Ridley Scott, Noomi Rapace, Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender chat!
This Tuesday our Chris Hewitt hosted a Q&A in London on one of the year's most exciting films, Prometheus. Sir Ridley Scott, Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron joined Chris to talk about the film, after showing the audience a few minutes of footage. Some spoilers follow, but as far as we can tell they're fairly minor...
|(L-R) Empire's Chris Hewitt hosts with Sir Ridley Scott, Noomi Repace, Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron|
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?
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?
Alien Resurrection was 1997.
Ridley Scott: 1997, 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 which was - who is the big guy in the chair, who was fondly after Alien called The Space Jockey. I don’t know how the hell he got that name; there was 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? And 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’.
So off I went with two writers, John Spaihts and Damon Lindelof, and we came up with the screenplay, the draft. It’s interesting when you start off with an interesting 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. What you saw here was a montage of what comes out of the film, just to give you a taste of what’s to come, so some of it felt a bit disjointed but you may have caught a bit of it. But there is a little bit of it right at the end that gives you a connection. That’s about it.
But there are Easter Eggs in the film. I don’t know if anyone saw the planet is LV-223 and the planet in Alien is LV-426. Was it fun putting those things in, layering those little references?
Ridley Scott: Yes; but the more I got into another story the less inclined I was to take on board that it was connected to the original.
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 and 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 turn and 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, in a way.
And is it about retaining faith in the middle of horrible things happening to you? Visiting hell, essentially?
Noomi Rapace: 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 at the end of the movie. I think she realises that it wasn’t really what she expected.
Michael, you play David, the ship’s android, a sort of ancestor of Ash, Bishop and Alien Resurrection’s Call. Did you look at Lance Henrikson or 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…
Ridley Scott: He copied all the time!
Michael Fassbender: I copied other things. Actually, I watched Blade Runner. For some reason I watched that 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. Then Greg Louganis, the diver, popped into my head, I don’t know why. Just the way he moved. As a child, watching the Olympics, 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 it would be interesting to take something on board.
|Michael Fassbender and Charlize Theron|
Charlize, what can you tell us about Meredith Vickers? In this series company employees tend not to be trustworthy. How about Vickers?
Charlize Theron: It’s weird because a lot of what makes her the enigma that she is in the beginning comes across as very quintessentially ‘suity’, I guess, like detached and cold. And she really does seem to be just there for the sole purpose of making everybody’s life hell, as suits tend to want to 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 she’s actually there for a very personal reason, of which I cannot speak.
Charlize, it was quite telling in the clip that we saw that everyone else wakes up after the two years of sleeping and they’re sick, and your character is doing push-ups. It seems that she’s rather steely.
Charlize Theron: I have Sir Ridley to thank for that because initially, when I got the script, we were wondering how we could maybe play more on the mystery, because otherwise she just kinda becomes like a one-dimensional suit. There was this amazing performance that Tilda Swinton gave in Michael Clayton, and Ridley and I were talking about how when you see her, she doesn’t say anything the first time you see her. The panic that is instilled in her says so much without her ever having to say anything. I said it’d be great if we could come up with something like that, and 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. 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 acts, “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.
Ridley, you’ve worked with genius designers in the past. How long did you work on designing this new world and who are the people that worked on it with you?
Ridley Scott: Oh, if I knew you were going to ask that question I’d have had my little list. Actually I tend to work with one guy all the time now called Arthur Max, who’s my production designer. I must’ve done about five or six movies with him now. It used to be Norris Spencer before that. Because I was a designer, I really enjoy the process.
So this film, before we were even green lit, I persuaded Fox to spend some smart money, in that the film was completely planned with five designers. They are digital designers who can design like industrial designers. From the suits to the kitchen on the ship, to the corridors, to everything you can possibly think of... Arthur Max and these five guys sat in my office in LA, while we were writing and re-writing, for about four and a half months, and by the time I had finished I had a book of glossies that were like photographs. They’re not drawings; they’re exactly what you get on the screen.
So I planned the film before we then mustered and put together a huge team, because once that huge team goes together, that’s where your money runs away. Time and time again I’d get asked, ‘Are you sure? I would like to just adjust this’ and I’d say, ‘Nope, there it is’. ‘What about the light?’ ‘There it is!’ That became my benchmark. So it worked out economically first, as opposed to trying to work it out on the floor when you’ve got a unit of three hundred and fifty people. Designing to me is very important.
How conscious were you of fusing the world of Prometheus with the world of Alien…the derelict ship, the Giger designs, the biomechanical look?
Ridley Scott: You know, one of the problems with science fiction, which is probably one of the reasons why I haven’t done one for many, 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 on the characters, to give you lift-off. Bad pun! But then during the design process, I think we come up with a lot of fairly, to use that awful word ‘cool’…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.
|Noomi stars as Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus|
Noomi, is this part a lot of pressure?
Noomi Rapace: Well, the first time I met Ridley it was in August, almost one and half years ago in LA. He’d seen The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo a couple of times and he said 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. And my English was really bad, so I kinda felt like I was dreaming. And 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.
The magic thing 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 and then 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. So I don’t really feel it when I’m in there; when I’m working I don’t reflect on it. I’m probably just forcing it really so hard.
Charlize, do you feel much the same about this movie? Do you feel any pressure in any way?
Charlize Theron: I think Noomi articulated it really well. I think all you can do is try to stay on a path and if you think too much about what the outside world is gonna think, or what people are gonna think, it stifles the creativity. It’s fear-based and I don’t really know how to work from there. I do have a sense of fear every day going to work, but it’s something that I like. I do like the feeling of waking up on my own, having this moment of like, “Oh, fuck, I hope I can do this today” because it makes you realise that you’re working with material or a director or a cast and they’re keeping you on your toes. Nothing’s like, ‘I can do this with my eyes closed’ and I think that is ultimately what every actor wants, something that challenges you to that point.
Michael Fassbender: Just a healthy dose of respect and disrespect.
Sir Ridley, with films like The Hunger Games and The Woman In Black getting ratings like 12A, do you think the original ‘Alien’ movie should be a lower certification? And what certification would you want for this film?
Ridley Scott: 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 PG-13, 15, R. And it does, to a certain extent, affect the box office, which is arithmetic, which is how they get their money back. 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, I know the importance of that.
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. So the adjustment of the ratings thing are inconsistent and ridiculously inconsistent, so I can start talking about films that have got PG-13 this year, which are absolutely fucking ridiculous! Is anyone in here from the MPA or whatever it is? Get your house in order!
|Chris Hewitt, Ridley Scott and Noomi Repace|
Noomi, did you feel you had anything to prove in terms of potentially being compared to Sigourney Weaver?
Noomi Rapace: No, we talked a lot and it’s not Ripley. The amazing thing with working with Ridley is, it feels like you are so much inside the characters and every character in the story and I never felt alone in there. We were doing quite disturbed things some days and it was quite tough; you came home and your mind and your soul and your body were a mess, but I always felt really happy. It never felt like I was carrying something really heavy on my shoulders; it always felt like we were doing something together. And it’s definitely not Ripley but she feels like she’s in the same family, in a way. She’s a survivor and a fighter in the same kind of way, a little bit similar to Ripley.
Michael, can we just talk a little bit more about David? Was there an attraction for you, playing that extra layer of a robot without a soul looking to become human?
Michael Fassbender: 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. 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.
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 wondering 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 interesting as well. We 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 it’s like, ‘Is he taking the piss?’
Ridley Scott: Actually we 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 have 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. He picks up dirt from the floor like a housemaid, but then he walks around very strangely. I thought you walked like that!
Michael Fassbender: There you go! The thing is, humour was what I wanted to start off with.
Ridley Scott: I think he’s a very humorous character. You’re allowed to laugh in this.
Michael Fassbender: 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.
Charlize Theron: Does he have an imagination?
Michael Fassbender: Well, that’s what I’m saying, Charlize. We don’t know! He doesn’t know!
So there could be a prequel, David, just watching you for two and a half years walking round the spaceship.
Michael Fassbender: Well, I wanted him to have a little disco dance at the end, while the credits are rolling, in his little private disco. Maybe on the DVD extras!
Given what Ridley did to his poor actors on the original Alien film, failing to warn them about the Chestburster, were you constantly living in fear on set?
Michael Fassbender: I never knew that! So I was living in ignorance and bliss.
Ridley Scott: There is a scene that could be called the equivalent of that. But that was private; no one witnessed that. It’s your scene [points to Noomi]. But we can’t say what it is.
Noomi Rapace: I dreamt nightmares for two weeks. I had these weird fucked-up images in my head, so yes it did affect us.
|Ridley on-set working with 3D RED camera|
Ridley, there must be a learning curve for you with 3D here.
Ridley Scott: Well, I’ll footnote by saying 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. Because I’m a visual person anyway, it was dead simple and very straightforward. 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 is a wonderful cameraman and had one shot at 3D doing the last Pirates. I was going to go for him anyway because he’s one guy who I wanted to work with. 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, and the quality was fantastic. Whether it’s 2D or 3D it’s amazing and it wasn’t a problem. So anyone who says, ‘Oh, you’ve got to add sixteen weeks’ means they don’t know what the bloody hell they’re doing! ‘There’s a lot to it’. No, it’s dead simple, straight forward. If you know what you want, you know what you want. Say ‘I hate it; get rid of it’ or ‘I love it; fuck off!’ It’s that simple!