Cynthia Scott is best known in the community for playing Colonial Marine Dietrich in James Cameron’s Aliens. Her role in the squad was that of field medic and she was part of the group who were sent to investigate the Hadley’s Hope colony on LV-426.
We sat down and had a chat with Cynthis Scott for Episode #72 of the AvPGalaxy Podcast in August 2018, where we spoke to her about auditioning for her role as Dietrich and the experiences she had filming Aliens. You can listen to the interview below or read on for a transcription of the interview.
Aaron: So, first off, I’d just like to say thank you for taking the time out your day and come to chat to a nerd on the Internet. Before we do start talking Aliens then, I was hoping you just give our listeners a little background on yourself. What you’ve been up to since appearing in Aliens because I don’t think you pursued acting did you after this?
I did a little bit. You probably know that the majority of the space troopers were living in the UK when we were cast. We were English residents, London residents and several of us did move to LA after the film came out. Unfortunately, after we’d been there for not very long the Writers Guild went out on strike and they were on strike for a full year and no one worked for a year unless they were going to scab. Nobody wanted to do that and I wasn’t yet a SAG member. I made Aliens on a British equity contract and I knew I wanted to join SAG and I’m a big union supporter so I wasn’t going to cross a picket line either so everybody was out of work for a year and I felt that it kicked me off the ladder.
I’d been reading for some pretty good parts and I found that all the actresses who had been above me on the ladder who wouldn’t have been reading for the same part suddenly had been out of work for a year, not paying their mortgages or paying them out of their savings. So they all got kicked down a notch or two and it sort of booted me off the ladder and it was just very frustrating. I had agent problems. You really can’t get very far unless you have an agent in LA and some of them left the business.
When I first got an agency it was a two-person agency and one of the couple, one of the agents was my agent and we were perfectly in sync with how my career should go and I returned to the UK, pack my stuff, shipped it over and it took a couple months. By the time I got back, he’d left the agency and I was stuck with his partner and she tried to put me in a very tight box because I had short hair and I was still pretty buff from training for the movie.
She started sending me out for all the lesbian parts and this is no disparagement of lesbians. I have dear friends who are lesbians but I am not one. I would walk into a casting director’s office to read for the part and they would laugh at me and say you have to get a better agent. You’re not fitting this mold very well and I booked a couple of parts but the strike really hurt us all. I’m always in favor of a fellow union but it did hurt everybody and then the remaining agent and I just didn’t see eye to eye so I left her. It was a series of agent problems and that made it very difficult.
I realized at a certain point that what I was being allowed to read for were these tiny “may I show you to your seat, sir” parts. They say there are no small parts, only small actors but I just said to myself this is not why I got into the business. This is not very creative. I actually had a degree in fine art. I was a bachelor Fine Arts and sculpture from Rhode Island School of Design which is a very prestigious art college in the US and all of my creative input is in someone else’s hands. I need permission just to be able to go audition for something let alone get a part and just sitting in my room doing monologues doesn’t cut it creatively.
I’d rather go back to something that I’m in control of my own creative output so I actually went back to art college in in California in LA and I retrained as a textile designer and that brought me to New Orleans. I worked as a textile designer for a time in New Orleans and got back into my sculpture and now I’m a visual artist. I show frequently. I have a piece in the New Orleans Museum of Art permanent collection. I have a solo show up right now and I have another piece about to open at the Contemporary Art Center this coming Saturday and I show around the country so I feel very creatively satisfied right now.
Aaron: So you’re taking the creativity back into your own hands then?
Yes, I’m also a one day a week radio announcer for National Public Radio, our local and pure affiliate in New Orleans so that’s not quite on camera work but it’s on-mic work.
Aaron: That sounds awesome. Onto the topic of Aliens then, were you familiar with Ridley Scott’s Alien prior to actually working on Aliens?
I was familiar with it and that we were asked the question on the panel on Saturday and we couldn’t remember whether we’d seen Ridley Scott’s Alien before we shot Aliens or not I think we all did see it but I don’t remember at what point of the process that occurred but I did know of it. In general, this might shock your audience but I’m not a fan of scary movies.
Aaron: Well to be fair I was just watching Aliens again and Jim was saying on the commentary how he didn’t think of Aliens as a scary movie.
That’s true. It’s a buddy picture. It’s an ensemble piece. It’s a mother and daughter tribute. It’s many things really.
Aaron: So still on the early days of involvement with the film then, can you remember how you learned about the casting opportunity?
I remember distinctly because I didn’t have an agent in London. I was acting but sort of fringe stuff and I was in an actor’s group. I don’t know if they still do but they had these things called breakdown chains. The breakdowns are the descriptions of all the parts that are casting any particular week and those are sent directly to the agents so if you are in an agency, they select the members of their stable who fit the parts and send them up for the parts but people who weren’t in the agencies would obtain the breakdowns.
They would photocopy them and you would pay a subscription fee and they would distribute them to the number of people that were in each group, in each breakdown chain. So I was in a breakdown chain and I think Jeanette was as well with another group and we read about parts and we sent our own picture and resume to the casting director and we were called in from that. We self-submitted.
Aaron: Talking about your casting experience for Aliens after you’d sent it in, I believe you originally auditioned for the role of Vasquez? Do you remember much about the audition?
Oh yes, I do remember it well. I think everybody read for major parts mainly because the full script wasn’t fleshed out yet. So he had the skeleton drawn out, the major roles that he wanted to pin all the proceedings around but they were the most fully completed parts and they could get a better idea of what we could do by having us read a longer section. I guess I don’t remember the reading in front of the casting director but I do remember the callback which was in front of Jim and Gale.
I’d done the preliminary audition with the casting director and I was living in a licensed squat in Clapham in a shared house with other people. I remember my flatmate knocking at my bedroom door I opened it to his shocked face and a big thick envelope and he said “Motorcycle messenger just dropped this off for you from 20th Century Fox.” He didn’t know I was auditioning. I said “Oh yes that’s my script, thank you.” It was my sides. It was the section that I was going to audition with and I read that the character description was that she was heavily muscled.
It was us as competitive bodybuilder, heavily muscled masculine woman and I remember I went to the gym and pumped iron like mad and I rode my push bike up to the reading through Trafalgar Square and in the midday traffic very aggressively. I remember riding around. I dare you to hit me down, double-decker buses… just building my aggression in my machismo and I sort of pumped up, like squared my shoulders to go into the audition and read very aggressively before Jim and Gale.
Initially I was cast as Ferro, the dropship pilot and he switched me to Dietrich because as he was developing these characters all along, they were growing as the week’s went on and when he called me in for the for the actual hiring interview and he said “I know you were cast as Ferro but I’m switching you to Dietrich and it’s actually a bigger part. You have a lot more weeks of filming and you’re the medical tech officer” and he sort of dangled it in front of me that way and I’ll be the dog catcher, just give me a job, this is great.
He said there was one proviso and he gave Mark Rolston the same proviso. He said “I want you to train with a trainer that we will hire for you. I want you to come out to Pinewood Studios five days a week and train with this guy very very hard. He will provide all your clothing and equipment but we can’t pay you for your time” and of course Mark and I agree to that and he had a car. I did not so I lived in Clapham and I would take the tube to Acton I think where he lived and we drive out to Pinewood together and train like the Bejeebers.
It was just this guy. It was the stuntman who populated the Power Loader. He was actually in the Power Loader during the shooting and Sigourney was standing on his feet all 6-foot whatever of her standing on his feet. He was moving the Power Loader with her in it so he’s this big huge Yorkshireman and he really pushed as hard. The second day when I woke up after our first day of training, I was sitting at the breakfast table with my flatmates and I’m all slumped over and everything hurts like muscles and tendons I had no idea that I possessed.
Everything was hurting and I said to my flatmates “I can’t go back there” and they said “Shut up, think of the money and get back out there” and I did and in addition to pumping iron with this wonderful guy John, we also had to take these awful body builder supplements. They were like extract of spleen and God knows what they were. They were terrible. They tasted awful and I just thought what is this doing to me but I guess it was putting on muscle and bulk.
Aaron: It’s pretty well known that prior to filming Jim Cameron had the cast playing all the Colonial Marines do military training as well as the physical stuff to help prepare for the film. What is your most vivid memory of that preparation of that time?
I have two. One was we had training with every single weapon that was used on set with the exception of the smart guns. So each one of us had to learn to fire a live pistol, a live flamethrower and a live pulse rifle – a sort of automatic rifle and I remember we had to run, fall on our stomachs on some sort of sandbag and fire and that was pretty dramatic because I’m a non-gun person. I’ve never touched one in my life so it was actually kind of thrilling. It’s like being paid to be an army man and the second vivid memory is that you probably know that we had two cast members training us.
We had Tip Tipping who was the British stuntman who had a non-speaking role as one of the space troopers. He was a former SAS person and he gave us the benefit of his training and then Al Matthews was a former Vietnam veteran. Certainly, he was a former Army sergeant I believe and he gave us training as well so we had the real deal. I mean as Ricco called it the other day, he called it actor boot camp but we had a pretty heavy significant amount of training. We had a rule that if you’re ever caught pointing your weapon in anyone’s face by accident, you have to fall to the ground and do ten push-ups and I cannot do one pushup.
I just made absolutely sure that my weapon was always pointed down unless I was being addressed or directed to do something different but Ricco Ross was very casual with his. He kept getting called out and he would show off by doing one-armed push-ups.
Aaron: Was the flamethrower fun?
It was great. That was my weapon in the film. It was really really fun and they had full-time firemen on set when I was around.
Aaron: Did you ever cause any fires?
I didn’t but there was a fire. I can’t remember which part of the set caught on fire at one point but the firemen earned their money that day. It was not caused by me.