Alien : Casting Ian Holm as Ash

 leading from 

Ian Holm: It was around this time that I was offered the part in what my agent Julian Belfrage described as 'a very expensive B movie". It was called Alien. I read the script and met the director, and Englishman called Ridley Scott who had made a name for himself in  advertising And had directed I well received film which I had not seen, The Duellists.

It was difficult to tell from the script what kind of film it would be,  or rather what kind of film it would become. Scott told me that it had been through several rewrites (nothing new in that) but that he was now happy with it.  He was young and wore a beard which I didn't think particularly suited him.  His clothes, the way he presented himself, all these seemed somehow secondary, artificially bolted is on and irrelevant to his curiously internal restlessness and energy it was as if he was burning up with ideas and the kind of private imagery which he wanted,  he needed, somehow to explain to you.

The script seemed very high-concept,  though good in that way. Still, hardly Chekhov or Shakespeare but I didn't mind that anyway. I had done my share of flimsy meaningless films. I was intrigued. 

And unusually in projects like this, a star was not being used to act as a focal point of the financing, Normally if there was no name attached then a project like Alien, was peopled with recognisable B-list actors, the kind of actors who would do a competent job, and whose presence would signal what kind of film (i.e. shock-horror) it was going to be. But this was not the case either. Here the cast seem to be made up of evocative American character actors and a couple of respected British names. I think Jon Finch was mentioned as being the 'other one',  though he was soon replaced by John hurt.

I asked Scott about the casting

'I want alien to move this kind of films up to the next level 'he said' I don't want it to be one of those low budget sci-fi things"

'You want me to play Ash the science officer?' he nodded 'And he is a robot?'

'Yes a bit like the mother computer in 2001 but broken down into a person. Well - sort of. Do you know Kubrick?'

Well of course I did, in a funny kind of way so. I nodded and change the subject.

'Why is the change to a person? A robot person?'

"We were thinking that one day all computers will talk. It's an extension of that idea."

In truth I was prepared to do the film almost as soon as it was offered. Though there was something that troubled me about playing a robot.  I asked Scott about this wondering how he saw the character on screen. I knew even then that he would have something to say about this. To him, ideas were an itch that begged for a scratch.

'I think Ash should be realistic.'

'How do you mean?"

'Realistic human,  it's the same for the monster. The realism will make it work - not fantasy'

This was the bit that worried me.  When I'd done the Lost Boys,  I had established an immediate instinctive rapport with J. M. Barrie, or at least my version of the character I felt Barry to have been. This was more or less how I did all my work,  Playing a smuggler of secrets for the television production Mirage, I had met the real person on whom the drama was based and immediately become him adopting mannerisms, transforming my face with his expressions and turning my hands round like him.

 I never felt this amounted to mimicry or mere imitation, though I do think that apery is part of the art of the acting but with the non-character of Ash, I had no leads, no way  in. I supposed Scott meant that I should in some may fall back on myself and be 'human' in that way.

I accepted the part and brooded about a way to do it. Around then I was good at brooding.  Part of the trouble was that I was spending too much time with my own thoughts and coming up against the unflattering mirrors they provided. And I have plenty of time to think. (Ian Holm: Acting My Life p209-p212)


  1. Really enjoyed Ian Holm over the years in some great films, thank you

  2. Loved sir Ian Holm in lots of great movies over the years thank you very much sir.

  3. Wow- great to have Ian Holm's account of Alien. So very difficult to locate interviews/videos of him online. I wonder if he'll appear in the sequel to Alien: Covanent...

    1. Well, he just seems to be someone not interested in revisiting old roles but who knows what he would say to a future role in the series if it was interesting enough for him. But he hasn't been involved in film projects since 2014. It's probably amazing to think that he bothered to write his autobiography.