Interview with Bolaji Badejo, 1979

Alien actor, Bolaji Badejo.

Originally published in the Autumn 1979 issue of Cinefantastique magazine, this is Alien actor Bolaji Badejo’s only interview. So far as I know, it’s not been available online anywhere else until now, and is reproduced here courtesy of Cinefantastique. 

The Alien you don’t get to see in ALIEN was played by 6″10, 26-year-old Nigerian Bolaji Badejo. Bolaji is a student of graphic arts in London, and has travelled extensively with his parents: to Ethiopia where he studied fine arts; and to the United States, including a three year stay in San Francisco. He landed the role of “The Alien” purely by accident, a turn of events that reads like a publicity agent’s tall tale. The production had apparently put out a casting call for a very tall, very thin actor. Bolaji bumped into agent Peter Archer while having a drink in a London West End pub. Archer thought of ALIEN as soon as he spotted Bolaji, and offered him the chance to try out for the part.

“As soon as I walked in,” said Bolaji, “Ridley Scott knew he’d found the right person.” Scott had been looking at basketball players, and had tested Peter Mayhew [Star Wars' Chewbacca] for the Alien, but it was Badejo’s combination of height, slimness and an erect posture that cinched him the part. Bolaji was signed for the part in May, manufacture of the suit began, and the filming of the Alien scenes started in August at Shepperton.

Ridley Scott originally intended Bolaji to be part of a team of three artists needed to play the Alien, including a mime specialist and a karate expert. When other experts of Bolaji’s unique proportions could not be found, a stuntman was substituted for the dangerous and physically grueling action and Bolaji began to take miming lessons. Most of the footage shot of the Alien didn’t work, but there is one brief cut of Bolaji going through one of his miming routines in the suit, in the sequence where he attacks Veronica Cartwright. “The idea,” says Bolaji, “was that the creature was supposed to be graceful as well as vicious, requiring slow, deliberate movements. But there was some action I had to do pretty quick. I remember having to kick Yaphet Kotto, throw him against the wall, and rush up to him. Veronica Cartwright was really terrified. After I fling Yaphet Kotto back with my tail, I turn to go after her, there’s blood in my mouth, and she was incredible. It wasn’t acting. She was scared.”

At rest on set.

Bolaji worked approximately four months on the film, through final shooting at Shepperton in November. He usually worked only three or four days in the week, sometimes on weekends, and kept getting called back to redo shots when the action didn’t work. “They’d say, ‘Come back and do this shot again,’ but when you get there they’d want you to do something else. New ideas were always coming into their heads.”

Only Bolaji and HR Giger were allowed to watch the rushes of the Alien footage with Ridley Scott, so they could work out problems together on how best to show the Alien and represent the movements and actions required. Most of the footage Bolaji filmed never made it into the movie, due to problems.

“Ridley had a lot more ideas than what you see on the screen, but some things were impossible. There was one part where I was hanging from a wire about ten or fifteen feet above the ground, and I curled up. I was like a coccoon of my own, and I come out very slowly and stretch out. But I couldn’t do it. I was held up by a harness around my stomach, and I was suffocating trying to make these movements.”

Scott filmed several variations of his concept of the monster descending from above onto Harry Dean Stanton, but none of them worked. In one set-up, Badejo was strapped onto a large see-saw like boom arm that could be raised from the ground to tilt straight up some 20 feet in the air. When it came down full circle, Bolaji was upside down, with blood just rushing to his head, feeling very dizzy. Enough was enough! Bolaji declined to repeat the stunt, so Scott got the stuntman to try it, but he fainted! Eventually, Scott rigged the boom arm with a dummy suit and tried to film the same action, but it wouldn’t work without a host to animate the Alien’s movements. Scott filmed some footage of the stuntman being lowered head-first on wires, picking up another stuntman doubling for Harry Dean Stanton, and whisking him back up to the ceiling of the ship, out of frame. In the end, Scott was forced to resort to closeups and quick cuts to suggest the action of the sequence.

HR Giger made the Alien suits worn by Bolaji and the stuntman out of latex, at a cost of more than $250,000. The suit consisted of some ten to fifteen separate pieces, worn over a one-piece black body suit, needed underneath to disguise the fact that the Alien fitted together in sections, and because you could see through parts of it, like the ribcage. The ribcage was put on like a sweater, over the head. The legs and hips were put on separately as sleeves, fitted over with gloves for the hands. The tail was attached separately and operated by a series of wires. Feet were worn like shoes. The head was placed on last. Bolaji likened wearing it to having your head stuck up the middle of a huge banana.

“The Nostromo set itself was only about 6’6 high. I’m 6’10, 7′ with the suit on. I had to be very careful how I spun around or did anything. It was terribly hot, especially the head. I could only have it on for about fifteen or twenty minutes at a time. When I took it off, my head would be soaked.”

In addition to the non-mechanical head for actions scenes, Bolaji wore Carlo Rambaldi’s articulated head for special effects shots. “It was all manual, remote controlled,” said Bolaji. “There’s still a space in it for my head. I had it on just to make sure nothing goes wrong with the posture of the head or how tall it is in comparison to the other sequences. They must have had about 2000 tubes of K-Y Jelly,” he laughed, “just to get the effect of that slime coming out of his mouth. A lot of it was spread around on the face. I could barely see what was going on around me, except when I was in a stationary position, while they were filming. Then there were a few holes I could look through.”

Crawling out of the Narcissus’ compartments was particularly difficult for Badejo.

Bolaji only wore the suit for sequences in which the Alien’s full body would be on view. For sequences where just an arm or part of the body was needed, anyone could double as the Alien by donning part of the suit. Bolaji, for instance, did not play the scene with Tom Skerritt inside the Nostromo’s cramped ventilation shaft, where only part of the creature’s crouched body is visible. For some sequences a dummy in the suit was used, such as the climax where the Alien is sucked out of the shuttlecraft and fried by the ship’s jet exhaust.

The shuttlecraft sequences at the end of the film were some of the most interesting and difficult for Bolaji, and provided most of the useable Alien footage. Climbing into the cramped shuttlecraft bulkhead and then out again for each take put a lot of strain on the suit, which kept splitting.

“Bursting out of that compartment wasn’t easy,” exclaims Bolaji. “I must’ve ripped the suit two or three times coming out, and each time I’d climb down, the tail would rip off! But it wasn’t much of a problem for them, because they had more suits. I remember I had to repeat that action for about fifteen takes. Finally, I said, ‘No more!’ There was a lot of smoke, it was hard to breathe, and it was terribly hot.”

Bolaji regrets that no one can recognise him as the Alien in the film, but thinking back on Boris Karloff, Christopher Lee, or other successful actors who began their careers by playing grotesque monsters, he adds, “The fact that I played the part of the Alien, for me, that’s good enough. Legally, I’ll be given the opportunity of doing a follow-up, if there is one.” Although he is training for a career on graphic design and commercial art, he exclaims, “Not if a film comes along!”

Originally published in Cinefantastique, Volume 9, Number 1. Autumn 1979.

Thanks to Cinefantastique for allowing me to host this rare interview. Of course, you can still visit Cinefantastique online.

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15 Comments

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15 responses to “Interview with Bolaji Badejo, 1979

  1. Where’s Mr. Badejo nowadays? Looking him up on the net has proven uneffective. Some reports I found even declare the possibility he’s passed already.
    It would be very pleasing to hear any latest news of him. It’s known that he has not performed in any Alien sequels. Has he succeeded in becoming an accoplished graphic artist?

    • I’m interested in creating a short 5 – 10 minute documentary on Bolaji for a University project, although I’m not quite sure how I’d present it yet, but it wouldn’t be massively publicised (only uploaded on Vimeo / sent to documentary festivals perhaps). Do you think Bolaji’s family would be interested at all in being interviewed? Possibly over Skype or something if they don’t live in the U.K. Perhaps you could help me out on this one if you’re interested.

  2. Ah yes, I completely understand, thanks for letting me know!

  3. I’m right with you there, Seonaidh. Ultimately, it’s their wish and to us there’s nothing else left to do but to pay our respects to Mr. Badejo by honoring his family’s wishes.

  4. Yuri

    If you’re wondering about his death he committed suicide, Scott decided it would be a great idea to get Badejo into the mood for the role by having him isolated from other people and staying alone at a hotel seperate from the other actors and just not interacting with other humans in general. I think he committed suicide around 3 months after returning home to Nigeria and reported being extremely depressed while on set. So yeah great job to Ridley Scott there.

    • He certainly did not commit suicide, and was alive and in relative good health well into the late eighties. He was not the type to get depressed as suggested, and was in fact a very positive thinking individual, not prone to that sort of mind set. He owned and ran a highly successful art gallery located in Falomo, Lagos, Nigeria, and resided at Olonode Street, Yaba on mainland Lagos. His eventual death, I believe,was as a consequence of an inherited blood condition, the details of which I need not reveal further, other than to say he had endured it since childhood, and that he in facte far outlived the expected lifespan of those who have it. Your account of his initial meeting with director Ridley Scott in a West End pub is just as he related it to me. His was a unique and vibrant personality in so many ways and news of his demise came as a rude shock to those who knew him. Sorely missed.

      • That’s most kind to set the record straight and dispel any disrespectful rumours, thank you very much sir :)

      • Matthieu

        Sorry to ask you that but… How can we be sure that what you’re is the truth? That you didn’t make up the whole story? You gave a lot of details, right, but we can’t find anything with that, as well as we can’t find anything about suicide or whatever. And for the moment, there’s no existing obituary evidence, nor in Nigeria or UK (as far as I’ve searched).

  5. Jim

    A casting agent spotted the 6’10” man in a London bar and referred him to Scott. Before long, he was taking miming classes and sweating it out in a latex suit full of KY Jelly, but even wearing only a mock-up head, his performance is still otherworldly.

  6. Leone Edwards

    I met Bolaji when he was in London. My (now) ex husband, Phil Edwards interviewed him. He came to our London flat and as I followed him up the stairs I thought I’d never see where he finished, he was so tall. I was sure he said he was 6 feet 8 inches. I see some articles putting his height at 6 feet 10 inches, others, 7 feet 2 inches. What is correct? I also remember he said he had done some modelling.

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