It was the morning after the Alien: Covenant world premiere, and Katherine Waterston – who stars in the film as Daniels, a terraforming expert on board the eponymous colony ship – had a busy day of press commitments ahead of her, at a swanky London hotel.
I was the first person tasked with lobbing questions at the Alien: Covenant, Fantastic Beasts And Where To Find Them and Inherent Vice star, having been ushered into the room before Waterston had even had a chance to sit down. Before her morning coffee had brewed. I felt a bit bad.
But, with the clock ticking on our allocated ten minutes, we persevered. Waterston was very smiley and amicable for someone who wasn’t fully caffeinated, first thing in the morning, following an evening out, on the other side of the Atlantic to home.
The night before, Waterston had asked anyone in the audience with a hip flask of tequila to come forward and share it with her, to quell the frightfulness of seeing Ridley Scott’s latest blood-soaked space horror for the first time. In the interests of keeping things light and pre-coffee friendly, that’s where I opted to start…
Did you have any luck finding some tequila at the premiere yesterday?
I really thought that there were gonna be some proud alcoholics in the audience that would raise their hand when I asked that. I was really disappointed. But I found some vodka.
Oh, okay. Did it help?
Um, yeah, it probably did a little. Ridley gave it to me. He turned to me as the lights went down and went, “Vodka?” It was great.
Are you not normally a watcher of scary films, then?
No, yeah, I can’t tolerate them. I’m a real chicken.
How was it, seeing the film for the fist time?
Um… I think when there’s, um, CGI elements to a film, you can never really know what to expect, because they’re just, they’re visuals that you weren’t exposed to on set, do you know what I mean?
And so I’ve, weirdly, one thing that I found totally mind-blowing was just the opening credits. Just when the title came up, before the credits: space, and a little ship flying through it, you know? Um, it’s nice to have moments of, err, relief from having to look at your own face. So I was really into all of that, all of the shots of spaceships flying around. Yeah.
When you’re acting against a Xenomorph, or any other form of the alien, what do you actually have to look at?
Oh well, I was really just speaking of the spaceship scenes, because, actually, anything that… any scene that you see me in…
Is practical stuff.
As practical as possible, yeah. Really, the only green screens I saw were sort of, like… one day, my favourite stunt… you can barely even see it in the movie, but, I kind of go swinging off the side of this ship, and for a moment, the ship is so low that I’m running on the ground, and then I get scooped back up. Do you remember?
Of course! It’s a very cool moment.
That was my favourite stunt to shoot, because they just pulled me up really really high, and zipped me down, and I ran a few steps, and I zipped back up, and it somehow felt sort of like a Buster Keaton moment or something. It was just so silly to me, when we were shooting it, um, and really fun.
And that was the only day, really the only moment, where I was alone, surrounded by green screen. And I didn’t need to do anything, just run, so it was still, in a sense, a practical experience, you know? I had the floor beneath me, and so, I didn’t really have to, you know, fake it.
Whenever possible, Ridley gave us stuff to work with. And it’s so much better that way.
I would guess on Fantastic Beasts that is was a bit more green screen-y?
Oh, that’s cool!
Yeah, I think it might be, maybe, a bit of a thing of the past. Like, the earlier days of CGI stuff, where they were forcing actors to do everything, you know, looking out into a green abyss. But, um, I think they realised the more stuff you can give them, the better. It’s just something about the way your eye engages. I don’t know. It’s hard to see something that’s not in front of you.
You kind of have to do the whole gamut of emotions here, as well. Was it kind of exhausting to keep up the fear and the dread and the various other things you have to go through?
Yeah, I was wondering if it was going to be difficult to keep, kind of, the anxiety level up all day. Um, I think it may have been, with another director. But because Ridley moves so quickly, the pace on set was really energised all the time, and so, that definitely helped. You know, we weren’t waiting around for the next set up for hours and then, kind of, have to conjure that anxiety again and again. It’s always the stopping and starting that can kind of make that stuff difficult to maintain.
But there’s a great kind of scrappy focus on the set, with Ridley, because, in that way, he sort of managed to maintain the spirit of a young filmmaker. Even though, obviously, the sets give him a way – the budget’s big – but the feeling is kind of like he’s still got that kind of urgency and impatience and excitement of a young filmmaker. That definitely helped, I think, for all of us in maintaining a kind of constant level of, you know, nervousness and anxiety or whatever.
And, in terms of the emotional stuff, I don’t know… I mean, I think it was Billy [Crudup, who plays a high-ranking crewmember named Oram] who said, “You know, we’re actors, we do feelings.” It’s like, that’s what we do, so it doesn’t feel so bizarre to do that all day.
I saw a video where you were saying that one of your previous directors was sending you taunting emails, about running?
One of my previous directors, yeah, was reminding me of other actresses who run really well. And asking if I’d been doing any running in this film. Saying things like, “Don’t screw it up!” He was like, “Daisy Ridley runs really well, how’s your run going?” [Laughs] So it did kind of make me paranoid!
Was that Paul Thomas Anderson? That would be my guess.
Yeah. Mhmm. It was Paul.
I would guess working with him [which Waterston did on Inherent Vice] and working with Ridley Scott is a very different experience?
Oh yeah, well they definitely have a lot of differences, for sure. Every director is different, but I think… they both seem to be doing the job they should be doing, you know? They both really seem to be energised by what they’re doing and they both seem to be very passionate about it. It’s strange, you know, you don’t always get that feeling on set. But it’s a great… it sets a good tone on set. I guess whatever the director’s energy is is kind of contagious on set, because, um, you know, it’s a hierarchy and we’re all kind of looking to the director for guidance.
You filmed this on the opposite side of the world, in Australia and New Zealand. Did that distance from your normal life help get into the crew’s mind set at all?
Yeah, Iceland and New Zealand are the two places that I’ve ever visited that don’t quite feel like they are on planet Earth. Do you know what I mean?
Striking, extraordinary landscapes. And we began shooting in, um, New Zealand and that really set the tone. All the landscapes and the waterfalls there, and everything. I think, for the whole cast, it placed us in the environment. And I think we were sort of able to use that for the rest of the shoot.
And, finally, is it true that you wanted an Ezra Miller Fantastic Beasts haircut for this?
Not exactly. I loved his haircut, and he didn’t, at first. He was a bit traumatised with his hair. But I thought it made him look like Ian Curtis, who I adore, and I told him and that kind of made him feel better. Um, and near the end of the shoot they were making wigs for all of us in case we had to do pickups later.
I had just been cast in this, and I asked the hair and makeup department if I could try on his wig. And that’s kind of what got me thinking, um, of lopping it all off. But it’s also like a Joan of Arc thing, and I like the idea of doing something that was just a bit odd-looking, and maybe just mildly futuristic. Um, just a potential future trend. The micro bowl cut, or something. [Laughs] I don’t know!
Katherine Waterston, thank you very much!
Alien: Covenant reaches UK cinemas today.