Prometheus Q & A With Ridley Scott And Cast

With Ridley Scott’s sci-fi behemoth looming large over this summer’s cinema schedules, the iconic director and major acting talent from the film stopped off in London last week for a Q & A session to go along with a 15 minute preview of Prometheus:

CHAIR: Ridley you had an idea for a prequel to Alien based around the Space Jockey for a long, long time but at what point did that coalesce into something solid, into this?

Ridley Scott: Well, I watched the three subsequent Aliens being made, which were all jolly good in some form or other. Does that sound competitive? Because I’m really competitive! So I thought the franchise was fundamentally used up. How long ago was the last Alien?

CHAIR: Alien Resurrection was 1997.

RS: So I must have thought about it for three or four years and thought in all of the films nobody had asked a very simple question; who is the big guy in the chair, who after Alien was fondly called The Space Jockey. I don’t know how the hell he got that name.

But there’s this big boned creature who seemed to be nine feet tall sitting in this chair and I went in to Fox with four questions. Who are they? Why are they there? Why that cargo and where were they going or had they in fact had a forced landing?

So in fact it was a study of a pilot and Tom Rothman [co-chairman and CEO of Fox Filmed Entertainment] said, “That sounds good to me”. And so off I went with two writers, John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof and we came up with the draft screenplay.

It’s interesting when you start off with an idea like that and you don’t know whether it’s going to be a prequel or a sequel. It gradually adjusted itself into much larger questions and therefore now the actual connection to the original Alien is barely in its DNA. You kind of get it in the last seven minutes or so.

CHAIR: Noomi, let’s talk about Elizabeth Shaw. This film is about faith versus science and she represents the faith side, doesn’t she?

Noomi Rapace: Yes; she is a scientist and she grew up in Africa where her father was a priest, so she has been raised close to God, seeing different cultures and different people living under different conditions from a very early age.

She has been travelling around, seeing different life forms since she was quite young. But her father died when she was young so she has been on her own and she has been able to use God and things that have happened to her in a constructive way.

So she became a scientist but she still has a great gift of believing. It’s an interesting conflict that we [points to Ridley Scott] were talking about a lot; being a scientist but still believing in God.
What she’s looking for out there and this whole mission is very personal to her, it’s like something she has been living with and waiting for and wanting to do her whole life.

CHAIR: And is it about retaining faith in the middle of horrible things happening to you? Visiting hell, essentially?

NR: Yes. She goes through a lot of things in the movie and she transforms. You know in the beginning she is not maybe naïve, but she is full of hope and a true believer and then things happen and she becomes a survivor and a fighter and a warrior in a way.

I’m not sure that she is so convinced by the end of the movie. I think she realises that it wasn’t really what she expected.

CHAIR: Michael you play David, the ship’s android, the sort of ancestor if you will of Alien’s Ash Bishop. Did you look at Ian Holm’s performances in any way?

Michael Fassbender: I didn’t; obviously I’d seen the films before, but for some reason I didn’t want to go there.

RS: He copied all the time!

MF: I copied other things. Actually, I watched Blade Runner for some reason, and of course Ridley had suggested The Servant with Dirk Bogarde and then there was Lawrence Of Arabia and The Man Who Fell To Earth.

And then Greg Louganis, the diver, popped into my head. I don’t know why. Just the way he sort of moved. As a child, watching the Olympics or whatever, I was, “Wow, who’s that guy?” It was such a weird walk it made me laugh, but it also felt very efficient, centred, like yoga with economy of movement. So I thought that would be interesting to take something on board.

CHAIR: And Charlize, what can you tell us about Meredith Vickers? In this Alien series, company employees tend not to be trustworthy.

Charlize Theron: It’s weird because I guess there’s a lot of her that is, that makes her the enigma she is in the beginning that comes across very quintessentially “suity”. Like detached and cold and that she really is just there for the sole purpose of you know, making everybody’s life hell, as suits tend to wanna do!

She’s just causing a lot of red tape and she’s not a believer, she’s not a scientist; she really is just there to make sure that you think that everything is going to plan. But then she’s actually there for a very personal reason, of which I cannot speak.

Q: Charlize, we got a really great glimpse of your character now, and I thought it was quite telling in the clip that we saw; everyone else wakes up after the two years of sleeping and they’re sort of throwing up and getting sick and your character is doing push-ups. I thought that was a really telling glimpse into her, and you get the sense that if anyone is going to make it out alive it’s going to be her. I wondered if you could maybe expand on her as that kind of steely character.

CT: I have Sir Ridley to thank for that because initially when I got the script, I spoke to Ridley and we were wondering how we could maybe play more on the mystery, because otherwise she just kinda becomes like a one-dimensional suit. You know there was this amazing performance that Tilda Swinton gave in Michael Clayton and Ridley and I were talking about how she doesn’t say anything the first time you see her in the beginning of that film.

The kind of panic that is instilled in her says so much without her ever having to say anything and I said it’d be great if we could come up with something like that. Then Ridley came up with that idea to put me in a physical position where physically I’m saying ten times more than I could verbally. And when he called me with that, I thought, “Oh, fuck yeah. That girl, that’s the girl I like; the girl that wakes up early, does the push ups and is like, “Did anybody die?”

Like the way she asks, “Are they dead?” I guess you don’t realise the power of picking one very specific thing and that one moment was so powerful and I have Ridley to thank for that.

Q: How conscious were you of fusing the world of Prometheus with the world of ‘Alien’…the derelict ship, the Giger designs, the biomechanical?

RS: You know one of the problems with science fiction, which is probably one of the reasons why I haven’t done one for many years, is the fact that everything is used up. Every type of spacesuit is used up, every type of spacecraft is vaguely familiar, the corridors are similar and the planets are similar.

So what you try to do is lean more heavily on the story and the characters; to make that really give you lift-off. Bad pun. But then during the design process, I think we come up with a lot, to use that awful word “cool”, of fairly cool looking things which evolve from the drawing board with the designers saying, “I’ve seen that, you can’t do that, you can’t do that”.

Then you suddenly start to come up with evolutions of different looks so that, as a total package, the film feels quite different.

Q: This question is for Noomi. How does it feel for you to take on this big part?

NR: Well, you know, the first time I met Ridley it was in August, almost two years, one and half years ago, in LA. He’d seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a couple of times and he said to me that he loved my performance and that he wanted to work with me and I thought I was gonna just pass out!

I don’t really get nervous, it’s not that I have many people in the world that I really admire and don’t really know how to behave around, but I thought I was gonna die. My English was really bad, so I kinda felt like I was dreaming. And then he actually meant it!

So he came back to me a couple of months later and said that he wanted me to play this character in his…it was called “the prequel to Alien” at that time. But then Prometheus. And the magic kind of is that as soon as you step in and start to work, I don’t feel nervous. I don’t look at it from the outside

It’s almost like you’re stepping into another universe so you don’t really reflect, you don’t judge it, you don’t think about doing a lead with Ridley Scott, how other people see it around you. You melt into that world. It’s only when you’re done and you step out that you realise there was a lot of pressure, and that you probably wouldn’t be able to do it if you started to think about the fact that many people are going to judge it and see it.

So I don’t really feel it when I’m in there; when I’m working and I don’t reflect on it. I’m probably just forcing it really so hard.

Q. With films like The Hunger Games and also The Woman In Black getting ratings like 12A, I was just wondering do you think the original Alien movie should be a lower certification? And what certification would you want for Prometheus?

RS: I want certification for this film that allows me to make as large a box office as possible! And stop calling me Sir Ridley! Bloody embarrassing.

No, I’ll tell you what, the studios wrestle constantly with these ridiculous adjustments to whether it’s PG13, PG15, you know, R, double R and it does, to a certain extent, affect the box office. Which is arithmetic, not a cash register; it’s how they get their money back. And if studios don’t get their money back we don’t have any movies.

So it is important that films are successful and I am fully supportive of that because I’m not just a director, I’m also not stupid; I’ve been in this business long enough and, to a certain extent, I’m a businessman so I know the importance of this. So when a big film fails it’s disastrous for all of us. When a big film wins it’s terrific for all of us, whether you like the film or not, it’s really cool.

So the adjustment of the ratings thing are inconsistent and ridiculously inconsistent, so I can start talking about films that have got PG13 this year, which are absolutely fucking ridiculous! Or a film like, I’m going to say it because he’s a friend of mine… no, I can’t say it. But it’s fucking ludicrous. Is anyone in here from the MPA or whatever it is? Get your house in order!

CHAIR: Michael, can we just talk a little bit more about David, and that layer in the movie of creators and the created, because David is created by Peter Weyland but the humans are also created.

CT: Or is he? I don’t know is he?

MF: Yeah. I don’t think there is really a secret in that one!

CHAIR: Was there an attraction for you, playing that extra layer of a robot without a soul looking to become human, I guess?

MF: I don’t really know exactly what’s going on with David to be honest! There are a lot of things there. Because he’s the one android amongst humans, and the humans don’t really like having a robot around that looks like them, who can figure everything out quicker than them and is physically stronger than them. There’s something a little bit off-putting about that.

Is that the future? It’s like the idea of engineering people for example. He’s asking his own questions. He’s curious like the gods in old Greek mythology being jealous of human beings for their mortality and for what that must be like to experience.

Also, he has been programmed like a human being, so will his programming start to form its own personality outside of the system that was programmed? Or the idea of human beings, are we all programmed anyway as well? Is someone creating us? Are we programmed to go into a certain job, to make a certain decision at thirty two that will lead to something that happens at thirty five…is everything pre-programmed for us in life?

That’s kind of interesting as well. Or do we have free choice in fact? So we just sort of played around with all those things. I just tried to keep it ambiguous. It was something that Ridley said to me at the beginning, when we’re watching him.

RS: And actually you should mention the fact that it’s categorically not a secret, what he is. From the beginning, there is no point hiding it doing a science fiction movie today. To me it’s a nod to Ash as well. You can’t say it’s going to be a big deal to review somebody aboard the ship who is actually an android or a replicant or a robot, or whatever the hell you want to call him.

It’s daft, it’s so normal. So what you delved into was another layer of a great deal of humour and wit, getting inside this character that you knew what he was from the very beginning, you think he is a housekeeper or a butler. Then what is he doing? He picks up dirt from the floor like a housemaid, but then he walks around very strangely. I thought you walked like that!

MF: There you go! The thing is humour was what I wanted to start off with.

RS: I think he’s a very humorous character. You’re allowed to laugh in this.

MF: There is a lot of fun to be had with the character and that was something at the forefront of my mind. And the jealousy of seeing human beings and of being left out. Plus there is something quite childlike about him. He has two and a half years while everyone is asleep, he’s got to occupy himself and keep his imagination going.

CHAIR: What does he do?

CT: Does he have an imagination?

MF: Well, that’s what I’m saying, Charlize. We don’t know! He doesn’t know!

CHAIR: So there could be a prequel, David – just watching you for two and a half years walking round the spaceship.

MF: Well, I wanted him to have a little disco dance at the end, while the credits are rolling, in his little private disco.

CHAIR: Ridley, can we see that?

RS: Yeah, sure.

MF: Maybe on the DVD extras!

CHAIR: That would make it 18 rated I think.

Q: Given what Ridley did to his poor actors on the original Alien film, I’m thinking of a particular scene that was in 3D shall we say, were you constantly living in fear on set?

MF & CT: What was the fear?

Q: The scene in the original Alien where the actors were surprised by something bursting out of the actor’s chest. Was there an extra level of anxiety that brought to you?

MF: I never knew that! So no, I was living in bliss; ignorance and bliss.

RS: There is a scene that could be called the equivalent of that in this film. But that was private, no one witnessed that. It’s your scene [points to Noomi]. But we can’t say what it is.

NR: But I did! I dreamt nightmares for two weeks. I had these weird fucked up images in my head, so yes it did affect us.

Q: Ridley, there must be a learning curve for you with 3D here. The first real footage I’ve seen in 3D of the film, I was wondering could you talk about how you chose some of the 3D images for the film?

RS: Well, I’ll footnote by saying it’s not science, it’s not brain surgery. It’s actually pretty straightforward. And yet it is science, because it’s science to actually make 3D occur and to be shootable and capturable on a daily basis.

But I’m sitting in a studio with four huge screens which are all 3D in a little black tent and I’m looking at them. If there’s four monitors there are four cameras, if there are six monitors then there’s six cameras; and because I’m a visual person anyway, it was dead simple and very straight forward.

You could easily allow things to turn into major conferences where you ask anyone, including the tea lady, what she thinks. But I don’t do that. I had a wonderful camera man called Dariusz Wolski, he’s a wonderful cameraman full stop. So I talked to him and said, “We’re going to do 3D” and he said, “Yeah, that’s fine”.

So we went with using the RED camera, as opposed to the other one, and the RED was superb. The quality was fantastic, whether it’s 2D or 3D it’s amazing and it wasn’t a problem. It’s dead simple, straight forward.

If you know what you want, you know what you want. That [holds up finger] could be hanging in the foreground, and you can have a forty five minute discussion about something hanging in the foreground. Say “I hate it; get rid of it” or “I love it; fuck off!” It’s that simple.

Prometheus is released in cinemas on June 1st.

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April 2012