Aaron: You talked earlier about the rigging and stuff for stunt suits and things like that and I think when it came to the AvP films, you started to do a lot more of that stunt work yourself. I mean you didn’t do it in Alien 3 from what I remember. That brief shot of grabbing Andrews by the head but when it came to AvPs, you were doing a lot more of that stunt work yourself from walking down walls and the Predators. Did you always want to do more stunt work?
Tom: It wasn’t about doing more stunt work as much as finding a way to make the alien defy the fact that he was on the ground. He’d be able to climb up walls and stuff. That’s when I started thinking about the way movies used to be done, if you have something like that. You didn’t have the option of copying a creature performer in a suit against a different background already. So, we have a couple of things I’ve tried. So, I’m in the alien suit. I’m starting up on wires and I’m just kind of hanging over.
We didn’t have the time or money to build a whole fake wall of a set but that’s what it was supposed to be. It was just black trash bags all taped together. So I’m just picking up my legs and doing this as I walked out, and people are pulling the black plastic back to make it look like I’m on the camera. So, the camera is locked off, but it looks like the camera, and I are coming down a wall. Then I said “That’s pretty cool. We’ll see if that works” and let’s also try something where the alien comes running down where we have a guy that’s just supposed to be leaning against the wall and for that, we had one of our guys at ADI. I think he was laying back flat on a platform like this.
Camera was on its side, so you’d see the alien come running. It’s almost like the alien was running sideways along the wall to come up and grab him. So, I’ve always loved doing things like that and we did on AvP once we got over to Prague, I also asked him to build a big, long pipe rig with a roller on it. So, we could hang cables and hang me, and I was doing a lot of shots. So, me in the suit and some just dressed in black where I was running on all fours and then I was doing this galloping thing.
So, I was suspended so I didn’t have to carry my weight. All I had to do was move in time with my body which was guys pulling the sliding rig above me and I thought “Wow that looks cool.” I remember running it over to Paul Anderson. This was before we shot, and he looked, and he goes “Oh it’s cool. I like that. So, how do you do it?” I said, “We just put a bar up in the ceiling” and he said “All the ceilings have been finished on the set where the alien is. They’re all these rocky ice.” It’s like “Ah seriously?”
I thought that was going to be the cool thing. I remember special effects as a kid. I remember this film with Fred Astaire dancing. He’s in a whole room that’s built on a gimbal, so the camera and the gimbal move like this, and Fred Astaire is dancing. So, as the floor comes down and it almost looks like he’s walking up the wall and then dancing across it and I thought “Oh let’s do something like that for the alien” but those guys are so fast with the alien ceilings.
Aaron: Did you enjoy the wire work and the stunt work that you did actually get to do on the film though?
Tom: I thought it was great. There was some stuff in the AvPR that was a little more complicated. It had double moves to the alien’s body and we didn’t have a chance to rehearse it and I just couldn’t do it. So, they did bring a stuntman to do that because they gave me a lot of takes. But it just was too complicated to do on the fly for me as opposed to a stunt man who does this kind of stuff all the time.
Aaron: Is it not something that’s choreographed quite extensively?
Tom: Yeah, it is. It definitely is but not in this case, not with me because I’m off shooting other things. So the stunt man and his guys need to keep pressing forward and if they can deal me in, that’s fine and if not, then at least they’ve got it covered so the day isn’t long.
Adam: It seems to us that as we came to Alien vs Predator, we got more of you performing inside of the suits with less of the aliens inserted into the footage later which I think is a change from all the Alien films including Alien 3 with the puppet and Resurrection with the CG models. Did that affect your work on those films knowing that you would be responsible for more of the alien performance in the final film?
Tom: No because it wasn’t quantified for me up front. You read the script and you read it one way. You could read it another way. So, me people would read and say, “Oh there’s not much alien stuff this time” and somebody else could read it and say, “Where are you going to find all these aliens?” But when we were in Prague on AvP, they did need other performers. I would play all the lead alien stuff. Any time, there was a bunch of aliens and they wanted one up front, they’d move me up front.
So, I was the lead alien, but we had to pick from all these local guys in Prague. They weren’t all actors. They weren’t all stuntmen. So, me of them were just people looking for a part-time job. The producer took me and probably about 30 of these guys down in one of the basement conference rooms. They made a big circle and I talked to an interpreter to tell them what we need and the first thing I said – we’re all in a line. We’re down in the basement and I told the interpreter “Okay tell everybody to remove their pants.” I just started doing this and probably three quarters of them just said “No” I just wanted to see if you would follow directions. That was the genesis of me.
We did the same thing with Predators and none of our Predators were tall as Ian Whyte. So, you take a suit that’s this big and you put it on a shorter guy, it just bunches up around the legs. So hopefully they don’t shoot much of that but one of the guys… literally we’re in the middle of a shot. We do another take and he’s going “I’ve got to go.” “What do you mean you gotta go?” I’m a doctor. I’m a chiropractor and I have a patient.
Aaron: The Alien Queens and the Newborn were traditionally the more individualistic aliens in the series, and they’d always generally been portrayed with puppetry or animatronics or CG but when it came to AvP and Requiem, you were inside Grid. You were inside the Predalien. You were the individual alien leaders for that film. How conscious of that difference were you when it came to those films? Was that on your mind that you were the lead?
Tom: It doesn’t affect me rationally or emotionally or anything. I’m honestly thinking “Okay we’re going to have limited shots of the alien and limited shots of the Predalien. I’m glad I can be in them.” Because like it was the whole analogy of finding those comic book frames. I knew I’d be really good at doing that because for a long time, I’ve had the ability to imagine what I’d look like from the outside. Not like a mirror but I know how my body is posed. I’ve seen a lot of people that don’t do that because they haven’t had to do it for years, but I’ve always loved that about the performance.
So, I had two opportunities but going back to that set of the hospital roof. That’s where the Predalien and the alien have their final battle. We had built a fully hydraulic computer controlled Predalien that was nine feet tall and its arms would work and the body would turn. The head would do all this stuff and the idea was, when we were ready to shoot, we take a forklift. We put it up on the roof and they’d line up their shots and by the time we got to those scenes, there was so little time left that.
We had the Predator and the big mechanical Predalien ready to go. The box with all the mandibles and all the oil that we use for the hydraulics. Everything’s all set to go, and they stop. The producers stopped. They looked at their watches. They huddled and they said “Forget it. Put Tom in…” They said, “How soon will you guys be ready to shoot?” And instead of telling them how long, we say “We just have to do this and this and this.” So, they go “No.” So we didn’t get to use it.
We heard other stories of this happening to people and it’s so frustrating, but I understand it. They were guessing it’s going to be closer to 45 minutes or an hour and a half. I don’t know if that’s accurate, but they had to go with their gut. So, that’s how I ended up doing the entire scene which was not a lot of coverage of the Predalien at that point because I had to stand on a rostrum to get my height higher than Ian’s while he’s wearing a Predator suit.
Aaron: When it comes to like the animatronic stuff like that, do you coordinate with the puppeteers or with the directors to match what you would be doing?
Tom: With the director, yes and more and more. Not so much early on but more and more. The VFX guys will come to us, and they’ll say “So what are you going to do? How do you want this to work?” And actually, we’ve just finished this movie Skulls and I can’t tell you what it’s about. We’re doing this thing and we actually had VFX guys that came up and said, “Hi, welcome to the laziest VFX guys you’ll ever meet!” I mean “What do you mean?” “Tell us what you need from us rather than us coming in and saying we can do that shot.”
It was such a great co- cohabitation with these guys that were all working on the same thing together and nobody’s trying to carve out a piece for themselves. So, that’s changed. That certainly has changed over the years but no, if I’m not in a suit, I’m puppeteering. I am a puppeteer. I’m really good at eyes, really good puppeteering eyes. I want to put that out there because that, I’ll do anywhere in the cold or in the night whatever.
Adam: Starting with Alien Resurrection, you were performing with additional creature performers in more alien suits. This continued into both AvP films, we’re curious if you train the first-time alien or predator performers on how they might get into the mindset of the creatures as well as just how to handle the stresses and discomforts of being in these suits.
Tom: Well yes on Resurrection was when we started with more than just one alien. The reason why it was in that scene where two aliens jump on the third alien, tear him up so his acid blood burns holes so they can escape. So, we took one of our guys in the shop Mark Viniello who was doing a lot of the building work. So, like me, he had a complete understanding of how it all goes together. He’s always wanted to do monster stuff. I said okay great. I’m just going to say you’re the guy because he’s the same.
At the time, he was the same size. We were very similar in build so that’s perfect and then one of the producers wanted us to use a different guy that we had not met before, but he was very keen and that’s it. That was the only scene that we used them in and was when there were two aliens fighting. The third alien is like backing up and they basically kick the shit out of them so they can escape. You tell them upfront that it’s up to them to either make it miserable or make it bearable, much less make it something they enjoy because I enjoy it. I love doing it.
It is a long time they’d stay in suits because they were also lighting this in a unique way Jean-Pierre had the lighting come in on these long fluorescent tubes. Just so they’re out of frame the camera but it would cast all these different lines of light that would highlight. Then we used extra thick goop on the aliens, the thickest slime that we’ve ever used but if you look at it and watch for it, you see all these spectral highlights glistening. It’s very cool. So, I told the guys that you’re going to be in a suit.
You’re going to be stuck in these positions and for the most part they were fine. I said, “Just got to find a way to come up with some kind of Zen or something to take yourself out of all the little details.” One of the guys was ill. He had a cold, and he hadn’t told us, so I don’t know if he even finished the day. We got enough out of him that we used up the three aliens but then he was cut loose. I can’t imagine how miserable the experience would have been because he so wanted to do it and do a good job, but he also picked up this cold and physically he just wasn’t at his best.
Adam: And with the Predator actors working with Ian Whyte and Brian Prince, did you give them any like creature performance coaching?
Tom: I gave them all the wrong information because I wanted to see Predators fail. Brian Prince was a prince on the set of the alien. He wasn’t the right guy for the suit work. He just wasn’t. I mean physically he was, but this still happens to this day which doesn’t surprise me anymore. The producers right away are going “Hmm, a guy in an alien suit, a guy in a Predator suit. He’s got to run around. We want to do all this climbing. We need to bring in a parkour expert and we’ll put him in a Predator suit.”
Okay it doesn’t work that way because when he’s doing his parkour, he’s not wearing a big animatronic head, cutting out all his vision. He’s not wearing this big suit that impedes his movement. It’s much easier to find a suit performer and direct him. They’ll also say “Let’s start with a mime. Let’s start with a dancer.” That’s entirely the wrong direction because neither of those positions give you an understanding of the extra weight even though it’s not much extra weight and the influence of a leotard, super skin type leotard covered with foam.
I guess it’s for some reason they probably think of some kind of exotic movement that they’ve seen. It’s easier to just color that with a Predator crayon, but it certainly doesn’t work that way. So, Brian kind of fell into that and it was a struggle for him to get through the rest of the shoot.