Alien: Covenant–Interview with Director Ridley Scott

Ridley Scott’s new sci-fi, Alien: Covenant, starring Michael Fassbender, hits theaters May 19.

Geiger’s Creatures

I had a good time with Giger.  When I was going to do “Alien” I had seen a book called “Necronomicon” and it had a marvelous picture in it, which in effect was the Alien.  Fox weren’t sure about it at the time and they said it was obscene and dark and I said, obscene and dark is good, we are about to do a horror movie dude.  So I flew to Switzerland and I met with him cause he wouldn’t fly.  And he was a very sweet man, despite the dark side to his illustrations.  He works out the dark side in his drawings and his paintings, cause as a person he’s a sweetheart.  I persuaded him to get on a train and come to England saying where would you like to stay?  I expected him to say The Dorchester, but he said no, is there a pub in Shepperton’s Village?  He stayed for 9 months in a pub in Shepperton Village with his wife, who was also his manager, Mia.  We had a private lockup in Shepperton Studios which in effect was his studio, and I was the only one allowed.  Every afternoon after I had preparing stuff and whatever I was doing as a director, pre-shooting and going out at 5 o’clock virtually going into an airlock, and inside I would see the evolution of the creature.

He tried to improve the illustration, and frankly he couldn’t, it was so beautiful and disturbing.  Probably the Alien is the best, honestly film creature ever, cause dinosaurs are accurate and somehow more benign in the sense that elephants are beautiful and benign.  But this Alien creature is as disturbing.  Apart from a shark, snakes are usually disturbing.  A King Cobra will kill you in 14 minutes and you have no antidote.

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Updating the Creature

The fact that I had to have a guy in a rubber suit in 1979, cause that was the only method, but having to make the mechanics and make the head and the double mouth and all of that kind of thing. I think it was really well done considering it was 1979.  Nothing digital at all.  Later, I have got digital capability where you can do anything, but there’s something about digital that you have to be very careful about that it doesn’t look digital.  And also helping the actors: I can’t have actors standing there looking at a blank space.  On the floor the actor has something, the guy is going to be pretty damn good and today the suit was brilliantly done and the head was brilliantly done by my favorite guy Connor who does all my prosthetics and he is a real artist. Connor is also designing and making what I call the baby Aliens, the baby neomorph and the baby xenomorph.  So when it’s coming out of Billy Crudup’s chest, that was a puppet coming up, so it stands up, does that and puts his arms up.  And I shoot that, and it looks pretty damned good.  But there were other bits and pieces that weren’t quite right, so then we re-conform it, but digitally.  The digital process gives you final gloss and polish.

Michael Fassbender as Actor and Persona

RS: Michael can do anything. He has still got lots of things to do and lots of ways to go even though he is pretty prolific now as a producer as well.  And being a producer, it helps me as a director and producer that he has that practical side to him which frequently inexperience doesn’t give you and therefore you can be expecting certain things and making demands that aren’t practical.  But Michael is an all-around artist and pro. He is probably the best I’ve worked with.  He and Russell Crowe are the same, but I have done 5 films with Russell and 3 with Michael.

Getting Viewers Frightened

RS: I think it’s really hard to frighten people.  Quick cuts of creatures coming out of the dark in a dark corner is what I call cheap thrill.  It’s a quick cheap thrill and it gives you a jolt. When it’s orchestrated into unease then your heart starts beating and your heart can be beating with rather dark expectation for quite some time.  If you get them stressed for nearly half an hour that’s really cool, then you hit them.  That’s orchestration.  And then when you hit them with something early on pretty major, then you have got to be able to follow it through, because once you set up something interesting and tough to take in, you have got to keep it going, otherwise your whole film collapses.  From the moment the man who is in the forest smoking and the thing goes in his ear, that was an evolution from this pollen, that evolves inside him in a very rapid DNA.  So by the time you start to walk back to the ship, from that moment on, you are in trouble. And then it evolves right through into the medic bay, it comes out the other side, you lose the ship, and then you don’t stop there, you have got to keep going, because the other person has now got infected as well.  That whole thing runs about 8 to 10 minutes.  And once it worked really well, it’s tough because I have got to now follow it through so we don’t take a dive.  You have got to maintain that level.

Scary Films

Two films really, “The Exorcist” is one, which is a brilliant notion and idea and any of those things that come from feasibility was more frightening.  I think that was really good, and I think the one that is impossibly, crazily violent, it’s so violent it just kind of works, is “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre.” I think Hannibal Lecter, “The Silence of the Lambs” was a good, classy film about a serial killer and once it was frightening, it’s more interesting and scary than deeply disturbing.

Film’s Concepts

Creation is one of the questions. About 30 years ago, at the end of the premiere in Pasadena, at the Observatory, there were a few scientists and the guy who was the housewives pinup, a very clever man called Carl Sagan.  At the end of it, he said to me, you know, it’s tally nonsense of course, there will be no aliens in your lifetime.  And I said, lighten up Carl, it’s only a movie.  And now, 30 years on, I have quite a good dealing with NASA doing “The Martian,” and I said to them what do you think it?  And they said of course, are you kidding me?  We can’t put our finger on it, but he said, step outside, look up, look at that galaxy. The universe, to say we are the only ones in it, is entirely ridiculous.  They have identified a month ago and weirdly put figures on it, that between 100 to 200 entities right there, in this galaxy up there right now, that are in a state of evolution.  If a big dark object appears over the horizon that hovers over London, what we shouldn’t ever do is shoot at it.  It would be really stupid.  Because for them to get to us first, means that they are way cleverer than we are. We are a long way off.  We will get to Mars by 2026, and it’s really just a money thing at the moment and they could get there now if they had enough money, because they are always looking for funding.  You can get to the moon in 4 days, Mars in 9 months, with a new engine they have got, it’s going to be 7 months.  Once you are there, there’s nothing there other than studying what happened to it, and are we the next Mars.  But it’s going to take quite some time for that to happen.  Mars is the threshold for deep space.  Once you mention half a light year or a light month, light traveling in a month is a long fucking way.  So whatever your journey is, you are going to have to come up with cryogenics, or have people born, live and die on the ship during the journey.  What you are going to do is fundamentally creating a world within a ship.

Going Back to Alien and 1979

RS: It was an obvious reason to go back because the following three to mine, I presented a B-movie with “Alien.” It’s funny, a guy is locked in a dark house with a monster, that’s a C-movie.  But we did it in an A-way?  Consequently, it was fresh and successful.  Sometimes fresh and simple is good, but then what followed three films, and all very good filmmakers and were all well made, but nobody asked the question, what was that ship?  Who is the bloody pilot?  Why the cargo of eggs and why did you make such a deadly creature?  I sat there for awhile, and then went to Fox and said you can resurrect this by coming in from the back end as a prequel.  The predecessor of Ash is David, Michael Fassbender. And David was so successful that Peter Weyland made quite a few.  Then Walter was part of that process, he was a follow through which you learned through the movie, except there were various governors on him.  He had an emotional governor and never hurt a human being.  So he could turn on David in like a heartbeat, as one creature to another and have them go at each other, but he would never attack another human being.

DF-14740 – Katherine Waterston as Daniels in ALIEN: COVENANT. Photo Credit: Mark Rogers.

Concern with the Future?

RS: I have done a lot of movies, about 200 productions.  I have done 4 SCI-FIs.  Science-Fiction is a great stage.  Because from that stage, you can always argue anything goes, but what you don’t want is bullshit.  you have still got to write a good three-act play.  That is the biggest trick, to write the play and get it on paper first, and once you have it on paper, it’s really easy for me to make movies.  But getting it down s the hardest thing of all.

Painting in Childhood

RS: When I was a child, I had no idea what I was going to do, and in my childhood, those were different days, parents didn’t really think about what you were going to do.  And I came from a very normal, not quite working class background, but my father had to work because we didn’t have that much money.  They just encouraged me to draw, I was an inordinate drawer and painter and I could draw from five years old, on and on obsessively, so when I discovered that I was not academic in any shape or form, zero academic, I got one GCE, in America the equivalent would be, at 16 you sit in an exam pre-University and that’s two years time and then you go off to the University.  In England we call it GCE and then A Level.  So GCE, normally you sit eight subjects, ten today.  The worst most alarming thing about it, I was trying really hard.  I wasn’t lazy, I was trying hard.  But I didn’t feel stupid, I just felt I was good at one thing and my father said you are good at one thing, you are going to Art School.  By going to Art School, everything opened up, boom.