[Warning: SPOILERS for Alien: Covenant ahead.]
Alien: Covenant stars Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, and Jussie Smollett discuss joining the beloved sci-fi/horror franchise and working with director Ridley Scott. The Alien series originally kicked off with Scott’s 1979 film, which has since become a classic in both the sci-fi and horror genres. It inspired a nearly four decades long franchise that includes three sequels, two spinoff crossovers with the Predator series, and now two prequels. Scott returned to the Alien universe with Prometheus in 2012 and its follow up Alien: Covenant now arriving in theaters; the director has one or two more Alien prequels planned to bring the franchise full circle.
For its part, Alien: Covenant helps to bridge some of the gap between Prometheus and Alien, following the crew of a colony ship called the Covenant that lands on a mysterious alien planet with the hope of colonizing it. However, they quickly discover the planet isn’t the paradise they hoped it would be and are faced with horrific creatures that fans of Alien will undoubtedly recognize.
In an interview with Screen Rant, Alien: Covenant stars Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, and Jussie Smollett – who play the pilot Tennessee, first mate Oram and crew member Ricks, respectively – discuss joining Scott’s long-running franchise, working with the director, and try to explain certain baffling choices some of the characters make.
So what was it like joining such a massive franchise?
Crudup: Alien and Aliens were a formative part of my youth. I’ve got two brothers and going to movies, that was a part of our life so it’s woven into how I grew up. I can remember the time when Aliens came out, how we were anticipating it after the trauma of Alien. You don’t imagine when you become an actor that you’re going to get to be a part of stuff that was a part of your own history. So it’s kinda hard to process it really. Also it’s just a kickass job to have with great people and a phenomenal director. I’m glad I’m old enough now to appreciate what a badass experience it is because it doesn’t happen very often.
McBride: My first job I ever had was working at an amusement park and I used to love that amusement park. Then I got a job there and I hated the amusement park after that. So, when you get offered something like this – I love the Alien films – so the first thing is you’re very excited to be offered it, but then you’re like, ‘F–––, I hope that this doesn’t ruin them for me, or I hope I don’t ruin the movies for myself.’ So you’re kind of dealing with those two things, but Ridley is inviting you to come into this and he gives you a sense of confidence like, ‘Alright, well if he thinks this will work then I’m just going to trust him.’ I usually can’t even watch stuff that I’m in because I can’t take the ride, but this I’m still able to sit there and watch it and be pulled into what’s happening and still look away – when Billy looks into the egg, it works.
Crudup: It’s a reasonable thing to look into an egg! Eggs are filled with wonder, it’s birth…
McBride: Everyone collectively in the theater is like, ‘No! Come on!’
Smollett: You’re going to seriously tell me your character never saw the Alien films to know that you don’t–
Crudup: This is an alternate future, OK?
McBride: No, they still had them, I was going off that those movies existed.
Crudup: And as a person of faith, he never saw movies, he wasn’t allowed to go to the theater.
I’m curious what you guys thought of the twist at the ending.
McBride: It’s so brutal, isn’t it? I love it. It really makes the whole movie for me, I think it’s so vicious. It’s awesome.
Crudup: It’s intimidating, it makes me want to come back for some more – especially to see ol’ [Tennessee get killed]. I hope it’s disgusting. [Laughs]
Billy and Jussie, you guys have some pretty horrific death scenes, what was it like shooting those?
Crudup: Well I have to say, sometimes it can get a little tedious just sitting around talking about your feelings, which is most of the movies I do. So when you get to have something explode out of you, and you get back to the bloody gore of playing around it’s pretty great – a pretty great deal. I was happy as hell, I was like, ‘Yeah, man, pour some more blood in there.’
Smollett: For me it was more about the shower scene and I spent all this damn time not eating and working out and then I see it and I was like, ‘Well s–––, they didn’t even show my stomach.’ Then my mom called me up, because she saw the trailer and she’s like, ‘Jussie is that your bare ass in the trailer?’ Because that scene is in the trailer, but it’s not in the movie; the ass is nowhere in the movie but it’s in the trailer. And I was like, ‘Yeah, mommy, I’m sorry.’ She’s like, ‘Oh I’ve seen your ass a million times, but it’s just they put it in the movie.’ Yeah, so we worked really hard on that scene, I mean I just had to [mimics death and falling] and that’s it.
McBride: That was a pretty gnarly death, it was pretty amazing.
Yeah, that was the one that got the gasp out of me.
Smollett: Well, first of all if you’re ever in any film that’s sci-fi or horror you should know never to shower.
Crudup: Or go in the basement, or the garage.
McBride: Don’t say, ‘I’ll be right back’
Smollett: Or look in an egg!
Or go to an alien planet…
Crudup: Or go to another planet that looks too good to be true.
So anything else that didn’t make it into the movie that you guys shot?
Crudup: Well we had a dance sequence, the two of us.
McBride: Yeah, it was a dance off, it was us and a Xenomorph and we just kind of mimicked each other.
Crudup: Yeah because Walter had said, ‘I discovered if you breath into its nose, you can manipulate it,’ so we try to manipulate it into a dance off. That didn’t make the cut.
What was it like working with the people bringing creatures like the Xenomorphs to life on set?
Smollett: There was a seven foot dude [in a costume]…
Crudup: Who was a contortionist, too. He could move in the most alien way.
McBride: And it was creepy. They would let him onto the set and he would come pursuing you, it was like, ‘Oh I don’t have to leave much to the imagination, this is pretty scary.’
Crudup: He stayed in character, too. If you tried to say, ‘Oh man, is it hot in there?’
McBride: He would hiss.
And what was it like working with Ridley Scott?
McBride: Yeah, it was incredible. You see something and you have no idea what the vibe on the set will be, ‘Is it going to be something where everyone is very serious and quiet because people are being murdered in this and we have to be respectful?’ Then you get there, and he keeps things very light, he keeps things fun. Despite all the horrible stuff happening on screen, you’re still able to laugh and appreciate it, which was good.
Crudup: Yeah, he’s got a great sense of humor and he’s like a relentless worker, so he can’t wait to get there and get started in the day and he just doesn’t quit, the entire day.
What do you guys hope to see in the next movie. Danny, are you coming back?
McBride: I don’t think the track record is too good for people who get into those sleep pods. Ask Newt. Regardless of what happens, I can’t wait to see where he’s taking it all, I mean he definitely has a plan and I think from Prometheus to this, you can really start to see that road map start to unfold. I mean he definitely has some more twists and turns up his sleeve for where this franchise is going. I think it’ll be exciting to see him complete it.
Crudup: If these two aren’t in it, I got no more interest in it. So I’ll wait until I see the final cut, and then I’ll decide. [Laughs]
I have to ask about James Franco’s role, because that drew a reaction in my theater when I saw it. So what was it like having him on set – how long was he on set for?
McBride: Like 10 minutes. I think he spent more time on the plane, flying to Australia.
Smollett: Everything was so secretive too, because I didn’t know. I came in late, and they had already been in New Zealand, but I walk on set one day and I’m like, ‘What the f––– is James Franco here for? That’s amazing! Why the f––– is James Franco here?’ And then they’re like, ‘Uh he’s in the movie.’ ‘Since when? Who the f––– is James Franco playing? There’s no more room for another person on this ship!’ And then they’re like, ‘No, he’s the captain.’ I was like, ‘No, Billy’s the captain!’
Crudup: And then Ridley’s like, ‘Not yet. Watch, we’re going to kill him.’