Alien: Covenant Set Visit - Katherine Waterston & Demián Bichir On The Sci-Fi Film & Working With Ridley Scott
Written by Fernando Esquivel
Ridley Scott returns to the universe he created with Alien: Covenant a new chapter in his groundbreaking Alien franchise. The crew of the colony ship Covenant is bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy when they discover what they think is an uncharted paradise but it’s a dark and dangerous world. When they uncover a threat beyond their imagination they must attempt a harrowing escape.
Little known about the script and the plot of the film we spoke to Katherine Waterston who plays Daniels (a Ridley-type character) and Demián Bichir who plays sergeant Lope, who’s at the helm of the ship. Here is what they had to say about their characters, working in these large sets, working with Aliens and with Ridley Scott.
Can you guys describe who you play and what your character is going through?
Katherine Waterston: Daniels She’s the chief terraformist on this colonization mission. There’s a massive wing of the ship that’s dedicated to this machinery that we’ll need when we get to the planet. There’s green houses and farming equipment, I’m in charge of all that forwards and backwards and I’ve been working on it for ten years before we take off and we’ve been prepping for seven months up there and we’ve gone into a sleep cycle and the film starts and we’ve come out of it. We’ve all been prepping on it for a year so we all know each other.
I don’t think she thinks of herself as particularly special. She’s very smart, she’s good at her job, she likes her job and she’s a worker. The events of the film reveal parts of herself to herself she didn’t quite know she possessed, and that was really interesting to me. That’s the kind of thing that keeps me awake at night, what will you do in a crisis? Will you be the type of person to think clearly and make decisions quickly or do you fall apart, weep and then get a Xenomorph tail in your eye? I thought I saw that when I read that in the script, she doesn’t start walking around knowing she can kick ass. She starts to discover her strength and her courage as the circumstances that I can’t talk about present themselves.
I think because she doesn’t think of herself with the captain, she’s one of them. Like Ripley in the first Alien, she’s technically third in ranking and that changes as the film progresses.
On the one hand when you’re doing a sequel or a follow up to something that people love, you can think that that’s terrifying and a huge pressure and big shoes to fill. If you’re not kind of taking that negative view about it, you’re thinking okay there’s nothing that didn’t work. We don’t look at it and be like "what should we fucking avoid?" We think, "what did we love about this that like all the other fans really enjoyed about that, and how do we bring that to this and not just copy it?" I think all of the actors talked about that and you know we’re nerds.
Demián Bichir: I play sergeant Lope I am in charge of the military site of the expedition. He's an old school type of military and pretty much every military I know through out generations they're always trained like that. We are all couples on this ship, all kinds of couples even men and men. For me that's a beautiful side of the story when you can have these two almost iconic macho types being together and loving each other and being a part of keeping everyone alive. One of the main things that sergeant Lope knows is that there is a big chance we can all die, we won't make it. That we will perish before finding this new planet that we might colonize or not. He's a well trained military soldier, that's the first thing you need to know is that you might not make it, let alone years of sleeping in hyper space but just everyday. A lot of cops and military go out there with out knowing if they're going to make it back. That's what makes you stronger, that's what makes you braver and smarter and you will be awake because you're not afraid to die.
Michael Fassbender is not only playing a robot - but two robots at that. What’s that been like?
Waterston: It’s awesome. It’s really been so, so wildly fascinating to work with someone who’s playing a robot. I mean really, like kind of mind-blowing, it’s surreal and like nothing I’ve ever done before and probably won’t get to do again. Any interaction is met with something I’m not used to getting from another person. Human beings either engage by either paralleling or contrasting, and somehow neither are happening with him, it’s just surreal and makes my job really easy. I never forget that it’s a robot, I never feel like it’s Michael. What he’s doing is so powerful and so convincing, especially in the scenes where we’re not running from something and just talking because I never know what it’s going to feel like. Also to discover that on camera, what our relationship - because I am quite bonded to one of the characters he’s playing - and to try and figure out what it is to be bonded to a none human thing that looks like a human, and to figure out what that would be. I’m kind of getting the chance to time-travel to what my grandkids would experience and it’s really awesome, it’s really mind-blowing and really wild.
Katherine, what’s Walter and Daniels' relationship?
Waterston: Yes, we are friends and that’s why I said exploring that relationship is strange. Even now as I say, "we are friends," Daniels knows thats a ridiculous thing to say about a robot. And David, well uh...I meet him in the film. He’s new to me.
What’s Daniels' relationship with Danny McBride’s character?
Waterston: You can imagine it’s not that hard to feel close to Danny McBride. He’s actually quite moving in this film too, and so totally gifted. There was actually a day when we were in spacesuits and we’re both putting these helmets on which are totally functional and it clicks into place and twist it. So something got caught and I looked at him all serious and his helmet was just a little bit off and I completely lost it. He’s just lovely but he’s not a comic relief film, and that’s Ridley you know, he has this eye for casting. Some people that have smaller parts that just got cast from the tape are so complex and beautiful like these guys playing the soldiers. I’m almost 6ft tall and I feel actually safe around these dudes and they’re all so tender and soulful. When I looked at the picture of the whole cast, there’s a pattern. There’s this sick appeal about it because you know they’re not going to make it to the end and you want to be sad about it, like Harry Dean Stanton, you love him the second you see him so that when he dies it’s traumatic.
Demián, how does the relationship work, having a husband that has to take orders from you?
Bichir: One thing we do is thank our commanders because we are grateful to serve on this mission together given the fact that in the past he worked under my command as my subordinate. That can create a problem but not among us because we know who we are and we are trained for anything. We are basically trained to obey orders and obey ranks but that might raise some eyebrows. The fact that they thought it would be a good idea to be put together on the same team, we are just grateful for that. Before partners, before husband and before lovers we are professionals and we know we can't cross that line because that would be the difference between dead and alive. No one really crosses any line, the rest of the crew is also formed in couples and whatever happens in our cabins is private. Sorry I can not reveal any details about it.
What was the justification with making everyone couples on the ship?
Bichir: It's a Noah's Ark. We have a lab and many different species on board. This is about moving and when you move houses you make sure you bring your blender with you.
So there isn't that one person who is single?
Bichir: I'm sure there will be some casualties but I'm sure we will be many children uncles because we won't be able to have our own. Or maybe by the time we tell the story we can actually get pregnant. Please don't tell Ridley because he might bring it in on the script and I don't look good in a belly.
Sounding like this will definitely be a horror film, how does that work with the atmosphere on set?
Waterston: I think playing fear you have to conserve your energy. Someone said yesterday, I talk to you after a take and I can see you’re not there at all. The light switch goes off and it takes a lot of energy to amp yourself up that way. You know sometimes you hear a creak in your house and you can hear your heartbeat in your ears, but you can’t just generate those adrenal releases. It takes a lot of energy trying to conjure that stuff and that’s been an interesting process that I’ve dedicated myself to and that I’ve never done before. It’s legitimately freaky all of the stuff in this film, but then there’s these amazing moments where you’re sitting in your trailer and a dude from creatures walks by with your friends head and they’re so casual about it because they do it all day but your friends face is all contorted walking by.
How are you interacting with the creatures?
Waterston: Lots of different fellas in suits. Extraordinary movers and amazing stunt guys that Ridley uses just so we can have the feel for it when we’re not on camera at all, which can be weirdly amazing even if it’s a fellow with a beard and a grey sweatsuit or something, but he’s running at me. I’ve worked with lots of different Alien things -- one really scary thing was I was being chased by one and was in a really cumbersome outfit and it wasn’t easy the area I was running through. It really felt like I wasn’t going to get away fast enough and it’s just always better when it feels real. I hustled that day, for sure.
Creatures also includes all the amazing work they’ve done on the people that get attacked. There’s been times I thought it was the actor and it was a bean bag body with a perfect face, that actually was the most chilling thing, seeing your friends all damaged.
What's it like on these sets because they're very impressive?
Bichir: I just saw those sets this morning, when I've seen these films before as an audience I always say or think "Goddamn it I wish I could be in a film like that." When I saw Alien of course and then Prometheus and if you're going to be lucky to do some science fiction you better do it with the boss. So just stepping into those sets two hours ago, that was part of the dream come true. That's what happens when you work with a heavy weight like Ridley because he gathers the best talent in every department. It's very seldom that you are able to witness that so closely, everyone is on top of their game and it's a triple A team. We actors don't like to invent too much the closer to the real thing is a lot better, I would rather have this and go back home and see it there instead of having a fake mustache. So we can be doing all this on a blue screen or a green screen but just the fact that we are there helps greatly. So my part of the mission is to keep everyone safe and make sure everyone is protected. We don't know what we will find on this planet until we find it.
Can you talk a bit about working with Ridley Scott and how he's had an influence on you.
Bichir: This has happened to me with so many directors around the world. When I met Steven Soderberg and Oliver Stone and Quentin and now Ridley. I was already happy with the meeting we had, I was happy with the chat and to sit there and talk. Funny enough with all of them we ended up talking about many different things other then the film we wanted to make. It's fascinating how we ended up talking about life and sports and love. It comes down to one single thing and we are all the same, we are all human beings. We human beings are sensitive, we can step into a museum and get moved by a painting that's been there for centuries. It doesn't matter how bloody Quentin is he is a fucking poet. Ridley is another genius it's as simple as that whether people agree with me or not that's my own personal point of view. I remember exiting Ridley's office back in Los Angeles and saying "fuck, that was good." Then I remember, "oh fuck there's also a film going on, I have to be in that fucking film. I don't care if our conversation went well, I want to be on that ship." Then I got the call and I was really, really happy.
Were you taking any cues from what either Noomi or Sigourney?
Waterston: I don’t know about cues. I mean, I’d always been a fan and seen these films not knowing I’d be a part of it. On some level - this might sound like a little bit of stretch -- has influenced women in strong roles ever since. What Ridley did with that character and what she did playing the part, was really, I think ahead of the time but on the money as to what my perception what women are like. They’re just like men - they’re scared shitless sometimes, they’re courageous sometimes. This idea that gets banded about strong women - as opposed to what other women? You have to make a distinction? I don’t understand this. And also that it has to always be strong, as opposed to the non-strong character who sometimes has other experiences or emotions but when I saw Alien I thought that it was doing that and a lot of other people are doing that now and it really influenced the industry in a big way. I’ve probably been taking cues from her performance on and off screen my whole life, it’s just to me a very relatable, excellent depiction of a woman. But at the same time, I loved what Noomi did it was very different to what Sigourney did, I don’t think she felt any responsibility to be like Sigourney, and I don’t feel any responsibility to be like that. Some of the traits all these characters share but then there are some differences. We’re all different characters, all different people and bring something different to it.
Katherine does Daniels have the same moral quandary as Ripley did in Alien, because in that she was the only person who said no to letting this thing in and she was the only one that survived.
Katherine Waterston: I don’t know if it’s moral, it was do we or do we not let this thing on. I’ll say that in this she has really good instincts, like Ripley did.
Alien: Covenant is in theaters May 19th