Tom Woodruff Interview

Posted by Darkness on November 27, 2021 (Updated: 20-Dec-2021)

 Tom Woodruff Interview

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley 8

Aaron: Well that seemed to be something that she’d carry on into Resurrection as well because I think one of the interesting things of Sigourney’s performance and Resurrection was in her adopting some of the alien mannerisms and I’m fairly sure she’d said that you and her would discuss the kind of movements that you would be doing in the suit. What was that collaboration like?

Tom: That was the next step. I worked out two things. I worked out the swimming and stuff where I said “The alien is not going to separate his legs like a swimmer would do. He’s going to keep them together because he wants to cut through the water. He’s going to mainly get his propulsion from his tail doing this and practicing and doing some stuff in the water with the alien head.” The hard thing was to get the alien to stay neutrally buoyant because when you first go in, the foam is dry. So you’re kind of riding high but then as it starts to collect water and the suit starts to go down, but we found a way to make that work.

I think there were some shots where Sigourney might have had a wire on the front to help pull her in the line but she was doing it all with her hips and her torso. It really looked cool and there was also a scene where when she first wakes up. She’s in that white weird material kind of shroud that she’s wearing, she asked “What’s some alien cool alien stuff to do?”

I said the biggest thing that would help is if you could picture that you just had a third eye right here. That’s how you were looking at something, so you have no depth perception and you’re not listening to sounds. You just have a field of view and whenever you see movement start to come in, that’s when you can come, and you can stay locked on it that way. She loved that. She put that to work quite a bit in Resurrection.

Adam: The mention of the swimming there leads nicely into our next question in Alien Resurrection. For the underwater scene, there were a number of shots that required you actually being underwater in the alien suit in an enclosed set where you couldn’t just surface for air if you needed to. From what we read there was a moment of concern where you didn’t get a regulator as quickly as you should have. Could you tell us a bit about the difficulties involved in being underwater in the alien suit?

Tom: Well yes, the thing was that the alien had to swim at a constant depth, so the camera wasn’t having to track them doing this. So, they wired me to a track on the floor of this, I think it was like a 14-foot-deep tank, at Fox. It’s cool. It was like one of the famous movie sets. It was one of the few places that had a big… they pull up the floors and there’s a big pool under there and had been used back in the 40’s and I love the history of all that. So, we’re in that. They built a track and they wired me to it and what we came up with was the dive master who’s in charge of everything.

I just trust everything he says and make sure I do what he says because he was the one that figured out that we could hide this. They had these small tanks. They give you about two and a half minutes of air and it was just one shot. It was going to be one shot of the alien reaching out and then being pulled away like that right. Oh, that’s great. I’ll probably never even tap into it because I can hold my breath for a long time. So, we had that, and the idea was… okay I can’t start the shot with the breathing thing in my mouth.

So, they did a countdown with the cameras, and they had underwater speakers and they said “Okay we’ll count down from three to one and on one, we will pull you back.” So, before that when we set number two and the dive master practice… there’s a slot for my mouth. He will just put it in and then we do the actual take. I just remember them saying “Three, two…” and I felt the mouthpiece come in sideways and I’m trying to find it.

I’m thinking “I’ve already heard two” and then they said “Three” and I just pulled back and I’m really good at not panicking because I couldn’t get up and surface and I thought “Okay, the dive master knows I didn’t get the air tank” and I’m just in the water doing this saying “I’m out of air” and waiting and I’m thinking “I’m totally calm and totally relaxed.” I think it must be 30 seconds now.

 Tom Woodruff Interview

Hillard is pulled away by the alien in Alien Resurrection.

It’s probably whatever 40 seconds. I know I’m not gonna have much air beyond 1m 15s because I’ve been doing a lot of stuff and I’m counting. I’m thinking “Okay, what’s the next worst thing that can happen. Okay if I pass out because I don’t have any air and take on water, they’ll get me on top.” I’m trying to just keep myself calmed down and then all of a sudden, he was there. We put it in, and we went up and watched the shot and through all this when I’m thinking “I’m perfectly balanced and I’m not panicking.”

We watched the shot and as soon as they pulled me away, all of a sudden, the diver, the dive master, another diver suddenly came into the frame swimming right towards me and it was like “He got the air to me in like six or seven seconds.” Obviously, I wasn’t as calm as I thought it was because I miscounted all that time. I say that same story on the Resurrection extras DVD and the thing that makes it sound even scary or a little more deadly is while I’m talking about this, they had the music track of some buddy playing the piano. It’s almost like Tom Woodruff drowned today and here’s how it happened, and you hear this kind of slow sad music. That was kind of cool.

Aaron: Were you confident on the water then before that?

Tom: Yeah, when I was still at Stan’s our whole crew including Stan, we got licensed to scuba and ocean dive. That was because we went over to Rome to shoot, we then did some monster stuff. We went down to Malta, and they had a big tank like one of those infinity pools, but it would lie with the ocean. So it was really cool and me being in the suit and the guys working with me all had to be able to do scuba,

Aaron: Was there ever any consideration or temptation to do more of you practically underwater for Resurrection?

Tom: No because what I didn’t realize there was also a shot where I reach in with a hand and I grabbed the ankle of [Hillard] and start to pull but we go underwater. I’m looking at this hand which up on land, I’m looking at, it has all these really cool sculptures and skin detail and underwater and I still can’t explain why, it looked like rubber. There’s something about it.

It’s like all of the sculptures suddenly seemed like overdone and it was all very phony looking. So I was in a way relieved that there wasn’t more of the alien underwater, and I think honestly the digital aliens that they brought in were more effective. I think from a performance point of view, visually they didn’t all connect but I don’t know how I would have been able to do that. That’s the other thing about CGI is you get an accuracy to things, a movement accuracy that sometimes actors aren’t able to do.

Aaron: I guess you finally got to see the surface movement in Requiem, didn’t you?

Tom: Yeah, Javier really wanted the look of the alien kind of cresting the water with the smokestacks sticking up and it was a very cool idea. I think the thing that made it cooler was if we could have put some black dye into something into the water or something. So there’s absolutely nothing even the last five or six inches of clear water is gone. It’s all black and then you see the thing just kind of… it’s like a crocodile coming up but it was still effective. It was new. It was something we hadn’t seen from the alien before.

Adam: Then there was more aliens and water in Aliens vs Predator Requiem and that one was not quite as stressful of a situation water work in that film given you were working in the pool. I think it might have actually been a different actor in the alien suit in the pool, but you were in the sewer sets if I’m if I’m correct on that?

Tom: Yeah, it was the stunt coordinator who was in the suit for the high school pool and then I was stuffed down in the sewer and yeah, that was much easier. It’s water that goes up to mid-thigh. I’m not saying you can’t drown it but it’s a lot easier for somebody to keep tabs on you. I hated AvPR. I hated shooting it. I really did because it was very hard. It was a growing schedule. It was winter and there was a lot of stuff outside and we were outside. Yeah, it was a great idea. We’re going to have rain in every shot. I love that.

I love the visuals of that. Look at the Med Lab scene in Aliens with water coming down from the sprinkler. I think it’s cool but what I didn’t take into account was it’s winter, the water is freezing cold. It’s coming down out of these rain towers that are about 25 feet high so each of those drops is already meeting maximum velocity. I’m just wearing this much foam except for the head, and it was brutal, and we did it so many times. There’s a shot where I’m on top of a car and I remember I’m sitting on top of this car and you’re gonna get everybody set and then the AD calls for the rain. He says, “Start the misery!”

 Tom Woodruff Interview

Daniel Pearl & Tom Woodruff in the Sewer in AvP Requiem.

And it takes a couple of seconds before that brain hit. As soon as it hits, it’s like everything’s like banging and feeling it. Then suddenly getting this rush of cold and having to stay there and do it over and over and over and standing outside of a car and you’re looking through the window. You can see the alien come up on the other side. All cool stuff but so cold and the final scenes up on the roof, the hospital which was really a set built outside and it was just four feet off the ground, but this was so cool.

I’m in the alien suit. This is before I put on the Predalien. I’m wearing the alien suit and I’m on one tower of the roof up here and I’m watching down. I’m watching down this way and down here is our actor doing his thing right. So, I’m up there and I’m just staying up there. Every time the actor finishes the shot, he goes back here, and he gets towels wrapped around him and goes in his building. I just stood up there because it was a lot of work for me to get in around the fake air conditioning equipment.

So, I’m just staying there and at one point I’m looking over here. I’m seeing this cement wall and I’m seeing water hit and just freeze right on the wall. My arms start shaking and Alec comes over and says, “Is everything okay?” I said “I feel fine. I just can’t stop this arm from shaking.” So, I ended up leaning against it, pressing against it so it couldn’t do anything. Physically, the most strenuous and I think I won the war but there were a lot of battles that I didn’t walk away from.

Aaron: I bet the sewer stuff must have been hard on you as well with the water resistance to what you’re obviously trying to do. Did the suits take on water during that bit as well?

Tom: Oh, sure yeah absolutely. The best arrangement I ever had was when we shot Resurrection at Fox in L.A. and on this sound stage with the big pool and everything. They built like a big shower for me and already piped with hot water. So, when I was done and didn’t need to be used until afternoon or something, I could go in there. Hot water. I could pull the suit open. Flush all this hot water into the suit which made it so easy to slide off and then wrap up in towels and everything. There was one time where I was in the water, and somebody was messing around with a pepper spray thing somewhere in the rigging. It accidentally went off and people started smelling.

So, they had to evacuate the whole sound stage. I was even saying “Can I at least get in here and get warmed up?” “No, you’ve got to go come out here, sit in the sun.” So, we all went outside, and I was just standing around in an alien suit. Then they brought a chair over for me to sit in and then I started seeing a news helicopter and then another one. I said, “Get blankets on me or something” because they’re probably shooting video because of us having to evacuate the stage and I just kept getting colder and colder and I would keep asking “Hey how soon can I get back in there and get some hot water on my body?” “Oh 15 minutes.”

So, you go back 15 minutes later. “How long…?” “Oh, about 20 minutes.” Finally, an ambulance came up. They just had to check everybody out and this guy was walking by, and he looked at me. He came over and he feels my face he says, “How long have you been out here?” I said “I don’t know. 45 minutes or an hour” and he said “We’ve got to get you in.”

He knew I was hypothermic because my skin was white. It was like the scariest thing, so they didn’t have any place on the Lot that had a working shower, so they called over to the Die Hard building which Fox owns – Nakatomi Plaza. So, they sent me over there. They got me a room with a tub, and I went over there, and the ambulance guy said, “Just soak in hot water for 45 minutes to bring your core temperature up.”

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