Alien: Covenant Set Visit - Michael Fassbender & Billy Crudup Talk Androids & Antagonists

– by LRM

Written by Fernando Esquivel

Bound for a remote planet on the far side of the galaxy, members of the colony ship Covenant discover what they think to be an uncharted paradise. While there, they meet David (Michael Fassbender) the synthetic survivor of the doomed Prometheus expedition. The mysterious world soon turns dark and dangerous when a hostile alien life form forces the crew into a deadly fight for survival. 

Michael Fassbender returns in Alien: Covenant as David and has also acquired a new role as Walter, another android. New to the franchise is Billy Crudup, the film's antagonist. We spoke to both of them about their roles, their conflicts and how its is to play two characters in the film.

Michael, you’re playing two distinct characters in this film. Is it almost like doing two movies at once?

Michael Fassbender: Not really. Just different costumes. [Laughs.] It’s pretty straightforward in the fact that Walter is very much a synthetic minus any of the human traits. So when the David 8’s came out, there was a resistance from people to that model. Because it freaked them out a little bit. Because he was demonstrating a lot of human qualities, and his programming was veering towards human characteristics, like ego and vanity and pride. They found that to be not so much useful as opposed to making people uncomfortable, so they designed the following models with fewer of those human traits. Well, none of them really. So Walter is just a very straightforward, logical synthetic really. He’s more like a Leonard Nimoy/Mr. Spock type character. Whereas David is…it’s been ten years since we last saw him, without any maintenance. So those human qualities have sort of gathered momentum a little bit, I suppose. They’re as much a part of him now as his synthetic qualities. But Walter’s just really there to serve the ship, and its crew.

Now that David’s been on his own, how does that change him as a character?

Michael Fassbender: Well, we sort of saw in Prometheus the concept of David witnessing Weyland meeting his creator, and so David was in some respects, as Peter Weyland was, in awe of his creator. Until you see the fallacies of your creator, and how mortal they can be. I think he’s moved on, I think it would be fair to say. [Laughs.]

Billy an you tell us a bit about your character?

Billy Crudup: I play Christopher Oram, who is the first mate and chief science officer aboard the Covenant, which is a ship designed to colonize a new planet. When I first auditioned for this, the script that I read, he was sort of an antagonist. And I was like, "Well, I'm  not so interested in playing him like that." I'd rather play him as someone who really thinks he's doing a great job, and he's so focused on that that he's doing a horrible job of socializing and a horrible job of leading, but it's not because he's a shitty guy and it's not because he's nefarious or something. I've been given the opportunity to play those types of characters, and I find I have a real appetite for it right now. So I hope I get to keep doing it. Listen, I would love to play the hero some point too. 

What kind of relationship does your character have with Daniels (Katherine Waterston)?

Crudup: They have a rather contentious relationship, I think in part because it's a long training process for any crew that goes into this and during that period you get to know each other pretty intensely, and Oram is a complicated person. He's someone who struggles with his ideas of faith as a man of science as well and I think that complication alienates him from people. He's a very serious-minded person as well. Doesn't have a great sense of humor. I think Katherine and her husband -- they're secularists, and they're adventurers in a way. Most people who would be cut out for this job are pioneers in one way or another. Some people do it with this sort of religious fervor some people do it for the joy of exploration, and some people do it out of curiosity, I think, to discover more about themselves and the universe. I think for Oram this is not a lark at all. This is an act of providence. He feels as though he has a very strong sense of why he's a part of this mission.

Does he have the conflict internally?

CrudupP: Internally, absolutely, and he shares it with his wife primarily. And she has an appreciation for that struggle, and she knows that he's ultimately a big hearted person who wants to live an authentic life in the real world and do something important, regardless of what those motivations are or the ideologies behind those motivations are, I think she believes and trusts that he is a good man.

In "Alien," they still haven’t perfected the androids. What are some of the drawbacks that Walter has?

Fassbender: I don’t think he really has any, to be honest. Like I said, he’s like a very efficient butler/bodyguard/technician. He’s just solely there for the purpose of the ship and the crew. So there’s no complications in his programming, not like anything we’ve seen in the previous Alien films. I suppose he’s more like Bishop in Aliens. But with even less of those human traits. But he would be more along that line than Ian Holm’s character for sure.

When you were making "Prometheus" did you have any ideas about how David would progress in potential sequels?

Fassbender: [Director] Ridley [Scott] and I have met several times since shooting Prometheus, and we talked about this film. But never — for some reason, which is kind of odd — really discussed that much about the evolution of David. I just got the script and it was all there really. So I can’t take any credit on that front. [Laughs.]

So Walter back then was not even in play?

Michael Fassbender: That’s right, yeah. Fairly early on Ridley had sort of said that he was planning to have two synthetics. So I did know that quite a while ago actually.

Katherine [Waterston] says [her character] Daniels perceives [Walter] as a friend. What’s Walter’s concept of her?

Michael Fassbender: He doesn’t have one. He’s just there to serve her. She might invest whatever she does as a human being in him…but I always thought about the Spock character. He doesn’t have that emotional involvement. He can appreciate it I suppose, but it just doesn’t really come into his world of thinking. I guess with the Ian Holm character in Alien he was programmed to do what he was gonna do as well, which was essentially bring back that Alien lifeform. So that was a very specific programming on his part.

Billy, is Oram generally disliked in the science team or is it just Daniels in particular?

Crudup: The problem with Daniels and her partner is that he's the captain. And he's also younger than me, and I've been a part of this program for some time and then in the system for some time. I think Oram had the expectation that he would be in charge of this mission and that in fact his faith, or his struggle with his faith, was an impediment to him ascending. So I think that's the source of the conflict in addition to him being very self-serious and them being normal. 
He's personally offended at the idea that someone with any kind of belief system can't make a ration decision based upon quantifiable data. I think for him, it's easy. For other people, they worry that acts of providence their minds, that he thinks he's supposed to be here, that these are all signs, that he can't just step back as captain and say "This is the right choice for us to make," to be a rational calm, collected leader. I think he takes great offense to that internally and suffers because of it. I think that's part of the conflict between the two of them. And she's a jerk.

If he's a believer in things that are meant to be, what's his attitude toward new life forms?

Crudup: My suspicion, were it not the life forms he encountered here, he would be quite thrilled at the breadth of god's creation. I don't think that he thinks there's anything special about humanity. I don't think he follows the dictates of human religion in that way. But I do think he thinks that we are examples of the glory of the universe, which is a direct expression of God. So I think any kind of being, any phenomenon, is worth exploring and celebrating. I think that's probably some of his curiosity in being part of the life science as well. There's something deeply precious about life to him. I think he's confused about souls; whether things have a soul, whether he has a soul. So in meeting another life form, I don't think that would be an issue to him. I think it would be exhilarating that there would be another -- I think he wants to discover this kind of stuff because I think he knows at the end of the road is God. There's just no way you can't trace it back to that. So everything else is a part of its creation.

Ten years have passed between "Prometheus" and this film. Michael how much do you know about what’s been going on with David?

Fassbender: Well, it’s referenced in the film. You have an idea. It doesn’t go into detail like “Day 1” — he doesn’t have his calendar or anything. But obviously I fill in those things just like I’d do with any other character. What happens before we see them in the story that we’re watching. So, like I said, there’s a lot of information there that’s given, and there’s a lot of visual things to fill in those gaps if you will. So that was definitely helpful for me, in terms of what has been occupying his time. Those traits that we saw in Prometheus, his appreciation of beauty and nature, that’s all relevant.

We saw the concept art… Is David studying the Engineers and their history?

Fassbender: He’s the kind of guy that likes to keep himself busy I suppose, and believes that idle hands are the devil’s work. But like I said his interest in the way things work, his interest in creation, we could see that in Prometheus. “These guys created humans, humans created us.” This idea of creation and life and nature and art… There’s this sort of artist in there somewhere, there’s definitely an ego in there; we saw that before. So again these are very human things. I suppose he’s on this planet and — like a human — [thinking,] “Why do we do all this?” We want to leave something of us behind after we go. There’s a legacy of some sort that we’ve left behind.

Billy, does your character get on well with Walter?

Crudup: Well, he thinks of Walter as a tool.

So Daniels is a jerk and Walter's a tool?

Crudup: I'm just telling you what I read in the breakdown. That's what it said when I read the script.

So Michael do you wear a green spandex body suit?

Fassbender: No, that was what it was like on the last one. But for this one I just kind of wore a black T-shirt, and just had the markings of where the head came loose.

You’re often lauded for your physicality as an an actor, and you’ve said you modeled the way David carries himself on the diver Greg Louganis. But what struck me is there’s a lilt and cadence to his voice. How did you develop it?

Fassbender: I don’t know really. I just watched a lot of Lawrence of Arabia, because he was into that, and so I just kind of worked on that tone. That again will be the same in this film. I wanted to keep that consistency through there. So there is that relatable character from the previous film. And to sort of imagine I suppose that it fit quite nicely for the idea of a synthetic voice; I was listening to HAL as well. Then I watched Blade Runner, and I did think about Ian Holm, and how they were very naturalistic sort of robots. Bishop as well. But I wanted to make it very clear that it was a robot from the get go in Prometheus. And it’s the same in this. So there is a sort of distinction between  that synthetic and the humans on board the ship.

Is there a way in which he becomes more human, in terms of levels of rage or…?

Fassbender: Yeah, more human. Engaged in all sorts of human characteristics — insecurity, ego. Rage might come out of an insecurity. I don’t know if just rage on its own is an emotion. So playing those kinds of things is kind of tricky. But things like pride can be played, envy — we saw a bit of that with Logan Marshall-Green’s character in the last one. I suppose he likes to feel important. Pride, it comes back to that I suppose. So it’s just all a mix of those things, and they definitely are more prominent in him through the years, as time has passed.

Alien: Covenant is in theaters May 19th

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