Alien: Sigourney's Screen Test

leading from

May, 1978

a) With Laddy wanting to screen test Sigourney, by the following week they contacted her, and she was getting into the mode of thinking "Yes, I would like to do this, It's going to be interesting" and so she flew to London where Ridley had built a whole set for her. 

Sigourney was afraid it would just be her and a potted palm that was supposed to be the alien and she would be told to react and convince them that this was the alien.

On the 12th of May 1978, from 5pm to 2am. she was able to do a number of scenes and for her as someone from theatre, it was like being able to do a complete run through with a convincing set.

She got the idea that Ridley felt that he was being tested by the studios as much as they were testing her. 

b) The first costume Sigourney tried on was a fashiony item that made her feel like Jackie Onassis in Space, but Ridley this horrible thing that had been found at her, something that seemed to be a real astronauts practice uniform that might well have been old army surplus clothing, and this was what she ended up wearing. 

They wanted to make her feel like one of a group of pirates, outlaws of misfits and Sigourney thought this was a very good idea

c) Ridley wasn't the sort of people who believed in using blue screen for these tests, he wanted to give the actor anything he could to help the actor get a feel of how the films is going to be, the ambiance was always very important. 

At the time they were actually building the Nostromo, so Roger Christian cobbled something following what was being put together in England, so it was something near enough to the feeling of real sets that she used in the screen test. 

They had also built a corridor with red lights from packing crates and created something generally similar to the interior of the Nostromo bridge but was the size of a corridor, so as far as Ridley would be concerned, this was the set for the Nostromo.

d) The was some discussion about what he might do with Sigourney's hair and he said "leave it alone, don't muck about, don't start cutting her hair"

In the test, Sigourney found herself trying to be tough instead of just of being in the scene for what it was. 

She would discover in film that she should play the scene for what it was instead of trying to work on an arc linking everything, as in real life, people are not consistent, so if they were fighting an alien, she would be acting different than when she might be fighting an alien.

In one part she acted opposite Ray Hassett for the love scene, he had recently had a small role in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and Superman (1978), and here he stood in for the role of Dallas.  

Ray Hassett in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)

e) Ridley put it together with a little bit of sound sound on it, he thought it was so good that it almost could have been cut into the movie.

Many people had been screen tested, but she was dynamite, and Ron Shusett could see right there in the screen test in the way he saw later in the movie, although it was her first film, what she was doing was behind the eyes.


Ray Hassett playing Dallas in the screen test
  1. Sigourney Weaver: On the day I left for home, Ladd came to look at the tests. He asked all the women in the studio who worked as secretaries to watch my tests, too, and tell him their opinions. And the women just said " Well, we like her." So they got me the part. On the day I got back to New York, they called and said I got it. I had sort of written it off every step of the way. (Screen Flights / Screen Fantasies, An Interview With Sigourney Weaver by Danny Peary, p159)
  2. Sigourney Weaver: Then , I did a screen test - Ridley had a whole little set built for me, and I did a run-through of the movie. I flew back the next day, and the day after that, I they called me and said I had it. So, actually,  in terms of how those things do, it was fairly painless (Official Aliens movie book)
  3. Sigourney Weaver: It wasn't until the day before I did the screen test in London that I thought, 'Yes, I would really like to do this, it's going to be interesting.  I was was impressed by the people I was working with. Because when you read the first Alien script, if you haven't seen the design, for all you know it's a big blob of yellow Jello running around - you don't know what it is. They showed me the design and I was like 'Woooo!' I thought it was wonderful exploitation of everybody's darkest fears. That really made it for me.; I thought 'It's going to be beautiful and frightening at the same time.'(Official Aliens movie book)
  4. Sigourney Weaver: I remember the first costume I tried on made me feel like Jackie Onassis in space; it was really too fashiony and Ridley threw this horrible thing at me that had been found, a real astronauts practice uniform and that's the one I ended up wearing. I thought he set up that world so specifically, not a smooth shiny science fiction world, but this dirty, gritty one and he saw us as sort of outlaws, a group of misfits and I thought that was a very good based.
    (Official Aliens movie book)
  5. Sigourney Weaver: They decided to test me and Ridley Scott who'd only done one film. I think he felt like they were testing him as well. So he built this whole incredible set for me. I mean it wasn't like I had to do it with a potted palm or anything. This was a beautiful set that I ran through. We did a couple of scenes

    Interviewer: the version that we were told by a few people was that basically Ridley decided very early on that you were the person that he wanted to do it and he didn’t want anyone else…tell us about the screen test…
    Sigourney Weaver: well it was amazing actually and my interpretation at this time was that they were finally going to see Ridley Scott do Alien so that was one reason why he built this amazing set of a corridor with red lights and you know some people would have put the actor next to a potted palm and said you know, `react’, you know, convince me that this is the alien and luckily for me he probably created a world and I got to do a number of different scenes so it felt to me coming from the theatre, that I was doing a run through. I haven’t actually seen on the DVD that they have some of these scenes. I’m not sure that I would have liked them to see the light of day but for me as an actor it was such a valuable experience never having worked in film before to have this sort of run through experience and I really was very grateful to Ridley for giving me a reality to work in and not expecting me to imagine it all. (Alien Evolution)
  6. Interviewer: what did you see in her that was…
    Ridley Scott:…impressive, she’s very impressive…smart, impressive and of course I had to test her. Because I don’t like reads. Reads are tricky and some people are great at reading, then you don’t get anything more than that. Or sometimes you get a really terrible read and yet the actor’s great. You know. So it’s not a good benchmark. And the casting session, the casting process is very tricky in that I believe like all…every actor’s kind of fundamentally, metaphorically exposing themselves when they when you’re asking them to do something. Ok. So the very situation is embarrassing. Slightly embarrassing for them and for me. And for everyone when you’re sort of doing the lead in the casting session so you’re getting an artificial view of what you’re about to get…And so I thought it made a lot of sense testing to find out…and this is how late we were choosing the woman, the girl, the lead, because I had already most of my sets up and Nostromo, my screen tests which should be on the DVD I think…is it?
    Interviewer: yeah
    Ridley Scott:…that was shot in the sets of the Nostromo. I was already…I wasn’t building, I was spraying the walls and aging them. I was way in. And (Laddie) said `well hmmm, she’s ok but I’m not sure, you’re going to have to test her’. And "I thought my god, we’re shooting in 2 weeks. I’m going to fly them in here in 2 or 3 weeks". So I had to test her. And the test was spot on.
    Interviewer: Ivor says that his memory is of you choosing Sigourney on first look…
    Ridley Scott: it was academic. It became academic. I knew…I knew…I could do a test which I could cut into the movie basically. So we made a very sophisticated test, I didn’t put a mix on it, and so Laddie watched it and went oh, ok, and that was it. But then she was on. You know.  (report from the interiew for Alien Evolution)
  7. Ridley Scott: l was very impressed by her, you know, height, and she was a very impressive character, very intelligent, and er seemed to make sense to me, so l expressed this to Laddy, who said ''Yeah, but you gotta test.'' And l said ''l'm three weeks from principal photography.'' (Alien Quadrilogy Documentary)
  8. Sigourney Weaver: And We got to do what was basically a run-through of the movie, erm, with the real kind of set. and er, you know, l was afraid it would be, like, me and a potted palm, you know, and l'd have to go... But he gave me this whole run-through, which as an actor l really appreciated. (Alien Quadrilogy Documentary)
    Ridley Scott: Sigourney was the last one to get cast. The sets, the test l shot in, were the sets l was building. That was the Nostromo. We didn't rattle that together. l was actually building, so it was scary. (Alien Quadrilogy Documentary)
  9.  (8:34 / 00:08:49) Ridley Scott: We were in full board production, I mean in terms of building and , because we were tech

    (8:38 / 00:08:53) Sigourney Weaver: I'd say you were desperate to find her.

    (8:40 / 00:08:55) Ridley Scott: Absolutely

    (8:42 / 00:08:56) Sigourney Weaver: (chuckle)

    (8:42 / 00:08:56) Ridley Scott, But we were on , now I was very very meticulous about (00:09:00) casting always

    (8:47 / 00:09:02)  Sigourney Weaver: Mmmm

    (8:47 / 00:09:02) Ridley Scott: Because I figured if you cast right from the director's point of view

    (8:50 / 00:09:06)  Sigourney Weaver: Mmhmm

    (8:51 / 00:09:06) Ridley Scott: If you cast right, at least fifty percent of your problems are over

    (8:54 / 00:09:09)  Sigourney Weaver: Mmhmm

    (8:55 / 00:09:10) Ridley Scott: On the day

    (8:56 / 00:09:11) Sigourney Weaver: Yuh

    (08:57 / 00:09:12)  Ridley Scott: Because you know there's a lot to do and I cast, (00:09:00) I, I lay still painful on casting

    (09:03 / 00:09:18) Sigourney Weaver: Yuh, yuh.

    (09:03 / 00:09:19)  Ridley Scott: Long time on casting, so eventually they were getting uneasy thinking I didn't really know what I was doing, but I had done then 2000 commercials, I'd done the Duellists, 

    (09:11/ 00:09:27)  Sigourney Weaver: Mmhmm

    (09:11/ 00:09:27)Ridley Scott: I'd done.. you know, I was kind of bemused by that basically saying... 

    (09:14 / 00:09:30) Sigourney Weaver: mmm

    (09:14/ 00:09:30) Ridley Scott: Thinking "Back off!"

    (09:17 / 00:09:32) Sigourney Weaver: mmm

    (09:17 / 00:09:34) Ridley Scott: okay, t'...'cause when you see it, you see it

    (09:20 / 00:09:36) Sigourney Weaver: mmhmm

    / 00:09:37) Ridley Scott: and there it... there she was, right

    (09:25 / 00:09:42) Ridley & Sigourney: (chuckle)

    (09:26 / 00:09:43) Ridley Scott: and then Laddy said "you got to test." I said, "uh, Laddy, w'ere shooting in ten days "or something.

    (09:31 / 00:09:47) Sigourney Weaver: yuh

    (09:31 / 00:09:48) Ridley: and he said "I don't care, you've got to test, I'm not sure", 'cause Laddy's like that, very cautious. So we tested, and the test could have been almost cut into the movie

    (09:41 / 00:09:58)  Sigourney Weaver: "well,  I was saying earlier I was so grateful because (00:10:00) you built a whole set, we did a run through of the movie which as an actor, especially if I was going to play the part I really needed, and er, it gave us a chance to work together and us… I was, I really thought going over there that I might be like standing next to a (00:10:00) potted palm going, "aaaah!" like that

    (10:02 / 00:10:19) Ridley chuckles

    (10:02 / 00:10:19)  Sigourney Weaver: :and er, so I was so grateful for the day, it was a fabulous day
    ( Alien commentary from Alien Quadrilogy DVD and Alien Anthology Blu-Ray)
  10. Sigourney Weaver: Ladd agreed to screen-test me , so the next week I flew to London where Ridley had built a whole set for me. I hadn't yet been hired but I was the only actress they were screen-testing. They hoped I would do well. And we did a run through of the entire script. I work old army surplus stuff for the screen test. We didn't want it to look like Jackie Onassis in Space; we wanted to look more like pirates. (Screen Flights / Screen Fantasies, An Interview With Sigourney Weaver by Danny Peary, p159)
  11. Ridley: Sigourney Weaver, erm, I had recommended when we were doing casting sessions in New York, and er, I think on meeting her immediately when she walked into the room, because clear that this, this lady could be it. The studio at that particular point were obviously a little nervous, while this was a high budget movie, that point was that it was six million, even in those days it wasn't high, little nervous that it wasn't about the first time, they still regarded me as a newcomer even though I had done The Duellists, so the final discussion was about, and er, this is what you see right now, this is a test that we did, er, with a few little setlets that I had managed to get Roger Christian to actually cobble together, so we can actually erm,  make the test look as good as possible. I don't believe in tests against blue backdrops, I believe in giving the actors a little taste of the environments, anything you can do to help the actor to feel you know , what the film is going to be about or feel how the film is going to be, the ambiance is always very important. There was a lot of discussion about what I could do with her hair and I said leave it alone, don't muck about, don't start cutting her hair, I try to tend to find that when they walk through the door in the casting session, the final of the bottom line is always er, how good are they, what they are gonna do, I mean as an actor, as a performer, but erm, we are dealing with movies, and the thing that's far more interesting when they walk through the door is the physical, is the physical appearance or power or weight. Some have it, some don't. Whether or not you can learn to have that, I'm not really sure. I think very often an actor who's simply great actor, you know, to a certain extent it doesn't really matter how they look, that becomes their power, their intellectual and acting capability, and so somehow there's something atractive about that. If they have everything and that's how you get a big star. This was all playing into a gal who hadn't really been in front of a camera, erm so it's not just about how she looks, I knew how she looked, I think I'd done 1700 commercials at this point, including a lot of cosmetic commercials, sorry, I could tell really from watching her walk into the room, so this was really about her acting, and that's why I wanted to feel, secure in myself that she could take all of this on board. Whole presentation on the test, actually was good, but you know, focus on the test with Sigourney, but she got the, she got the job. (Alien Legacy documentary) 

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