Tag Archives: Yaphet Kotto

The Engineers


“[Alien’s] a really classic movie now,” Harry Dean Stanton told Venice Magazine in 1997. “I never liked science-fiction movies or monster movies, but that one was very believable. I told Ridley Scott during my interview with him that I didn’t like those sorts of films and he said, ‘Well I don’t either, actually, but I think I can make something of this one.’ And he did.”

For Yaphet Kotto, the role of Parker came through the door when the actor was already considering other projects. “I got the script in the mail,” he told the Austin Chronicle, “and it came at a time when I had two other projects to make a decision about, and one of those projects was a firm offer for a great deal of money, and a friend of mine was directing it — Stuart Rosenberg. He called me directly at home and said, ‘C’mon I want you to do this. I’m going to send it to you. Blah, blah, blah.’ I said, ‘Stuart, I really can’t do this movie.’ He asked, ‘Why?’ I said, ‘Because I’ve got a script that I really love.’ ‘Do they want you?’ I said, ‘I don’t know,’ but I still had to let him go. So I waited four months for this offer – and it came through.”

“I saw that this character, Parker, was the first African-American who was going to be in space,” Kotto continued, though he felt more impressed by Ripley: “What completely shocked me and surprised me though was the character of Ripley. Whoa, this was history. ‘I’ve got to be in this one,’ I said. ‘No, I’ll wait. I’ll wait and I’ll wait and I’ll wait — and I’ll keep on waiting until they are ready to go, and then I’ll go and force my way into this movie. I’ve got to be a part of this.’ I turned down everything. I waited for four months, and around December [’77] I got a call from Fox, saying they wanted to talk to me about Alien. And when I went over there, they offered me the part as soon as I walked in the door.”

“I was there [at Shepperton Studios] for four months,” he told IGN, “and I was glad to get back because I’d just done Live and Let Die there. And so, I went back there and worked with the old crew again on Alien and I said, ‘I’m back!’ I was happy to do that … And let me tell you, the sets were incredible. You walk in and you see these big sets, in England, these big hangers at Pinewood. Oh, man it was great.”

In Another World…: Nabbing the Alien job did cost Stanton another smaller, but quite classic role: “I always wanted to work with Stanley Kubrick. He wanted me to work with him once, but I was in London doing Alien. He was doing The Shining with Jack [Nicholson], and he wanted me to play the bartender.” Stanton was of course forced to turn down the part. “But I had a chance,” he concluded, “at least Kubrick thought of me.” The role of Lloyd the bartender went to Joe Turkel, who was later cast as Eldon Tyrell in Blade Runner due to his phantasmagoric performance in Kubrick’s movie.

As for Yaphet, he also turned down another classic film role. “You know, I was offered to do the part of Lando Calrissian in The Empire Strikes Back one afternoon in the luncheonette by Irvin Kershner, who had just finished directing me in Raid on Entebbe. He was directing Empire. I was having lunch with Veronica Cartwright, and he came over and asked me if I wanted to do the part, and I said no. He asked why, and I said, ‘Because they’ll kill me off. I’ll have trouble finding work after that.’ I said, ‘I’ve got something I want to do called Brubaker in Ohio. That’s where I’m going after the movie is over.’ I knew I had to get back down to Earth.”

In Dan O’Bannon’s original script Brett is “Jay Faust: A worker. Unimaginative.” If any character made the leap from this synopsis to the movie and remained intact, Brett may be that man. Of course, Parker is not far behind, having first been conjured up in O’Bannon’s mind as “Cleave Hunter: High strung; came along to make his fortune”. Faust and Hunter became Brett and Parker when David Giler and Walter Hill rewrote the script. “Some of the characters are named after athletes,” revealed Hill. “Brett was for George Brett (of the Kansas City Royals), Parker was Dave Parker of The Pirates.”

Even Brett's shirt had a 'backstory': "[He] probably picked it up in some station way off, somewhere, just off Mars where they go into some gift shop. He gets cards for the kids that he'll probably see in four years time, and so he, and that's why he bought this Hawaaian shirt."

Even Brett’s shirt had a ‘backstory’: “[He] probably picked it up in some station way off, just off Mars where they go into some gift shop. He gets cards for the kids that he’ll probably see in four years time, that’s why he bought this Hawaiian shirt.”
The shirt and other items like the ship’s dipping bird and various bric-a-brac are “from the various gift shops around the universe, wherever they’d stopped off – I figured that wherever you go there’ll be gift shops.”

The two are quickly pinned as the disgruntled ‘hands’ aboard the ship. In O’Bannon’s script, Parker’s only protestation is to mutter, “Seems to me we came on this trip to make some credit, not to go off on some kind of side trip” – later, he complains that if they abandon ship, then “We’d be broke”.

In the revised/final script, their first solo scene together has them funneling through the underbelly of the ship and complaining:

Parker: I want to know why they never come down here. This is where the work is.
Brett: Same reason we have half a share to their one; our time is their time, that’s the way they see it.
Parker: Well, I’ll tell you something… it stinks.

In the movie, Parker has reached a conclusion: “That’s why nobody comes down here. It’s because of you. You know you don’t have any personality.” This line was an ad-lib of Kotto’s, as Stanton revealed: “I remember one line where Yaphet turns to me. I said ‘Why are these [people] so difficult to deal with?’ or something and he says, ‘your personality, man!’ (laughter) Which wasn’t in the script.”

On the 1999 DVD commentary, Ridley stated that the two engineers’ kvetching was probably due to an ongoing and unresolved issue between the crew: “[When we meet] Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto, [they’re] already complaining about their deal, and we never know whether that’s serious or whether that’s a continual discussion between them and their captain.”

The aim was to highlight the already fractured relations between the upper and lower decks and between the various characters long before the Alien sets foot on the ship. Scott continued: “We were always told just enough about [the crew] so we knew who they were, who the troublemakers were, who the politicians were, there was already a class system [between] below deck and upper deck.”

In fact, Yaphet was expressly instructed by Ridley to harangue Sigourney to increase the tension between their characters. When the crew debate on what to do after Dallas’ disappearance, Kotto constantly challenged Weaver until her temper boiled over. “I remember talking to Yaphet,” Scott said, “and saying, which is a little unfair, to wind up Sigourney and keep interrupting her, and it was really great because she [later] established her authority. So I think you have a very good take over here by Sigourney and Yaphet backs down, and is obliged to accept the situation.”

“I liked Sigourney Weaver from the moment I met her,” Kotto told KultFilmFreak.com. “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 needn’t feel bad, as he wasn’t the only cast member who was instructed to rough up Sigourney. In a scene only present in the Director’s Cut, Lambert slaps Ripley as they queue to watch Kane’s inspection in the auto-doc. However, Sigourney kept ducking away from Cartwright’s passes, until Ridley urged the latter to really slap Weaver. On the Bluray commentary track, Sigourney and Scott discuss the scene:

Ridley Scott: This is an additional scene that we didn’t have in the film. This was where I think Veronica whacked you, she’d given you a huge whack, first time…

Sigourney Weaver: Oh, you asked her to do that?

RS: No, absolutely not, but I, but it’s like-

SW: No, she really hit me, you can see how surprised I was … And no one told me that she was going to do this…

RS: I’m sorry… (laughs)

tumblr_l4upowa8Is1qa1o5zo1_500The Nostromo Crew Profiles sketch out the backstories of the two engineers. J.T. Parker was born in San Diego, California, United Americas, in 2080. At the age of twenty he worked as pit mechanic for Speedy Maxx high-speed terrafoil racing team. Typically, he quit the pit crew over a salary dispute. Five years later he was recruited into the United Americas Outer Rim Defense Fleet, serving as a mechanic of heavy land transport vehicles and officer shuttles. Parker went on to spend some time in a prisoner of war camp, ran a black market, was liberated and discharged from military service, and went on to ‘fill several menial’ jobs aboard other space vessels before, in 2120, he served under Captain Dallas on the Nostromo.

Parker is boisterous and tirelessly insistent in nature; traits seemingly carried over from Kotto himself. There are several stories about his stormy energy circulating: Tom Skerritt remembers that, one early morning, “[Kotto was] starting the day too, and he’s in the first scene, he’s the kinda guy who needs to get worked up in order to really get the juices flowing. And the English crew is very serene, always very serene and very understanding – and he starts ranting, ‘C’mon what hell’s going on here … let’s get going, get some light here!’ and finally he stops and was all ready to go. And I was standing at the back with two English crewmembers in front of me, and after this wonderful exercise one turns to the other and says, ‘isn’t if grand, being English?’”

If anybody was wondering what magazine Parker was perusing as the crew observe Kane in the auto-doc, then it was this vintage (by 2122) copy of Fiesta.

If anybody was wondering what magazine Parker was perusing as the crew observe Kane in the auto-doc, then it was this vintage (by 2122) copy of Fiesta.

S.E. Brett was born in Houston, Texas, United Americas in 2069. At 16 he began working for the family business (E-Z-FLY Spacecraft Repair) until 2094 when he became a hardware specialist for Solari Energy Corp at Osaka solar energy plant. Employment was quickly terminated. The next year he piloted high-speed cargo vehicles for Ridton Corp through Iranistan war zone – again, his employment was terminated. Brett underwent treatment for alcoholism several times throughout the intervening years, and served on several space vessels, losing and regaining his flight status along the way. In 2120 he was assigned to the USCSS Nostromo, under Captain Dallas.

Brett is quiet and seems generally passive, though he is not averse to grumbling. Though he is Parker’s elder, he is very much an underling. He is the teacup to Parker’s storm. The two are famous for being the film’s closest two-some, probably the only two members aboard the ship who can be jovial with one another. This relationship was not existent, or at least overt in any way, in O’Bannon’s script. There, the characters share a singular brief moment:

Hunter is strapping on an oxygen mask and a flame thrower. Faust is helping him.

Faust: Well, uh… good luck. I hope you won’t need me, but if you do, I’m here.
Hunter: (grimly) Right.

His close attachment to Parker was joked about at the beginning of the 1978 ‘Final/Revised’ script. In a scene that didn’t make it to the movie, Kane makes breakfast after rising from cryo-sleep and listens to each of his crewmates’ freezers open. One by one they open, until: “If we have Parker,” Kane remarks, “can Brett be far behind?” Of course, Brett’s chamber only opens in the wake of Parker’s.

Brett is depicted as being quite hands-on. In the movie he rigs the cattle prod equipment, but in the O’Bannon script he also pieces together the rudimentary motion tracker. Of course, their first catch is still the ship’s cat. The first kill in the O’Bannon script differs greatly from that in the movie. After finding the cat, instead of running off alone the three crewmen stick together. However, the others have trapped the Alien within the food store, and move to poison the creature within by pumping in gas. The Alien tears its way out of the room and escapes, and the crew is spared for now. Later, when Hunter (that is, Parker) is trawling through the ship’s vents (in a role filled by Dallas in the movie) the Alien lunges out and kills Melkonis/Lambert as they wait for Hunter to flush it out.

But Faust/Brett does not delay death for long: he catches sight of the Alien within the airlock and insists that the crew blow the lock to kill the creature. Unfortunately the Alien avoids the mortal blow of the closing doors and Faust is crushed in its place. In later scripts a modification of this death was given to Lambert, and then removed altogether.

Brett stationed in the engine room. Behind him we can see evidence of a hobby: crafting old galleons and ships.

Brett stationed in the engine room. Behind him we can see evidence of a hobby: crafting old galleons and ships.

Brett's ships can also be seen behind and around him at his bridge console.

Brett’s ships can also be seen behind and around him in the movie.

In the movie, Brett meets his violent end after committing a cardinal sin of horror films: he goes it alone. He trails the ship’s cat through the ‘gold room’ and below the landing gear, unwittingly stumbling across the now-grown Alien on the way. The creature descends, punches a hole in his skull, and drags the carcass up and into the beams. True to form, Brett’s last word is Parker’s name in the extended version of the scene.

“[The Alien] swings down acrobatically and they are suddenly face-to-face,” Scott told Fantastic Films. “I thought that would be quite a spooky image, actually, with the thing hanging there like a mantis. Almost independent suspension, seeming to move on their own.”

“You don’t know quite how it’s got up or down,” he finished. “It’s just there, like a fly. Takes him. Bang! Bingo!”

At first Ridley wanted the Alien to lunge on Brett and tear his heart out. Parker and Ripley would then rush in and cradle his body. The problem was, the imagery was too close to that of the chestburster, which had occurred only moments earlier. “[Originally], I didn’t have the Alien take Brett away,” Scott told Fantastic Films in 1979. “I wanted it to remove his heart. When the others find him and turn him over, there’s a huge cavity in his chest, reminiscent of the hole in the Space Jockey. But that was too much like Kane’s death, so we eventually changed it.”

The Alien swoops from the landing gear-

The Alien swoops from the landing gear-

-clutches Brett-

-clutches Brett-

-and leaves his corpse in the dark.

-and leaves his heartless corpse in the dark.

The framing of the death scene seems to have been formulated on the day (though really it took several days to perfect its stunts). Special Effects Supervisor Nick Allder told Cinefex magazine: “Ridley brought me onto the stage and said: ‘I want Brett to get it now, but I just don’t want the creature to dart out and menace him to start with. I’d rather have it reach out and sort of caress his head – almost kind of inquisitive at first. Then you see it squeeze up, and blood starts running down Brett’s face, and it cracks his head open.’ So we ended up doing it almost on the spur of the moment. We ran blood tubes up into Harry Dean Stanton’s cap and through his hair. Then, when the Alien started squeezing, we started pumping, and the blood ran out and down his face.”

Once the Alien latched onto Brett, Parker and Ripley were to run in just as the beast lifts off into the rafters and chains. The two are showered in blood as the room turns from sudden chaos back to silence. “We used to have Sigourney and Yaphet rush in,” Scott said on the 1999 commentary, “but somehow that was too normal, it was more elegant to leave him to die in a lonely fashion… The cat was the only witness.”

In Stanton’s opinion, he didn’t play his death scene to his own satisfaction: “This is where I screwed up,” he said on the film’s commentary track, “I could never play terror. Oh, I can play crying, I can laugh, I can cry, I can do everything but playing terror, and I didn’t know it at the time but I found out later how to play terror. And I didn’t use it in this part. It worked, but I wish I had known it. You don’t look scared, you just look like, ‘I’ve never seen anything like this before'”.

"It's always difficult for an actor to relate to what is, essentially, a beast. They know what it is, and they know there's a man inside the suit, and they know the odds are they'll never have to experience anything like it in their real lives. So I had to try and inflict on harry Dean Stanton a feeling he probably couldn't even imagine having." ~ Ridley Scott, Fantastic Films, 1979.

“It’s always difficult for an actor to relate to what is, essentially, a beast. They know what it is, and they know there’s a man inside the suit, and they know the odds are they’ll never have to experience anything like it in their real lives. So I had to try and inflict on Harry Dean Stanton a feeling he probably couldn’t even imagine having.”
~ Ridley Scott, Fantastic Films, 1979.

“In most instances like this,” Scott said of the Brett/Alien encounter, “you’d probably die before the thing touched you anyway. I mean, you’d have a heart attack, right? You’d turn and see it and last about four seconds before you had a coronary, okay? So with Brett’s death, and subsequent run-ins with the Alien, it was always done with to the ultimate feeling of a heart attack. The rush of a heart attack, even if the thing didn’t ever touch them.”

In Dan O’Bannons’ script, Hunter/Parker suffered quite a spectacular fate; one that was carried over into many other iterations of the script:

Standard whirls around, sees the thing clutching Hunter. It holds him off to one side, as though to keep Standard from getting at him. Standard doesn’t know what to do.

Hunter: The flamethrower!
Standard: I can’t, the acid will pour out!


Standard can take it no longer; he raises the flamethrower and fires — BUT THE CREATURE SWINGS HUNTER AROUND AS A SHIELD AND HUNTER CATCHES THE FULL BLAST OF THE FLAME.

Standard instantly stops firing, but now Hunter is a kicking ball of flame, held out at arm’s length by the monster.

Parker’s immolation was eventually dropped due to the logistics of a burn stunt on a small set with a rubber monster. In the final version of the script the scene was heavily simplified:

The Alien drops Lambert.
Parker lands a blow with the flamethrower.
No effect.
The Alien strikes him once.
Killing him instantly.
~ Alien script, final/revised, June 1978.

Ridley recalled Yaphet’s energy and riotous demeanor on the set: “Yaphet was always great as the troublemaker on board the ship, and the day that Yaphet had to die, he said, ‘I’m not going to die.’ He said, ‘This thing can’t kill me!’ So I had to have this long discussion, persuading him to die that day,” (similarly, in a 1994 interview with Conan O’Brien, Yaphet joked[?] that his character in Live and Let Die was “too cool” to be killed – “I was not a villain, James Bond didn’t understand my point of view!”)

Miniature model make Jon Sorensen also recalls: “The Alien, as you all know, was played by an actor of Masai stock, Bolaji Badejo. The Masai are very slender but can be incredibly strong. Anyway, it seemed to us that Yaphet took something of a dislike to Bolaji. Now, whether this was part of a method-style pumping up exercise to keep “Parker” in a ‘fighting’ mode towards the Alien, no one was ever quite sure. But he certainly poured it on and everyone noticed, notably Bolaji. Well the day came for Parker to fight the Alien and Yaphet comes out with it. ‘No f****** Alien is going to beat me. No f****** Alien is going to hold me down!’ Well, Bolaji/Alien pinned Kotto/Parker to the ground, sitting on him. Could Yaphet shift him? No. Not with all his considerable strength could he get the Alien off. He was ABSOLUTELY furious. Bolaji, the quiet man, won the day.”

Humour aside, Kotto did make it clear that his character dying was the right way to go. “I don’t mind that Parker was killed,” he told IGN. “I wouldn’t want Parker to go on because I’d be caught up in the franchise. I wanted to get back to being an actor. And so I chose to get back to it. And this was not bulls**t. This was actual choices that I’d learned from. And I think I made these choices, learned these choices, by having a New York stage background. What you learn in New York is: don’t pull the same trick twice. You’ve got to come back before they put you in another role and they tear you up. So, that was what helped me make the choice not to go into The Empire Strikes Back or go and complain to the [Alien] writers that this character should go on.”

Parker, though initially depicted as being divisive and out for himself, tends to take on a protector role: first with Brett, and later he is usually seen by Lambert’s side. In the end, he throws aside a flamethrower to avoid immolating Lambert along with the Alien, and lunges at the creature to allow her to escape. Unfortunately, Lambert is too fear-stricken to move, and Parker is killed in the same manner as Brett, with Lambert quickly following their exit.

Parker's 'corpsing' apparatus.

Parker’s ‘corpsing’ apparatus.

“The Alien script was tight,” Kotto summarised. “It was one of the best scripts I have ever read, so there was very little improv.”

Saying that, there was one thing… “They cut my, ‘Do I look like Flash Gordon to you’ line.”

Harry Dean Stanton was particularly grateful for one thing, as Ridley revealed on the commentary track: “There was this kind of stunned silence [after the preimere] and I remember Harry coming up to me, I think it was in the Egyptian, and he’s so sweet, and Harry looked at me and said, ‘Thanks for the close-ups, man'”.


Filed under Alien