilty to risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer and served six months in prison, according to court records. Striegel had attempted to lure a 14-year-old girl, who he said was a “distant relative,” into a sexual relationship through the Internet, according to the L.A. Times.
When Munn shared what she knew with Fox, the studio took swift action, removing Striegel’s scene “within 24 hours,” a spokesman told The Washington Post in an emailed statement. As of early Friday morning, an IMDb page for “The Predator” did not include Striegel, 47, in its cast list and the actor’s own profile lacked any mention of the movie. Striegel, whose professional name is Steve Wilder, could not be reached for comment.
“Our studio was not aware of Mr. Striegel’s background when he was hired,” the Fox spokesman said. “We were not aware of his background during the casting process due to legal limitations that impede studios from running background checks on actors.”
But Striegel told the LA Times at least one person working on the film knew: Black, his longtime friend and the movie’s director.
The pair have been friends for 14 years, before Striegel was arrested, according to the Times. Striegel, who first rose to fame with a recurring role in the Fox soap opera “Melrose Place,” has made small appearances in other films directed by Black, including “Iron Man 3″ and “The Nice Guys,” both of which were made after his conviction. Striegel told the Times in an email that Black was “aware of the facts.”
Striegel is registered as a sex offender in Connecticut, where he was charged. According to the registry, Striegel was 38 years old when he “engaged in an Internet relationship with a fourteen year old female victim who was known to him. The offender attempted to lure the victim into a sexual relationship by making sexually graphic suggestions to the victim.”
The actor and the girl also allegedly had physical contact, which included “kissing, touching [the minor’s] breast over her clothing, rubbing her legs and stroking her neck,” according to a 2009 arrest warrant affidavit obtained by the Times. Citing email exchanges, the affidavit alleged that Striegel told the teenager he wanted to pursue a sexual relationship with her and asked her to keep it a secret.
Striegel told the Times he emailed the girl, telling her she was “attractive, and sexy, and not a failure, etc.” to try to help her with her confidence after she spoke to him about dealing with a variety of issues, including truancy and being pressured to take drugs and drink alcohol. The decision, he said, was a “very bad judgement call,” adding that he did communicate that an intimate relationship between the two would not happen given her age and because they were distant relatives, the Times reported.
As for the allegations of physical contact, Striegel denied the claim, telling the Times “no charges in that regard were even filed. The only thing I was ever charged with were words in an email.”
Striegel hoped his conviction, now nearly a decade old, would “fade in the past,” the Times reported.
“This was an enormously unfortunate chapter in my life, and one that I took, and continue to take, personal responsibility for,” he said. “If I had even an inkling that my involvement with ‘The Predator’ would be a point of difficulty for Shane Black, or cast any kind of shadow over a movie that I wish only great success for, I would, of course, never have been involved in any capacity.”
In an initial statement to the Times, Black stood by his decision to cast Striegel in the reboot of “The Predator.” Black said Striegel was “caught up in a bad situation versus something lecherous,” the Times reported.
“I personally chose to help a friend,” he said. “I can understand others might disapprove, as his conviction was on a sensitive charge and not to be taken lightly.”
However, hours after the Times published its story and other news outlets began reporting on Striegel, Black issued a second statement retracting his support.
“Having read this morning’s news reports, it has sadly become clear to me that I was misled by a friend I really wanted to believe was telling me the truth when he described the circumstances of his conviction,” Black said in a statement to The Post. “I believe strongly in giving people second chances — but sometimes you discover that chance is not as warranted as you may have hoped.”
Then, Black apologized.
“After learning more about the affidavit, transcripts and additional details surrounding Steve Striegel’s sentence, I am deeply disappointed in myself,” he said. “I apologize to all of those, past and present, I’ve let down by having Steve around them without giving them a voice in the decision.”
One of the people who felt voiceless was Munn, who shared the scene with Striegel. In 2017, she was one of six women who accused director Brett Ratner of sexually harassing or assaulting them.
On Twitter, Munn fired off a series of tweets decrying Striegel’s inclusion in “The Predator.”
“He made a ‘personal choice’ to continually work with a convicted sex offender, but I didn’t have a choice,” Munn wrote in a tweet Thursday, referring to Black. “That decision was made for me. And that’s not okay.”
Responding to a tweet praising Munn for her courage, the actress wrote, “It’s amazing how many people expect you to put the movie first, especially if you’re the lead. On something like this — where a child has been hurt — my silence will never be for sale. And if it costs me my career they can take it.”
Neither Black nor Munn did interviews on the red carpet at the Toronto International Film Festival where the film premiered Thursday night, Variety reported. Though Black introduced the film, there was no mention of Striegel and the director didn’t participate in the post-screening Q&A, Times reporter Amy Kaufman tweeted.
Munn tweeted that she thought audiences would love the film now that Striegel’s scene has been cut.
“Speaking for myself, I wouldn’t love or enjoy watching any film after knowing a registered sex offender was in it, hiding in plain sight,” she wrote in another tweet.
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