SXSW Day One. A mess of journalists and bloggers. A small room at Trio, the restaurant at the Four Seasons. Director Ridley Scott and actors Katherine Waterston and Danny McBride, there to talk about the new movie “Alien: Covenant.” Let’s do this.
Ridley Scott would like to do “Alien” movies indefinitely. “(‘Covenant’) is, dare I say, clever and violent and everything you kinda want,” Scott said. “I think it’s a cut above what’s happened before and leaves all kinds of things open for the next one. I enjoy doing them so much I would like it to go on forever.”
Scott does not believe an AI could be authentically creative. “Can you have a computer write a book or a screenplay or a poem?,” he said. “Yeah, but it’s always going to be very derivative and only based on what has been done in trillions of different ways before, so it’s going to be a cross-collateralization. It can only be that.”
Whereas Waterston takes a grimmer view. “A human can’t replace an ant, but it can kill it, and that’s what’s so scary about it,” she said. “They might not be able to write a poem as beautifully as Robert Lowell, but they can kill you.” No word on the forthcoming John Ashbery robot CalTech is working on.
Tell us all your thoughts on God. Scott talked about hanging out with mathematicians and physicists while making “The Martian” and what happened when they were asked if they believed in God. Four raised their hands. One of the mathematicians apparently said, “When I come against a wall in mathematics, I am constantly impressed in who invented this wall because I know there is an answer on the other side.”
This led Scott to equating God with that which is superior to us that we cannot understand. Which led into Scott discussing a conversation with Carl Sagan 30 years ago and in which Sagan said, according to Scott: “‘There will be no aliens discovered in your lifetime or mine’ … I said, ‘Lighten up, Carl, it’s only a movie.’ And now, 30 years on, NASA has said there are trillions of evolutions around us in space. Science and mathematics is art at that level.” Sure.
Were Waterston’s character to be dropped into the original “Alien,” she would be hanging in the bowels of the ship. “I would want to be hanging out with Harry Dean Stanton and Yaphet Kotto,” Waterston said.
McBride’s family thinks he has leveled up in the world. With “Covenant,” McBride said, “My parents finally think I am making real movies now.”
Scott wants you to do your job. “When I first met Ridley,” Waterston said, “he was like, ‘I hire people who I think are good at acting, and I let them do their thing and figure it out and if they’re doing something really idiotic I’ll tell them but I mostly like to leave them alone. I know what the (beep) I’m doing, you should know what the (beep) you’re doing, you show it to me and then we go have dinner.’ It’s not rocket science.”
“My best compliment” to an actor, Scott added, “is, ‘(Beep) me, I never thought of that. Cut.’ She does that and he does that and that is why I take great care casting.”
Why Scott kept women at the center of the “Alien” films. “The first one did so well, why change anything?”
McBride’s sweet hat was Scott’s idea. As the blue collar (his words) pilot Tennessee, McBride is rocking a straw hat that gives him a very day-six-of-SXSW-at-4-a.m. vibe. “It was an homage to Slim Pickens in ‘Doctor Strangelove,'” McBride said.
Here is a really weird ad for Walter aka the new robot played by Michael Fassbinder.
“Alien: Covenant” will hit theaters May 19. Scott is slated to screen about 20 minutes of the film before tonight’s screening of the first ground-breaking chapter of this saga, “Alien.”