I think it would be fair to say that one of Alien: Covenant’s stand-out sequences was the flashback which showed the audience David massacre the Engineers who lived on Planet 4/Paradise. We had the pleasure to ask a couple of the actors involved with portraying those enigmatic extra-terrestrials about their time working on Alien: Covenant!
Alien vs. Predator Galaxy – Thank you for agreeing to answer some questions and talk about your time on Alien: Covenant! Before we start nerding out I was hoping you could tell us a little about yourself and your background.
Scott James – I’m an actor, who is still doing mostly Extras work like I did in Alien: Covenant to make ends meet. It’s a tough industry to catch a break in! I got into extras work about 3 years ago while working in a bank. It was stultifying work and I needed something interesting in my life. I’ve always loved movies, including the behind the scenes elements and was fascinated to see how movies are made.
I was fortunate enough to land some decent featured work in short-films and music-videos and the like and it really gave me a taste for the whole industry. I’ve had interesting jobs before, like serving with The British Army and being a Manager for Games Workshop, but I can’t do normal 9-5 stuff so even when this work is tough going, I’d rather do it than anything else!
Billy Mansell – I have always wanted to be an actor. I was a cosplayer for years mostly for charity and it was at a large convention I met somebody who took a shine to me acting out the character I was playing. He asked me if I ever thought of acting? I obviously said yes but had no idea how. At this point he gave me a contact email… long story short I emailed the guy and two weeks later I was on set of American Assassin with Michael Keaton and the rest is history.
AvPG – How familiar were you with the Alien films prior to working on Alien: Covenant?
Scott James – Very familiar! I’d seen ’em all! Aliens is my all time favourite movie. I think it has a great blend of exciting action, great, distinctive characters and eminently quotable dialogue. The pacing, the tone, the overall quality; it’s perfect! Alien had the same effect on me as I think it did everyone else, it was mesmerising and horrific. Alien 3 is actually quite bold and better than it’s recognised and I don’t know what happened to Alien: Resurrection but it didn’t work. AvP is kinda fun…AvPR is what we all feared AvP would be in our worst nightmares! I’m a fan of the prequels.
Billy Mansell – The Alien franchise happens to be my absolute favourite set of movies! It all started waaay back when I was 5 years old. I heard Alien was being aired on network television and I had an old black and white TV in my bedroom so I secretly stayed up and watched it! It scared the living hell out of me and I was terrified to tell my parents what I did in case they took away my TV. This was my introduction to Alien.
My parents where very easy going with what I watched when I was a kid so Christmas 1988 I was given Aliens as a gift… I played that bad boy over and over and over again until the VHS cassette just couldn’t take it anymore. The rest is history really. I also built my very own Aliens Colonial marine costume which I had cleared through Reel Icons which is a part of the 501st legion… so yeah.. big fan.
AvPG – Had you also seen Prometheus? If so what did you think of the film and the Engineer culture from it?
Scott James – I wasn’t enamoured with Prometheus when I first saw it. It was original but didn’t draw me in. I watched it a second time before the Covenant shoot and really enjoyed it a lot more. My preconceptions were gone and I could enjoy the story unfolding. I watched some behind the scenes documentaries that filled in some perceived plot-holes and I felt like I ‘got it’.
I thought the Engineers were very interesting. Right off the bat, their way of colonising is unique and interesting. They sacrifice their own to give life to others and it’s clear they feel fear, anger and have a ritualistic culture. They’re antagonists for the heroes in the movie…but the more you think about it, the more altruistic and ‘right’ they are, and the more we humans suck!
Billy Mansell – My best friend and I actually took our wives for a meal then went to watch Prometheus at the Cinema… I was blown away! Visually it’s stunning. I loved the whole concept of the Engineers being the creators and takers of life as they please.. most people take comfort in believing there’s a higher being and something else when they die, Mr Scott has said nope!
You were made and you can be erased simple as that! Hard pill to swallow if that’s not what you believe in and that (in my eyes) is why it’s genius. If I had any criticisms I wish the deleted scene with the Engineer looking for Shaw was added and when the Engineer spoke too. I think subtle things like that would have made it a bit cooler.
AvPG – I’m curious to know about how you got the role of Engineer? Can you tell us a little about that? Did they have you perform anything specific as part of an audition?
Scott James – I was assigned it by a casting agency. I didn’t know what the project was until I went for the costume fitting and just couldn’t believe it! I think they had specific requirements for the role; shaved head, about a 6-foot tall height, a solid frame, a decent level of fitness ‘cos we did a lot of running and they may well have liked distinctive, angular features though I’m not entirely sure what the criteria were. I’m gad I fit though!
Billy Mansell – I received a text message asking me if I felt comfortable shaving all my hair off and wearing prosthetics. I obviously agreed, then was asked for recent pictures. After sending pictures in I received a call to be at the creature workshop for such and such a date to which I agreed. I had no idea what film it was but I had a thought it might have been Star Wars which would have been awesome but I knew that Star Wars hadn’t been cast yet so was a little intrigued.
On arrival to the creature workshop I immediately saw Ian Whyte’s costume (Prometheus Engineer biosuit) then realised what it was. I literally burst inside with excitement because this is a genuine dream come true and before this nothing like that had happened to me before. I kept my feelings well hidden. I had the prosthetic fitting that day then a few days after I had the costume fit then a photo shoot ready for the shoot day.
AvPG – For the ease of our readers I was hoping you could describe which specific Engineer you portrayed?
Scott James – You’d have to really pause and squint! We all changed costume several times so in the main ‘group’ scene, you can see we’re duplicated! My specific looks include the one with the black cloak and the one with the skull-cap like hat.
Billy Mansell – That’s a tough one because we all had pretty much the same costumes although my collègue Scott James was given a skull cap to wear which was different and the costumes did differ slightly in colours but only in shades of grey which you can’t really tell on screen plus we all had hoods too! We were CGIed several times in some scenes where if you take a screen grab you will see me twice! One with hood and one without hood! Very simple but clever at the same time.
AvPG – I believe you both performed during the additional filming that took place in November 2016 at Leavesden Studios in Watford. What footage specifically did you film?
Scott James – The shoot was designed to fill out the ‘Engineers’ holocaust’ scene. I got the impression it didn’t have enough of a sense of ‘event’, or the situation was a little unclear. The shots added included us waving and welcoming the ship, looking perturbed as the cylinders are released, turning to flee and, of course, dying en mass.
Billy Mansell – We re-filmed the footage of David’s extermination of the Engineers which was originally filmed in New Zealand we did a lot more running action and a hell of a lot of writhing and convulsing. Several of my collègues, namely Juke Hardy and Steve Doyle, had a lot of black goo make up added for these shots.
AvPG – And you shot with the second unit? How long did the shoot take?
Scott James – It was a full day, about 13 hours if I recall.
Billy Mansell – We were on set at approx 08:00am. I personally was wrapped at approx 13:30 but several of us stayed on for additional footage of dying and black goo stuff.
AvPG – How much of the Engineer courtyard was rebuilt for the reshoots? Did you get to see those fantastic looking statues?
Scott James – There were some ramps and basic scenery for us to interact with. There were stand-alone props, including a statue head. Some xeno eggs and the like and it was great to be so close to some genuine props from the series.
Billy Mansell – Unfortunately it was just a flat gravelly ground with a few tufts of grass surrounded by blue screens. Plus mid way through the shoot they added a slope which I’m guessing was the walk way up-to the big temple type building you see in the final take, and the Juggernaut was just an X on top of a pole. Sorry it’s not as awesome as it could be but to just be there was all the magic one needed.
AvPG – I was hoping you could tell us a little about how extensive the prosthetics involved were? It would seem you definitely had nose and eyebrow pieces?
Scott James – The prosthetics were full face pieces including pieces around our eyes and the bridge of the nose. There was also extensive make-up over the whole face and feet. It took a few hours to apply, maybe 2 or 3. I can’t remember exactly; it was a very early call and I fell asleep in the chair for a bit, only to wake up and see this different person staring back at me in the mirror!
Billy Mansell – We were fully airbrushed while in a tent (that was cold I’ll tell ya!!!) and it took almost as long to remove it all too! It was amazing watching the makeup artists work. They really looked after us, making sure we were fed and watered during the whole process.
AvPG – In regards to the celebrations that seemed to be taking place, what was the motivation of the Engineers gathered there? Were you given any specific direction as to why the Engineers were assembled for this landing?
Scott James – The Engineers send the crescent-ships out on various mission and they return infrequently. It’s a very big event and those at home make the effort to show their respect and welcome the ships and their honoured crew home. This seems consistent with the ritualistic and important ceremony afforded to the sacrificial Engineer in Prometheus. No-one was expecting David’s ship back, but they’re obviously a trusting race…a bit too trusting maybe! They realise something’s wrong when the cylinders drop but don’t know what’s happening then yeah…it becomes pretty apparent after it’s too late.
Billy Mansell – The Juggernaut’s arrival was a total surprise to the Engineers there as you see some are smiling some waving and others look curiously puzzled as to why it was there! Our brief split us to act with all these different emotions so it’s clear to me that they know when there will be an arrival and at this time were surprised! As for why they where there in the first place I’m not so sure but with that leader type there too I guess it must be some kind of communal gathering.
AvPG – It looks like you also had another set of prosthetic pieces on after David bombed the crowd with the black goo. Was that a case of another set of prosthetics with different paint?
Billy Mansell – There wasn’t any more prosthetics added! The only add on was black goo make up which was literally a pastel colour the rest you see on screen is all CGI. I think Ridley wanted them to look like they where literally exploding inside so I think CGI was probably used for the speed of the ‘bursting’ so to speak.
AvPG – A frequent question that tends to crop up regarding Covenant is whether or not the people you portrayed on Planet 4/Paradise were actually Engineers. As far as the production crew were concerned, were you playing Engineers?
Billy Mansell – Now this is a good question! We worked with second unit that day and the second unit director wasn’t giving much away to what we really where but they did confirm we are Engineers! And the costume designer called us all “her Engineers” so we do know we are 100% Engineers but I do believe our origins is something Mr Scott is holding close to his chest… what I will say there was speculation that the Prometheus Engineers where more like a military type rather than our more civilian look I think all will be revealed if Sir Ridley gets his way and films the next one.
AvPG – Was it ever discussed why your make-up looked a little different from Ian Whyte in Prometheus? I assumed it might be due to it being cost inefficient to give you all the same level of prosthetics as he had?
Scott James – That was never explained. I think some of the confusion about the appearance is that there’s some post-production colour correction because it’s a flashback, and also they’re going to really look quite different because they’re in civilian clothes. The prosthetic work was extensive and they wouldn’t scrimp on a day’s re-shooting, they’ll be sure to get what they need to get.
Billy Mansell – It was never discussed why! Like I said in an earlier question this is something Ridley and crew never spoke about but I am in the belief that Mr Whytes character was more of a military type where my character was more civilian type! Yeah the eyes and skin are different but who’s to say it’s because the Ian whyte type is enhanced genetically for space exploration and combat? Who knows?
AvPG – Out of all your time on the set of Alien: Covenant, what was the most memorable aspect of it?
Scott James – All of it! Seriously, it was an amazing day, I think we were all very excited to be there. Me and three of the other guys have stayed in close touch ‘cos we got on really well. The crew were great to work with, having full prosthetics done is an experience. It was cold and a pretty physical day and it was just a joy to be there and look back on!
Billy Mansell – I have two memories that really stand out but my most memorable is sitting in the makeup trailer watching the painstaking amount of work the artists did to our faces! They started about 4am and didn’t stop until we were finished they were so talented. I have to mention the other memorable moment was visiting the creature workshop! That was simply epic the things I saw I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.
AvPG – I’ve heard about the creature shop they had in Australia but not what we had in the UK. Was it the Creatures Incs. guys? Did they have the whole works? Aliens and Neomorphs?
AvPG – Now that the film has been out for a while and you’ve had a chance to watch and digest it, what do you think of Alien: Covenant?
Scott James – I enjoyed it! I missed Shaw, I thought she was great, and hated David…but then, you’re supposed to! So it elicited some emotions, which art should do. There’s some great shots, and the ability to make the audience understand this thing that wants to destroy entire races, including the Human protagonists is pretty impressive. I really enjoyed the action as well; the planetary escape especially is a stand-out action sequence that’s one of the best in the series.
Billy Mansell – I personally think the story is really good! Especially the David/Walter thing, incredible and inventive! The more I watch it the more I understand it’s way of explaining what David has become and what he is trying to achieve, it’s excellent!!! I get it’s not everyone’s cup of tea that’s fine! It’s ok to have some that dislike the two prequels especially when you have Alien and Aliens to live up to but Sir Ridley as a story teller is a genius and I hope he gets to complete his vision and not be too hindered by pressure from production companies to add more pulse rifles and explosives for the ratings. Being a realist I understand it’s all about box office figures, I just hope it doesn’t kill the franchise.
AvPG – Was there any footage that you recorded that didn’t end up in the finished film or on the Blu-ray?
Scott James – I doubt it! It seems to mostly be up there, though in some instances it’s composited, had CGI added and the like.
Billy Mansell – Oh god yes! We filmed a lot of running and a lot of actions looking up at the juggernaut but they only used a tiny amount. We didn’t do anything else other than add-ins for that whole scene. I think they only used 10% of the actions we filmed.
AvPG – Something I always love to ask if whether you kept any keepsakes from your time working on the films. Do you have your Engineer cloak hung up somewhere at home?
Scott James – Oh heck no! Productions are hot on that kind of thing. Unless you’re really sneaky, or are Robert Downey Jr. and you can just do that kind of thing, it’s more than your job’s worth to try and pull that off!
Billy Mansell – Haha I asked the makeup girl when she removed the prosthetics if I could keep it but she said no in case it wasn’t allowed! I didn’t keep anything if I’m honest except my pay slips which have Covenant written on them which are pretty cool! One thing I did take from there are three really good friends plus I have since worked with a handful of crew members and our Assistant Director too which is nice.
AvPG – Thank you again for taking the time to answer my questions today. Before we sign off, is there anything you’d like to say that I haven’t given you the opportunity to put across?
Scott James – It’s great to share some of the joy I got from being in Alien: Covenant! It really was a special shoot. Despite it being a very brief scene, and it may not look like there’s much to it, everyone, cast and crew, put in a lot of effort and work in that day. There was a great atmosphere, we all put in 100% effort and we wanted to make sure Mr. Scott got what he needed to help complete his labour of love. It’s a genuine honour to be part of a franchise I’ve loved from childhood!
Billy Mansell – Only that I remember standing in front of the camera before a take looking around and thinking to myself “film history is being made right here and I’m part of that.” I never felt so honoured and proud in all my life plus the Alien franchise has always had a special place in my heart which I’ll never forget and I love sharing that with likewise fans too. Plus since Covenant I have met some incredible people and fans I am totally honoured every time someone speaks to me about my involvement.
AvPG – And finally where can our readers find you online and do you have any upcoming project they look out for you in?
Scott James – Oh yeah! But I can’t say, alas! Some really big stuff but it’ll have to stay a secret for now!
Billy Mansell – I’m happy to take friend requests from fans on Facebook, I’m on Instagram and Twitter and I’m happy to bore the legs off anybody who is willing to listen. As for future projects be sure to watch Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom! You may see someone you know… wink, wink.
I would like to once again thank Scott and Billy for taking the time to answer our questions and talk about their time filming for Alien: Covenant. I had the fortune of meeting both of these actors via the Alien: Prequel Paradise Facebook group.