Interview: Ridley Scott Talks Prometheus, Giger, Beginning of Man and Original Alien
Today, we bring you our most exciting feature yet, an interview with legendary director Ridley Scott, who is now working on one of 2012′s most anticipated blockbusters, sci-fi thriller Prometheus. I met with the very energetic Scott in July, when he was in Iceland filming a reported 15-minute sequence for the film, along with a crew of over 200, and most of Prometheus’ principal cast.
When we sat down in a small meeting room in his Reykjavik hotel, he not only answered questions on Prometheus surprisingly openly (although he will preserve that film’s most important secrets for its release, as you can note below), and linked Prometheus directly with Alien on several occasions, but also gave me this:
A: Offered a glimpse into his view on making the original Alien.
B: Revealed that H.R. Giger is indeed directly involved in the design of Prometheus and,
C: perhaps most interestingly, gave us an insight into not only the mythology of Prometheus but
D: his own radical opinions on how mankind has evolved to the point it’s at today.
But intros are boring. Just read the interview itself. A shorter (and translated) version of this interview was published in Icelandic film magazine Myndir manadarins in August, but we are now finally able to publish it uncut right here.
Erlingur Grétar Einarsson: What [part of Prometheus] are you shooting in Iceland? What role in the film does it “play”?
Ridley Scott: It’s, you know, whenever you’re talking about science-fiction, it always sounds pretentious or corny. It’s actually “The beginning of time”. But I think we’ve got it right. (He laughs) So, it will be a pretty good beginning of time.
EGE: [The Prometheus’ cast] is a very impressive line-up.
RS: Yeah, you know, we were staying with the notion that there were no stars in the first film [1979's Alien]. I think it was [Weaver‘s] first film. They were not stars.
EGE: Skerritt had some name recognition, maybe at the same level Fassbender is now.
RS: Yeah. I didn’t make that as a plan, you know. Sometimes it’s better when you have a story, where you’re gonna lose people during the story, that they are lesser known. Of course, Charlize [Theron] is very well known, but she hangs around ‘till the end. (He laughs)
EGE: So you are linking this directly with the Alien films?
RS: Not at all.
EGE: Not at all?
RS: I mean, you could actually say, and there’s a quote I did, a pretty good quote: By the end of the third act you start to realize there’s a DNA of the very first alien, but none of the subsequent aliens. To tell you what that is is a pity, and I’m not going to tell you, because it’s actually pretty good, pretty organic to the process and to the original. But we go back, we don’t go forward.
EGE: The official synopsis from Fox says that this revolves around the “Alien Gods”, the “Space Jockey” from the first film.
RS: Yeah, so there you have that. I was always amazed that, I mean, I’ve only done two science-fictions, but I was always amazed that no one asked who the hell the Space Jockey was. He wasn’t even called the Space Jockey. During the film they started to call it the Space Jockey. I don’t know who started that one off. I always thought it was amazing that no one ever asked who he was, and why was he there? What was all that about? I sat thinking about this for a while and thought, well, there’s a story! And the other four [films] missed it! So, here it is.
EGE: Will you be using any of Giger’s original design for this film?
RS: We’ve had a pretty good relationship with Giger for many years. I was the first one to go see him in Switzerland, and persuade him to get on a plane. He wouldn’t get on a plane, because he was afraid of flying. And he finally came to Shepperton. He was with me for eleven months. Never went into town, stayed over a pub in Shepperton. Very non-Giger, not exotic. You’d think he’d be in a suite in a hotel. He’s in a pub. He was in a room over a pub, and he was very happy there. And yeah, I brought him in, I showed him what we were doing, showed him the story and he liked it a lot. So he’s doing a little bit of work for me. He’s been doing some murals, big murals, which we’ll see in almost one of the first chambers we encounter when we land where we’re gonna go.
EGE: The tone of the film, according to the official synopsis, and the tone of the premise, sounds a lot more mythological than the original Alien films. The original Alien films revolved around industrial settings and premises and social situations rather than anything mythological.
RS: The original Alien was a pretty savage engine. I’ve always said it was a C-movie done in an A-way. Because it was the Old Dark House, you know. Seven people in the Old Dark House, and they’re all going to die. (He laughs) And they’re gonna die horribly and that in itself is a tricky exercise, because you can do it well, you can do it badly. But somehow that worked. It turned out pretty well.
I think one of the reasons why I’ve never gone back to science-fiction, even though I’ve often noodled around, thought about it, looked for story, looked for material, is that there’s a nice purity to the original Alien. It’s fairly pure. And this one does actually raise all kinds of other questions, because if someone could, a being, could be as monstrously clever to create something like we experienced in the very first one – I always figured it’s a weapon, and I always figured that [the ship in the first Alien] was a carrier of weapons. Therefore, who is that, inside that suit? That wasn’t a skeleton, that was a suit. And if you open up the suit, what do you get inside it? And why were they going, where were they going?
Also, I ring off of… there’s a writer, Erich von Däniken. One of his most famous books was called Chariots of the Gods. Everyone thinks he was out of his mind, you know, for number one, “we are the creation of gods”, if you go back to the 19th century anthropologists, Darwin, and say if you go look at Darwin for the moment and look at the Darwinian idea, the Darwinian thesis, which is seemingly very logical. You know, you’re going from something that gradually comes to two legs and gradually here we are. Then you can go beyond that and you look more mathematically at the feasibility of how we’re able to be sitting here, right now, in this place. I’m talking to you, and I’ve got this thing (he picks up his cellphone) which looks like Star Trek. This is “Beam me up, Scotty”-stuff. You wouldn’t have believed this thing could exist thirty years ago.
[Editor's note: And here is where he really takes off:]
Things have changed so dramatically that you can start looking at the idea that all our history can be completely wrong and misguided. Because at some point someone has to put a statement down and have their own thesis, have their own theories. That was then later accepted or later is gradually dissolved and re-drawn or reworked. So now you’ve got the whole changed attitude with NASA, the church and I think even Hawking. Over the last thirty years have gone from “It’s highly unlikely that there’s anyone else in our galaxy, any other force, being in our galaxy,” to now, where they’re conceding that there are probably thousands of different lifeforms in this galaxy. And I think Hawking actually said, “Let’s hope they don’t visit.” And I think the church has conceded as well that it would not be against the word of God if we conceded that there are other lifeforms in this galaxy.
So, if you take that out, then the door is open. To me, it’s entirely logical. It’s entirely ridiculous to believe that we are the only ones here. That’s why my first thought is that for us to be sitting here right now is actually mathematically impossible without a lot of assistance. Who assisted? Who made the right decisions? Who was pushing and pulling to adjust us? That’s a fair question.
EGE: Prometheus has the Brandywine production tag on it [a Production slate only used for Alien films since 1979] Do you feel any pressure going back to that world?
RS: No. Not at all, really. I had a good time making it. They gave me an opportunity to make it. I’d only done The Duellists at that point which was actually a pretty good film. Then someone had bizarrely seen it at Cannes and thought, “I wonder if he wants to do science-fiction,” which couldn’t be more different. I read it and thought, “Wow! This is fantastic,” because at that moment I was engaged in a lot of, I was reading a lot Jean Giraud’s “Moebius” stuff. The great French illustrator, beyond everything. I’d been looking at him just with the view to, you know, one day I wanted to do science-fiction. I’d seen Stanley Kubrick’s 2001 and that for me was certainly a door opening. You go, “Wow, that works,” and what am I gonna do?
So, I happened to be looking at Moebius’ stuff, just out of interest, because I’m a really… I can really draw and paint. I was really influenced by what I saw, but didn’t know where to apply it. When I read the Alien script, I just saw Moebius all the way, and I said, “I’ll do it! I know how to do it!” I was in Hollywood, and we sat for 22 hours straight. “Do you want to change it?” – “Nope.” – “What do you want to do?” – “Shoot it.” That was it. Bingo. People were saying, “Let’s rewrite the third act, that is a disaster.” I said, “I’ll do it.” Once you’re doing it, you can adjust it.
EGE: Do you see Noomi [Rapace] as something of a successor to Sigourney?
RS: Yeah, I mean, they’re quite different women. Sigourney, to start with, is 6’1’’ in stocking feet, and Noomi insists that she is 5’1’’ in stocking feet. (He laughs) I look at a lot of foreign movies, and unfortunately a lot of mainstream movies aren’t terribly good. You know. (He laughs)
The most influential for me are the new ones around the corner, and I look at a lot of foreign films and a lot of Scandinavian films. The Scandinavians have a very good touch for making movies, you guys (Icelanders) as well. I saw Dragon Tattoo a year ago, the first one. And, “Wow, who is that?” and from that I said, “This is the girl that’s going to do the film.” She came to L.A. and I met with her, and discovered that she’s in fact extraordinarily posh, as opposed to punk. So there was a real actress. A real actress, very, very good. So, I don’t know, she will just do great.
EGE: She has this same fire that Sigourney brought, as well.
RS: I would say that Noomi’s even more volatile and passionate. And sure, she looks good. But the combination of that and intelligence is a great combination.
EGE: Final question. I have a feeling what the answer will be, but many want to know. Will we see the original xenomorph in Prometheus?
RS: No. Absolutely not. They squeezed it dry. He (the xenomorph) did very well. (He laughs) He survived, he’s now in Disneyland in Orlando, and no way am I going back there. How did he end up in Disneyland? I saw him in Disneyland, Jesus Christ!
We will continue to follow Prometheus’ process closely and bring you news as early as we can, all the way up to its highly anticipated premiere next June.
- New Prometheus Poster – Plus: Ridley Scott Ponders the Origin of Man (filmophilia.com)
- New Stills From Prometheus – UPDATED (filmophilia.com)