Aaron: In terms of the preparation, it’s a pretty well-known story that you guys were all asked to customise you costume. You had “Kiss my” and some lips on your backside if I remember rightly and a red cross on your shirt so I was wondering if there was any other additional customisation we didn’t catch on camera and what your thinking behind it was?
Yes, the red cross actually was a logo I designed for myself because I was the medical tech officer and I also wanted to make the point that I’m one of the women of the future. Who needs men? They just break your heart so I designed a logo that was a red cross with a drop of blood coming off of it and that was over my heart on my t-shirt and we were allowed to customize our own tattoos. Design our own tattoos and we had fake tattoos painted on us. This was in the days prior to everybody having tattoos which I still have none but they’re so common now.
I mean secretaries have them. Nursery school teachers have them but at the time they were not popular but enlisted men often had them so the red cross with the drop of blood was my tattoo on my arm. I read on a fan site that I was wondering if anyone would pick this up. It was kind of a little tip of the hat to film fans on the back of my helmet I wrote the Blue Angel and anyone who’s a real film buff will recognize that an early black-and-white film by Yosef Fung Sternberg with Marlena Dietrich was the Blue Angel and my name is Dietrich so I stuck that in there just thinking “Okay let’s see how savvy people are”. What angles would be shot of me and some bright spark did catch it and put it on a fan site.
Aaron: I guess Dietrich’s into really old films?
Yes, she is but I didn’t remember that about the lips on the bum until I read your question. I didn’t remember doing so that’s pretty funny.
Aaron: There’s some continuity photos and stuff like that so it’s easy to get a look at everybody’s costumes outside of the film. The Blue Angel thing – I don’t think I’ve ever noticed that.
We had custom fit uniforms and those are the best fitting pair of trousers I’ve ever had in my entire life and I wanted to steal them and I didn’t have the nerve because they made several different pair of course but I wasn’t that gutsy. I did however steal my skivvies. I think we were allowed to keep those. The ones I wore in the hypersleep scene.
Aaron: Are they your only souvenirs from the set?
Well I have a few things. I have my dog tags somewhere although the last time I looked for them, I couldn’t find them. I made of a bandage for my hands. I had taken a course that a lot of actors take. It’s one of those self-actualization type SDN sort of courses and to help actors jumpstart their careers. It’s called samurai and I was in a samurai group and that’s how I found out about the breakdown group which led to my getting Aliens and I had heard or read somewhere that Sigourney had done the same training in the States and so sort of a little bond between us.
I took a Japanese symbol, some Japanese characters and a rising sun and I painted them on a bandage and I wrapped that around my hand or my wrist because I was a tough marine and I had probably wounded myself at some points. I was still wearing the bandage and speaking of continuity I had a panic one day when I had gone to the loo and I came back and realised I had put the bandage on the wrong hand. I was panic-stricken and I ran up to the script supervisor and said “Oh, no, I had my bandage on the wrong hand” and she said “Don’t worry about it. Nobody is going to notice.”
Aaron: You’ve actually previously mentioned that your time on the film was split with a break in the middle so I was curious about what was filmed when? I think the assault on the hive was first and then the scenes on the Sulaco were the ends. Was that right?
I cannot remember. I have pretty clear memories of everything but I can’t remember the sequence of things because I did have quite a long break. I think I shot like 8 or 10 weeks on and then almost a month off and then 8 or 10 more weeks and during the night time off… I was a singer/songwriter in London at the time and I had teamed up with a partner. I released a couple of singles in the UK when they used to have EPs and I didn’t have a band so I was interviewing with a lot of people.
I had a couple of singles that were already released and there was a little buzz about me but not enough to get me another deal right away so I was shopping around and talking to agents and A&R guys and also trying to meet well one of the A&R guys said “Look you’ve got a great voice. I like the songs that you write but they’re sort of all over the place genre wise and what you need is to find the Dave Stewart to your Annie Lennox. You need a writing partner.” So I started looking through the music press and the back ads and interviewing with people and I had found a songwriting partner.
He wrote really great tunes and I wrote lyrics and we would swap and I said “Look I’ve got this break coming up so I’m gonna send you some stuff and you send me some stuff and we’ll work on each other’s stuff and then we’ll get together in the break and we’ll record.” So I was really focused on that and also I had to keep training because I had to stay buff so I lived in Clapham.
I was going to the public gym in Brixton and I’ll never forget and I had to keep my hair really short and I’m standing on the street corner waiting for the light to change and this lovely older gentleman turns to me and says “Why do you we wear your hair so short?” And I said “Well, I’m in a movie.” But I used to love that West Indian accent. I used to love hanging out in Brixton. Last time I was there, the market was almost gone. There were hardly any stalls populated anymore. It broke my heart but I used to really like Brixton.
Aaron: So that’s a bit of drastic change from shooting guns and blowing up Aliens to singing in the middle and doing your own music. That’s a nice contrast.
Well I’ve always done many things. As I say I have a degree in visual art and I was always in a band. I was always from high school on to secondary school right through college and in fact when I was at Rhode Island school design I was in a band with the drummer of Talking Heads. He was a bit ahead of me in school but you formed bands with the people that you might play with and so I was in a band with him and Tina Weymouth, the bass player would hang out at our rehearsals because she was after him. They weren’t boyfriend and girlfriend at the time but she was definitely trying to get him on her side and that was really fun and I went to see them later on in London after they became Talking Heads.
They’re playing at some small venue, some club up in North London and Camden Town and I cycled up from Clapham to see them and went backstage and saw them. I met David Byrne, had a chat it was really nice to see them again but it’s all creative output and almost every creative person I know does more than one thing. Lance Henricksen showed us when we were together last summer in Tennessee. We were at a con together and we love to hang out so we love each other and he was showing these beautiful pictures of wooden bowls that he makes now. He does these beautiful artisanal carved wooden bowls and he has a whole website with them. Everybody does something creative on the side.
Aaron: Your character is actually the first to get hands on with an Alien during the film. You’re grabbed from behind and taken up into the depths of the hive. I was hoping you could just tell us a little bit about filming that because I believe you actually performed part of your stunt yourself?
I did and it was so much fun and in fact one of the questions that always kind of shocks me when I’m at the cons every now and again, people will say “were you scared when the Alien grabbed you?” And I said “it’s my buddy, the stunt man, we have to go over the stunt a whole bunch of times, we’re cracking jokes with each other. It’s really hard to be scared. I’m an actress by the way.” But it was a very dramatic stunt. I’m sure they don’t have anything like this anymore.
It seems like it’s from the Middle Ages but it’s called a teeter board and it’s a gigantic seesaw and also, I don’t know what you call them in UK [Note: we call them seesaws in the UK]. We used to call them teeter totters when I was a kid. It’s a big plank on a fulcrum but it was the end that’s sticking up is extremely high. It’s like six feet off the ground and I was standing on the end that was on the ground obviously. The stuntman had to land behind me and grab me across my chest.
We had crew guys on the tall end pulling it down physically with their strength, holding it down, changing our angle of footage and immediately raising us up in the air. So simultaneously we have to shift our footing, keep our weight steady so we don’t fall off and he’s got me grabbed across the chest.
I’m holding a flamethrower which I have to angle downward because I’m going to be firing it at Frost and I have to react at the same time. It was very intricate and especially getting the balance right and about the first three or four times we did it I fell off. I mean there were many bumps and bruises on that set on my part for different reasons but he was a very physical and very exciting stunt to do. I begged them to let me do the second half which was going up on a wire and they said we didn’t get enough insurance to do that. They used a woman that’s quite a bit shorter than I am but you can’t tell because you’re seeing her backside and her kicking legs go up in the air.
Aaron: Did you have much interaction with the Alien performers?
I think only I did. I think I’m the only one who touched them because I can’t remember how close Sigourney and Newt got. They were close but I don’t know if they were being touched by them. I was grabbed by him multiple times and so he was really the only one I met other than the guy who trained us who was in the power loader but I hung out a lot with the special effects guys. I’m sure you all know that a large part of filming especially if you’re not one of the leads is sitting around and we’d get there before dawn, get in makeup.
In Jeanette’s case that was a lot of makeup because you probably also know that she’s not a Latina. She has very fair skin and freckles and light blue-grey eyes and auburn hair so she had lots of makeup and contact lenses to get into her part but we had our makeup and our costumes and full suits of armor.
We had to get fully suited up and sit there even if we might not be used that day so we used to entertain ourselves. We devised games we played with each other but I would sneak off and I’d always tell them where I was but I’d sneak off and I’d go into the different special effects departments and there were at least three. I’d go into the costume department and I go into the creature effects and watch the sculptors making all the things and everything that you see on the set exists in real life.
There’s no CG so all of that incrustation that goes on the walls, that’s all fiberglass and resin and they were making all of that stuff and of course as a sculptor what could be more interesting and I also was interested in costume design. So I watched them sort of sewing costumes and stuff I mean making extra sets because obviously we already had our costumes. I just loved the whole fascination that went behind the scene.
Aaron: That’s half the fun of learning about these films as well. The documentaries on the boxsets are like twice as long as some of the films. You might have mentioned at one of the events before as well the guy behind you in the Alien suit was a bit lewd with you?
I know all the guys in the crew evidently had, not a wager, but they were sort of voting as to who had the best bum, Sigourney or me. I don’t know how the final tally came out – I didn’t dare ask.