On a bright October afternoon, five hours before the grand opening of Alien War, I've gone underground into the bowels into the planet, Planet Hollywood to be precise. I'm here to see a star, a familiar face on the silver screen, but one who is no less radiant for that.
AM: How did you become involved with Alien War?
SW: My husband was doing a play for the London International Festival of Theatre in June, and John Gorman and Gary Gillies approached him and asked if i could come to the opening of their Alien War. They sent me a letter and, really the whole time, I have to say, they've been terribly nice and not at all pushy. Their enthusiasm for the ALIEN movies is very flattering to everyone involved. John and Gary then flew to the states and explained what they were doing, and showed me a film clip which looked like the set of ALIENS, and asked if I'd come over and open it.
They are great guys and i wish them well and so I'm here in London. I know they tried to get everyone over for a kind of reunion, but i guess a lot of people were busy. A shame, it would have been fun to have got together with the rest of the cast.
AM: What do you think of Alien War?
SW: I haven't actually been through it yet. They're letting me in later, without a camera crew, which is really sweet.
AM: Considering some of the hair-raising scenes, were you scared on set?
SW: Well there were times when I should have been scared when we were in very close quarters to flames and it was quite dangerous in reality. But I was playing a brave person. I'm sure I'll squeal more going through Alien War than I ever did as Ripley because she was courageous and didn't worry about what wasn't real. Most actors have vivid imaginations, where they only have to hear a noise and wonder "oh my god where is the Alien", whereas Ripley thinks "yeah, well, I heard something strange, so what?" It's just different attitudes
AM: So, what frightens you in reality?
SW: Just reading a newspaper is frightening. There are a lot of things about today's world that terrify me, but they are things that everyone comes to terms with. I;m not particularly afraid of Aliens invading, in fact, I'd like to meet an Alien. I feel well disposed toward them, having had a crash course in encounters.
AM: What would you say of you saw an Alien?
SW: Hello. Please don't eat me.
AM: Do you think the character of Ripley is dead now. Has Alien War rekindled any fond memories?
SW: Walking through these bare techno-halls makes me slightly nostalgic for the experience of making a science fiction movie, which seems unbelievable to me, as they're very hard and desolate spaces to work in. And people get killed and the like. So it has surprised me and I'm nostalgic for the smoke and the noise and the flashing lights because it wasn't so long ago that i was in that environment every day. But what I've said to Fox is that I didn't want it to become like the start of every Alien movie, where Ripley wakes up and she's in a hostile place with people who don't believe her. I think it's become a bit of a joke.
Having said that I've mentioned to the studio they if they can get someone like Ridley and Cameron, someone with a brilliant vision and wants to, because it's science fiction, reconstitute me from my fingernails, then who knows. I wanted to leave while there was still a lot of quality involved. If the producers can convince me that what they're considering is going to be a first-rate project, and give Ripley a good enough reason to return, then who knows.
In a way, it's kind of seductive that there's this woman who can't get away from these creatures even when she tries her utmost. So it's not unheard of, but it seems extremely unlikely that Fox would ever be able to put together the sort of team to bring Ripley back.
AM: Would you like to Direct and ALIENS film perhaps?
SW: Oh my god. You have to be such a genius, in my opinion, to be a director. This isn't a criticism but basically, the director has so much to do with the vision of the director. This isn't a criticism , but basically, the director has so much to do with the vision of the piece, and the actors – who hopefully have already rehearsed their parts – are really left to fend for themselves. That's part of the fun of doing an Alien movie, in that it's very real, it's very much seat-of-your-pants acting, with everyone pitching in and improvising. A nightmare really. If I were ever to direct anything at all, I don't think it would be this kind of film.
AM: How difficult is it to act with such specials as the smoke, blue screening and flame throwers? As far as playing the part of Ripley, in the first script of ALIEN, Walter Hill and David Giler, created the character, and Jim Cameron fleshed her out a bit. So I don't have much to draw on from my own life – apart from being afraid of cockroaches and spiders, so...
But I find elements of all the Alien films were incredibly helpful. On ALIEN I just couldn't believe they had created these huge, breathtaking, quite operatic sets. I thought that it was all for us so that we cold feel we were in that world. I didn't realise at the time, they were really for the camera. To me, they'd created this whole world in Shepperton so that I could get my bearings, which makes things easy.
Then again, technically, you do have things to worry about. For instance, in a big action sequence, I may have had to use the flamethrower at a dummy and set it on fire and then turn around using the same gun and fire a lot of blank bullets at a stunt man, and then do a couple of other things. They had to trust that I would remember not to set the real guy on fire and unleash a clip of blanks at the dummy. It can be so chaotic. There are so many things going on at the same time that you would have to make sure you're concentrated. You don't have time to act in fact. You just have to make sure that you don't injure anybody or yourself.
AM: You recently did 1492 working with Ridley Scott. How has the experience changed from when you first worked with him on ALIEN?
SW: It was very interesting. ALIEN was, I think, Ridley's second film and he even operated the camera. After all this time I think now he enjoys working with actors. I think he was a little but terrified at first. I mean he had John Hurt and Ian Holm on ALIEN – some very heavyweight actors – and I think he'd be the first to say that he didn't want to have to worry about us too much. I think that's one of the reasons he cast it so well; he never rehearsed us. I always trusted his eye completely, and his way of criticising you was to just say “NO”
On 1492 he was working with so many different actors from different backgrounds and training, and he seemed to be in his element; having a good time. One one occasion he spent two hours photographing this great dane in a magnificent suit of Armour, and then we'd get back to the scene. He was really himself, and it was very exciting to work with him again.
AM: On ALIEN is it true that the Chest Bursting scene was a complete surprise to you all?
SW: Well, we kind of knew, as it said in the script “something jumps out of his chest”. But, when we walked in, everyone was in raincoats, which should have made us suspicious. And when it happened it was so quick. John acted so well. It was so frightening to see him flailing around and screaming. And then the next take this thing jumped out of his chest and ran out of the room.
There's this great master in the film showing all of us without mouths wide open because we didn't even know what we'd seen. I think it was a little creature with a latex head and little metal teeth that was on some kind of air pump. All I know is that they made it with stuff you could find at home, and it just ran off the table. They added the sound effects later.
AM: Do you sometimes miss Ripley, given that she's such a strong female character? Do you occasionally feel that you're offered other characters that pale alongside someone like her?
SW: I'm not that actually worried about that. I think that both actors and actresses have trouble finding strong intelligent characters to play. I think Kevin Costner and Tom Cruise have as big a problem as I do. In fact, as I've read so many good scripts, I'm kind of glad that I get the chance to do something else.
I do miss Ripley because I thought she was really good company, sort of like having a brother. She was very different from me and I loved playing her. In fact, I'm currently developing, with Gary Ross, who wrote Dave, an action story involving a female character, who's not as strong as Ripley, but funnier.