When Michael Fassbender talks about his experience reprising his role of David (and new character Walter) for director Ridley Scott’s forthcoming film Alien: Covenant, the sequel to Scott’s Prometheus (2012), Fassbender often stares into space as he comprises his answers, as if staring into the firmament of the planets David has traversed. There’s deliberateness to Fassbender’s responses and also ease. He knows this character like a constellation.
When we last saw David in Scott’s Prometheus, things weren’t looking too good for the android. His curiosity and charm got the better of him and he’d been reduced to a floating head that Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) lugged into an Engineer spacecraft, hurriedly escaping the terrors on moon LV-223. Now, in-between costume changes after shooting a scene on the 20th Century Fox Set in Sydney, Australia, Fassbender is just as composed as his doppelgänger, just as polite, and just as pithy. He also teases just how his David’s relationship has morphed with Shaw in the intervening years between Prometheus and Covenant.
Fassbender likewise reflects on his relationship with Katherine Waterson’s Daniels in the film, how he honed the colorless, yet charming voice of David, and how David would appreciate artwork from the likes of Michelangelo or Da Vinci.
Can you talk about the challenge of playing two distinct characters in this film as opposed to Prometheus? Is it almost like you’re doing two films at once?
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 came out, there was a resistance of people to that model because it freaked them out a little bit because he was demonstrating a lot of human qualities, his programming was veering towards human characteristics like ego, and vanity, and pride. And they found that to be not so much useful as making people uncomfortable, so they designed the following models with fewer of those human traits, or, well, none of them really.
So Walter is really just a very straightforward, logical synthetic really. He’s just more like a Dr. Spock type character, whereas David—it’s 10 years since we last saw him without any maintenance. So those human qualities have gathered some momentum I suppose or they’re as much a part of him now as synthetic qualities. Walter’s just really there to serve the ship and its crew.
David is kind of forced into a duplicitous role taking care of Weyland behind the scenes. Now that Weyland’s dead, and David’s been on his own, how does that change him as a character?
Well, we sort of saw this concept of David witnessing Weyland meeting his creator. So David was in some respect as Peter Weyland was: [Worshipping] his creator until you see the fallacies of your creator, and how mortal they can be. So I think he’s moved on.
As we see in Alien, they still haven’t perfected the androids yet. What are some of the drawbacks Walter has?
I don’t really think he has any to be honest. Like I say, I think he’s a very efficient butler/bodyguard/technician. He’s just there solely for the ship and the crew, so there’s no complications in his programming, not like anything we’ve seen in the previous Alien films as well. I suppose he’s more like Bishop. But again, with probably less of those human traits, but he would be more along that line than like the Ian Holm character.
What’s Walter’s concept of Daniels?
You know he doesn’t have one. He’s just there to serve her. She might invest whatever she does as a human being to him, but it’s like, for me, I always think of 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. And I guess with the Ian Holm character in Alien, he was programmed for what he was going to do, which was essentially to bring back that alien lifeform, so that was a very specific programming on his part.
When you were making Prometheus, did you have conversations with how David would develop as a character?
Yea I mean, I never, I mean Ridley and I have met several times since shooting Prometheus and talked about this film, but never, really, for some reason, which is odd, talked that much about the evolution of David. I just got the script, and it was all there really. I can’t take any credit on that front for sure.
That was fairly early on that Ridley had said he was planning to have two synthetics, so I did know that quite a while ago, actually.
Is there a reason, creatively, why Walter and David look exactly alike?
Cause it’s cheaper [laughs]. I don’t know. I really don’t know.
It’s been 10 years since we’ve seen David, what’s he been doing during this time?
Well it’s referenced in the film. It doesn’t go into detail about day one; he doesn’t have his calendar or anything. But for me, I obviously fill in those things just like any character of what happens before we see them in the story that we’re watching. So, like I say, there’s 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. You see those traits that we saw in Prometheus – his appreciation of beauty, and nature, that’s all relevant.
Is David studying the engineers?
Well I think you know it’s his sort of, I think he’s the kind of guy that likes to keep himself busy I suppose, and idle hands are the devils work. So like I say, his interest in the way things work – he’s interested in creation, we could see that in Prometheus. These guys created humans, and humans created us. This idea of creation and life, and nature and art, there’s this sort of artist in there somewhere, and there’s definitely an ego and we saw that form. And so these, again, are very human things and I suppose he’s on this planet, like a human, why we do all of this, we want to leave behind something of us after we go. There’s a legacy of some sort that we’ve left behind.
Do you spend a good amount of time as a disembodied head as David?
Spent a little bit of that this week [laughs].
Is it just a green spandex body suit?
Uh no, that’s what it was like on the last one, but this one I just kind of wore black t-shirt, yea, and just had sort of these markings where the head came loose.
She took his body as well though, so he does have some use of it.
How did you develop David’s voice?
I don’t know, I just watched a lot of Lawrence of Arabia, because he was really into that. And so I just kind of worked on that tone and that will be again the saying in this film, I want to keep that sort of consistency so there is that sort of relatable character from the previous film. But yeah, that fit quite nicely for a synthetic voice, I was listening to Hal as well, then I watched Blade Runner, and I did think about Ian Holm, and that they were sort of very naturalistic robots, Bishop, 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 the synthetics and the humans on the ship.
How has David’s relationship with Shaw changed?
Like any good marriage it’s, you know, there’s a real affection there between the two of them. I think they get on each other’s nerves, well he gets on her nerves rather, but I suppose they went through quite a lot together in Prometheus, so there is a bond there for sure.
We’ve talked a lot today about faith in Alien: Covenant. Do you think David believes in something greater?
I’m not sure. Yeah, I think you know again he would appreciate the Statue of David, Michelangelo’s David, or somebody like a Leonardo Da Vinci. But in a way, I suppose his opinion of the synthetic is that it is in a way a step above humans because they can educate humans, I suppose. If it really needs to be boiled down.
What does he think of Walter?
I think he sees him as kin in a way. Perhaps a student. A younger brother.
Do we see more emotional levels in David, more levels of rage?
I think just human, more sort of engaged in all sorts of human characteristics, insecurity, ego, I mean rage might come out of insecurity, I don’t know though of rage as just an emotion. Playing those kind of things is tricky. But pride, envy, you saw a bit of that with Logan Marshall Green’s character in the last one. And you know he likes to feel important, comes back to pride again, I suppose, so it’s just all a mix of those things and they are definitely more prominent in him as time as passed.
Will we see fear?
I don’t know. I think he’s very quick to adapt. And that concept of death is touched on a bit in this film, but in a way I think he thinks himself to be the ultimate survivor. But he is aware of death, yeah.