Tag Archives: Sigourney Weaver

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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Ridley Scott and James Cameron’s Alien 5

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“Ridley Scott and I have talked about doing one more where we go back to the original planet and see what these creatures came out of…”
~ Sigourney Weaver, IGN, 2005.

Alien Resurrection had barely started screening when talk of a fifth movie began circulating. “We firmly expect to do another one,” Tom Rothman, Fox’s president of production at the time, told Entertainment Weekly. “Joss Whedon will write it, and we expect to have Sigourney and Winona if they’re up for it.”

“There’s a big story to tell in another sequel,” Whedon said. “The fourth film is really a prologue to a movie set on Earth. Imagine all the things that can happen.” That same year he set out his manifesto for the fifth film: “If I write this movie, and it has my writing credits on it, then it’s going to be on Earth … And it’s going to be very different from the last one.”

“The studio talked about Alien Resurrection as a kind of placeholder,” he continued. “They said, ‘We want to do Earth or the big Alien planet, but we’re not convinced yet that this franchise has legs. So we want to do a smaller story.’ I don’t think you can do that with Alien 5. I think the time of people running around in a tin can has passed. You have to work on a broader canvas otherwise it becomes an episode and not a new movie. The way Cameron exploded from the first to the second, you have to do that again, and that means going somewhere new … With Alien Resurrection, I used the first two movies as models, but with this one I can promise you something new, something completely different from what’s been seen before.”

However, a frustrated Whedon lost interest in doing any work for another sequel after Resurrection’s release, and the fifth movie, which was rumoured to be titled ‘Alien Revelation’, ended up on Fox’s backburner. “I’ll tell you there was a time when I would have been interested in that,” explained Whedon, “but I am not interested in making somebody else’s franchise anymore. Any movie I make will be created by me.”

Still, rumours abounded throughout the late nineties and early noughties  about a fifth entry. Cinescape magazine for one reported that Alien 5 was to feature Ripley 8 travelling to the Alien homeworld to settle scores. There were intermittent rumours of the film being greenlit and release dates and inflated salaries for Weaver were reported and denied on an almost yearly basis. In 1999 Sigourney spoke to Sci-Fi Wire magazine about another film and her participation in it. “I don’t know if there are any plans to do another one,” she said. “It wouldn’t surprise me if some time in the next twenty years or so, you see a white-haired Ripley hobbling around out there. But I haven’t heard of anything.”

Eventually, in 2002, there seemed to be some mobilisation for Alien 5, as Ridley Scott was asked about his potential involvement and responded positively, saying, “You know I thought it’d be nice. I’d do it. It really is entirely dependent on the take on the material. It’s all about material. I’ve been asked about Alien 5, and I said of course. We’ve started a script meeting. I mean, I’ve started it off so I may as well close the door – if in fact this is meant to be the last one.”

“I will decide in the next 5 weeks. I’m looking at Alien 5 [for] sure. Why not? Maybe.”
~ Ridley Scott, The Latino Review, 2002.

In 2003 Ian Nathan interviewed Scott for The Times to celebrate the release of the Alien Quardilogy, and Nathan noted that he didn’t “even seem to want to recognise that two more films were made” after the second movie, which may have been a cause of consternation for Scott and Fox. This is conjecture, of course, but Scott’s unwillingness to heed the latter films (“One was set on a prison, wasn’t it?” he asked Empire in 2012) may have been a stumbling block for cracking the fifth film’s story. Ridley always spoke about exploring the Space Jockey and the concept of biological warfare, and he may not have been ready to weld it to Ripley’s clone and a film that he never held in much regard.

But Nathan dropped a more enticing tidbit: that there “has been talk of a heavenly partnership with Cameron to work out an idea” for a fifth Alien movie. Back in 1995 Starbust magazine had claimed that “James Cameron [was] behind the camera” for Alien Resurrection. This may have been wishful thinking, since he has never commented on being asked to direct the fourth movie (though he did say if Fox had gotten Ridley to direct one half of the proposed two-part third movie, he may have directed the second half.) Now, Cameron was mostly definitely back in the fold. “What came up was the idea of doing Alien 5,” he said, “and at one point I pitched that I would write it and produce it, and Ridley would direct it, and we had lunch talking about this.”

In 2003 Zap2it.com claimed that the plots to Alien 5 and 6 had surfaced. “Number five is set on Earth,” they claimed, “with the planet under attack from alien warrior drop ships, which made their debut in the original Alien movie. In the process they make Earth look like an incubator while attacking, leaving Alien eggs around the humans. When Ripley realizes her dreams have played a role in what’s happening she evacuates and confines herself to a cell, but inevitably she will meet her nemesis face to face again.”

The summary of the sixth movie was brief. “Number six takes place on the home turf of the navigator of the ship. Aliens are taking over other planets and Ripley finds herself forced to turn to the dark side in order to save civilization.”

Meanwhile, Cameron was stressing the need to be uncompromising when dabbling in this universe. “The original Alien holds a special classic niche as one of the great terrifying experiences,” he told The Edmonton Sun. “And the trick is you don’t go crazy and make a $150-million movie because you don’t want to have to compromise, you don’t want to try to do a PG-13 Alien that is all things to everyone. It’s got to still maintain its roots in this kind of cinematic Id. Ridley did it really beautifully. He just kind of put you into this Freudian nightmare space.”

“We’re looking at doing another one. Something similar to what we did with Aliens. A bunch of great characters, and of course Sigourney. I’ve even discussed the possibility of putting [Arnold Schwarzenegger] into the Alien movie.”
~ James Cameron, BBC One interview, 2003.

However, Ridley announced his departure from any Alien project in an issue of Total Film, explaining that it was now in Cameron’s court. “We were in violent agreement,” Cameron said of his meetings with Ridley, “then nothing happened.” It seems that Cameron continued working on the film in some capacity, but Fox intervened. “I started working on a story,” Cameron said, “I was working with another writer and Fox came back to me and said, ‘We’ve got this really good script for Alien vs Predator.’ So I stopped working.”

In 2004, Ridley spoke with Japanese publication Famitsu Wave about Alien 5. and indicated that it was still in everyone’s minds, but would not be greenlit until Fox saw how succesful the spin-off movie would be. He spoke cryptically about the plot and whether or not he would direct it.

Famitsu Wave: And what of the rumor of another Alien movie?
Ridley Scott: We have been talking about doing another one for years. It’s been a complex situation. At the end of the day, a studio has to be pleased, a core audience has to be pleased, and a director has to agree to all that. I am glad to say things are progressing…
FW: With you as director?
RS: I don’t think I’ll be directing, but I will have some involvement. It’ll probably be based on an idea I have, so I hope I’m asked to be involved.
FW: Can you talk about the idea?
RS: In broad terms, it’s something for those folks that want to see Ripley’s journey come full circle.
FW: Does that take her to the home planet of the Aliens?
RS: She won’t necessarily see the home planet, but you might…

Scott also told them that, regarding his work with Nicolas Cage on Matchstick Men and other projects, “If there’s room for him in the new Alien movie, we’d love to get him.”

After the release of AvP director Paul W. Anderson was briefly rumoured to be helming the fifth Alien installment: hearsay that he quickly shot down. “That’s not a reality,” he said. “I’ve heard that. I’ve been doing press lately for AvP and a lot of people said that. I don’t know where that came from. It’s not something I’ve been approached about.” His choice for Alien 5‘s director? Ironically, James Cameron.

AvP may have caused him to lose interest in making a new movie in the series, but Cameron still got around to seeing it.”I think of the five Alien films, I’d rate it third,” he diplomatically said of Anderson’s film, which is no real feat considering his opinion of the third and fourth movie. Ridley however couldn’t bring himself to see it or its 2007 sequel.

Empire: I’ve always wondered, did you see the Alien vs. Predator movies?
Ridley Scott: No.
Empire: (laughs) They don’t exist.
Ridley: I couldn’t do that (laughs) I couldn’t quite take that step.
~ Empire Online, Prometheus: The Interviews, 2012.

Of Ridley’s eventually return to the series, Prometheus, Cameron said in 2014: “I thought it was an interesting film. I thought it was thought-provoking and beautifully, visually mounted, but at the end of the day it didn’t add up logically. But I enjoyed it, and I’m glad it was made. I liked it better than the previous two Alien sequels.”

As for any involvement in the new strand of Alien stories that the prequel has opened up, Cameron was straightforward. “I don’t think I have anything to offer on the Prometheus sequels, that’s Ridley’s.”

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Interview with Sigourney Weaver

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Transcribed from Omni’s Screen Flights/Screen Fantasies, 1984. Originally published in Films and Filming magazine. Interview by Danny Peary.

Danny Peary: Did you go to movie casting calls before Alien?
Sigourney Weaver: Not many. I’m sure I’d turned down a couple of films. One of the reasons I wasn’t crazy about getting Alien was I felt responses had been so encouraging at past auditions that I’d soon get another role if I didn’t get picked for Alien. That’s not to say I didn’t want the job. I did. I had no money for one thing. I was delighted to be considered. But I had high hopes. The fact that I didn’t slobber at the mouth when I was told I’d get a screen test helped me get the part.

DP: How were you even selected to audition for a lead part in a major film when you had never been in a film before?
SW: I had been out on the West Coast the year before, visiting my parents, and had met a few people out there. And I’d done enough work in New York already so that I wasn’t completely unknown. I was highly recommended to everyone involed with Alien. They had been trying to sell Fox on having a newcomer play Ripley. Fox had mixed feelings at first and casting took a long time. They saw a lot of actresses. I was asked to meet everyone here in New York, soon after I’d opened in the play The Conquering Event.

I remember going to the wrong place for my appointment and having to rush around in confusion. I met Ridley Scott right away, and the producers Gordon Carroll and David Giler. And then I met Walter Hill, who co-produced Alien. And they all liked me. Walter Hill and David Giler wrote the script I read, although Dan O’Bannon had written the original script and got the screen credit. You can tell Walter’s influence. He writes so sparely because he expects you to improvise. When I read it, I found that his characters, especially the males, seemed identical. That’s why when they cast Alien they chose distinct types who could make the characters interesting in ways other than just by saying the dialogue. It was a very skeletal script and that’s one of the reasons I liked it.

DW: At that stage of your acting career, were you secure enough to argue over problems you found in the script?
SW:
Sure. That’s what it’s all about. On Alien, I immediately commented, ‘It’s a very bleak picture where people don’t relate to each other at all,’ and the casting director was there signaling me not to blow it by making such strong objections. But I figure if you put all your cards on the table, they can use that. After all, they’re hiring you. They can disagree with you but you must air your feelings so you can arrive at a resolution. You have to be careful and specific about what you disagree with. And you also have to express what you find positive about the project. I happen to have worked on many new plays with new playwrights so I have been encouraged to speak up – I didn’t know if people in movies were used to that. I thought they should be. You shouldn’t work with a bad director, one you can’t have a dialogue with. I just think it takes too much out of you if you don’t absolutely love the project. If you love it you can put up with a jerk director – which Ridley Scott definitely was not.

I think when you’re not fully committed to something, you shouldn’t do it. I have only done things I’ve felt strongly about. Even Alien, I sat down and thought about Ripley a long time before deciding I really wanted to play her.

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DP: When were you told you had the part?
SW: I flew out to Hollywood to meet Alan Ladd Jr., and Gareth Wiggin at Twentieth. I lost my bags on the plane and went in my rotten clothes. 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. Ladd agreed to screentest me, so the next week I flew to London where Ridley had built a whole set for me. 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. I wore old army surplus stuff for the screentest. We didn’t want it to look like Jackie Onassis in Space; we wanted to look more like pirates.

On the day I left for home, Ladd came to look at the tests. He asked all the women in the studio who worked as secretaries to watch my tests, too, and tell him their opinions. And the women just said, ‘Well, we like her.’ So they got me the part. On the day I got back to New York, they called and said I got it. I had sort of written it off every step of the way.

DP: Is there anything you tried to bring to Ripley when you were trying for the part?
SW: A no-nonsenseness to her. She’s a very matter-of-fact person. I think she grew up believing there is a certain order to things that could not be broken or changed. She had very rational training. And her beliefs are exploded in the film when she suddenly has to work on instinct and emotion rather than intellect. Looking back, in some ways she was the most unimaginative character I ever played – which isn’t to say I don’t like her. Actually the part I wanted to play was Lambert, Veronica Cartwright’s part. 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.The character changed however when Ridley and Veronica decided to giver viewers a sympathetic character.

DP: It’s obviously great getting a starring role in your first film.
SW: It’s also dangerous in the sense there are so many good supporting roles that I’ll never be considered for. I really developed in the theatre by taking character parts and in a way that’s what I’d like to do in the movies. I think I’m considered for parts that are nothing like those I’m drawn to. That’s the “actor’s dilemma”. It’s not unique to me. When you are the lead in a film that costs a few million dollars, you do get the best hair and make-up people, and you dont 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 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. There is a segregation between leading and supporting people in films that I find stupid and distasteful.

DP: So could you enjoy working on Alien?
SW: Alien was fun. I was excited about being in a movie and since it was my first time out, I was very easy-going. I didn’t realise until the four months were over that I’d been experiencing such tension. Every day Ridley would let me get behind the camera to look at each scene and I could tell Alien was an incredible film to be a part of. It was always fascinating seeing Riley work and how he put it together. And I loved working with Tom Skerritt, who played Dallas, the captain of the Nostromo. He’s great, a truly interesting person. Also I learned a lot working with actors who had so many varied acting backgrounds. For instance, the scenes I did with Ian Holm, who played Ash, the science officer who turns out to be a robot, were done word-for-word perfect, like I was used to doing on stage. However, the scenes I did with Yaphet Kotto, who played Parker, were probably nothing like the scenes that were written. However an actor worked, I was willing to work with him that way, I would have liked to have done more improvisation because we might have made ourselves into the ensemble we should have been.

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DP: What did you think of the sets?
SW: They were great. In fact, I think the main reason I wanted to do Alien was because they had shown me HR Giger’s incredible designs for the Alien and the planet. I had never seen anything like it. I wish you could have seen the filming on the planet set because it was so fascinating to watch. They had Ridley’s two boys and Tom Skerritt’s son walking around in space suits being doubles so everything arouind them would look bigger. The amount of incense used was not to be believed – it was also used to diffuse light on the bridge and mess-room sets, where the ceilings were very low. It was like the incense burned at a Catholic funeral I once attended – people wore masks.

I remember taking my parents around this set. It was like wandering though some Playboy orgy room. There was this huge spaceship with vaginal doors and there were beautiful female bones. They were gulping, ‘Very interesting, very interesting.’ It was funny having never done another film [before], except for a week on something that was never released. I thought every actor got up, had breakfast, and went ot another planet. It seemed so natural to me.

DP: Did you like working with Ridley Scott?
SW: We got along very well. He’s an amazing man, a genius, and I think Alien is beautifully directed. He is one of those directors who will come up to you after you’ve done a scene who will say, ‘Well, I don’t fucking believe that.’ At first I’d be taken aback and wonder, ‘Where’s the stroking, where’s the diplomancy?’ And there just wasn’t any. And that’s why I liked him so much. In an industry where there’s so much bullshit I really appreciated his just getting to the point. We didn’t have to waste time. We rarely rehearsed and if we did it was only a day in advance of shooting. It was a high-pressured set. Ridley operated the camera. He hadn’t worked that much with actors and I think one of his priorities today is to become not an “actor’s director” but to be better with them.

I remember one time I asked for his help on a problem I was having with Ripley. And he thought about it for a long time and then he came over to me and said, ‘What if you are the lens on… (and he named a sophisticated camera)… and you’re opening and shutting…’ And there was a long pause. Finally I said, ‘Ridley, I’ll have to think about it,’ And he looked crestfallen because he hadn’t helped me and he added, ‘Well, let me think too.’ He really wanted to be part of the process. But having me be the iris of a lens? I said, ‘That’s okay, Ridley. I’ll figure it out myself.’ And I did. But I loved him.

DP: Had you seen many science fiction films before being in Alien?
SW: Only a handful, if that. Being in Alien made me want to see Dark Star, because Dan O’Bannon wrote that, too. I didn’t really remember 2001, but Ridley kept saying it was a masterpiece.

DP: In Alien there are two women who are integral members of the crew.
SW: At one point, Ripley was supposed to be a man. They changed the charater to a woman just before casting was started. There’s also slight sexual innuendo. There was supposed to be a love scene right in the middle of the picture. It was one of Ridley’s favourite scenes but it was never filmed. Ripley sees Dallas and starts to take off her clothes, saying, ‘I need some relief.’ And they built a special chair for us to make love in. It was a ludicrous idea – with that Alien running around loose in the ship, who would have wanted to take one’s clothes off to make love?

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DP: Was there discussion over your famous strip toward the end of the film?
SW: Originally there was going to be a lot of nudity in the film. Of the matter-of-fact variety. There were going to be lots of shots of naked people walking around because it was such a harsh environment. It would have been a nice contrast. As for my strip… people have said, ‘Aw, how could you demean yourself by doing a striptease?’ And I say, ‘Are you kidding? After five days of blood and guts, and fear, and sweat and urine, do you think Ripley wouldn’t take off her clothes?’ It never occured to me for a second that people would think my strip exploitive. I think it’s kind of provocative – you’re almost seeing me through the Alien’s eyes. Suddenly I go from dark green animal to a pink and white animal.

Ridley and I had so much fun working out the ending. There were so many different endings. One of them was that the Alien would surprise me and I would run into the closet where I’d take my suit off and put on another. So there would have been a moment when the Alien would see me between suits and be fascinated. Because the Alien isn’t evil. It’s just following its natural instincts to reproduce through whatever living things are around it. Every now and then a reporter would ask, ‘How could you have been part of a film about such evil?’ And I’d go, ‘Good Lord! You take this very seriously, don’t you?’

So I liked all this stuff. You see the Alien in its birthday suit the entire film, so I thought it was a cop out having me wear the underwear, and not stripping entirely. Fox is always concerned about losing Spain, Italy, etc. But I must say, having received the mail I have, I would now think twice about taking off all my clothes in a movie and scampering around for an hour.

DP: Was there talk of Alien II?
SW: It was a great joke among us after the movie came out. Everyone at Twentieth wanted one because Alien made so much money, but none of us ever talked seriously about a sequel.

DP: You took a long time before doing another film.
SW: I was astonished to discover after finishing Alien how traditional scripts are in regard to women. For one thing, there’s rarely a script in which the woman can keep on her clothes.

DP: Would you like to do more science fiction films?
SW: Having made Alien with Ridley Scott – yes, I’d like to.

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James Cameron’s Alien III (or ‘How it was Never Going to Happen’)

Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron, and Jale Ann Hurd at the Aliens premiere, 1986.

Sigourney Weaver, James Cameron, and Gale Anne Hurd at the Aliens premiere, 1986.

“I’m wondering if Alien 3 is in the typewriter?” Bobby Wygant asked James Cameron upon the release of Aliens in 1986. “Not for me it’s not,” he answered.

“I think Fox will want to see how this film does,” Cameron continued, “and if they’re still enthusiastic about, or if they become enthusiastic about a continuation beyond the film that Gale and I made then they’ll have to pursue that in their way. I mean find a writer, find a director, because we’ll be on to something else, I think. Some new territory.”

“But if the money were right?” Wygan teased. “No, I don’t think so,” he answered. “At this point, y’know, the way I work on films and the way my wife -who produced this film- works, is we throw ourselves into the picture right from pre-production through the end of post-production. It takes us a year or two, year and a half to do a film, and that means maybe my career will only be ten or twelve films – you can’t stay doing the same things over and over again.”

“[Another sequel is] entirely in the hands of people other than myself. The only thing I can say definitively right now is: from my involvement as a writer, the story was not constructed with an eye toward another sequel. But then, the first one wasn’t either.”
~ James Cameron, Starlog magazine, September 1986.

Wygan also asked Sigourney Weaver about Alien 3. “It took someone as talented -and crazy- as Jim Cameron to come up with a story that was as good as the first one,” Weaver said, “and I would be surprised if it could happen again. And I have a feeling, if it happened again, that Newt would have grown up and that she would be the one to go on and carry the guns, so to speak.”

In 1995 Carrie Henn briefly mentioned James’ ideas, or framework, for an Aliens sequel: “I know that James Cameron had planned to have Hicks, Ripley and me in Alien 3, to have a family-type thing.” Her feelings about that not happening? “Still, life goes on.”

Lance Henriksen also revealed that Cameron had discussed some character beats for Bishop in a potential third movie: “I also remember Jim saying to me [that] if we ever did another one that what he would have done is probably had that character realize that somebody had fooled around with his brain and make him constantly worried that he was going to do something dangerous. And so I thought, ‘Well, what a nice piece of conflict that is.'” Earlier in 2004 he had said: “Jim Cameron […] was talking about doing another Alien movie. He often pondered about what he might do with Bishop, saying that somehow they messed with his brain to make him dangerous.”

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Starlog #170, September 1991

As for James’ opinion on David Fincher’s Alien 3? The swift and off-screen deaths of Newt and Hicks, and the pulverisation (and subsequent euthanisation) of Bishop were two points of contention. But Cameron wasn’t completely condemnatory towards the film. “I actually think that Alien 3 is a pretty good piece of work, in terms of film-making,” he said. “Fincher early on showed what he had as a film-maker, and I think the film has some great stuff in it, some beautiful photography.”

“But,” he added, “it’s hard for me to watch, because it feels like such a slap in the face to the people who have invested in the story through the first two films. I understand his reasons for doing it, but I think the best way to do a sequel is to honour the original and be original and creative in your own way. He was original and creative in his own way, but at the expense of the previous film and what a lot of people might have invested in that story up at that time. It makes it difficult for me to watch the film.”

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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.]

junkjard

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.

Ripleynewthive

“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.

Newt_1899148737_n

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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