One of the most anticipated movies of the summer is Prometheus, Director Ridley Scott’s return to the genre of science fiction. After directing the two blockbusters that made his name a household word, Alien and Blade Runner, Scott hasn’t made another science fiction movie for 30 years. In fact, Prometheus began as a prequel to Alien, until Scott hired screenwriter Damon Lindelof to convert it into an entirely original film.
“I never met him before, but obviously I was a massive fan of his work and I was sort of trembling when he called me on the phone,” Lindelof said. “He said he was going to send me a script and that script was written by a guy named John Spaihts. I think it had a lot of cool, really cool, ideas in it, but it was most definitely an Alien prequel. I think Ridley really wanted to push the movie into original territory. One of the pitfalls of a prequel is if you don’t handle it right, the audience kind of knows what’s coming because they’ve seen the sequel. They’ve seen the original movie.”
Lindelof continued, “He was also driven by bigger thematic ideas about what this movie could be about. We started having conversations and as a result of those conversations we worked very closely together for a couple of months, rewriting the script until he was satisfied that it felt like it was its own movie.”
When Scott first began thinking about revisiting the world of Alien, he went all the way back to his own original movie. There were three sequels, and two Alien Vs. Predator spinoffs, but what made Scott want to go back to science fiction was Alien.
“I sat thinking about the franchise which now has died on the road somewhere way back, and is lying in the dust,” Scott said. “I thought what I should do is go back. In the first Alien, when John Hurt climbed up and looked over the top of the rise and said the immortal lines, ‘Good God, what is this?’ That’s a joke but what we saw was appropriate for a ‘Good God’ because it was a massive giant lying in a chair. The chair was either a form of engine or some piece of technology, and I always thought, ‘No one has ever asked who it was?’”
Now Prometheus is about a spaceship crew who discover the origins of mankind, and find that the discovery comes with deadly peril. Prometheus has been the name of several stories about the dangers that accompanied mankind’s origins. The Greek Prometheus gave man fire, and was punished for having done so by Zeus, who bound him to a mountaintop and having his liver pecked out by an eagle each and every day for all eternity. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein was also called “The Modern Prometheus.” In this film, Prometheus is the name of the space ship. But why?
The filmmakers are being mysterious on purpose. “By calling it Prometheus we’re certainly not doing anybody any favors,” Lindelof said. “It’s a slightly headier and pretentious title potentially.”
Charlize Theron stars as Meredith Vickers, who is the head of the Weyland Corporation, the company sending the Prometheus crew on their mission. Lindelof said her character was significantly expanded in the rewrite.
“I thought there was great potential to explore the themes that the movie was already exploring, but through the eyes of a character that was so different from everybody else who’s on this mission,” Theron said. “These scientists are going out there, one’s a believer, one isn’t. But you play on all these themes, and experience all that stuff from the point of view of somebody who comes from a much more cold, economic business ‘suit’ sense of it. We then explored, when Damon and I spoke, to explore how to make her more layered. That was when I really got excited.”
So, “you’re two months away from shooting and you get on the phone with the writer. You’re just batshit crazy going, ‘I don’t know but what if?’ You’re throwing these crazy ideas at someone who you admire. A week and a half later I got this draft and I was like ‘wow, it’s really flattering.’ I was really excited to be partners with Ridley, and to go and do this.”
The rest of the cast includes Noomi Rapace, Michael Fassbender, Guy Pearce and Idris Elba. They are all feeling the magnitude of everything attached to Prometheus.
“Everyone is very excited about this,” Pearce said. “There’s extra weight added to that movie because everybody has such an expectation. It’s an interesting thing to be part of, obviously because of Ridley and because of Ridley’s history with the other films. I’m just going, ‘Whoa, this is a big beast to be attached to.’”
It was only the second American film Rapace had been a part of. She became famous as the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo in the Swedish language movie. Her first Hollywood movie was Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shaows and then she went right into Prometheus.
“I’ve heard that [on big movies] you’re waiting around and you sit in your trailer and wait, then you go in and do something and then you go back to your trailer and wait,” Rapace said. “I don’t remember waiting at all. It was a really intense year and now I’m here. What hit me was at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you are an actor from China or from LA, or if you are a director from London or from Sweden. What we always need to do is to bring life to characters and to bring life to stories. Then it doesn’t really matter if you’re a big star or not, or if you’re completely unknown.”
In the film though, Vickers is in charge. Theron has played a number of powerful characters in her career, but playing one on a Ridley Scott spaceship has additional meaning. Alien introduced the original powerful woman of cinema, Sigourney Weaver’s character Ellen Ripley.
“Ripley is like the classic, right?” Theron said. “[When I] saw that, I was like ‘yeah, it’s time to dance’. I do think that Ridley was the first person to take full advantage of how you could explore not only that genre but themes that I think mostly men in cinema had been allowed to explore. The great thing about him is, I think it lives under his skin. He naturally carries that. After we’d talked about doing a rewrite on the role, and you throw all those layers in, the way he shoots women, he’s constantly layering, he’s constantly adding. It’s a pretty special thing for a male director to do, to have that awareness constantly, like how can you elevate this every single day, even if it’s not on the page? I think he has that innately in him because I think he feels that way about women. He likes those kind of women.”
Meredith Vickers is not the new Ripley though. Ripley was a blue collar worker on a towing space ship. She only became the hero because she had to escape the alien her ship picked up. Vickers is more of a corporate character.
“She is really the suit,” Theron said. “She runs the company that’s put this whole thing together. We’re talking about a lot of money. The first conversation I had with Ridley, he always brings it back and grounds it to reality, to all these tycoons, some of whom are in trouble right now. Not gonna say any names.”
Theron’s inspiration came from real life women in corporate families like the Trumps. Observing the Trump empire, Theron found the power a woman like Vickers could exhibit.
“I watch the Trump family for instance,” Theron said. “I don’t know them but I know Ivanka Trump, she’s running that sh*t. Women who come from that environment tend to do really well. There’s something about a girl being in the shadow of her father. There are interesting things to play upon if you’re creating this woman who comes from incredible strength and just has real balls.”
Inhabiting that skin for several months, let alone those suits, rubbed off on Theron. “I don’t ever set out to play a character with strength. I try to find the circumstance and be as honest as I can with the circumstance. There’s nothing faker than stepping in the wardrobe and the shoes of a character that doesn’t authentically own those characteristics. Once we understood the world, where we wanted to go with her, what we wanted to explore with her, then that seeps in. All of a sudden you put that suit on and it’s like ‘yeah, I want to order somebody around.’ You just find it.”
Then there’s all the spaceship and monster stuff. Movies are all about playing pretend, but a Ridley Scott movie is a real as it can be. Theron expected her science fiction foray to be a computer graphics heavy affair. She was surprised and impressed to play in all the real sets built by Ridley Scott’s production team.
“I was working for three weeks and was like ‘where’s the green screen?’” she said. “[Scott]’s like, ‘I’m not doing green screen.’ Everything was built and if it wasn’t built, if you were looking out a window of a ship, he would have computerized it and done this CGI imaging that would play the scene for you of what was happening outside. It grounds everything so much for actors. It’s all there so it’s all physically being lit.”
The film is Scott’s first 3D film as well, so the audience will see the world he built in real space through their 3D glasses. When he visited the set, Lindelof saw the world he wrote come to life.
“I’ve never been on the set of a movie shooting in 3D before,” Lindelof said. You walk in, you get a pair of glasses and you can see the shot. You suddenly understand that even on the production design level, they actually designed this movie for 3D. Ridley is a shot maker. He makes beautiful art. Any movie that’s going to be in 3D has to be able to answer the question, can you justify this being in 3D? Why should it be in 3D? The answer to that question for Prometheus is it creates a very immersive environment. The idea that you’re in sometimes very confined spaces, sometimes incredibly wide open spaces but the only way to really trick your brain into feeling that you’re in the movie going through these experiences with these characters is that the 3D brings you into that immersive environment.”
Prometheus opens Friday, June 8. And we cannot wait!