Aaron: It’s fairly well-known that there was some degree of on-set tension due to the culture clash between the British and the Americans with walkouts happening as well. I was wondering if you ever found yourself caught up in that tension?
Actually, the tension was not between British and Americans because most of us in the cast I’d say more than half of us were already living in Britain and we were British union members ourselves. We understood fully what the rules were. The tension was solely between the crew and Jim because the way movies are made in Hollywood are you keep going until you’re done. Keep going till you’ve got the shot. You keep going until you lose the light. Whatever it takes you keep going until you’re done and it’s just a completely different style.
I’m not going to criticize him or the British system. We were part of the British system and so I think we fully understood that it was mandated. It is a rule it’s union rules that you break at X hours. You have tea and you have a bathroom break whatever and that’s just the way it is. That’s the way things are done and Jim was used to being an absolute monarch because that’s what movie directors are in in the States and he was very young. I mean he was barely in his 30s and this was his big chance. I mean he told us that he made determinate to convince 20th Century Fox that he was capable of doing the sequel to The Terminator.
I mean the sequel to the Alien that was his whole goal that’s why he made The Terminator and so he was still a young director and probably had a little short fuse and he blew up and fired the first AD Derek and we all love Derek so the friction was not between English and Americans by any stretch. It was simply I’d say a management shop floor problem and bless Sigourney, actors don’t usually do this. It’s very rare but she knew that she was the only one with the power to have a voice and she brokered a peace and Derek was rehired and he was an excellent AD and things went on but I remember Jim when he said “I have nightmares of arms extending towards me holding a tray of tea”.
I mean I felt for him right because I knew of the system he had come from and I knew it was just a culture clash and I think they liked each other personally. It’s just Derek had to stand up for the rules. That was his job and as far as Jim was concerned is how dare you, I’m the director, I’m the absolute power here but it was amicably resolved and we went on and there was I think at the end of the day everyone was pleased and proud to be a part of it and probably there were handshakes all around and hugs at the premier.
Aaron: So you personally weren’t that caught up in any of that clash then?
It was very tense. I mean everybody sort of froze. What’s going to happen? It’s like a standoff because if Derek is fired the rest of the crew are walking off and it was very touch-and-go. It was very tense but Sigourney deserves full marks for saving that situation I would say.
Aaron: Something I find really interesting is something that Ricco said an interview. He said something along the lines of that he thought Bill Paxton was completely hamming it up while filming and it came across as terrible. He was surprised at how well it actually worked so were there many moments like that on Aliens where you were surprised at how the finished product came out compared to what you saw and experienced while filming?
Yes, I was surprised. I mean please forgive me Michael because I love you to death but I was surprised at Michael’s choice probably just because we’ve been working with James Remar and he was a totally different type. He was stockier and he had a really deep voice and he had played villains in films and so he had that gravitas as a mean guy. We were kind of afraid of him and then Michael came on set.
He’s tall, blond, gorgeous and very soft-spoken and I just felt that his line reading were too soft to be the male lead. Now when I watch it I see how beautifully it works because he is strong in himself and he doesn’t need to shout or lower his voice or be gruff. He wasn’t threatened by Ripley which is really important like when she showed that she could use the weaponry and he goes over all right and the softness really worked but I remember at the time of filming I was wondering how’s this gonna read. I don’t know
Aaron: But it came out nicely. Speaking of James Remar do you remember much of what you filmed with him? I assume it’s mostly the hive?
I remember we did a lot of training with him actually in it. I think he was in on the training ’cause he was one of the squad leaders. There were A and B squads when we deployed so we had to go through that I believe with him. It wouldn’t have been the deployment scenes, it would have been moving into the colony in the pouring rain which was the most miserable day on earth because we were shooting at Pinewood in the winter and the sets were so large they stuck out.
I mean they had to keep the doors open the side doors and they were sort of extending out and it was freezing cold and the makeup people kept coming up and slathering this gel on us to make us look like we’re sweating but we’re dying of the cold and I’ll never forget shooting those scenes, you get into your place ready for deployment and then you hit your marks and well actually before you hit your marks Jim would yell “Cue rain” and it starts pouring with rain. I mean they’re using their sprinklers in the ceiling and it’s pouring. You are getting wet and then it’s cue wind and these gigantic fans turn on and blow the rain against you even more.
We did multiple takes and I remember just dreading that and we got a break. The assistants would run up and wrap us in space blankets. I called that the day of the giant baked potatoes. That’s the first day I injured myself because my direction was to run in, fall to my mark, fall on my knee and get ready to fire. Well we had these articulated knee armor bits and the way it was hinged, when I’m about to take a knee, it would fall in such a way that it cut right in the center of my kneecap. I would fall right on this edge every time and it became agonizing to the point where I was afraid I couldn’t run anymore and really hurt.
I started crying and I was terrified Jim would see me crying because I mean Jim was such a stickler even in the table read at the very beginning before we even started shooting when we’re coming in and reading in our street clothes. I’m sitting next to Jim and he turned to me and he said “You have lip gloss on” and I said “Yeah” and he said “Marines don’t wear lip gloss” so I thought well if I can’t wear lip gloss at a table read what’s he gonna say when he sees me crying. Unfortunately, he never saw me doing that but I think I did mention to him on the first day that I had a problem. I don’t remember how it was rectified. I think maybe they gave me a little bandage to slip under the kneecap piece of armor. That was very painful.
Aaron: Was there any additional footage of you that never ended up in the film?
You’re on my favorite topic. My heartbreak. There is a lot. We spent an entire day of nothing but close-ups of me. It was the day I discovered the cocooned woman and as the medical tech officer, I’m the one who finds her but I’m also the one who feels that I can help her because I had medical training and the entire day, it was shot from on screen. All you see is my back but most of the shooting was me up close and Jim was giving me a lot of off-the-cuff direction. He was coming up with ideas on the fly. Do this, do that, do this and he was yelling at me a lot “No no, not like that, do it like this!”.
Okay, you don’t want me to do it like that. That went on for a long time and we took a break and two of the fireman came up to me and they said “I can’t believe how calm you are. We just found out this is your first film and he’s just yelling at you and you’re just so calm and you’re taking it so well” and I said “You know it just reminds me of my dad.” My dad’s a dear person too but they both have their limits and under tension things come out but the thing I love about Jim is that the next day he’ll come up to you and he’ll crack a joke and kind of hug you in the ribs and that’s his way of saying hey no hard feelings.
It was just in the moment but anyway I’m all excited I’m doing all these things and reacting and doing the things he wants me to do and at one point he says “Oh I know. Try to break her out of the cocoon.” I said “Oh okay” so next take I start ripping apart a cocoon that is made of resin and fiberglass and it’s breaking into very sharp shards and then he says “Okay let’s go again” and the art department starts freaking out like “We have to glue it back together. You can’t just like do this in a heartbeat”. And they had to try to resurrect without starting from scratch – this cocoon again and so he did it twice and that was terrifying for them.
This is amazing, this is my first movie I get these closeups and it’s going to be so great and then I went in for looping after the whole thing was cut and it’s that scene and they show me finding her. I lift up her head. She says “Please God kill me”. I’m yelling for my sergeant and I’m taking out my flamethrower and shooting her. Then it’s a quick cut to a close-up of Sigourney and she’s reacting to what she sees on her monitor screen and all the close-ups of me are gone.
All you’ve ever seen of that whole scene is my back and on voiceover I’m saying “We have to get out of here!” And so I’m yelling that and in the looping and there goes my closeups. When I heard there was a director’s cut, I held out hope that maybe I’ve been at it again but they used it to put the pre part of showing the colonists alive before the infestation of Aliens which was great. That was good to give that background. You win some you lose some.
Aaron: I’ve never ever heard that story before. It’s really interesting. So aside from losing those close-ups do you remember what it felt like when you actually saw the finished film come together?
I was spellbound as a movie-goer would be because I shot in roughly a third of the film. I think we were allowed to watch dailies but if it’s not my day to shoot I’m not there and I’m not included in dailies and so I didn’t see other people’s parts of the film. I didn’t see Jeannette and Bill’s touching death scene. I didn’t see up the operations lab when they’re making their last stand and the floor collapses. I didn’t see any parts that I hadn’t been in so the whole thing was a revelation to me. My parents went to the screening in their town and as soon as I was grabbed by the Alien my dad turned to my mom and said “Can we just go now?” He’s not a movie fan by the way.
Aaron: Did you go to the premiere?
I went to the English premiere but I missed the American one because I was doing two plays back-to-back in London when the American premiere was which was before the one in the UK and most of my buddies who were living in London, you know Jeanette, Mark, Bill, Ricco. They all went to LA and they were doing the rounds and having wonderful parties and stuff. I was bit envious but I keep my commitments so I’m not gonna just leave on a play that I’m in. I was doing the play and then the English premiere was later and Jim and Gail came back for that and they said “Cynthia what are you doing here when like Ricco and Jeanette are all in LA?”
And I said “Well yeah. I mean given that I had a reasonably small part, I’m doing these two plays and I can’t get to LA until a month or two after the movie came out. Do you think it’s worth my while?” And they said “Yes come to LA and we’ll introduce you to casting directors.” And the way I make decisions in my life is that when I’m 80 if I don’t do this, will I always wonder what if and the answer came back a resounding yes.
You don’t get newly hot young Hollywood director and producer offering to introduce to the LA casting directors more than once in a lifetime so I went to LA and stayed with a friend and did the rounds of casting and I thought fortunately my buddies were still there so we sort of played the role of the young movie actors on the town. We went to lunch on Sunset Boulevard and did some fun things.