Director Ridley Scott returns to his famous Alien franchise with the new film Alien: Covenant, arriving in theater this Friday. We recently had a chance to chat with Scott about the film’s challenges and scares, keeping the effects as practical as possible, his penchant for strong leading ladies, and lots more so settle in and read on!
Dread Central: What keeps it interesting to come back to the Alien story?
Ridley Scott: Yeah, the hardest thing to do, that I find to do, is getting it on paper. Making movies is really straightforward for me because I’m so expert/experienced at it and I enjoy it tremendously; therefore, the act becomes a competition not to repeat myself in design, costume, everything, music, how you do things, how you shoot; but the hard thing is just getting it on paper.
DC: How do you keep the look of the alien interesting? Is it a challenge?
RS: Totally, I mean the thing to do is not overdo it and I didn’t want to show him in the comeback, which was Prometheus, I didn’t want to show an alien because it’s worn out, we’ve worn it out in the first four films. But I got the plunder because mine was the scariest of course by far because that alien was new and fresh, we hadn’t seen that before, then whatever followed they had to do variations on that, even when they were able to get really expert and not have a guy in a rubber suit, they had digital aliens, ironically it loses something. It’s a bit like Jaws with Steven [Spielberg], you don’t see the shark that much, don’t show him, do not show him, and just keep the water as the monster and that’s what he did. In Alien, people said you didn’t see much of him but what you saw was scarier than shit. The scariest thing in Alien was when he has John Hurt, God bless him, pop off that kitchen table with that thing coming out of him. In a funny kind of way, that was the most in-your-face, scary, shocking thing; what followed was all teasing.
DC: Will there be chestbursters?
RS: Yes, we do a bit of that. There’s a lot in this, this is the most complex movie by far because the aliens themselves are pretty straightforward. It was almost like a B-movie done in a real A-movie kind of way, with a great cast, beautifully scored, well shot, etc. It was like the seven people in The Old Dark House and who’s going to die first; it’s a premise as old as the hills, so it gets boring, really. But I think now we’ve got to this point where we’ve presented enough questions and have to have enough answers to make it really interesting as well as the aspect of these creatures.
DC: Does the new film look like the original Alien movie?
RS: No, it’s nothing like the original at all. When you see it, you’ll see it’s nothing like it at all. It’s a much bigger notion, and Michael [Fassbender] is very important in it.
DC: How hard it is to scare people these days?
RS: It’s the hardest thing to do; really scaring people is hard. Making people laugh, comedians will say this is bullshit, but it’s easier to make people laugh, I think. I’ve done three I think, Thelma and Louise was a kind of comedy and a funny little film called Matchstick Men that I really enjoyed doing and I think there’s another one, and I found I liked doing comedies, it was really fun to do that, you’re not having dark days. When you’re doing things like this, scaring people, it’s really hard. You have to get really in there and decide how that’s going to be so it gets the dark side of the moon.
DC: The actors told us you use practical touchstones as much as possible.
RS: Well, I try to have a guy in a suit whenever I can, because in the original Alien there was no digital at all… it didn’t exist. In those days if you were doing a matte you had to do a matte paint, so you’re relying on the talent of the matte artist and you could nearly always spot it and when you’re limited it makes you more inventive. So with the original Alien I was very limited with the budget and what I had to do so you think of things at the spur of the moment and in the moment Ian Holms was going to attack Sigourney, and he was great, Ian. We knew there was something seriously wrong with him, we didn’t know he was an A.I. at that point and once we know he’s an A.I., the logic of having an A.I. on board these massive investments made sense, as opposed to having a box in the corner with the lights blinking, you have it as a humanoid that you can’t tell the difference so of the crew, no one knows who the actual A.I. is because actually, the A.I. is a company man, he’s a man of the company and will find a way of reporting back or registering events as they happen. I’m a camera operator, and I’m lining up on Ian, he’s standing there looking at me like he’s having a cup of coffee and I said, get me an eyedropper with some milk and they said milk and I said yeah, just get me the bloody milk and so we start turning over, we do that and the milk runs down the middle of his forehead into the shot and everybody goes holy shit, and it was just done at the spur of the moment, there’s a lot of things that happen at the spur of the moment, so now that milk goes right forward into A.I.’s, A.I.’s now have, they don’t have red blood, they have milk; well, it’s not milk, it’s white.
DC: What is it about exploration of space as a filmmaker that keeps you interested?
RS: Well, it’s the new universe, it’s real. I got very close to that on Martian because having survived that it’s very real. You can grow a potato in thirty-seven days and… you can live off of potatoes and how you grow them is also amusing. So the instruction book of doing Martian was very interesting, I spent a lot of time talking to NASA and they were really thrilled with what they did because it felt so real and they will have people standing on Mars, probably in the latter half of the 2020’s, 2025 is starting to look like a possibility of having somebody up there. You can go to Mars and back three times in a year because they’ve got a new engine called plasma, you see I had plasma engines on Alien, they didn’t have plasma engines, now they’re called plasma. I said, did you call it plasma after me, they said no.
DC: Is you directing style the same in the original Alien and Alien: Covenant?
RS: No, when I was a camera operator, it was faster for me because I’d done many commercials before I did the film, so all of Alien, not with Blade Runner because I had to be in America so I chose the camera men, all of Legend, all of them, a lot of stuff I’d operate because photography is very important to me. Also, talking to an actor I can sit and tell them to come closer and… actors like it. I was told way back when, you’ve got to stand by the camera and the actors will not like it if you’re looking through a camera. On the contrary, we move faster, more efficiently, quicker and it’s more beautiful because I’ve got the eye. In those days I could only use one camera, it was me, on the camera, that’s what people did. I’d get very involved with the lighting through the camera because of all of those commercials. Today, even on an average film or dialogue, I’ll use four cameras, if I’m on one it means every time I cut I have to get in on all three cameras. Now I’ll sit in a tent with monitors, each camera is a monitor twice the size of that so I can see and say, you’re too short, you missed him, zoom in, what are you doing, shit like that.
DC: Are there more planets than the ones we know?
RS: Well yes, they’re bound to be…. I got this on Martian from NASA, and I said, to some scientists, who believes in God? There was a long silence and out of seven of them, four went… and I said you believe in God? Oh wow, and you’re astrophysicists, astromathematics, I mean how can you actually believe in God when it’s all about technology? They said, we always reach a wall. I said, is that right, what did the wall tell you? It tells me we’re not clever enough so whatever is behind that wall is the evolution of how it really occurred. So I said, is that where we get God from? He said, yup. But the idea of when you look at the universe, for us to sit here and think that we are it in the universe, it’s so ridiculous, it’s silly and now, in 1979 they didn’t believe that, the general opinion was we are it, which I always thought was kind of stupid and when I asked them the question at NASA and they said it all depends, if that’s our galaxy, in the middle of that sheet, and that’s’ your sun, according to where you are out here, let’s say that’s Earth here on the edge, they’re would be many of these in that radius and therefore the chances are you have similar lifeforms here. Over here it would be a bit colder, over here a bit hotter but any closer it gets too hot, but somewhere in this belt there’s going to be a lifeform so if you look up there, there will be millions of lifeforms.
DC: You have such strong female roles in your movies…
RS: You know, I had that pointed out to me before it ever dawned on me. I’m used to strong women, I mean all of the companies are run by women because the best man got the job, that’s what happens, it’s a good metaphor, the strongest got the job. I never worried about that, even when I was doing Alien, the person running my company was already a female, my company’s very successful, in Paris, London, New York, it’s really successful and in 79’ I hadn’t made a movie and they said to me, Ripley’s written as a guy, what do you think if it was a woman? I said fine, it was not a big deal and when it came out it suddenly dawned on me what a big deal that was. Since then I’ve done Thelma and Louise, G.I. Jane, all those others.
DC: Why Covenant for the name of the ship?
RS: Well, Covenant is like a promise, a deal. If you’re coming to the United States… when did the forefathers land in the United States? 1620? Okay, this lot, they will go off into space with a view of never returning… you know, 747’s are now 35 years old so a ship in space, there’s no real pressure on it anymore, a 747 has all kind of stresses and waste and potential cracking of the hull, but once you’re in space, nothing happens, there’s no moving parts, you can go on for a century providing you know how to grow your own food, which they do, so eventually you will have ships like the forefathers going off with people. The only thing they haven’t sorted out yet really is hyper-sleep, the induced coma. Once you’re in a coma, you slow down the growing pattern, at twenty you’ll still look fifteen, etc., so the Covenant is a ship that’s going off into the new world.
DC: What movies scared you while growing up?
RS: Well, I wasn’t allowed to go see scary movies, my parents thought it was like going to see sex movies so I was not allowed to see that. I think I watched X and Them… it was an atomic explosion that made ants big and I’d sit there as a kid and think that’s terrible, I never got it. I never got into science-fiction really, but the two that struck a chord prior to that would be The Day the Earth Stood Still and a very good one, absolutely seamless, with Gregory Peck called On the Beach, it’s really great. It’s one all done in the Cold War, with the possibility of an atomic war, that’s really excellent, I would say it’s as good as Kubrick’s Doctor Strangelove.
DC: Will there be an Alien trilogy now?
RS: Not at the moment because I’m doing another movie soon. I’m already casting, I’m doing something right now, it’s the underbelly of the real cartel… but there will be another Alien, there’s one being written right now. What do you want me to do? Are you going to see something? A quick history lesson, I’m just shooting from the hip. Alien the first one, the next three, Jim [Cameron]’s was good, the rest kind of wore out. At that time I was kind of looking at this thinking what a pity, this franchise is gone, and then Alien vs. Predator, that wasn’t a great idea to do that and so I thought about it and went back to them and said I’ll resurrect Alien if you like, bring it back to the front because the creature is so rare, H.R. Giger’s creature is so rare, it was a pity to see it go so quickly. So I came up with an idea for Prometheus. It was designed to bring in the question… in the three subsequent movies, not one of them from the original franchise… asked the question: Who would make such a thing and why? It was the obvious thing to do if you’re going to do a sequel, say why did this thing exist and who made it? So Prometheus is the stepping stone to that, and it’s not who you think it’s going to be, who made it, and Covenant now shows you who made it and why… and I’m not going to explain any more than that. You’re going to have to see the thing. You’re going to have to go pay and see it. Hope you enjoy it.
Look for Alien: Covenant everywhere on May 19th.
Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride, Demián Bichir, Carmen Ejogo, Amy Seimetz, Jussie Smollett, Callie Hernandez, Nathaniel Dean, Alexander England, and Benjamin Rigby star in Alien: Covenant. Ridley Scott directed the film, which was written by John Logan and Dante Harper based on a story by Jack Paglen and Michael Green.
Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created, with ALIEN: COVENANT, a new chapter in his groundbreaking ALIEN franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant, bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, discovers what they think is an uncharted paradise but is actually a dark, dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination, they must attempt a harrowing escape.