This article contains Alien: Covenant spoilers.
When I meet Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, and Jussie Smollett for the first time—Alien: Covenant stars, all—the trio is noticeably jazzed and in a good mood. Just moments earlier, they were on the Good Morning America soundstage with the rest of the cast, and, as Crudup jokingly quips, “Assuredly sold tens of thousands of tickets.”
Obviously building a rapport after playing the prey of Ridley Scott’s most iconic science fiction creation, the deadly xenomorph, this caffeinated triumvirate is feeling more than a little alive. After all, they’re in an Alien movie, one directed by Ridley Scott no less. As it’s a franchise that meant something to all three of their childhoods, Scott pitching them the chance to be in the movie wasn’t exactly a hard sell. McBride even unconvincingly suggests that the filmmaker storyboarded the whole movie via shadow puppets.
“He can actually make a xenomorph shadow with his hands, which is crazy,” McBride insists. “He was able to make it look like it exploded, and it was pretty clear what he wanted from that presentation.”
But on a more serious note, Smollett did stress how much forethought went into the movie from the master director. For example, Smollett’s doomed Ricks (whose fate is revealed in the trailers) is not necessarily the largest role in the ensemble of Covenant crew members. Nevertheless, the Empire star shared with us how intricately researched and developed his alter-ego was for the picture.
“I don’t think people realize, also, that Ridley does a significant amount of personal drawings,” Smollett says. “So when I went into my very first fitting, Janty [Yates], our costume designer, she showed me a specific book, and it said ‘Ricks’ on it, and I still have that book. And it was all of these illustrations that Ridley had done, specifically for Ricks. I mean if he did it for Ricks, he had to do it for y’all’s characters.”
McBride likewise adds how striking it is to see Scott still excited at playing the filmmaking game 38 years after Alien and a full 40 years after his very first feature.
“He also just has so much enthusiasm for it still,” McBride marvels. “He’s been making movies for so long, and you can still see him get excited over a blood effect or the way a creature comes out and that’s pretty amazing that you wouldn’t be over this job, working as long as he has.”
This of course raises the question then if there was anything he left on the cutting room floor. Scott is infamous for having director’s cuts, several that are arguably the best of their kind (Blade Runner and Kingdom of Heaven, to be exact). Alien: Covenant also rather famously has had two prologues released on YouTube, the first is “The Last Supper,” directed by his son Luke Scott, and it features the entire cast of Covenant in a moment of happiness (unlike the actual film)—as well as one depicting Noomi Rapace’s Elizabeth Shaw in an extended cameo with Michael Fassbender’s David. But at least in regard to the scenes that went viral featuring the three actors speaking with Den of Geek, none of them were apparently intended to appear in the film.
“Those actually were written to be part of the marketing material, which I thought was pretty interesting,” McBride says. “We came in and shot them specifically for marketing. And weirdly, for as big as this movie is, I feel like the script is what’s onscreen. It’s not like you get there and you think, ‘Oh, there’s whole sections of the movie missing.’”
Crudup also adds that it is unique to see an old pro like Scott dive into the future of film marketing where everything points toward building buzz online.
“That’s the interesting thing too about someone who’s been a visionary doing this all the time,” Crudup reflects. “He’s interested in the changing concept of marketing and content, and where he can be effective to get the most people he can to see this movie.”
This notably includes getting them to see Crudup’s Capt. Oram being a man of faith—and faithful enough to willingly stick his head inside a leathery egg at the suggestion of Michael Fassbender’s David. Considering that Crudup got to be in one of those infamous “chestburster” scenes with his heart going pop, and Smollett’s character also faced oblivion when the Alien stepped into a shower with him and his onscreen wife, I had to know if any of them studied their own mangled corpses in the prop department.
After forcing us to pinky-swear not to mention any of this until after the weekend of release, Smollett concedes, “This is what I will say: We all had to have dummies made of ourselves. So seeing the dummies in full-form was freaky, because it was past anything I’d ever seen, even down to the follicle of chest hair, down to the birthmark on the tip of my nose. They got every single thing. The art department was unbelievably talented.”
During this answer, McBride also pulled out his phone and, for educational purposes, shared with us a picture he’d taken of Crudup’s dummy, face grimaced in horror after a wee xenomorph undoubtedly made a mess of his cardiovascular system.
Thus with two of their characters facing a grotesque fate, and the third’s survival not totally accounted for, it is an open question of where the three will land in Alien mythology’s legacy. Indeed, it’s been reported that Ridley Scott has created a Bible for the mythos of this franchise on Alien: Covenant, including where he’d like it to go next. So I had to know how they’d each like to see their characters canonized.
“The dopest pilot who’s ever been in an Alien film,” McBride laughs.
“Billy Dee Williams of the Covenant,” Smollett coolly smirks.
After a moment of pondering, Crudup’s own hesitation leads McBride to interject perhaps Capt. Oram should be storied in the legends as “old fuddy-duddy.” But Crudup shrugs off this suggestion.
Then, while suppressing a laugh, Crudup says, “The one who just gave it a shot? He did the best he could!”
McBride, perhaps thinking of that look of frozen, agonized terror on the Crudup dummy, adds, “He made some questionable choices.”
“There’s a reason why he was on second-string,” Crudup passionately retorts.
You can discover why for yourself as Alien: Covenant is in theaters now.