Tag Archives: Ripley

Casting Ripley

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May 1978, and production, with all its attendant problems, was well underway at Shepperton Studios.

Though sets were being mapped out and constructed, some were being hotly debated; the Alien had been committed to canvas, if not rubber (Giger had not, for now, been tasked with the actual construction of his monster); the script was in a constant state of flux, and tensions between the producers and the film’s writers were beginning to break out with Ridley, trying to compromise between the O’Bannon script and the Giler/Hill rewrites, being stuck in the middle of a writers feud that had opened, and would probably close, the film’s inception and completion.

There was another, arguably more pertinent problem: in a month the cameras would finally roll, but the part of Ripley had yet to be cast. Auditions for the part had seemingly wrung Los Angeles and New York dry. British-American actress Veronica Cartwright had read for the role twice, and Ridley reckoned that he wanted her for the film, but her ability to convey catatonia and fear—a talent that Scott and casting director Mary Goldberg especially admired— wasn’t a fit for Ripley. “Laddie was going crazy,” Ridley remembered, “saying, ‘You’ve gotta make your mind up.’ I said, ‘Yeah, you know, I can’t find it yet.’”[1]

Several other actresses had been prospected. Twentieth Century Fox had initially pushed for an established actress to give the film heft: Katherine Ross or Genevieve Bujold, but stars of that calibre were not keen to be involved with a grubby science fiction movie. The success of Star Wars however convinced Fox that unknown actors could carry a successful film if buttressed by an established face or two, as Alec Guinness and Peter Cushing had done for Lucas’ unfamiliar cast.

One better known star who read for Alien was English actress Helen Mirren, who admired the refreshing ambiguity of the characters’ sexes. “I read the original script for that,” she said, “and when you read it, you had no idea which character was male and which was female. They were just people engaging with each other in this situation. They all had these sort of asexual names, so when Ripley said or did things, you had no idea whether Ripley was a man or a woman. You could have interchanged all the characters —they could have been all male or all female— any one of them could have been anything.”[2]

“There was no, ‘a lean 32 year old woman who doesn’t realise how attractive she is’ – there was absolutely none of that!” Mirren continued. “You had no idea who was a man and who was a woman. That was the revelation.”[3]

It wasn’t until the USA casting department put forth two choices for the role that the production started encircling potential Ripleys. The first suggestion was Meryl Streep, an up-and-coming theatre actress who briefly appeared in Julia (1977) and had recently wrapped on Michael Cimino’s The Deer Hunter (1978) with her partner John Cazale. Unfortunately, Cazale, in the end stages of lung cancer throughout The Deer Hunter’s shoot, died March 12, 1978, and Gordon Carroll did not think it appropriate to ask Streep to consider the role.

“The other woman,” Carroll remembered, “was of course, Sigourney Weaver.”[4]

Susan ‘Sigourney’ Weaver was, of a sort, American aristocracy. Her grandfather Sylvester Laflin Weaver left St. Louis for Los Angeles in 1893 and placed an ad in the Times to find work, with salary “no object”. For years he eked his way as a janitor, book-keeper, shipping clerk and salesman. “I finally became sales manager,” he explained, “making stops at San Luis Obispo, El Paso and the City of Mexico, during which I accumulated a wife, four children and a fair modicum of this world’s goods.”[5] In 1905 he was chairman of the Chamber of Commerce, overseeing the development of Los Angeles Harbour, and in 1910 founded his own roofing company, Weaver Roofing; it was said that most, if not all, of L.A.’s emerging suburbs at the time had been roofed by Weaver.

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His ambitions did not end there: he was president of the Los Angeles Rotary Club and then, in 1917, was elected a director of the L.A. Chamber of Commerce. In 1919, Weaver, now a beloved and influential figure, ran for Mayor. His candidacy was received with enthusiasm: he was the centrepiece of a parade that rolled down Broadway “while bands played, horns blared, guns popped, red-fire flared and flashlights streamed their beams.”[6] But his mayoral candidature was not to be; he came in third place.

Yet this disappointment, coupled with the 1921 destruction of his roofing plant by fire, dampened neither his fortunes nor popularity. The family’s frequent partying and holidaying was a regular subject of the local papers and gossip circles. His wife wrote operas, books and was a patroness for charitable events. His four children —two sons, two daughters— lived accordingly. “My father was one of the young men about town,” remembered Sigourney. “He used to go out with Loretta Young and her sisters, and he went to high school with Carole Lombard, whose name was Jane Peters then. He used to date all the stars.”[7]

Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver Jnr, like his father, was never still. Starting out as a writer for KHJ radio, he quickly became program manager, switched to managerial positions in advertising, served in WWII, and then joined NBC in ’49. By ’53, he had been vice president of television and radio, then vice chairman of the board, and finally president of NBC. In ’43 he married English actress Elizabeth Inglis, who had appeared in Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps (1935) and opposite Bette Davis in The Letter (1940), with their children Trajan and Susan Weaver coming along after the war.

By the time Susan Weaver was born in 1949, the Weaver family was still firmly on the ascendancy. Her uncle Winstead ‘Doodles’ Weaver was a celebrated television and film comedian, “Manhattan’s favourite clown”[8] according to the press; her aunt a noted New York Times fashion critic, and her father the president of NBC, where he heralded both Today and The Tonight Show. “I was brought up in a show business environment,” she said. “Actors and famous people were there when I was a kid. The unusual was usual for me.”[9] She remembered stars like Art Linkletter visiting her father at their home on Long Island, and being “miserable because I was quarantined with the chicken pox.”[10]

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Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver with his daughter Susan Weaver. June 1955.

It was at the Ethel Walker School for girls in Connecticut where Susan adopted the name ‘Sigourney’, lifting it from a one-off character in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. The name, she thought, would stop her classmates from calling her ‘Weaver’, and she was from a family of odd names anyway. Her father once suggested naming her Flavia —his interests, obviously, firmly Roman— but her mother relented, choosing instead to name their daughter after family friend Susan Pretzlik. “A very interesting woman,” said Sigourney. “She was quite an explorer. And if I had met Susan before I switched over to Sigourney when I was 13, I probably would have kept it.”[11] But, for the adolescent Weaver at the time, “To be named Susan in a family like that seemed inappropriate.”[12]

Her family took to Sigourney easily enough. “They called me ‘S’ for a while in case I changed it to something else. And then actually they wanted me to keep the Roman part of my name, which was Alexandra—Susan Alexandra Weaver—so my father and I tried to think of a way of calling me Alexandra.”[13]

But her father quickly abandoned this when his daughter’s headmistress pulled them up about the change in name. “Do you permit your daughter to use that ridiculous name?” Weaver remembered her headmistresses asking her parents.

“And my father said, ‘Are you talking about our daughter, Sigourney?’ I thought that was wonderful of him.”[14]

At school she played a greaser in an update of Alfred Noyes’ poem ‘The Highwayman’, and found she had a taste for performance. “I flipped my hair back and wore a big leather jacket and some girls chased me out. I guess I did a good job as an Elvis Presley type.”[15] Tall for her age, gangly and a little awkward, Sigourney discovered that acting could be liberating. “I figured it was like being an explorer. There were so many interesting things to be —a lawyer, a doctor, a biophysicist— and only one life. Acting was a way to get around it.”[16]

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Sigourney Weaver at 13.

Her budding acting career was off to a bad start when, while rehearsing for a play at the Red Barn Playhouse, she was quickly replaced when the producer realised her romantic interest was only half her height. She had been a lanky 5’10 at 13, and even now many of her peers had yet to catch up. She stuck out. She looked odd. “I called my parents and described this situation to my mother and she said, ‘Well, welcome to the business.’ She said, ‘Your heart will be broken a hundred times.’”[17]

She found some acting work in weekend productions and summer stock, and even toured San Francisco with a comedy troupe, but these, she felt, were relegations: she wanted to do more, could do more, but no one else was willing to look beyond her height. “I was very much a loner,” she said, “and a self-conscious loner at that.”[18]

It was after gaining her English degree and while preparing for a PhD at Stanford that she decided to tackle acting head on, despite any misgivings about her physicality. Academia, she decided, wasn’t for her. “The course started getting really boring. Finally, I went to my adviser and said, ‘This is a desert, this part of it, right here in the middle. I hope it’s not going to be like this for three years.’ He said, ‘It’s going to be quite like this.’ I said, ‘I don’t think I can stand it.’ I was studying criticism of criticism. It was all this twice-removed stuff—deadly dry. So I just applied to Yale Drama School and got in.”[19]

Her family, who had so often occupied show business echelons, always warned her that the business was unfair, rarely a meritocracy, and even cruel—but she did not expect the disillusion to set in before she had even graduated from drama school. “My acceptance to Yale was addressed to Mr. Sigourney Weaver, so I really wasn’t sure when I got there what they thought they’d taken. My second day there I got violently ill from food poisoning and had to go to the hospital. I’d eaten liver at the Elm City Diner—I was trying to be healthy by eating liver. I remember sitting next to this window on Chapel Street that had a big bullet hole in it. I should have known then….”[20]

At Yale she was rarely cast. Her tutors asserted that she had no future as an actress. The best roles, she remembered, went to classmate Meryl Streep. “I still think they probably had this Platonic ideal of a leading lady that I have never been able to live up to,” Sigourney reflected. “And would never want to.”[21]

If she reckoned that, after graduation, her father’s show business contacts would give her a lift she was to find that she had to rely solely on herself. “When I got out of Yale Drama School I called up a friend of my father to see if he could find me some stage work. He said: ‘Look kid, why don’t you get a job at Bloomingdales?’ Ever since then I’ve been on my own.”[22]

She teamed up with Yale friend Chris Durang, a budding playwright who had been one of the few at Yale to cast her in his productions. “I sensed that the audience had a special rapport with Sigourney,” Durang recalled. “Actors need skill and intelligence—which Sigourney has in abundance—but stars need charisma, which hard work can’t give you.”[23] Sigourney, he knew, had charisma in spades; she just needed exposure. He remembered how, after graduating, casting agents tended to complain about her height and “kept trying to type her as a patrician girlfriend who poured cocktails and nodded politely while the leading man talked.”[24] Stepping in, Durang teamed up with Weaver, casting her in his off-Broadway plays ‘Titanic’, ‘Beyond Therapy’, and ‘Das Lusitania Songspiel’.

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Weaver and Durang on a poster for Das Lusitania Songspiel’s 1980 revival.

For Weaver, her adventures off-Broadway with Durang were more than affirming favours from a good friend: they were a life line. “After I left Yale,” said Sigourney, “we were all doing these mad plays off-off Broadway. And I got back to that feeling I had from college, of everyone making up in front of one cracked mirror, which is what I loved—the scrappy theatre idea. I think off-off Broadway healed me, made me an actor again, and I was in so many different crazy shows. I played a woman who kept a hedgehog in her vagina in one play; I was schizophrenic in another. It was just so much fun.”[25]

It was at this time that her name had started to circle around, and she came to the attention of the desperate Alien production. “She came recommended the long way around,” said Ridley, “where somebody had said to somebody, ‘There’s this girl who’s doing theatre on Broadway who’s very interesting, is a giant, I think she’s 6’1 in her stockinged feet. She’s very interesting. Smart performer, very physical.”[26]

To get an idea of how she came across on film, Walter Hill screened Madman (1978), an independent Israeli film that featured Weaver opposite Michael Beck. Liking both actors, he tapped Weaver for Alien, and Beck for his forthcoming film The Warriors (1979). Sigourney was sent the Alien script and invited to audition in New York before Ridley Scott, David Giler and Gordon Carroll.

She did not, at the time, prioritise film roles, having turned down the part of Dorrie in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977) when her commitments to Chris Durang’s ‘Das Lusitania Songspiel’ clashed with the filming schedule – Christine Jones took the Dorrie role, though Weaver was afforded a non-speaking cameo in the closing moments of the film as Allen’s date as recompense. It had been the theatre that reinvigorated her, and that was where her loyalties lay; there, she had rediscovered a joy in performing that she thought had been irreparably lost at acting school. When the Alien script came through she was busying herself with the play The Conquering Event as well as various acting and charitable seminars, and didn’t see herself as a science-fiction actor, let alone lead.

“I was doing a seminar called the Hunger Project,” she said, “which was simply about making a difference in the world. Within the context of that seminar a movie part was so unimportant. I went up for Alien and didn’t want to be bothered, because I thought I had not suffered through the Yale School of Drama to do a science-fiction movie. I read the script and didn’t really care that much for it.”[27]

Though she was averse to science-fiction and couldn’t imagine the Alien looking anything other than silly, she still admired how “They had broken the rule and written two of the parts, originally designed for men, for women to play.”[28] One of those parts intrigued her in particular. “Actually, the part I wanted was Lambert. In the first script I read, she just cracked jokes the whole time. What was wonderful about it was that here was a woman who was wise-assing, telling stupid jokes just when everyone was getting hysterical. And she didn’t crack up until the end. That’s a character I could identify with because that’s how I assume I would act. If the elevator gets stuck that’s what I do.”[29]

The audition, held at the Loews Regency hotel on Park Avenue, was almost botched from the start, with Weaver turning up to the wrong hotel. She called her agent and suggested blowing it off, but he recommended that she go ahead anyway. Without much else to do, she rushed for the Regency. Ridley, Giler, Carroll and casting director Mary Goldberg waited, and waited, until finally, thirty moments after she had been due, Weaver turned up. “And then we hear,” said Carroll, “l can’t say running feet in the corridor, but we hear fast-paced feet coming toward the door, and then slowing down, composing itself… The bell rings, Mary opens the door, and Ripley was standing there.”

Weaver was quite the sight – standing over six feet tall in long boots, the panel found themselves looking up at what Carroll called “This extraordinary-looking woman; tall, commanding presence.”[30]

They talked about the script, beginning by asking Weaver what she thought of it.

“It’s a very bleak picture where people don’t relate to each other at all,”[31] she answered.

Mary Goldberg signalled that Weaver was sabotaging her own audition, but Weaver was undeterred from speaking her mind. “I happen to have worked on many new plays with new playwrights,” she said, “so I have been encouraged to speak up — I didn’t know if people in movies were used to that.”[32]

To her surprise (and relief), her interviewers acknowledged the shallowness of the characters, explaining that they were relying on interesting actors to bring them to life. “I thought it was best to put all my cards on the table,” said Sigourney, “because if they really wanted a ‘Charlie’s Angel’ I knew it wouldn’t be right for me. But they were the first to admit that it was going to take a lot of development and close working together.”[33]

Then Ridley, remembering how effective Giger’s Necronomicon had been on himself, propped up a display of images by Giger and Rambaldi. Weaver was suddenly piqued. This would be the monster. She had never seen anything like it. They broke for lunch, with Scott and the producers taking Weaver for Japanese food on Fifty Fifth Street, where they met Walter Hill, before returning to the Regency to read through the script.

She did not know it yet, but Carroll, Scott and Giler all felt that she was perfect for Ripley the moment they laid eyes on her. “Somehow,” said Ridley, “I knew this was her.”[34] Hill was similarly enthused, but Weaver herself did not feel like a shoo-in. In fact, she was somewhat mystified by the attention. “I didn’t really know what was expected of me as I’d only made one film,” she said, “and an eight-part television series about aristocratic women called The Best of Families.”[35]

But it was her naivety and inexperience that the producers and Ridley knew would be perfect for Ripley. The character was thinly-sketched in the script, the only real characterful moments being her adamancy that quarantine rules be stringently obeyed, and her swift assumption of command after the death of Dallas. Looking at Weaver— her intelligence, twinkling humour and soft-spoken assertiveness as obvious as her strong jaw, high cheekbones and broad shoulders— they could see the blanks being filled already.

Scott had been enamoured the moment she stepped through the door, and continued to marvel at her throughout the day. “Jesus Christ, I was always looking up at her!” he remembered. “I walked into a restaurant with her and she held my hand. I felt like, ‘Mummy, Daddy!’”[36]

“She clearly has the authority that she needs to have,” he continued, “and can give any guy as good as he can give back.” Gordon saw how Weaver could project composure, and yet, “You knew that just an eighth of an inch behind that composure was a very nervous actress, a very tense actress, and that was exactly right.”[37] Giler noted her “American aristocratic” bearing, how she embodied perfectly the officer class.

With the producers and director keen, Weaver was flown out to Hollywood to meet Alan Ladd Jr., and Gareth Wiggin. “I lost my bags on the plane and went in my rotten clothes,” Sigourney recalled. “We had a typical chatty Hollywood meeting where you’re all supposed to pretend you’re there for social reasons and no one mentions the film.”[38]

Ladd, ever cautious, agreed to hire Weaver provided that she complete a screen test first. Scott protested that he was mere weeks from filming, but acquiesced: Fox placed a lot of trust in him due to his self-made success with RSA, but there were still plenty of executives, like Peter Beale, who still viewed him as untested. It irritated Scott, who had left a promising career at the BBC in favour of his independence, to suddenly have his creative decisions become the purview of a committee… but he trusted and respected Ladd, who had allowed head scratchers like Star Wars and Alien to be made at all.

“So,” said Sigourney, “the next week I flew to London. I hadn’t yet been hired but I was the only actress they were screentesting. They hoped I would do well. And we did a run-through of the entire script.”[39]

Weaver filmed her screentest on May 12th. She was apprehensive, imagining that she would have to duck and weave in an empty space or react to a potted plant, but when she arrived she found that Ridley had constructed a piece of set especially for her test. “This test corridor we built was the first look at the interior of the corridors of the Nostromo,” revealed art director Roger Christian. “It established the look of Alien for the very first time.”[40] In effect, not only was Sigourney being tested, but Ridley’s vision for the film was about to be captured—and scrutinised—for the first time.

Ladd watched the test in silence and, once done, picked up a nearby phone. He asked that some of the women upstairs come down to view the rushes with him. “So we ran the test again,” said Ridley, “and Laddy simply then said, ‘What did you think?’ and there were, I don’t know, maybe eight, twelve women who immediately jumped in. One said, ‘I think she’s like Jane Fonda.’”[41]

“Alan Ladd watched the screen test,” explained David Giler, “and had all the secretaries in the building come down and watch it. And they got into a big argument that she looked more like Jane Fonda or Faye Dunaway, and he just said, ‘You can have her. She’s in.’”[42]

Weaver, already on her way home to New York, was not entirely confident. She reckoned she had played her scenes wrong, that she had been too stereotypically tough. “If I hadn’t been in an unambitious place philosophically, I think I would have tried harder,” she said. “In fact, it wasn’t until the day before the screen test that I sat down and thought, well, Sigourney, you’d really better make up your mind if you want to do this or not. They’ve already flown you out here. If you don’t, you’d better think about ending it. I finally decided I really liked the character of Ripley as well as the designs and Ridley Scott. Besides, I didn’t want anyone else to do it.”[43]

Luckily, she was to find that, barely home after her long plane flight, that she had gotten the part. “I had sort of written it off every step of the way.”[44]

But there was a snag when the actors convened for wardrobe fitting. Veronica Cartwright, who was eventually cast in the film after auditioning for Ripley three times, had assumed, naturally, that that was the role she was to play in the film. “I get a call,” she remembered, “and they said, ‘Okay, you need to come in for your wardrobe for Lambert’. I said, ‘Oh no, I’m not playing Lambert, I’m playing Ripley.’ ‘No no… you’re Lambert.’”[45]

“I called my agent back in LA and said, ‘Aren’t I doing Ripley?’ And he said, ‘Yes, I think so.’ I mean, that’s what he thought too. I even auditioned again when I was in England, and the part that I read for was Ripley. They didn’t bother to tell me. And I’d never even looked at the script from the point of view of Lambert. So I had to re-read the script.”

“I heard [about] that,” remarked David Giler. “Ridley had met Veronica on his own somehow and he really wanted her and we said fine, you know. Very good actress. So she was certainly fine with us.”

For her part, Cartwright suspected that internal politics played a part in the confusion. “There was a lot of politics going on during the making of that movie,” she remembered. “It was Sigourney’s first job. But her dad was a bigwig. There were a lot of favours going on. It just got a bit bigger than anybody had planned. And studio pressure and egos and everything got involved.”[46]

There might be some basis for Cartwright’s suggestion, with Alien 3 actor Ralph Brown detailing a 1991 meeting between himself and Walter Hill to discuss rewrites concerning Brown’s character Aaron ‘85’: “I am now paranoid about being cut from the film” he said, “like Veronica Cartwright was from Alien as Walter gently reminded me earlier – ‘I don’t want to alarm you Ralph but, well, yes, actually I DO want to alarm you. Don’t end up like Veronica Cartwright.’”[47]

However, it’s also likely Hill may be referring to the abundance of deleted scenes, many of which, Cartwright had complained after the film’s release, overwhelmingly featured her character Lambert.

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Sigourney on the Nostromo bridge with her father Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver and mother Elizabeth Weaver.

Sigourney understood that her background would prejudice some against her, especially in an industry that was rife with competitive and suspicious attitudes. “When you are the lead in a film that costs a few million dollars,” she said, “you do get the best hair and make-up people, and you don’t have to worry about things in rehearsal you might not get if you were making an independent film or if you had a supporting role.”

“On Alien,” she continues, “there was some resentment towards me because I came from New York and got such a good part, the one character alive at the end. That was very difficult for me to deal with.”[48]


[1] Ridley Scott, Q&A with Geoff Boucher, Hero Complex Festival (2010).

[2] Helen Mirren, ‘Helen Mirren on The Tempest and Stealing All Her Best Roles From Men’ by Kyle Buchanan, vulture.com (13th December 2010).

[3] Helen Mirren, Empire (April 2016).

[4] Gordon Carroll, ‘Truckers in Space: Casting’ by Charles de Lauzirika, Alien Quadrilogy (2003).

[5] Sylvester L. Weaver, ‘Sketches of Big Men in Industrial Life: Sylvester L. Weaver Devotes Energies to Civic Upbuilding’, The Los Angeles Sunday Times (Sunday 2nd December, 1923).

[6] ‘Weaver is Parade Center’, The Los Angeles Times (May 4th 1919) p. 6.

[7] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[8] ‘Doodles Weaver, Manhattan’s Favourite Clown, Is a University Graduate Who Earns a Living Imitating Lions, Worms,  and Baby Kangaroos’ by Virginia Irwin, St. Louis Post-Dispatch (24th March 1941).

[9] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver: Alien Creature’ by Joe Baltake, Philadelphia Daily News (Friday June 8th, 1979) p. 37.

[10] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Independence isn’t an alien concept to Sigourney Weaver,’ Chicago Tribune (Friday 8th June 1979).

[11] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[12] Sigourney Weaver, interview with Bobbie Wygant (1979).

[13] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[14] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver rolls with punches’ by Dick Kleiner, The Index-Journal (9th July 1979) p. 5.

[15] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[16] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Independence isn’t an alien concept to Sigourney Weaver,’ Chicago Tribune (Friday 8th June 1979).

[17] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[18] Sigourney Weaver, ‘An Eyewitness Report on Actress Sigourney Weaver’ by Patricia Bosworth, The Santa Fe New Mexican/Family Weekly (August 9th 1981) p. 22.

[19] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[20] Ibid.

[21] Ibid.

[22] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver Tough Cookie in Alien’ by Richard Freedman, The Indianapolis Star (Sunday June 10th 1979).

[23] Chris Durang, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[24] Ibid.

[25] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver’ by Jamie Lee Curtis, interviewmagazine.com (23rd February 2015).

[26] Ridley Scott, ‘Truckers in Space: Casting’ by Charles de Lauzirika, Alien Quadrilogy (2003).

[27] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[28] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver defends her semi-strip in Alien’, Photoplay vol. 30 no. 12 (December 1979) p. 42.

[29] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Playing Ripley in Alien: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver’ by Danny Peary, Omni’s Screen Flights/Fantasies (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1984) p. 159.

[30] Gordon Carroll, ‘Truckers in Space: Casting’ by Charles de Lauzirika, Alien Quadrilogy (2003).

[31] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Playing Ripley in Alien: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver’ by Danny Peary, Omni’s Screen Flights/Fantasies (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1984) p. 158.

[32] Ibid, p. 158 – 159.

[33] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Alien Interviews: Sigourney Weaver’ by Jim Sulski, Fantastic Films vo. 2 no. 6 (1979).p. 33.

[34] Ridley Scott, ‘Truckers in Space: Casting’ by Charles de Lauzirika, Alien Quadrilogy (2003).

[35] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Sigourney Weaver defends her semi-strip in Alien’, Photoplay vol. 30 no. 12 (December 1979) p. 42.

[36] Ridley Scott, Q&A with Geoff Boucher, Hero Complex Festival (2010).

[37] Gordon Carroll, ‘Truckers in Space: Casting’ by Charles de Lauzirika, Alien Quadrilogy (2003).

[38] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Playing Ripley in Alien: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver’ by Danny Peary, Omni’s Screen Flights/Fantasies (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1984) p. 159.

[39] Ibid.

[40] Roger Christian, ‘Exclusive Preview: Roger Christian’s Cinema Alchemist’ by Roger Christian, shadowlocked.com (27th October 2010).

[41] Ridley Scott, The Alien Legacy (1999)

[42] David Giler, The Alien Saga (2002).

[43] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Dream Weaver’ by Chris Durang, Interview (July 1988).

[44] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Playing Ripley in Alien: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver’ by Danny Peary, Omni’s Screen Flights/Fantasies (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1984) p. 159.

[45] Veronica Cartwright, Texas Frightmare Weekend Q&A (2013).

[46] Veronica Cartwright, ‘Veronica Cartwright Interview’ by David Hughes, Cinefantastique vol. 31 no. 8 (October 1999) p. 36.

[47] Ralph Brown, ‘Alien 3 – Paranoia in Pinewood’ by Ralph Brown, https://magicmenagerie.wordpress.com/2016/10/12/my-pop-life-171-praying-for-time-george-michael/ (12th October 2016).

[48] Sigourney Weaver, ‘Playing Ripley in Alien: An Interview with Sigourney Weaver’ by Danny Peary, Omni’s Screen Flights/Fantasies (New York: Doubleday & Company, Inc, 1984) p. 160.

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Alien Resurrection: Hybrid Theory

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“It was important to me to restore the Aliens’ superiority, their elegance and ability to sense what people are going to do even before they did. I really wanted to bring back what the Aliens were about in the first movie.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, Starlog #247, 1997.

One complaint regarding the third movie’s Alien was the abandonment of its modus operandi. The creature, fans complained, made no effort to secure hosts for its Queen, nor were there scenes to parallel the Alien’s mysterious appearances in the first movie. Originally, the creature was to cocoon its victims just as its forebearers did, but, according to Tom Woodruff, “the plug was pulled because Fincher’s idea was that the creature simply kills to eat.” And so instead, it gored and chewed on its victims, tugging at their carcasses like a rabid dog. “What I loved about the first one,” said Sigourney Weaver, “was that there was just one Alien and it was so incredibly smart. And we’ve tried with the Alien Resurrection script to get it back to the idea of that the Aliens are not just eating machines, which they never were. Why would they want to eat us? They would use us for purposes much more horrible. If you’re just afraid of them eating you, then they’re like tigers.”

Alien Resurrection screenwriter Joss Whedon had the same concerns and criticisms. “I think the fans were robbed in the third one,” he stated. “They actually had a scene where people we didn’t know were killed by the Alien. That’s Jason, that’s bullshit, because nothing is more boring than people you don’t know being killed.” His script, from its earliest incarnations, always stressed the inevitability of the Aliens breaking from the confines imposed upon them by the Auriga’s scientists. No amount of behavioural conditioning can break their will; no amount of steel and glass can keep them from eventually finding escape — but there was more to their ‘character’ than mere rampage and slaughter. The inclusion of a Queen, around which the Aliens can construct their society, would allow audiences some insight into the Aliens’ motivation (even if, technically, said motivation was nothing new.) “They’re breeding,” Ripley 8 states in the first draft. “They’ve got new bodies to work on.”

Since Resurrection was the first movie to show the Aliens in captivity, there are some attempts in the various scripts to elaborate on their abilities. Brad Dourif’s Dr. Gediman explains (in one of Ripley’s dream sequences) that the Aliens communicate “through ultrasonic soundwaves. Sort of like bats.” Though this information is imparted through one of Ripley’s nightmares, she later tells Call that she can feel the Alien presence “In my head. Behind my eyes” much in the same way. We learn more about the Aliens’ sensory abilities throughout the drafts, such as their ability to “smell fear” and to adapt situationally to threats. In one scene, we find that some caged Aliens have been observing Dr. Gedimen as much as he has been observing them: once his attention slips they launch an attack on one of their own, spilling its intestines upon the steel flooring, melting it and providing an escape. The Aliens swiftly incapacitate the scientists and elimate the military personel so effectively that commanding officer General Perez can only liken it to a “military strike”.

“I don’t quite know how to express it. The Alien, to me, is a symbol of evil.”
~ Jean-Pierre Jeunet, Starlog magazine, 1997.

The various Aliens in the film were conceptualised by a dearth of artists including Sylvain Despretz, Jordu Schell, and Chris Cunningham. The costumes and props were again built by Amalgamated Dynamics, with Tom Woodruff returning to portray the Alien as he had in the third movie. The creatures would be more angular and spindlier in design, rendered in ochre and blacks, stripped of their metal piping and bones, with the animal design elements magnified. “What we were trying to do was give a little more character to these Aliens, and also do something that was more threatening,” Alec Gillis told Fangoria in 1997. “We were given a little more leeway to do some redesigning than perhaps we had been able to do on the last film.”

alien warrior sketch by Sylvain Despretz

“The biggest change that we did to the Alien was to make him seem more cunning or more vicious,” Woodruff explained on the Quadrilogy’s special features. “In terms of the way to do that, design-wise, was to look for more directional lines, sharper angles, and a lot of art elements that went into it. We had the dome, for example, [which] is more pointed this time around; the chin is more pointed and brought forward. We’ve exaggerated the shoulders; elements of the ribcage appear to stand out more and help reduce the forms around it. It’s like a process of honing, refining something each time you go through it.”

A multitude of animals were studied for the Alien’s various movements and actions, including sea iguanas and sharks for the underwater scenes which showcased the Aliens’ maneuverability, and design elements from some animals were incorporated into the design. A fin was added to the tail to aid with swimming, and the elongated head of the Alien even resembles a cockroach shell. For rendering the CG Aliens VFX co-ordinator Kerry Shea told VFX HQ that Blue Sky Studios were contracted due to their rendering of cockroaches for 1996’s Joe’s Apartment. “We were looking for Alien effects that were sort of insect-like,” she said, “and they had done such a terrific job on the cockroaches.” Tom Woodruff told Strange Shapes that, “It was never a pointed intention to duplicate a cockroach, but yes, the design element of the insect world is always prevalent in each design iteration.”

The most notable design change was the fleshier aspect of the Aliens’ bodies, a result of the imperfect human-Alien DNA mixing process. In one undated draft, it is noted that there is “some genetic mix” between the Aliens and Ripley that may lead to “further mutation” (an early hint at the Newborn creature) but other drafts and the film focus more on Ripley’s altered mental and physical state than that of the Aliens, with the Newborn appearing rather unnanounced at the end. “The cloning process would naturally be contaminated,” Gillis explained, “so the Aliens would have slightly messed-up DNA and be somewhat different. We thought this was the perfect opportunity for us to do something like give them longer arms and other subtle things. Our belief was that the design from the first movie was very successful, and you don’t want to fix something that ain’t broke. So all our effort went into improving it and making it look more organic, having more of a bio-mechanical exoskeleton feel, instead of going for the easier route of combining car parts into the clay before we cast it.”

The slime was also revised to look heavier and more viscous: “Rather than just putting a glazing coat of slime on the Alien, we mixed up a viscous slime that made the creature look like it was under half an inch of mucus — much wetter and sleeker than in the past.” Compounding this new look was cinematographer Darius Khondji’s careful lighting. “He at times built almost a ‘cage of fluorescence’ around the Alien,” explained Alec Gillis, “so that you get a million of little [reflections on] the slime. He kept going back to us, asking for thicker slime, because the stuff we had used in the other movies was too runny for him — he wanted a quarter of an inch build up, so we started going for a slime that was almost like gel; and it really had a different look.”

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By the end of the film we discover that the genetic gambling that the Auriga’s scientists partake in results in an entirely new creature altogether, an amalgamation of human and Alien DNA that takes the form of a spindle-limbed albinoid called the ‘Newborn’. Born in the murky bowels of Waste Tank No. 5 and ripping itself from the Alien Queen’s egg sac, the Newborn quickly rejects and murders the Queen before seemingly imprinting itself on Ripley, whose scent it recognises as being neither entirely Alien nor human, much like itself.

In the first draft the Newborn is described as being almost as big as the Queen itself, with four forelegs and two thick haunches, pincers on its head and a webwork of red veins that cover its long eyeless head, like hair. In this draft, the Newborn drains the blood from its victims through its tongue, tries to attack Ripley, and is staunchly defended by the hive. Aided by ‘drones’, the Newborn chases Ripley throughout the ship, rides the Betty down to Earth, is bombarded with rocket-fire from Call, immolated in the Betty’s thrusters, and goes on the run across Earth’s landscape where, after being fought by Ripley, it unfurls a pair of “batlike, leathern” wings that drip with slime. After another battle between the Newborn and a futuristic combine harvester (piloted by Call), the creature is shoved into the propelling blades by Ripley herself.

The second draft also features a battle on Earth between the Newborn and the Betty crew, and though it is less bombastic and outrageous than the first draft, it does come with further embellishments to the Newborn as a character: it now laughs after using DiStephano as a human shield, it “sighs in quiet ecstasy” as it surveys the Earthly city before it (Paris), it licks its lips as it hones in a band of children, and expresses outrage when it mistakenly devours some of Call’s android blood, which is revealed to be, somehow, magnetic. The Newborn, with Call’s blood in its belly, finds itself stuck to an electromagnetic crane, dropped into a compactor, and finally crushed and impaled.

The Newborn’s death in the film resembles one planned demise for Lambert in the original Alien, but there was another hull breach in the Resurrection screenplays that has one of General Perez’s soldiers being “sucked through a hole no bigger than his fist” after he ill-advisedly shoots an Alien onboard the Auriga. This simple but gruesome gag replaced the high-octane chases and battles that Whedon had originally planned, and the finale is probably the better for it: as ill-received as the Newborn was, its death throes were horrifying and touching: it is hard to not pity it, as revolting as it is.

Ultimately, the creature was not well received. “The Newborn, I think, is an interesting idea,” said conceptual artist Sylvain Despretz.”Chris Cunningham […] was asked to draw the Newborn that appears at the end of Alien Resurrection and did some gorgeously spooky paintings of semi baby-like Aliens with human skin, bones and ribcages, that bizarre black head, you know. And it’s very subtle stuff that works if interpreted as on the painting […] Unfortunately by the time you saw the final Alien, you just kinda got a Creature from the black lagoon with a terrifying skull, and you have to have a skull in there otherwise people won’t be scared. You sort of go, what did go wrong, you know, you’ve got these beautiful paintings. How hard can it be to just make a model of that?”

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Before the film’s release producer Bill Badalato opined that “The Aliens are truly characters in the story and not just background. The characters interact with the Aliens in a way that we haven’t seen before in an Alien film. It’s extremely effective.” But Weaver, whose mission statement had been to portray the Aliens in a more eldritch and frightening manner, expressed some disappointment at the results. “I was surprised by how much monster movie there was in Resurrection,” she admitted to Starlog. She was, however, happy with ADI’s animatronic Newborn. “For me, playing opposite the Newborn was like playing opposite Lon Chaney Sr.,” she said. “This creature could do everything. It was immensely moving and all of my interaction with it came out of improvisation, not from the script. The Newborn was a creature operated by 14 puppeteers. They gave it energy. It was very eerie.” Conversely, many fans disliked the new creature, and complained that the Aliens themselves largey vanish in the third act.

Controversy about the film’s Alien designs arose when HR Giger discovered that he was not credited at all for the fourth film’s design elements. A campaign called ‘Alien Insurrection‘ lobbied Fox to restore Giger’s credit, with Giger himself writing in his first campaign letter that “The creatures in Alien: Resurrection are even closer to my original Alien designs than the ones which appear in Aliens and Alien 3.” This was a sentiment that he also expressed to journalist Javier Martinez de Pisón in an 1999 interview where he saw fit to add, “The Aliens themselves were not well sculpted or sharply defined. It seemed as if no molds had been made and as if the creatures were roughly shaped with mud.” In his second letter he further asserted his rights over the Alien and that the Newborn had been pilfered from one of his own designs. “In regards to the new Alien development called the Newborn,” he wrote, “it is just another Giger design, which you will realize when you look beneath the shell of the adult Alien head, as seen in the photos on page 60 of my book. The human skull under the face has been exposed and the creature’s sinewy body has been contaminated by deformed features. Fox, however, tries to deny HR Giger’s influence.” 

Giger continued that “Woodruff, an excellent effect specialist, said about his ‘Alien Viper’s Nest’: ‘It is like an HR Giger’s painting come to life.’ Yes, it is. It has been newly stolen from my book Necronomicon. As photographed from above, you will see that it is a section of my painting Passagen-Tempel/Eingangspartie (Passage Temple/entrance section) Work #262. This painting existed three years before the first Alien movie had even started to be filmed.” Fox, in the end, restored Giger’s credit for Resurrection‘s home release, but this did not spare them from the artist’s pointed thoughts on what the studio had done with his Alien after taking it out of his hands.

“I always wanted my Alien to be a very beautiful thing, not just something disgusting, not just a monster, but something aesthetic. Throughout the creature’s evolution what they’ve done is change it from something aesthetic to something that looks like shit – I mean literally, it looks like a turd.”
~ HR Giger, Alien Evolution, 2001.

 

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Interview with Sigourney Weaver, 1992

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Sigourney Weaver talks to Starburst magazine about surviving, dying, Hicks, Newt, Clemens, killing the Alien, birthing the Alien, and more…

Starburst: Alien 3 has just grossed $25 million in its first weekend. Is that the highest of all time for a film starring a woman?
Sigourney Weaver: I’m sure it is [smiling]. I don’t know.

SB: You got paid a reported $5.5 million for this movie. Do you see yourself as a leader for women to get good money?
SW: Well, only once and probably never again. If I did another big budget action movie, then yes, I probably would go to the wall again. But most pictures don’t have that kind of money, and I don’t want to be considered as one of those actors who wants a lot of money, because a more interesting film might not find its way to you then.

SB: So why did you do another Alien movie?
SW: Well, firstly I think we approached this one with a lot of trepidation, because the first and second ones were so successful and so well done that, in my opinion, I think that everyone was a little worried that if we did a third one it wouldn’t measure up. So everyone took a long time and tried to figure out what story we should tell and what elements we should try to duplicate.

SB: It’s taken quite a lot of time to come up with those elements. What were they?
SW: Well, I know that we decided that James Cameron had done ‘guns’ so brilliantly it would be best not to try and reprise that. I don’t think there was any moment when people said, ‘Ah, let’s just do another Alien‘. It was more like, ‘Well, let’s think about it and see if we can come up with an original idea and a wonderful director, and then let’s go ahead with it.’ It was a very slow process and that’s why it took so long.

SB: There were many changes in the script and also problems about appointing a director. Did that cause a lot of disruption?
SW: I think of it as a constructive process really. Vincent Ward came in with a very original idea, and a very arresting one as far as I and everyone else was concerned. And then for various reasons he probably didn’t want to do an Alien film. See, there’s a big Alien responsibility as well as just telling the story – and then David Fincher came in and he was very keen to do it and was obviously a brilliant young man.

Weaver and her co-star.

Weaver and her co-star.

SB: It seems to me that the director is the most important individual on the Alien films.
SW: Me too. I’ve always felt that the directors have always been the stars of these pictures. And until we found the right kind of genius I think everyone was a little apprehensive. It was like the project never felt set, and then we found Fincher. I think we felt we were in good hands.

SB: Did David Fincher impress you?
SW: Oh yes, he was great, I mean, the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Shave Ripley’s head’. So we knew that this wasn’t going to be a quiet, undaring director – and he’s very funny too, which is nice to have on a difficult set. On a long cold freezing, uncomfortable movie a few laughs go a long way.

SB: So much has been made of the shaved head. How did it feel?
SW: It made me feel colder. Actually you have no idea, I mean you don’t have long hair, but it’s amazing how much your head stays warm when you’ve got hair. So I just felt colder most of the time, and other than that, I just felt lighter.

SB: Do you think it change Ripley?
SW: I think she felt more frail, perhaps because she had no hair we all sort of looked like these skeletons in a way, and I felt it brought out everyone’s vulnerability, but I don’t think it made her tougher. In fact it made it ore surreal because you could never see yourself in the mirror you always saw the character facing you.

SB: But there has been criticism about the shaven heads – that you couldn’t make out who was who, and that it might change the perception of people.
SW: I actually disagree with those people. I think it makes everybody’s face really jump out. Maybe you do have to pay more attention to the faces of the people, but I think it brings out the faces and the vulnerability of these actors very much.

SB: There are some people who see it as a symbol of being very offensive.
SW: Yeah, that’s what it’s there for. You have all these convicts on this planet and they all look even more frightening – and solely because of this hair style. In some ways it’s just an act of defiance. I also noticed, while in England, that there were a lot of people avoiding me – but I guess it wasn’t usual to see a 6 foot tall bald woman walking in the streets of London.

SB: But did you like it?
SW: I liked it in a way that I found it very liberating, and my husband was very supportive. He pretended to like it and then told me, after my hair had grown back, that he had hated it, while my daughter tried not to look at me. But non of us [in the film] had hair anyway so we all knew who was in the cast. So if you saw a bald person at Pinewood you knew it was a friend, so you could say, ‘Hello’. And the only other thing that was a problem was that it took a lot of up-keep. We had to shave it every two days, because even then two days’ growth looked shaggy – but yeah, I found it okay. You should try it.

SB: You managed to swindle yourself a co-producer’s credit on this movie. How did that come about?
SW: [Laughs] Well I think they made me a co-producer out of courtesy. They knew, as an actor, I would open my mouth a lot, so they thought, ‘Why not make it legal?’ [Smiles] I don’t ever recall asking to be co-producer, and I was very touched they [Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll, and David Giler] invited me to be on board – and it was a fascinating process, and one in which I learned a great deal. And I felt very privilege to participate in some decisions.

SB: Did you have a lot of input?
SW: I had a certain amount of input. I would call it ‘input’. Some people have called it ‘control’, and I never wanted control. I just wanted to be able to hear all the different ideas and voice my own thoughts, but it was never ‘control’.

SB: Would you co-produce the next movie?
SW: Not if I had any sense [laughs]. [Note: Weaver did in fact co-produce Alien Resurrection.]

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Bishop’s… cameo.

SB: The trailer for Alien 3 has a shot of yourself and the Alien with the voice over saying ‘the bitch is back’. What did you think when you saw it?
SW: Someone else asked me this, Fox called me about the trailer, which had already been made, and I remember seeing it and saying, ‘Am I supposed to be the bitch?’ And they said, ‘No, no, it’s the Alien,’ and I think anyone who’s seen Aliens knows that the bitch is the creature.

SB: The production of Alien 3 seemed to take forever – certainly pre-production. Did that cause you any problems?
SW: Right, their plan was that I would not be in the third one and come back and save the day in the fourth. It was a very good script, but Fox very nicely wouldn’t make the film without the character of Ripley.

SB: So when Fox said this did you immediately jump at the chance to do Alien 3?
SW: What I basically said was: I love this character, and I love to do another one if you can give me something that Ripley hasn’t had the chance to do before.

SB: Was the original script what you wanted to do?
SW: Well, the first script I read was the one without me, we made half an effort to write me into it, but in the end it didn’t work.

SB: So, personally, what did you want to do?
SW: I wanted her to have a different set of circumstances, and I think the writers came through brilliantly for me in regard that firstly, in this picture she‘s the alien, she’s disliked and an outcast and oddly that’s one reason she’s not afraid of the convicts, because in some ways she’s like them, in that the system has sort of thrown her out onto the garbage heap as well – and this really appealed to me and was extremely challenging. So, selfishly, I wanted to do it once I saw what the basic storyline was.

SB: As a co-producer, did you have a lot of involvement regarding Ripley’s dialogue?
SW: I would say I had some input in this one, because I kept saying I didn’t want to go over the same territory, and again I trusted the writers. I mean a lot of people write Ripley like a pissed off gym instructor. David [Giler] and Walter [Hill] have always understood that she’s a person, while some of the writers had her swearing constantly, and actually Ripley almost never swear unless she’s really in trouble, so it’s really David’s and Walter’s credit

SB:  Did you have any say about there not being any guns?
SW: I think I said no to guns, but it wasn’t up to me to dictate those kind of things, but to me it was more original to investigate what real courage is.  Which is when you don’t have any weapons and you cannot even get along with each other, how do you go about fighting this common enemy?

SB: Would you say that her sexuality was a weapon in this one, considering the planet is inhabited solely by men?
SW: Absolutely, sounds good to me (laughs)

SB: Ripley seems to have more responsibilities in this film, but at the same time appears to be more feminine, how have you played her this time round?
SW: I guess I’ve tried to play Ripley just as an ordinary person that is put in extraordinary circumstances and comes through, and that enables her to take care of the people that she hates. There’s this unjudgmental quality about her. She may  judge them very harshly intellectually, but she will still try to save them. That’s what makes her female and that’s what makes her a hero. It makes her a good officer.

SB: Did you get involved in the politics of making this film, considering the problems it had?
SW: Well, I would have been involved in that anyway because I was making it every day, and we had a lot of pressure understandably from the studio saying that we were spending too much money and taking too much time, so that would have affected me anyway. At least in this case I felt I could get on the phone and say, ‘We understand there’s a lot of pressure, but can we just reduce it for this week because we were under  enough pressure as it is thank you.’

SB: Was it the toughest Alien to work on?
SW: No, it was the easiest in some ways, because we had a lot of laughs and it was a friendly company.  I think the hardest one for me was the second one because I had to carry the little girl and the gun almost everyday , and that was just so physically draining, and the active power station which is such a lovely place to work in winter!

SB: Talking about the second one, are you pleased with the new Aliens special edition?
SW: I’m happy that the three minutes was put back in.

SB: You mean when Ripley’s told about the death of her daughter by Carter Burke?
SW: Yes, that was the scene.

SB: Do you know why it was cut?
SW: I think it was probably to do with the fact that the film was already around two-and-a-quarter hours and that was probably long enough, but I was very disappointed that that scene wasn’t in the original, because it changed everything. I based Ripley’s whole relationship with Newt due to the fact she lost her whole family and that was the price she had to pay for surviving the first one. I think Jim [Cameron] is also upset that it wasn’t in the original release.

SB: In that scene Burke shows Ripley a photo of an elderly lady that was her daughter, which I read somewhere was a photo of your own mother, is that true?
SW: Yes it is, I pulled a bit of my weight on that one!

SB: Does the production differ on this one compared to the previous Alien films?
SW: Very much so. I mean, the directors I worked with in these movies I really have to take my hat off to. I think it was Ridley Scott who showed me what could be done with the character of Ripley. Basically he let me go off and do what I wanted, but at the time I didn’t realize what a great opportunity it was at first because I was such a snob. I really didn’t want to do science-fiction, but I learnt quickly that this was an unusual and brilliant opportunity. The second one, James Cameron had written without having ever met me, and when I read the script, to me is kind of crazy of the studio, but they in fact just took it for granted that I would be in it because it was such a great role, which it was.

SB: Were you surprised by the script for Aliens?
SW: When I finally was sent the script I was very busy, and I think that I skipped over a lot of stage instructions which went on and on about the guns, and I didn’t realize that they were the stars of the film. So when I got there, there was all this amazing hardware coming out every day, and I was a member of Hand Gun Control in America, and I was just amazed that I was in this very war-like picture, and to be honest I was never comfortable with the aspect of it, and Ripley didn’t have to be a ‘gun creature’ for this part.

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“When Ripley finds [Newt], her life means something again.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, Starburst, 1987/

SB: This movie like the others was filmed mostly in England, this time with a mainly inexperienced British cast. Did you have to guide them through this picture?
SW: Well I’ve always tried to do that, because I’ve noticed all the best actors are the ones who can help the other actors perform. They will bring the best out of you, because you’re not thinking about yourself. With the character of Ripley in Aliens she was more like a mother hen in a way to all those actors because, for a lot of them, they were doing their first film. Whilst in this movie these guys were more experienced than I was, they had been in the theater, done every conceivable play, and so I was listening to them, but I think in the Alien pictures everyone sort of takes care of each other, the delineation between the cast and crew becomes muddy because we were all freezing, exhausted, dirty and bloody.
That that’s one of the things I like about the Alien films. It really feels like a collaboration . It’s like one giant crew, and you often forget that you’re in front of the camera.

SB:  You don’t think the American audience will find it difficult to understand some of the accents, or was anybody dubbed?
SW:  Oh no, no one was dubbed. I love the accents. I think they’re great, but saying that, there are still some people back home asking what a ‘wanker’ is.

SB: You’ve played Ripley three times now. What do you admire about her; is there anything you dislike about her and are there any similarities between you?
SW: There are certain things I don’t feel any kinship with. I think one of the reasons why she is so brave is that she doesn’t have a powerful imagination. She tries to think clearly, it’s kind of like ‘The Right Stuff’, the way they train pilots to react if something goes wrong they go to plan A and if A didn’t work let’s try B and so on. That’s what I feel about Ripley, but I’m not very Ripley-like.
I try to keep a cool head but I’m not always successful and I scream when I see a mouse, but I am trying to make an effort with my daughter when I see a creepy crawly and go, ‘Oh yes, that is a spider, let’s go pick it up and look at it’, and things like that, but that’s a real effort for me.

SB: Do you enjoy playing Ripley?
SW: It’s been a real privilege to play her because she is so different from me, and I find a very comforting presence when I play her, she’s good company and I’ll miss that.

SB: One of the most horrifying scenes in the movie is the autopsy.
SW: The little creature they had playing newt was a life-size dummy of Carrie Henn. It was very difficult for me because as soon as they pulled the sheet off her little face I just thought I was going to die. It was excruciating scene to do personally, and I think it was meant to be that excruciating to watch.

SB: But did you have to kill off Newt?
SW: You wanted her to be on this planet with rapists and child molesters? There was a desire on behalf of the filmmakers not to continue with the family ideas that Jim Cameron had started because that was so much him, and I think it was very romantic and in some ways very sentimental. But I think the producers wanted to make a very dark unsentimental film and to get back to something like the first one where no one really gets along.
I was horrified by what they were going to do with Newt. It was a very difficult scene to play, and in fact when it premiered I asked Fox to fly Carrie Henn over so we could watch it together, because I was so afraid that she would be freaked out. I’d already written to her and told her what had happened, and of course she wasn;t freaked out at all. She’s always been so cool about this stuff, but yes, I was upset by it.

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Carrie Henn on Newt’s death in 1995: “Life goes on.”

SB: But it was still pretty callous of you.
SW: Yes, I know, but the variety of things that could of happened to her had she survived the crash were awful. So to me it was better to kill her off right away, and there were other options which were even more unsavoury concerning Newt. I think that Vincent [Ward], and I’m not too sure of this, had a chestburster coming out of Newt. So in terms of all things considered, for her to drown was very tame, it’s not that everyone hates children, what we were heading for was an end of the century film, where what you expect doesn’t happen and that you can’t count on anything. It is awful. I agree with you.

SB: In Aliens Ripley spent nearly all of the film saving the little girl and within the first five minutes in this one she’s drowned. It just seems to make the second one pointless.
SW: Well, I certainly can’t speak for Fincher, but I think he would say, ‘Yeah, it was pointless,’ and that’s the point of this picture and the philosophical bent of this movie.

SB: In the first movie there seems to be an attraction between Ripley and Dallas, and in Aliens with Hicks.
SW: Yeah, and they all get killed! [laughs].

SB: Two pretty good looking guys but you don’t have any physical contact, while in this picture within ten minutes of the start you’ve met a bald ex junkie and you’re in the sack together.
SW: Oh, I think Charles holds his own, while with Hicks it’s just hinted at, and if Jim [Cameron] had been directing the third one we would have continued that relationship, but it was so much his view of life that I guess we felt we couldn’t continue, and as for Ridley [Scott’s] film there was a scene in the original script where myself and Tom Skerritt had a love scene.

SB: Was that filmed?
SW: No, I don’t think so, we did it in the screen test. It’s pretty awful and very bleak. I mean people forget how bleak the first one is; it’s very bleak And the bit with me and Tom is sort of like, ‘I need some relief,’ and it’s a very heartless scene.

SB: So why do you think that after having the one thing Ripley cares about die, she immediately gets into bed with someone?
SW: Well, don’t you think they were these kind of lost souls and that she was on her own and so was he, what I liked about it, even though it was a bit far-fetched, was that it showed she was going to start over again, she really was going to try and lead a new life.

SB: As in the first one, your leading man gets killed off rather early in Alien 3.
SW: Well, killing Charles Dance is very similar to the first one when John Hurt was the obvious hero, and the same sadistic writers [laughs] really pulled the rug out from under the audience. When he was the one that everyone thought would go on to the end and that also applied to Tom Skerritt. And it’s the same case with Charles Dance, as brilliant as he is in the film, everyone expects that he will continue, and the next step would be that Ripley tells him about the Alien and gets his support, and in the end I guess the writers just didn’t want it to go that way.

Behind the scenes for Clemens' exit.

Behind the scenes for Clemens’ exit.

SB: The sex scenes in Alien 3 really aren’t sex scenes, was that cut on purpose?
SW: This has been asked before and I’m fascinated, because we didn;t think a lot of people would want to see the two of us grunting and rolling around. I mean, when I see a sex scene with characters I respect, to me it’s not a pure love story, and I guess I want to respect the characters’ privacy. So I think what we did was cut to the chase, as it were, and in my opinion it was a very sophisticated shot. You see all of it; there has been nothing cut out. I found in America that one of the reactions was, ‘Why does Ripley sleep with a man who she hardly knows?’ while in your country it’, ‘Why didn’t we get to see you sleep with him?’ [laughs].

SB: Just prior to Alien 3 you had a child, and in the movie there’s also the strange pregnancy you have to deal with. Was there any comparisons that helped you?
SW: Well, it didn’t compare at all. It really didn’t help me because Ripley was so close to the little girl that losing her was traumatic enough without my trying to even make a parallel with myself. And the other thing really didn’t seem like a pregnancy; it felt more like a cancer.

SB: The ending is quite touching, especially as Ripley seems to embrace the Alien, as if Ripley felt that she was the mother.
SW: I love that and I’m glad you think it too. It was Fincher’s idea that it wouldn’t be a brutal ending -that it was a tender ending- because, yes, in a way it was her child and that she had been this frustrated mother. I think some of that comes from me because I wanted to be a mother for so long before I was successful. I always wanted Ripley to have a normal life and instead of getting that life she has this awful thing happen which seemed to bring a kind of intimacy with the Alien.
David [Giler], Walter [Hill] and I talked quite a bit about that. Ripley had this daughter that she had lost then then found another daughter that she also lost, and now she’s carrying this creature which I hope will be a surprise to the audience, and I never lost the irony of that.
Personally, I think that if you do a monster movie it should also be about that kind of intimacy. It should be about the guts of life – that’s where you’re threatened most of all.

SB: Of the many criticisms concerning the movie most have been about the ending being too similar to T2, and that there were several different ending shot.
SW: There were no different endings. What you see is the original ending, and what we shot recently we never got to finish. In the end we went with the ending that was in the original script, and yes it is a little bit like T2 but we didn’t feel that it was too similar to change it. There was an ending where she churned up and got back into her space vessel and went away.

SB: It was Vincent Ward’s script when Ripley would somehow vomit up the Alien embryo…
SW: Right. It was a very powerful scene but I don’t think you could actually film it, and there was something very depressing about er getting back into the space shuttle and going off into the stars again. It just seemed to me that this for better or for worse was her destiny, and she does save the world from the Alien. Theoretically she kills the last one, this is the Queen and it would have taken over the world so she does make the right choice.

SB: So this is finally the end of the line for Ripley?
SW: Well, if Walter, David, and Gordon and all those guys can come up with some amazing scenario where Ripley could be reconstituted from her finger nail clippings, I’m not saying no. It’s just that how many times can the same character wake up to the same situations again and win, and then go back to sleep and then have the same thing happen in the next movie?

SB: Would you like to see more Alien movies?
SW: I hope they will make more Alien films because I think there’s a whole new aspect of the series that really hasn’t been dealt with since the first one, which is, ‘What is it doing, what does it want from us, how does it communicate, where does it come from?’ All of these things.

SB: What is the Alien to you?
SW: To me the Alien is anything that terrifies each of us the most. It’s a very personal image that manifests itself in this Alien creature which is so indestructible. It’s whatever our own personal nightmare is.

From Starburst issues 168 and 169, 1992.

Interview from Starburst issues 168, 169, and 170.

Special thanks to xeno_alpha of Weyland-Yutani Archives!

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Roby to Ripley

“She came from a family of fliers, people in this business. A space family rather than an army family … Nothing fazes her, and if it does you’d never know it. Ripley was pretty inexperienced, this was the biggest job she’d had. She was by-the-book because of the inexperience. In the course of the story, she has to go from earnest infant to full-on survival mode – like an animal.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, Empire Magazine, 2009.

Dan O’Bannon’s Alien script featured an all-male crew of six with one important disclaimer: “The crew is unisex,” it reads, “and all parts are interchangeable for men or women.”

The character that would become Warrant Officer Ripley was at first known as Martin Roby. Roby is the ship’s Executive Officer, and is described in the script as being “cautious but intelligent – a survivor,” which shows no real marked difference from the Ripley we know. Many of his scenes are carried over to the final movie. He refuses to allow the others back on board when they return from the pyramid/silo; is suspicious of the facehugger’s prolonged presence on the ship even when his crew-mates have relaxed somewhat after leaving the planetoid; and he ultimately takes the lead and survives the Alien’s onslaught along with the ship’s cat.

“Having pretty women as the main characters was a real cliché of horror movies,” O’Bannon told Cult People, “and I wanted to stay away from that. So I made up the character of Ripley, whom I didn’t know was going to be a woman at the time … I sent the people of the studios some notations and what I thought should happen and when we were about to make the movie the producer [Walter Hill] of the film jumped on it. He just liked the idea and told me we should make that Ripley character a woman. I thought that the captain would have been an old woman and the Ripley character a young man, that would have been interesting. But he said, ‘No, let’s make the hero a woman.'”

O’Bannon wasn’t the only one to have some slight reservations about making the lead character a female. Producer David Giler also thought that having Captain Dallas as the female on-board would be interesting, but Hill was adamant. He told Film International that, “David had suggested making the captain a woman. I tried that, but I thought the money was on making the ultimate survivor a woman.”

The change from O’Bannon’s Roby to the film’s Ripley (named “after Believe It Or Not,” revealed Hill) was not immediate. Alien as we know it did not spring forth, fully formed, like Athena, but was instead the product of writing and rewriting, giving and taking, cutting and recutting, over a period of a couple of years (in fact, the final revised script, which you can read online, was not the shooting draft, but was cobbled together in December 1978, after principal photography had concluded.) Though Giler and Hill rewrote O’Bannon’s script after snapping it up, Twentieth Century Fox did not greenlight a version of Alien where the lead was female – in fact, the character was still a male even when Ridley Scott came aboard in early 1978. 

After a couple of weeks at Fox,” said Scott, “they said, ‘We’re ruminating on the idea of making Ripley a woman.’” Scott’s involvement in the decision making process here was minimal: “I just said, ‘That’s a good idea.’” Later, he was far more blunt on the topic of Ripley’s gender and her prominent role in the film. “My film has strong women simply because I like strong women,” he said. “It’s a personal choice. I’m no male chauvinist, nor do I understand female chauvinism – I just believe in the equality of men and women. It’s as simple as that.”

In May 2012, Ridley told Empire magazine that “I never changed a word” of Alien’s script when he came aboard – his memory may have failed him, as the script went through some monumental and very well known and publicised changes, including the removal of the pyramid (“a see-saw debate when I came on to the project”), the removal (and later reinsertion) of the Space Jockey, the insertion of a government installation on the planetoid, the removal of this latter element, the change of Ripley’s gender, and so forth.

Ron Shusett claims that Alan Ladd Jnr broke the Ripley-as-a-woman suggestion to O’Bannon and himself, and both agreed that it was a good idea, if not a funny one, as, in Shusett’s words, “they’d never done that, a woman in a space horror movie as the leading character,” (though women had performed as the leads and ultimate survivors in other genre movies, such as Halloween and Texas Chainsaw Massacre.)

Writing-wise, the transition from male to female lead was not all that difficult for Giler and Hill; in fact, they relegated the task to their typist: “We really just had the secretary change ‘he’ to ‘she,'” admitted Giler.

The production’s reasons for making Ripley a female was less about girl power, and slightly more cynical. “We were looking it over, Walter and I,” Giler said in 2003, “and we thought, ‘Here’s this one character, not too interesting,’ and this studio, I hate to say this, but for very cynical reasons, this studio is making Julia and Turning Point and they really believe in the return of the woman’s movie – bet we get a lot of points if we turn this character into a woman.” Giler was sure to add, “And it’ll just make the character more interesting.”

“Sigourney Weaver was iconographically perfect [to play Ripley], and had the chops to pull it off … we were insisting on a female lead in a Sci-Fi action film, and then on top of that, insisting on an unknown female lead. With a director whose previous film had a worldwide gross of, I think, less than half a million dollars. That’s why I think the ultimate good guy was Laddie [Alan Ladd Jnr.] – he said yes [to it all].”
~ Walter Hill, Film International, 2004.

“No one on that film was a feminist,” Sigourney Weaver told Total Film in 2006. “Everyone thought, ‘Who will ever think the woman is gonna be the survivor?’ So it was just one big gag.” Weaver had told Starlog in 1994 that making Ripley female “was a commercial decision. The producers thought, ‘Here’s this movie about six guys landing on a planet. What can we do to make it more interesting to a wider audience?'”

As recently as 2011, Weaver told HollywoodOutbreak that “It makes me laugh because it’s not like… our producers were lovely men, and Ridley Scott too, but they weren’t being feminists. They thought the last person that anyone would think would survive is this girl. So it was really done for the story, not for any political, feminist reason.” She said during an interview in 1991 that, “[A lead female] was sort of breaking new ground. I mean, not really, but in terms of action movies, it was.”

“I don’t see it as that revolutionary to cast a female as the lead in an action picture,” said O’Bannon. “It didn’t boggle me then, and it doesn’t boggle me now. My conception from scratch was that this would be a co-ed crew. I thought there was no reason you had to adhere to the convention of the all-male crew anymore. Plus it was in 1976 that I was writing the thing, and it just seemed like an obvious thing to do. I mean Star Trek had women on for years.”

Ridley Scott told the American Film Institute in 2009 that, “because [Ripley] was female the idea that she would survive at the end was highly unlikely. She’d probably go out in some beautifully sexy way halfway through the movie.” Even future Aliens director James Cameron’s preconceptions about the character served to surprise him when he first saw the movie. “You didn’t really know she was the main character,” he said. “She was just kind of this bitch officer that you thought was gonna fall by the wayside as it went along, and you know, the guy was gonna be the main character. And they flip-flopped on that. I loved the unexpectedness of that.”

Looking back on her character in 2009, Weaver told AFI that, “I think what attracted me to Ellen Ripley was that she, first of all, was a character who was written as a man, so it was written in a very straightforward way. This was a kind of direct person who didn’t have these scenes where she was suddenly vulnerable and she didn’t throw her hands up and wait for someone else to save her. She was a thinking, moving, deciding creature. And I think that the other thing that interested me was that she went from someone who sort of believed the world was a certain way, to someone who couldn’t believe in anything any more, and went from someone who’s sort of a thinking person to someone who’s kind of an instinctive animal. So there was lots of progressions in the character that I just thought would be very interesting to play.”

When it seemed that Alien’s wardrobe unit were dressing Weaver up as too overtly feminine, Scott stepped in: “When they first dressed me up as Ripley it was in one of those pink and blue uniforms,” Weaver said in 2006. “Ridley Scott came in and said, ‘You look like fucking Jackie O’NASA.’ We went into this room where there were all these costumes from NASA and he tore it apart until we finally found this flight suit that was an actual flight suit. And that’s what I wore.”

“Weaver is not so sure about the feminism theory behind Alien. She thinks Ripley was a shrewd plot surprise created by studio executives at Fox whose noses were led by the box-office, not Girl Power. ‘I don’t think the producers were feminists. In the original script, they were all men. I think they thought, let’s change it up and make the survivor a woman because no one will ever think the survivor will be a woman.'”
~ The Independent, 2012.

“Certainly people who only know the Alien movies think of me as tough, but to me I’ve played only vulnerable women. Even Ripley. She’s a bare-bones kind of woman and she doesn’t fall apart, which people think is tough, but she only keeps it together because she has to. She’s alone.”
~ Sigourney Weaver, Total Film, 2006.

Ripley’s heroine star power was pushed into overdrive by James Cameron’s Aliens, and Weaver credited both Scott and Cameron for bringing the character to the forefront of the action hero pantheon. Speaking to The Independent in 2012, she said, “I certainly credit [Scott] in making Ripley an everyman character, not just a damsel in distress, but a character who is not giving up. Cameron was also a breath of fresh air. He is a champion of strong women who never thinks in terms of gender characteristics.”

Though Ripley resonated with audiences, the producers were at first disappointed that her gender did not lure more females into the cinema. Giler said in 2003 that “When we were looking at the numbers of the first Alien -the exit polls and all this kind of stuff that the studio gets- it’s… even though this was the first action hero heroine possibly ever -it’s the first one I know about- [we found] that women didn’t go to the movies. Women didn’t go to see it. And that the audience for the movie actually would have preferred that [Ripley] had been a man … If we’d done it [a sequel] right afterwards, we’d have probably done it with a man.”

“It’s interesting that people say, ‘How great it is a woman is the one who survives.’ I think that Ripley survived because she had the attributes necessary to survive. She wouldn’t give up and had the ability to go into overdrive. The thing I thought was the most interesting about Ripley when I read the script was here’s a woman who lived her life very much by the book and believed that rules existed for a reason. But when the Alien appears there’s nothing in the book to go by and she has to react only from instinct, and that’s very hard for her.”
~ Sigourney Weaver.

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Space Sorrow & Sex

Boxed in, no day, eternal night …

During the Industrial Revolution skilled labourers such as agricultural workers or skilled artisans found themselves being made increasingly obsolete by the introduction of factory machines. In turn, they became mere factory hands, turning dials and cranking the levers of machinery that was prone to chew up their limbs. This once-valued strata of people became a mere commodity, easily trained and as a result easily replaced and utterly expendable. In Alien’s future once-vaunted engineers, trained navigators, and astronauts find themselves marginalised by a new technological revolution – the rise of the automated machine, spaceship-driving computers, FTL travel, the android, and the commoditisation and trivialisation of space. 

“I guess if you spend a lot of time together in space the camaraderie will  gradually disappear,” said Ridley Scott on the topic of the Nostromo crew, “and each person will become isolated with their own thoughts and their memories of where they’ve been and where they’re going to. And therefore, all of the characters are designed as not really being comrades. There’s a kind of cold relationship amongst all of them.”

“I think the crew members of the Nostromo seem spirited only because of their argumentative nature,” Scott said in 1984, “which is due to the fact that they probably can no longer stand the sight of each other. It wouldn’t matter how it was all worked out in the pre-voyage stage, where a computer probably determined the compatability of the unit; like all crews in confined spaces, they’d get on one another’s nerves and would be cutting each other’s throats in six months’ time. I tried to glean as much as I could from present-day astronauts who go through preparing for prolonged periods in space. I then factored in ten years in space and tried to envision how a character would react to going off for that kind of period. Obviously it would raise all sorts of psychological problems above and beyond claustrophobia and melancholia.”

“Well, one of the things that I want to straighten out, because I don’t know if Ridley ever did. I liked Sigourney Weaver from the moment I met her. Ridley told me, ‘No, no, don’t start cosying up with Sigourney.’ He wanted me to annoy the crap out of her, which I did. He told me to get on Sigourney’s nerves; stop speaking to her on the lunch breaks, dressing rooms, etc. All for the end of the movie at that moment when she blows up at Parker and takes over leadership. I did exactly as Ridley told me. To this day, I don’t know if he ever told her. I will never let a director do that to me again! I asked him when I saw him in Canada at their film festival and the release of the Director’s Cut and I don’t think he had.”
Yaphet Kotto, KultFilmFreak.com

Upon release, Alien was criticised for lacking character development. However the characters are very well defined, and their relationships and attitudes shift and change both overtly and in the undercurrent. “This film was so brief in terms of each piece of characterisation,” Ridley told Cinefantastique Online in 2008. “That’s the sign of a really good script: there’s no fat; it’s all lean. The actors are able to squeeze in as much as they have to for this kind of film … Every one of them had his own bit of individual, built-in subtext and implicit story that he didn’t have to voice. It was all just part of the character.” Ridley also maintained that: “I loved the minimal dialogue, the minimalist characterisation – what do you need to know? Once this thing is loose, I don’t want to have scenes talking about mum and dad back on the planet.”

Throughout the course of the movie the crew bicker and out-right fight. They trade barbs and blows. After the snatching of Dallas both Ripley and Parker jostle for command. The crew loosen at the seams when Ripley refuses to allow Dallas, Kane and Lambert back on board after exploring the derelict silo, and they unite after Kane’s apparent recovery and subsequent funeral. Parker, the irreverent, tough and apparently selfish member of the group, dies tackling the Alien to save Lambert. In a deleted segment, Brett’s last word is Parker’s name. In other deleted scenes, Lambert slaps Ripley for attempting to quarantine them outside the ship. Lambert and Ripley discuss any sexual relations with Ash. Dallas and Ripley sleep together. When Ripley incinerates Dallas within the Alien’s nest, the two actors played the scene as departing lovers.

Sex between the Nostromo crew members was also to be a prevalent element in Alien, with some frank discussion between Ripley and Lambert and even a sex scene between Ripley and Captain Dallas. All of these elements were either filmed then cut, or never made it to principal photography. In the case of Ripley and Dallas, this scene did make it in front of the cameras – but only for Sigourney Weaver’s screen test. The role of Captain Dallas was filled by actor Ray Hasset (who would go on to play a minor Rebel Officer in The Empire Strikes Back.)

“It’s a pity that the one scene we did have in the screenplay that had sex in it had to be cut. It showed that you can’t afford to have love affairs in deep space. If you do, you immediately have two groups aboard. The pair who are in love and the rest of the crew. That’s the beginning of problems unless you are a space pioneer and settle down with your family.”
~ Ridley Scott, Fantastic Films, 1979.

The Ripley/Dallas sex scene can be traced back to Dan O’Bannon’s script, where it takes the form of a discussion between Captain Standard (later Dallas) and Melkonis (a character who resembles Lambert more than any other early O’Bannon character). As such, there is no sex involved, nor any prelude to sex, as in Walter Hill and David Giler’s drafts. Instead, the scene riffs on O’Bannon’s earlier movie, Dark Star, which features an ennui-ish discussion between crew members Talby and Doolittle inside one of the ship’s observation domes.

Ron Cobb’s design for the observation dome in Alien.

Talby inside the observation dome in Dark Star, featuring a ship also designed by Ron Cobb.

“It is dark and eerie here,” reads O’Bannon’s Alien, “under the stars of interstellar space. A few glowing panels provide the only illumination.” The discussions in Dark Star and O’Bannon’s Alien follow the same lines, with both Melkonis and Talby feeling quietly despondent. “We are completely, utterly alone,” says Melkonis. “Can anybody really visualise such a scale of distances? Halfway across Creation…”

Fantastic Films: “One of the lovely touches in Dark Star was the guy sitting in the dome on top of the ship, just staring off into space. He’s gone stir-crazy.”
Ridley Scott: “They say actually if you have a porthole you spend most of your time staring at space. Maybe it is a sort of space sickness. That you could become so entranced with the idea of what you’re in.”
FF: “I see Ash’s bubble as a direct outgrowth of Dark Star.”
RS: “There was a bubble in O’Bannon’s original screenplay. That’s where the love scene took place … I guess the Ash ‘blister’ was all that was left of that [aesthetic] intention.”

The most direct correlation between Dark Star’s observation scene and Alien’s planned observation scene, aside from the design of the dome and the elegiac nature of the discussion, is the topic of time and space. “Time and space have no meaning out here,” mutters Melkonis. “We’re living in an Einsteinian equation.” In Dark Star, Doolittle says, “Figure it this way: twenty years in space and we’ve only aged three, so there’ll be plenty of time to stare around…” Both of O’Bannon’s scripts stress not only the monotony of space living, but the slow crawl of time and the sobering and maddening effects of living without a circadian rhythm.

When Walter Hill and David Giler rewrote O’Bannon’s script, they seized upon his “the crew are interchangeable for men and women” tag and cemented their genders, installing two females amongst the crew. This allowed for the rise of sex politics, and O’Bannon’s observation dome scene became a prelude to an emotionless sexual encounter that served to mechanise the crew, who embrace one another not for love and comfort, but mere “relief”.

Here is Dan O’Bannon’s scene:

STANDARD: I thought I’d find you here.

MELKONIS: I was thinking of a line from an old poem: ‘Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink.’ All that space out there, and we’re trapped in this ship.

STANDARD: That’s the one about the albatross, right?

MELKONIS: We can’t even radio for help; the carrier wave wouldn’t reach its destination till long after we’d died and turned to dust. We are utterly, absolutely alone. Can anybody really visualize such a scale of distances? Halfway across Creation…

STANDARD: We came out here, we’ll go back. A long time by the clock, but a short time to us.

MELKONIS: Time and space have no meaning out here. We’re living in an Einsteinian equation.

STANDARD: I can see you’re putting your spare time to good use. Let me tell you something: you keep staring at hyperspace for long enough, they’ll be peeling you off a wall. I’ve seen it happen.

MELKONIS: (smiles at him) We’re the new pioneers, Chaz. We even have our own special diseases.

STANDARD: Come on — let’s go above and see how they’re coming with the gear.

And Walter Hill and David Giler’s. Unlike O’Bannon’s version, this scene takes place within the Narcissus shuttle, rather than under the dome:

RIPLEY: I thought I’d find you here.

Dallas continues to stare.

DALLAS: Are the nets finished?

Pause.

RIPLEY: We’ve got an hour … Look I need some relief.

DALLAS: Why did you wait until now?

Ripley leans forward.

RIPLEY: Let me tell you something. You keep staring out there long enough, they’ll be peeling you off the wall.

Ripley begins taking off her boots.

DALLAS: We’re the new pioneers, Ripley. We even get to have our own special disease.

RIPLEY: I’m tired of talking.

She rises and removes her upper garments.

DALLAS: You waited too long.

RIPLEY: Give it a try anyway.

Though the scene never made it into the final movie, a trace of O’Bannon’s ennui-riddled space traveller theme made it into the scenes of Dallas sitting alone in the Narcissus, listening to music and possibly contemplating his situation. “The whole mood and feel of the thing has survived essentially unmodified,” said O’Bannon of the change from his script to Giler and Hill’s revisions. “I mean I remember what I was thinking and feeling when I was writing the thing, and I can see what’s on the screen.”

Dallas and Ripley’s sex scene was cut from the movie, according to Scott, because it “just seemed out of place.” He told Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies in 1984: “[The chestburster] scene proved much more powerful, and successful, than I expected, and for the sex to follow would have seemed totally gratuitous. The ‘relief’ scene was to be our token attempt to answer the question of sex in space. If you think about it logically, the only way that mixed [gender] crews could work out on long missions is by neutralising everyone and forbidding sex entirely, or by having free ‘open sex’ for whoever wants it. Close relationships in tightly closed ships with small crews would certainly have to be discouraged. The problems that would result from some men and women pairing off and leaving other crew-members on their own is obvious.”

Ridley did, briefly, consider the idea of same-sex relations between the Nostromo crew members, saying in 2003: “There was a line through the movie which had a … more by innuendo than anything else, that there was something going on between Dallas and she [Ripley]. And then later, I thought what was really curious was -could be interesting- there was something going on between her and Veronica, which I thought was far more probable. I mean a hundred years from now, you know, that’s certainly not gonna be remarkable in space. In fact, in space relationships are probably gonna be discouraged, and if you have the need for sex, it can be with either gender. Really doesn’t matter, right?”

“Should we have an inference of a lesbian or gay relationship or not? It would have been kind of interesting. Today I’d probably do that just to thicken up the layers in the characters.”
~ Ridley Scott, Alien commentary.

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