Last night, I was lucky enough to attend The L.A. Times’ Hero Complex Film Festival, and in between screenings of Alien and Aliens, star Sigourney Weaver came out to discuss the legacy of the original film, how her character evolved through the franchise, and give her thoughts on the science fiction genre. (Check out those Alien eggs in the photo above!) I already wrote a bit about her thoughts on possibly returning to reprise her role as Ellen Ripley one day, but you’ll find transcriptions of the other key points of her discussion below.
Did she think while filming that the original Alien would live on in such a big way all these years later?
I don’t think I could have imagined [that it would have lived on as it has]. I felt at the time that it was going to be visually stunning and that I had never seen a world that looked like that with Giger’s amazing designs and that planet, and I felt that the atmosphere Ridley was creating was incredibly real and unsettling, but I don’t think I could have predicted that our little movie – which it felt like a little spooky movie – would have such legs.
I think Ridley Scott is a big reason [for the film’s longevity]. I think it was a very good script, very simple, strong, Walter Hill and David Giler did a very good lean job. I think the basic chestburster idea, which was taken from a script by Dan O’Bannon and Ron Shusett. Originally they wrote a script about ten men on some planet, and they didn’t really hold onto much except that chestburster sequence. I think one of the reasons it’s lived on is that we have, unfortunately, a lot of corporations characterized by the same kind of greed, and this whole idea of ‘crew expendable’ is an idea that unfortunately very alive in our world with corporate greed. There are certain things culturally that I think have kept it relevant, but I think a lot of it is just Ridley. The way he shot the movie, the way he created a kind of space environment that was so real to us, and a working place where people griped about wages and shares, a place we can all relate to, and just the way the story is told. Even reading the script, it was a decent script, but I had no idea what it would become when I finally saw it on screen.
On the character of Ripley:
They didn’t decide to make a young woman the survivor because of any feminist philosophy. They sort of thought, ‘No one will ever think that this girl will end up the survivor.’ So they basically did it as a sort of plot twist…I [had some trepidation about signing on to play her at first], because I hadn’t seen the designs. If you just read the script, it’s basically Ten Little Indians and the monster is just some monster. I sort of pictured this big blob of yellow gel sort of rumbling around. At the first meeting with Ridley, he pulled out all these beautiful big drawings that Giger had done, and you know we lost Giger about two weeks ago – he died from a fall – he’s really one of the main reasons we’re all here still talking about the movie, because his designs are so uniquely disturbing…between Giger’s work and Carlo Rambaldi’s vision of the alien, I wanted to be a part of whatever that was, because I had never seen anything like that on screen. It took me a little while to warm up to the rest of it, to the character and everything. I just had to get to know it better.
On James Cameron’s Aliens:
Aliens is an amazing piece of work because it takes whatever germinated in Alien and it becomes this huge canvas with these primal emotions and these huge action sequences and the character of Ripley went from kind of a girl who keeps her wits about her and is courageous and survives to this very complex character that becomes a kind of everyman. As soon as the door opens at the beginning and you see her laying there, you think, ‘Oh good, she’s going to be safe.’ And these guys come in and they take one look at her and they say, ‘She’s alive. There goes our salvage,’ you kind of go, ‘oh, shit, what kind of world is she going to be in now?’ In fact, it sets her up as such an existential hero who has lived beyond her time, who is an outcast because she tries to warn them about this thing, because, again, the greedy corporation doesn’t care, and I just found it remarkable that he was so inspired by the first one to write this very complex and rich character. It’s almost like – I don’t know how he figured it out – but when she finally is enlisted to help go on this expedition and is in the power loader just being useful, you can see she’s going to make it. Before, I wasn’t really sure if she was going to wig out.
And then meeting Newt, who’s the one person she doesn’t have to explain anything to, and they have this bond. I think there’s such an incredibly strong relationship between them. Jim [Cameron] is so good at these really primal primary color relationships, and I just thought it was an incredible character and I felt really lucky to be able to graduate to that a few years on with a little more experience under my belt.
And finally, here are some of her thoughts on the science fiction genre:
It is a genre that probably doesn’t get enough respect, and these movies, when I watch them I can tell they’re not easy to do. I’m proud to be the first [Oscar nominee for a sci-fi film] and I know I won’t be the last, and it’s taking a while for this to happen, but science fiction is I think becoming more and more popular because we are in a world that’s more like the worlds in science fiction. Our glaciers are melting, Weyland-Yutani is taking over the world, and people are talking about colonizing Mars and building plans to colonize Mars, so I think it will become not only just a very popular and beloved genre, but also increasingly significant.
Be sure to check out more (including some video of the discussion) at Hero Complex. What do you think of Weaver’s comments? Sound off in the comments!
Special thanks to John Conroy at the LAT for his help in making this coverage possible.
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