Twentieth Century Fox was just days away from locking picture on “The Predator” when an urgent note came in: Delete the scene featuring Steven Wilder Striegel.
Striegel, 47, didn’t have a big role in his longtime friend Shane Black’s reboot of the sci-fi thriller — just a three-page scene shared with actress Olivia Munn.
But last month, Munn learned that Striegel is a registered sex offender who pleaded guilty in 2010 after facing allegations that he attempted to lure a 14-year-old female into a sexual relationship via the internet. When Munn shared the information with Fox on Aug. 15, studio executives quickly decided to excise him from the movie.
“Our studio was not aware of Mr. Striegel’s background when he was hired,” a Fox spokesperson said in a statement to The Times. “We were not aware of his background during the casting process due to legal limitations that impede studios from running background checks on actors.”
Black, however, has always known.
Striegel, an actor who’d appeared on “Days of Our Lives” and “Melrose Place,” first met Black when he was invited to the “Lethal Weapon” screenwriter’s home by a mutual friend for pizza and a movie. When Wilder was arrested in 2009, the two had been friends for five years.
Striegel served six months in jail after pleading guilty to two felonies — risk of injury to a child and enticing a minor by computer. The first role he landed after his release was in Black’s 2013 film, “Iron Man 3.” Three years later, he got another part in one of the filmmaker’s projects, the crime caper “The Nice Guys.” In 2016, Black told GQ that he was planning to produce a heist film “by my friend Steve Wilder.”
Black defended his decision to cast Striegel in a small part in “The Predator” as a jogger who repeatedly hits on Munn’s character.
“I personally chose to help a friend,” Black said in a written statement to The Times. “I can understand others might disapprove, as his conviction was on a sensitive charge and not to be taken lightly.”
But he said he has long believed that Striegel was “caught up in a bad situation versus something lecherous.”
Munn said she found it “both surprising and unsettling that Shane Black, our director, did not share this information to the cast, crew, or Fox Studios prior to, during, or after production.”
“However,” she continued, “I am relieved that when Fox finally did receive the information, the studio took appropriate action by deleting the scene featuring Wilder prior to release of the film.”
The film premieres Thursday evening at the Toronto International Film Festival and opens in theaters nationwide Sept. 14.
Munn’s costars in “The Predator,” including Boyd Holbrook, Sterling K. Brown, Thomas Jane, Trevante Rhodes and Keegan-Michael Key, did not respond to a request for comment.
Striegel said he did not have to audition for his part in the movie. “The character I played was named after a mutual friend of ours, and it seemed a good fit,” he wrote in an email.
“I've known Shane Black 14 years, well before this incident, and I think it's worth noting that he was aware of the facts,” Striegel said. “Shane can speak for himself, but I'm quite certain that if he felt I was a danger in any way to have around, he would not have.”
In emails to The Times, Striegel described her as one of his “distant relatives” who spoke to him at “several family gatherings” about “a multitude of problems she was facing, including being a truant, being pressured to do drugs and alcohol, and that she had started having sex, as well as many other things.”
In an attempt to boost her self-esteem, Striegel said he “made the the very bad judgement call of telling her in these emails that she was attractive, and sexy, and not a failure, etc.” He said he made it clear the two could not engage in a romantic relationship because of her age and because they were related.
But a March 2009 arrest warrant affidavit — which identifies the 14-year-old only as “Jane Doe” — alleges that physical contact included “kissing, touching Doe’s breast over her clothing, rubbing her legs and stroking her neck” on several occasions.
In one email message, Striegel told the girl that there was no one in the world he would rather have sex with. “I will be VERY honest: There’s no question that it’s you. None. Hope that doesn’t totally freak you out, and just because it’s what I want, and what you want, doesn’t mean it’s the right thing.”
In other correspondence, he described his sexual preferences in graphic detail, including his favorite intercourse position and intimate grooming practices.
“EVERY thing you say turns me on!!” he wrote to Doe. “I love that it rocked you when I pulled your hair that time.”
Further, Striegel cautioned the girl not to tell anyone about their clandestine relationship. “I know it might be hard for you to not tell someone, as it’s something on your mind I’m sure, but pleeease try to keep it between us ...”
The girl’s father discovered their correspondence and forbade them from talking. Still, the affidavit said, Striegel gave her a private number to call him on.
Though he lived in New York at the time, he was charged in Connecticut, where the girl lived.
Although the warrant alleged physical contact, Striegel called that claim “groundless.” “Nothing supported such a claim, and no charges in that regard were even filed. The only thing I was ever charged with were words in an email,” he told The Times.
There is no law in California that restricts the employment of a sex offender, nor any law that forces an employer to disclose the employment of a sex offender. According to the Screen Actors Guild, “producers are responsible for maintaining a safe working environment under our collective bargaining agreements and the law, and that applies to any type of on-set danger or threat,” said the union’s chief operating officer and general counsel, Duncan Crabtree-Ireland. (Davis Entertainment, the company that produced the film, did not respond to requests for comment.)
Since the creation of the sex offender registry in 1994, there has been much debate about whether it does more harm than good. According to Laura Arnold, a deputy public defender in Riverside County, sex offenders re-offend at an extremely low rate. “But,” she says, “these crimes bring out a very strong emotional reaction in people.”
“People who aren’t experienced in risk assessment find out about these things and get upset. It’s human nature,” added Amy Phenix, a forensic psychologist. “It’s understandable that people would be concerned and not trust the person that they're working with because that person wasn’t open about the situation. When you inform people, you can educate people — and oftentimes, when people have a better understanding of what they’re dealing with, it’s not so scary.”
In the years since his release from jail, Striegel said, he has found full-time work as an actor and writer. On his Instagram account, he shares images of what appears to be a glamorous life: on set with Ryan Gosling and Russell Crowe, flying on a private plane, and trying out a water jet pack. His criminal past, he said, was something he’d “hoped would continue to fade in the past.”