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Aliens: The Colonial Marines
We trace the fate of Aliens' commandos
The Colonial Marines of James Cameron's Aliens seem unstoppable when we're first introduced to them: muscly, heavily armoured and totally gung-ho. But then they meet an enemy completely outside of their experience and, frankly, completely outside their capabilities. We talked to all the Marines about their characters, their fates and the experience of working on Aliens. WARNING: This includes Aliens spoilers, since we list when certain Marines buy the farm.

WORDS OWEN WILLIAMS, JAMES DYER, NICK DE SEMLYEN

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Bill Paxton
William Hudson
Actor: Bill Paxton
Rank: Private (First Class)
Lasts: Until he's engulfed by Aliens bursting through the floor at 01:52:36
No actor has appeared in as many James Cameron movies as Bill Paxton (four, to be precise: The Terminator, Aliens, True Lies and Titanic). The Texan thespian and Ontarian director have shared many adventures over the decades, soaring above the clouds on daredevil flights and exploring the briny deep. Even now, 12 years since Paxton last stood on a Cameron set, he remains minence grise to the King Of The World. In fact, without him, 2009 might have been devoid of big, blue, dragon-riding aliens.

"Years back, Jim sent me two scriptments, one for Avatar and one for Battle Angel Alita," the 54-year-old recalls with a lazy chuckle. "He said, 'Bill, I've got to pick one - what do you think?' I was amazed he wanted my opinion. So I read them and said, 'They're both great, but there's something about Avatar. There's an emotional centre to it.' One thing about Jim Cameron is, there are a lot of directors who can blow things up good, but there are few who can also take you on an emotional ride."

Years back, Jim sent me two scriptments, one for Avatar and one for Battle Angel Alita.

Paxton, who's still working on his television hit, Big Love and boasts a healthy movie career post-Aliens (One False Move, Predator 2, Twister etc.), first strapped in for a Jim Cameron ride in 1984, playing a gap-toothed, blue-haired punk in The Terminator. 'Punk Leader' only gets three short lines before he's despatched, but Paxton's gift for braggadocio is amply showcased. That swagger was soon to prove instrumental in landing him his most iconic role. "I was dating a girl from England, who I eventually married. And I was getting ready to fly over there when I ran into Jim at LAX," the actor explains. "He tells me he's sending his script for a sequel to Alien on a plane to Pinewood. So, being facetious, I said, 'I hope you write me a part!' And that summer, I got a call from my agent, telling me I'd got an audition for Hudson."

A devotee of the first film, he woke up the July morning of the audition with butterflies in his stomach... and quickly realised his alarm clock had failed to go off. "I was renting a little place in Twickenham above a sweet shop, and remember running down the stairs, looking through the window to see the time and going, 'Shit, shit, shit, I've overslept!' I had to take a train, then a bus, then jog the last mile to Pinewood." He made it in time, but left the studio feeling gloomy about his chances. "Jim had given me a cardboard mailing tube and said, 'Here's your plasma pulse rifle.' Then he stood on chairs, finding angles to film me running around, yelling. I came out feeling pretty bad. I thought I'd been way over the top."

He won the part, however - and gradually began to understand Cameron's reasons for egging him on. "The first thing I shot was in the cooling towers set, when Ricco says, 'It's hotter than hell in here,' and I go, 'Yeah, but it's dry heat, man!' And at the time I was thinking, 'This character's going to wear out his welcome fast. The audience is going to want to feed him to the monsters.' But Jim was using me in a brilliant way. He's like a pressure-release valve - Hudson gives you a breather."

The pack of Colonial Marines sent to LV-426 to take on the xenomorphs - "They're like fucking cockroaches, and these guys are professionals coming in to exterminate them" - was played by a mix of British and American actors, who were barracked in the Holiday Inn, Langley. "God, we had the best time," sighs Paxton. "We all hung very hard together. That's where I first met Lance Henriksen, who I fell in love with. Al (Matthews), who played Apone, was a really good spirit to have around, with a great voice. And all these hilarious British characters, like Trevor Steedman, the stuntman, who used to grab my bicep and go, 'Blimey, more meat on a cat's cock!'" Paxton happily spills out his memories of the shoot: nights down the pub, a barbecue hosted by Sigourney Weaver, the day when Weaver first arrived - interrupting flamethrower practice - striding in wearing special pumps designed for Ripley by Reebok. He also remembers the tougher times, as Cameron struggled to make his low-budget sci-fi epic, with the added hassle of working within the English filmmaking system.

"Jim knows how to squeeze every ounce out of a day 'til there's nothing left of it, not even the rind. But he pissed a lot of the old-school guys off. If he had to wait for something, he'd go grab it himself." One day, it all came to a head. "After lunch, a lot of the crew came back from the pub, ready for their nap. And Jim was simmering - he'd only got two shots done and it had been one fucking delay after another. It happened to be a Friday, when they go around with a jar and everyone throws in a pound for the raffle. And God, I remember watching this poor old geezer from Costumes go up to Jim. He says, 'For the whip, guv'ner?' There's a long pause as Jim looks at the little jar. Then he slowly says, 'Does that have anything to do with what we are trying to accomplish here? Get the fuck out of my face!'" As Hudson would put it: game over, man.


A. Apone A. Apone
Actor: Al Matthews
Rank: Sergeant
Lasts: Until the Alien attack at 01:12:24
Al Matthews, a genuine Vietnam vet with 13 combat awards, was a shoo-in for the role of Sgt. Apone: "I asked James Cameron how long it took him to decide to cast me. Thirty seconds!"

Contrary to the claims of his co-stars, Matthews is unconvinced that the Marines would have worked as a real unit. "Jim asked me to train them, and the main thing I had to teach those guys was never point a weapon at somebody, and never walk around with your finger on the trigger. We use blanks, but they can do some damage."

Some learned quicker than others. Frank Oz was filming Little Shop Of Horrors on an adjacent stage, and Matthews recalls that James Remar (before being replaced by Michael Biehn) "blew a hole in Frank's set! With a shotgun! I said, 'Where the fuck did you get live ammo?'"

The sprightly 67-year-old, who now lives in Spain, describes his technique as "not acting, I just do my thing, man" but that hasn't limited his film appearances. He has 64 roles under his belt (from Yanks to Tomorrow Never Dies), plus various stage appearances and stints as a radio DJ (he was the first "black voice" on Radio 1). A lifelong musician, he has a band but rarely plays anymore, although he has categorically not retired.


D. Spunkmeyer D. Spunkmeyer
Actor: Daniel Kash
Rank: Private / Dropship Chief
Lasts: Until 01:20:22
Daniel Kash is still disappointed at being the only Marine to die off-screen: "It would've been awesome to get skewered." Aside from the dirty jokes whispered by a stuntman while "driving" the loader, what he most remembers about Aliens is fear: not of xenomorphs, but improv. "It was totally different from theatre," he explains. "People weren't sticking to the script. I was losing my mind. I'm actually impressed that I got my lines out, because I was shitting bricks." Still acting, next up is the new Camp Rock. "Where I want to burn the Jonas Brothers down!" he laughs. "I've done 85 movies, and Aliens is the only one people give a crap about."

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