Hollywood is all about girl power these days. But the Furiosas, Wonder Womans, and Captain Marvels of our time all owe a debt to the original two ass-kicking Hollywood action blockbuster heroines. One is Terminator’s Sarah Connor, and the other is Ellen Ripley, from Alien. During a recent conversation discussing the making of the first Alien, director Ridley Scott revealed what made him turn the film’s lead into a female.
“I think the idea actually came from Alan Ladd Jr. I think it was Alan Ladd [then president of 20th Century Fox] who said, ‘Why can’t Ripley be a woman?’ And there was a long pause, that at that moment I never thought about it. I thought, why not, it’s a fresh direction, the ways I thought about that. And away we went.”
The 1979 sci-fi horror movie narrates the tale of a not-too-distant future, where a group of astronauts aboard the commercial tug Nostromo come across a vessel carrying a number of alien eggs. Once the eggs are bought on board the Nostromo, chaos reigns as the eggs hatch and unleash the Xenomorphs, sci-fi’s most notorious monsters this side of a Predator.
The role of the film’s protagonist was filled by Ellen Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver in a career-defining performance. The actress was the last member of the lead cast to be roped in for the project, and despite being relatively unknown at the time, impressed Ridley Scott so much with her audition that the character of Ripley was built around her.
“I found Sigourney by word of mouth. Somebody had been told that Sigourney was on an off-Broadway stage doing something, that I should meet. And I did. And there it was, she was perfect. In terms of scale, size, intelligence, her acting is just fantastic. And so it was made for her, really.”
Weaver would go on to reprise her role in the Aliien franchise with three sequels. A fourth Ripley-led Alien movie was canceled due to diminishing box-office returns, and the character was unofficially retired instead of getting rebooted with a new actress.
Sigourney Weaver would reprise her role as Ripley for a brief cameo in the video game Alien: Isolation. The actress has also not been above poking fun at her legacy as an action heroine, memorably featuring in an episode of SNL’s Lazer Cats alongside Andy Samberg and Bill Hader where she played a parody version of Ripley.
For Ridley Scott, making Alien with Weaver was a career-high that resulted in a genre-defining movie. His return to the franchise with sort-of prequel Prometheus in 2012 was not as well-received. But the filmmaker has not given up on the series, and believes a different sort of prequel film is the way forward.
“I still think there’s a lot of mileage in ‘Alien,’ but I think you’ll have to now re-evolve. What I always thought when I was making it, the first one, why would a creature like this be made and why was it traveling in what I always thought was a kind of war-craft, which was carrying a cargo of these eggs. What was the purpose of the vehicle and what was the purpose of the eggs? That’s the thing to question – who, why, and for what purpose is the next idea, I think.”
This latest look back at the Sci-Fi horror classic Alien originated at The Los Angeles Times.