Legendary director Ridley Scott’s promise that Alien: Covenant will hark back to the original Alien with more horror, more gore and more scares was welcome news for lovers of the franchise, who were divided by the philosophically ambitious but much-criticized Prometheus. Due to hit screens May 19, this part two of a planned prequel quadrilogy will act as a bridge between Alien and Prometheus. Ten years after the doomed Prometheus expedition, the crew of colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet when its crew discovers a dark world whose only inhabitant is fastidious android David (Michael Fassbender). Here’s what we learned last summer on the Sydney set.
1. You’re going to get the aliens you wanted
Everyone guaranteed Alien: Covenant would go back to the soil-your-pants scares of the Alien franchise. And all signs from within the set’s creatures workshop, a grisly horror emporium of severed body parts, decapitated heads, latex masks and drooling aliens of various sizes and structures, pointed to this.
“I’ve used more blood on this than I did on Saving Private Ryan,” said creatures supervisor Conor O’Sullivan. “Ridley very much wanted the creatures to have a flavor of the original so we went back to the artwork and designs and worked from there. We’ve made 1,000 litres of red blood so I’m sure you can imagine what the film is going to be like. We’re trying to make it as realistic as possible, Ridley wants the shock factor so we’re going all out. I think it’ll have a similar impact to what the original Alien did. It’s a true horror movie.”
Said director Scott, “What is real tension, what is real fear? I thought I’d try and come back and see what I could do in terms of scares.”
2. There’s two times the Fassy
Michael Fassbender plays two different roles in Alien: Covenant: the robots Walter and David, or “synthetics,” as they’re known in the Alien universe. He explained, “Walter is very much a synthetic minus any of the human traits, whereas David is more human, more engaged in all sorts of human characteristics – insecurity, ego, rage.”
Working with an actor portraying a robot wasn’t so simple for Katherine Waterston, who plays Daniels, the ship’s third-in-command, “It’s surreal. I cannot forget that he’s a robot, I never feel like it’s Michael,” she said. “It’s the coolest thing I’ve ever seen. They’re totally going to steal my thunder, those two robots!”
3. The film features a same-sex couple
Damien Bechir and Nathaniel Dean play ship security and married couple Sergeant Lope and Officer Hallet. There won’t be a big deal made about the couple though, as Dean explained. “They’re two men who love each other and they just happen to be bad-ass soldiers… It’s not an italicized thing, it’s just normal.”
4. Danny McBride is everyone’s favorite
As you might predict, the world’s most beloved mullet-sporting comedian is as funny as you might imagine. Waterston told us, “There was one day when we had to get into spacesuits and look at each other in a certain way as we were preparing for something terrifying. He started to put his helmet on and something got caught. I looked at him all grave and serious but the helmet was just a little bit off and he suddenly just looked like he was in a sketch routine or something and I completely lost it.”
5. You may be seeing Shaw again
While on set we watched the filming of a key scene that included Waterston and Fassbender exploring the sleeping quarters of Prometheus-survivor Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace). Although the only evidence of her we got to see in the scene was a close-up of a dog tag with “Colonel Shaw” on it, Rapace was spotted in Sydney and spent a week on the Fox Studios lot filming.
Everyone on set was tight-lipped, but it looks like she’ll be back. In what capacity, we’ll have to wait and see.
6. The actors are Alien nerds
The cast all talked up how much they’d geeked out on the franchise before starting the shoot. “When you’re doing a sequel to something people really love it’s a huge pressure and big shoes to fill but also it’s really inspiring,” said Waterston. “Like all other fans, we steal from it [the original Alien] the bits that are really inspiring. A lot of the actors talked about that, we’re nerds.”
But role research wasn’t just about watching DVDs. Stuff also got real. “We did extensive training with a couple of guys who were former SAS,” said Dean. “Bloody hard regime, lots of bruises. We’ve got guns, pistols, fully loaded backpacks. It’s great as an actor because you have real, tactile things and you know how those things work. You kind of forget where the cameras are sometimes.”
7. The effects are so real they’re even a trip for the actors
Walking around the creatures’ room was surreal. There were savage-looking aliens of different shapes and sizes plus severed body parts and gore on tables, hanging from walls, on the floor – everywhere. But what made it really weird was how realistic everything looked — and felt. “I was being chased [by a man in a suit] and I was in a cumbersome outfit that made it hard to run. I really felt like maybe I couldn’t get away,” said Waterston. “There have been times when I’ve thought it was the actor in front of me and it was a beanbag body with a perfect face.”
“We can’t just be IT, that’s entirely ridiculous. And are we one of many? ‘Course we are – one of many, many variations of life.” — Ridley Scott
8. Faith is a central theme
Billy Crudup, who plays the ship’s Pentecostal chief science officer, Christopher Orum, finds himself as an outsider on the ship. “[For him] this is an act of providence and he has a very strong sense of why he’s a part of this mission. He probably believes that he’s an agent of God in some ways. But you know, when you talk like that all the time, you tend to put people off. You can be ostracized in the scientific community for feelings of faith.”
“Religion is always interesting because it’s the bottom line,” said Scott. “Whether you’re agnostic or not, you’re concerned with your end, and if you say you’re not, you’re a liar. I think there are alternative thoughts and ideas to support a superior entity – because we can’t just be it, that’s entirely ridiculous. And are we one of many? ‘Course we are – one of many, many variations of life.”
9. All the sets are real, purpose-built and to scale
The sets are breathtaking. The Hall of Heads, as seen in Prometheus, is made from concrete, with every detail carved into the floors and walls (which are 10 meters tall) — it’s incredible. And walking around full-scale, fully functioning areas of the spaceship from the Alien universe? A movie geek’s dream. When we entered the Covenant’s command center, it was goosebumps all over.
For the cast it’s a dream come true too. Said Dean, “Every single corner of that spaceship is playable — everything works. I’ve loved the craftsmanship, seeing the amazing work that the creatures’ department have made [that] goes with this incredible production design.”
10.Ridley Scott’s attention to detail is everything
Despite being 78 years old, 14-hour working days are the norm for him and absolutely nothing gets past him.
“His attention to detail is incredible. He brings up tiny little things from meetings we had months ago,” said Corbould, who has made six movies with Scott. “He remembers the stuff he did on Alien like it was yesterday… He challenges you.”
See new trailer and poster below. Alien: Covenant will be in wide release May 19.