This is an interview with Carrie Henn, who played Newt in James Cameron’s Aliens. After Aliens, Carrie no longer pursued acting and continued with her education instead. She later became a teacher. We interviewed Carrie Henn on Episode #85 of the AvPGalaxy Podcast which you can listen to in full below or read on for a full transcription.
Aaron: Thank you for taking the time out of your busy schedule to come and chat to us. Before we do start being enthusiasts about Aliens, for our listeners who might not be aware, could you tell us a little bit about where life took you after Aliens?
Well shortly after Aliens finished filming my dad, who was in the Air Force at the time. He was stationed at RAF Lakenheath, was actually moved back to station back in America so we came back to America. I contemplated going back into doing something with acting because I live in California now but I wanted to be a normal child and I’d lived in England since I was about two. My mom’s from England and even though I was at a military base, we didn’t necessarily stay on the military base like some Americans do. So it was quite a culture shock coming back to the States and especially coming back to California.
It’s a little different than England and so I wanted to kind of get into American life and make friends. It was difficult at first because I was obviously different cuz not only I’ve been in a movie but also a different accent than a lot of other people. I said things differently so I just continued with that and then I decided to go on and get my education to become a teacher myself.
Aaron: Which is something you’d always wanted to do wasn’t it? I remember reading that teaching was your passion as a kid?
Yeah, as a child, I always enjoyed sort of lining up my dolls, especially my Cabbage Patch Kid and teaching to them and I really enjoyed that kind of stuff.
Aaron: It’s a pretty well-known story that you were offered the audition after Sarah Jackson just discovered you at school and came around taking photos which you would not get away with nowadays. I don’t believe you’ve ever actually talked about the audition process itself and this is something I’d really love to hear about the whole filming experience. Do you remember much about it? Were there any specific scenes that you had to act out from the film?
You know for the most part I really remember. I did a lot of the scenes. I do remember at first a lot of the auditions happened at my elementary school in one of the rooms and so we go there sort of after school and I do my whatever scene they had. I know a couple of times my mom would take me and obviously my brother would have to come with and be stuck sitting out in the hallway. So sometimes they’d invite him to come in and do the scene and that’s how he actually got the part of my brother in the movie was because he had done so many of the scenes with me.
After a while they did one at one point. They called and said that there were about 10 girls that I went to school with. They wanted to have us all go to London for auditions and I guess probably maybe to get to know us a little bit and our personalities. I remember bits and pieces of that one and so they actually hired a tour bus and all the families and the girls, they took us all to London and we met with James Cameron. All these different people and auditioned and everything and then they actually dropped us off at the studios and then they took all the families out to go do things in London and then they came back and obviously we went home.
Shortly after that we got a phone call and said that it was between myself and a girl in the States. It was just down to the two of us and so they were actually flying Sigourney over on Concorde which at the time was pretty impressive, just that you knew someone flying on Concorde but also I was excited because I’d just recently seen Ghostbusters. So I remember going to that interview and just immediately she and I kind of hit it off and towards the end I asked for her autograph.
To be honest with you, I don’t know if I completely understood the process of what was going on and we thought it was a small part in the movie. We didn’t realize that it was as big of a part as it was. I mean we were kind of clueless so I guess everybody was kind of laughing because of how well she and I had kind of hit it off. I guess they pretty much knew that I was gonna get the part then anyways and then shortly after they called and told us we had the part.
Aaron: So that was kind of like a chemistry test then?
I’m sure it was yeah.
Eric: Were you and your parents aware it was meant to be the sequel to Alien at that time because you said you thought the part itself was small or were they just told “Oh it’s a science fiction film in general”?
We were told that it was the sequel to Alien. I don’t know. I know my dad had seen it and I still don’t like scary movies which everybody finds hilarious. Oh yeah I really don’t like scary movies and so my mom had never seen it but Gale Ann Hurd – they had insisted that I watch Alien before we filmed Aliens. So at least I had an idea of what to expect and what it was going to be like but the movies I mean they’re similar but they’re different in so many ways – which makes it hard to compare them really.
Aaron: Well that leads us on to the next question quite nicely then doesn’t it?
Eric: Yeah, we have a tradition on the podcast where we like to ask our guests about the first time, they saw any of the Alien films themselves but of course you’re in a strange position as you weren’t exactly the target demographic for an Alien film and you were actually in the sequel. Now we weren’t sure when or if you’d seen the original but in doing our preparation for this, we saw that you’d mentioned, as you say that James Cameron was actually very adamant that you watch Alien prior to working on his interpretation sequel and that you laughed throughout it. We were hoping you could tell us a little about that first watch of it at that age particularly and if it helped with his intention of helping you get immersed in that world considering your age at the time?
You know I don’t think anything can really help completely get you assimilated to that world and I’m not sure even after watching it if I completely understood everything that I was doing. I was probably about eight maybe just nine when I first watched the movie because I was eight when I tried out for it. I was nine when I filmed and then I was ten when it came out. Yeah, we watched it and I thought it was funny. Now, I’d probably watch it and like scream. I didn’t find Alien to be super scary and I know when we were filming Aliens, James Cameron was always trying to scare me and he would do various things.
I would say “oh that’s just a rubber chicken or what no big deal, it’s just so and so on, an Alien suit” or various things but when I did actually watch Aliens, it was at the premiere down in LA and James Cameron was sitting behind me and I didn’t realize that he was sitting there. I just went in. Everybody was probably looking at me trying to figure out who this kid was going in. I remember just sitting down and then watching it and there’s a scene in Aliens.
Most of them I saw filmed but there’s this one scene I didn’t see it filmed and it was fairly close to the beginning when they’re walking through – the Marines that just come into the Marine Lab and there’s the big canisters that have the Facehuggers in and one jumps forward and everybody kind of – well I jumped and I kind of yelled. I didn’t know James Cameron was sitting behind me and he tapped me on the shoulders which then of course I screamed again. He was so excited because he got me twice. It’s one of the few movies I can watch and not get scared. Well like my cousin a few years ago I went to a convention in London and my cousin’s twins at the time were maybe 13 14 and they wanted to watch Aliens. They insisted on watching it with me and then they said “Can we watch every scary movie with you?” because I had to tell them what was going to happen before it happened so they could prepare for it.
Aaron: What was it about Alien that made you laugh through it? That it was just cheesy to you?
I don’t know. I mean it was probably my eight-year-old self. You have a different sense of humor at that age. I don’t know. I just thought it was funny – like the Alien popping out and I mean now like I said now I would completely freak me out. I have no clue why I laughed.
Eric: Like kids have that thing for slime and gore and stuff when they’re playing yeah.
Exactly. Like my 9-year-old son has a very different sense of humor than I do. The things he finds funny are things that I don’t.
Aaron: So talking Aliens, you and Newt occupy half of the emotional core of that film and so much of that rested on the relationship between Newt and Ripley, you and Sigourney. You spoke in the past about how you still maintain a really close relationship with Sigourney. I was hoping you could just cast your mind back a bit and tell us about how that relationship developed while you’re working on Aliens? I mean did you go and spend time together off the set of the film?
You know a lot of people think that we did it but honestly like I think the marines did a lot of stuff. A lot of them lived together and they did a lot of things together but I didn’t really cuz I was so much younger than the rest of them. It’s not like we went and hung out like now we go to a convention and we all hang out which is nice because I’m an adult now, It’s different. Whereas I think Sigourney and I… like our bonding started when we first met at that one audition. I remember she said she really liked my Velcro shoes and she kept taking them on and off. It was what the scene that we did together was like the one in the Med Lab and so she kept taking them on and off and I think that our relationship kind of started then and she and I… like people kept dying and she and I were one of the few that kind of stayed and we had so many scenes together.
I mean our dressing rooms were right next to each other. They accidentally gave us her room. We got there before she did and they actually gave us her dressing room. We were quickly moved to our correct dressing room but we were right next to each other. She and I were always there. Makeup had to be done. Like my makeup took a lot longer than the guys’ makeup and things like that so I think we yes, we did see each other a lot but we didn’t hang out off the set. I think it just kind of all happened. Sigourney is a very down to earth person and I don’t know what it is or how it happened but we’ve always just…
Aaron: Just naturally effortless?
Yeah and when I see her I can’t even describe… like they were doing a photo shoot for Entertainment Weekly and towards the end I was sitting talking to all the behind the scenes people. They were talking and they said “Oh I’d love to be able to tweet and say oh my gosh she can’t believe what I’m sitting here doing” but she said obviously I can’t tell anyone what I’m doing and I said “Oh I’d like to tweet the same thing”. I said it’s kind of similar for me. I’m more like them because I am a teacher. I’m not Hollywood all the time.
I said “it’s exciting for me to be sitting here in the same room as these people” and the lady’s like “no, I meant sitting here talking to Carrie Henn like it’s no big deal”. I laughed I was like “Oh no-one will know who I am” and then they said as people like Bill Paxton and James Cameron and people like that started leaving, they were saying to me like “What was the best moment that they had seen” and Sigourney and I hadn’t seen each other in several years before that photo shoot. I came out of one side of one room and she came into the other thing at the same time and they said that the best moment of that whole day had been when she and I first saw each other. It was just I saw her and it was like all the years kind of passed. That friend that you never that you might not talk to for… you just kind of pick… that’s kind of how it is with her.
Eric: Because you had the chemistry and especially working with a young child, it’s so important to have that and that absolutely comes out on the screen. You and Sigourney and you have that chemistry like you’re strangers to one another that much like you were making the film. I suppose but that bond comes across because you had that chemistry. It’s very much evident with your performance.
Yeah and I think you can see the progression throughout. We are strangers but we very much had similar experiences. We both lost our family and things like that.
Eric: You talk about makeup but of course Newt famously carries around a doll she named Casey. It served a particularly haunting purpose by being the only thing left behind after her abduction of course just staring life at lifelessly upward through the water but unlike most dolls depicted in films with children of course it consisted only of a head. Was there a reason behind the scenes for Newt who’s basically the survivor of this incredibly traumatic thing that’s gone on with death to basically be carrying around a severed head for emotional support? Or was it more of a technical issue with the props department?
Well let me just tell you I couldn’t wait. I finally got rid of that head because know what a pain it was carrying that. It was kind of awkward to carry around the neck. If you watch the scene with my family when my dad comes back with the Alien on his face, my brother and I were having an argument. I’m hitting him with a doll and that’s actually Casey. Then what it is like, a child has her favorite doll or whatever and throughout everything that happened to me on the colony the head was all that was left of Casey.
Eric: That was very much a deliberate decision and I was rewatching just the scenes you were in today as a refresher. That just occurred even after so many viewings of that film and even then until you mentioned it I hadn’t twigged that she’s got the doll as a whole piece in the tractor.
You know they look very different because she had like nice blonde hair in the tractor whereas the other one was gross and everything. What I loved the doll because I was paid to hit my brother who was sitting off set and couldn’t say or do anything about it.