So how did you flesh out your version of the script with Ridley?
What happened was, I sat in a room with Ridley Scott for five days a week for three- or four-hour sessions and asked him a series of questions like an investigative journalist in an attempt to understand what exactly the movie he wanted to make was, what he wanted it to be about, what he wanted the characters to be looking for, what did he want to get out of the set pieces, is it going to be heady or scary or both? Who did he see being the audience proxy? And when I finished that project, I went off and wrote. You just listen to what they say and you write it down. That’s the way it is in movies, especially with visionary directors like Ridley.
And then how long did you sit down and write?
We met all through July and into the beginning of August. And then I turned in my first draft in mid-September. So it took me four or five weeks to write my first draft.
So the original script was more of an Alien prequel than yours?
Yes. The job that I was hired to do was to scale back the familiar tropes or symbology of what we think of when we think of an Alien movie. When I say Alien to you, you think face-hugger, chest-burster, eggs, acid blood, queen — the concentration of those things was much higher in Jon’s script than they are in Prometheus.
Let me just come out and ask on the record — Is this an Alien prequel?
I do not want to be evasive, but I do have to challenge what you mean by that word. Because that word is a very recent thing. I hadn’t really heard the word “prequel” before Phantom Menace. If your definition is: this is a series of events that precedes an existing movie, then, yes. This series of events that happens in Prometheus precedes the series of events that occurs in Alien. However, one of the other definitions is that the ending of the prequel leads you right up to the beginning of the preceding movie. The Thing prequel ends with a dog running across the Arctic landscape being pursued by a helicopter….
Okay, so this doesn’t lead to the first scene of Alien, but it does take place before Alien in the same world as Alien?
Thank you. I’ve interviewed Ridley four times about this movie now and every time I get a different answer. How do you feel about all of the speculation about the film on the internet? Does it help the movie or hurt the movie?
I usually just put myself in the position of, let’s say I had nothing to do with this movie, and I was one of the people on the internet who was really curious about what it was, my feeling would be — and this is just me — to hear that it’s a prequel, makes the movie less interesting to me than if I don’t really have a clear sense of what it is. And I anticipated that at a certain point the fact that we weren’t openly addressing that question — or being cagey about that question — would lead to a certain degree of frustration, because that’s what I would be feeling as a fan. That’s when Ridley thought that it would be cool that in the teaser he’d have the word “Prometheus” reveal itself exactly the way the title Alien revealed itself in the original trailer for Alien. This is him saying, I’m making this choice for a very specific reason. If you want to continue asking me what this movie’s relationship is with Alien, why in God’s name do you think I would do that? The second thing is we wanted to generate viral content that starred and featured the characters from the movie. Let’s see if we can talk Guy Pearce and Michael Fassbender into doing some stuff that would speak very directly to the prequel issue. So I pitched the idea of the TED talk, which everybody was responsive to and Ridley was able to convince Guy to do. And that TED talk really speaks to the prequel question because it’s Peter Weyland! And Weyland is a name that is very familiar in all of the Alien movies. And we’re going to tell audiences that he is a part of Prometheus. So here’s another way we are showing them, as opposed to telling them, what the relationship between the two movies is. But hopefully with enough ambiguity that you’re generating some anticipation for what the movie is. And I will tell you, the hardest thing to do from the insides of these things is, you and I hate it when you sit in a movie theater and after the trailer, you say, I guess I feel like I just saw the whole movie! So you don’t want to do that. But at the same time, you don’t want to be so vague and precious and pretentious about what you’re working on that you build an expectation that you couldn’t possibly live up to. Everyone wants to know what the relationship is between this movie and Alien. And one could argue that we’ve set ourselves up for an inevitable disappointment. But look who you’re talking to right now. If there is anybody who is known for inevitable disappointment, it’s me. I’m Mr. Inevitable Disappointment!
When you were a kid, were you an Alien fan? Do you remember when you first saw it?
Yeah. I was born in 1973, so I did not see Alien when it was released theatrically. I saw Alien when it was on Home Box Office. I think I was probably 10. I was watching it for four or five minutes toward the end of the movie when Ripley is looking for her cat. I didn’t even know that there was an alien in play. And my dad caught me watching it and he turned off the TV and said, “Do not watch that movie — that movie is inappropriate!” He was upset. And as soon as I got the opportunity to watch it in its entirety, now that it had been stigmatized, I watched it. And I got to the point where the face-hugger bursts out of the egg and breaks through John Hurt’s faceplate and suddenly understood that my father was right. I did not continue beyond that point in the movie. I don’t think I watched the whole thing until I was 13 or 14 with my friends at a sleepover party at my friend Dave Spiegel’s. We watched the whole movie on VHS.
NEXT: Ridley Scott’s influence on science fiction