Prey Breakout Dakota Beavers Went from Working at TJ Maxx to Fighting Predators

Hulu’s huge action hit is the struggling Nashville musician’s first acting role

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Dakota Beavers in ‘Prey.’Courtesy of David Bukach/20th Century Studios

You’d be forgiven for not realizing that *Prey—*the straight-to-streaming Predator prequel that, in just a week, has already become Hulu’s most successful release ever—is Dakota Beavers’ first acting role. Funny and fierce, he immediately and endearingly commands attention as Taab, the older, surprisingly supportive brother of ultimate Predator fighter Naru (Amber Midthunder).

Acting may be new to Beavers, who was just 22 when he filmed Prey, but entertaining isn’t. He and his family moved to Nashville in 2014 with their band, Sheridan Hill, and they hit the Nashville bars to perform country, folk, rock, and Americana, with Dakota at the mic and on the guitar. GQ spoke to Beavers about the transition to starring in a big-budget monster franchise directly from playing dive bars by night, and working at TJ Maxx by day.

It’s crazy that this had Hulu’s biggest premiere ever.

Yeah. It’s insane. The whole thing has kind of been blowing my mind. You never really know how it’s going to be whenever you’re making it. I talk to the crew, and they’re like, “If the movie’s good or if the movie’s bad, you did your job.” I’m like, Oh dang, okay. Because they’ve worked on so many projects, some of which are good and some of which are bad. But as I watch things come together, and as I watch Taab come on the big screen…the reception has been so good and so big and so crazy.

I went from having, like, 500 followers, to 13,000 in a couple days. The movie’s only been out a couple days. So, it’s just like mountains of surprises for me. And then I hear it’s the biggest premiere on Hulu and I’m like dang man. What’s next? And then I’m talking to GQ. I worked at TJ Maxx not that long ago!

If you’re mapping your career path out from here, how do you want to play it?

I would love to pursue both music and acting simultaneously, because I feel like they work together. My family and I, we’ve been playing music for so many years that we kind of know how that business works. And if you have the songs, if you have the arrangements down—which we do—you can record music a lot faster than you can make a movie. With streaming and with social media and all the different avenues of listening to music, I would love to simultaneously release music while continuing to do as good—and as big—movies as I can, because I’ve always wanted to act and to do this. I’d like to do ‘em both.

What aspects of being a musician and performer do you bring into your role as a warrior?

Having so many years of playing shows, little bars and little dives all over the place, coming into acting, it was a different world. But I told myself—even in the first in-person audition—this is just another show. ‘Cause there’s a whole bunch of people behind the cameras, even during the screen test. This is just playing another little bar in Nashville, man. And if they like it, good. And if they don’t, on to the next town, you know what I’m saying?

For a lot of years, I played long gigs, four-hour gigs, and in Nashville sometimes it’ll be 90 degrees and a hundred percent humidity. So, you’re just sweating buckets, and you have to be on for hours straight flexing your inside muscles to sing. It’s an exhausting thing. You look at some of the other people on set and they’re so tired. I’m tired too, but at least I got this tent over here [to retreat to between takes] and I got people putting jackets on my shoulders when I’m cold. Compared to sweating my brains out in Nashville playing at some outside bar somewhere, this is not so bad.

Are there any actor/musicians you admire and aspire to emulate their careers?

There’s Dwight Yoakam, of course. I really loved him growing up. ‘Cause his tunes are so diverse. He really goes into a lot of different kinds of music, and the guitar is always killer. It’s like country, but it’s got a little bit of swagger to it. And he’s great in Sling Blade and other shows. He did it successfully. There’s not a whole lot who have done it. You don’t see it a whole lot. I’m hoping to maybe be one of the better ones that we’ve had, but certainly it’s an interesting time for me.

Is there a relationship that you drew from in your life to embody the one you have with your sister in the film?

Growing up as a kid, I always wanted a sister, but I never had one. But I would always click with women. Well, not in a “hey, I’m a lady’s man” kind of way. [he brandishes ironic finger guns] I’ve always had lots of friends that were girls. I always had this in my mind: If I had a sister, what kind of brother would I want to be? And always in my mind, for some reason, I thought if I ever had kids, I would have daughters. I don’t know if there’s any truth to that, but I was like, if I ever have a girl, I want to be good.

I see so many brother-sister relationships in media, or so many male-female relationships, and they’re not always a good depiction. I didn’t want Taab to be just another older brother threatened by his sister’s abilities, to have his masculinity threatened. I wanted it to be that he’s a toughlove guy, but he loves her fiercely. And he loves his family fiercely, and he wants her to succeed, and he wants her to grow. And I think that that’s something that the world needs. And so, I wanted to put that in there as much as I could.

Have you thought about what you would name your daughter?

There was this really pretty name I heard the other day, though my mom kind of doused it for me: “Kahani.” My grandma used to know this girl named Kahani, and I thought, that’s a cute name. And Mama was like, that sounds like “cojones.” So back to the drawing board, I guess. But I think Kahani’s a really pretty name.

Do you have any triumphant moments in your life akin to when Taab drops the head of a lion he killed at the tribe’s feet?

This movie. I’ve had a lot of years living in Tennessee struggling with my family. It was a difficult time because you’re grinding and you’re grinding, and I’m working a regular job, and I’m playing music at night and on the weekends. Sometimes it feels like you’re spinning your wheels, and you’re like, what am I doing here? Am I wasting my life?

And then all of a sudden you get this multimillion-dollar movie and you’re the number two on it. I’m forever thankful for it, but then there is that bit of pride after it’s all done and you’re watching it, and it’s good. For myself and my family, without arrogance, it was certainly a lion-head-dropping moment for me.

I’d love to get into the flip side. Was there a moment in Tennessee where you were like, I am just so down right now?

It’s a tricky business, music. Specifically, when you don’t fit into a traditional box of what’s popular at the moment. And so, we would get in front of labels in some interesting meetings, and the flames would be doused. It kept happening. And so, you would be sitting there at night, or going to TJ Maxx in the morning, wondering: What am I doing with my life? Am I doing the right thing? I feel led to do this. I feel like I was put on this Earth to do this.

In Arizona, I spend a lot of time outdoors. I spend a lot of time out in the wild to get away from things. And in Tennessee, it has wilderness, but it’s not the same as the West. There’s a lot more people. And the land that’s empty is owned by people. So, I can’t go on it. I felt claustrophobic. Not having my view of the horizon to look at, and not having these outlets that I had before, I felt it was very depressing. Luckily, you get in there. You do your work. You say your prayers. You do everything you need to do. And now we’re back out in the West, and we’re doing our thing.

How did you feel when the studio changed the plan for the dialogue? It was originally intended to be entirely spoken in the Comanche language, but then it got switched to English. (Though you can also watch a version in the original language on Hulu.)

There’s a mixture of emotions. There was a part of me that was like, Oh, thank goodness. Because I know I can perform better in English. But there’s also a little bit of, like, Dang, that would’ve been kind of neat. A) for the preservation of the language, but B) just because it looks cool.

I think at the end of the day, maybe it was the right call because [the film] has such a mass appeal, and having it in English makes it a little bit easier for a lot of people. But we still have that Comanche dub. We still have that there for preservation.

If you were going to add a scene of you singing in the movie, where would you have put it?

After Taab becomes chief. There was a lot of good emotions going on there. I could sit down with my 1700s guitar and bust out a tune if we could get Tymon [Carter, who played Huupi] and Harlan [Kytwayhat, who plays Itsee] in there. Me and the boys and Amber all stayed in the same hotel, just different floors apart, big old building. I would go up to their room a lot, and vice versa, and bring the guitars. We would play anything and everything, played a lot of songs that I wrote. Sometimes they’d play songs they wrote. It was a magical time, a way to decompress and forget about the troubles of the day.

Is there anything else you want people to know?

If anybody can take any advice from Taab, you don’t have to be a jerk to be tough. You can be kind. You can love your neighbor. You can love your family, and you can still be a warrior. You don’t have to cut your heart off.

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