a) First Approached
Tom Skerrit was in Minneapolis half way through working on a film called Ice Castles and he received the script for a movie called "Alien".
At the time he understood that it was going to be an inexpensive film, two or three million dollars.
He read it through and it was at a time when they didn't know who the director was at the time.
His initial response was ‘Well, it's okay. I mean, it's crafted well,’
And they told him, ‘You're the only one they sent it to. There's no director and no other actors and it's a $2 million budget.’
When he read the script, he thought "oh this is not an actor’s script, and it's a two million dollar film no director – it’s gotta be, you know, another Ed Wood movie."
He saw that it was an ensemble piece but thought that there was not much for an actor to do here and two or three million dollars wasn't going to make a great special effects science fiction movie, so he turned it down.
b) Reapproached in timelines A & B
In 2001 , looking back, Tom Skerrit's memory of the event stated that about a month later, he got a call from s Gordon Carroll telling hum "We’ve got Ridley Scott, and the budget’s up to ten or twelve million bucks. " and that was certainly was a higher budget.
Tom's earlier story stated that his response to that was "hold on here, on second thoughts, let me see. I’ve heard of this Ridley Scott guy, I’ve heard that he did this thing called The Duellists. Can I see this?"
The producers said "yes, and we'll run a screening for you tomorrow"
By 2013, his memory of the event was that he saw the film a week or so after turning down the script, that he was blown over by it.)
He had never seen a movie that caught so much production value as The Duellists.
It was a magnificent looking film painting from beginning to end.
On seeing it, he wanted to remember who the director was, and so, on hearing the name Ridley Scott attached to his scri, his response was "Sold. Sold!".
He knew how Ridley did it with his own money for nine hundred thousand dollars and so when he saw it, he thought "jeez, I’d like to work with this guy, I love this." and those thoughts also translated into ‘Oh God, I'd love to mentor with this guy, watch him and see how he works.’
All he needed to know was that Ridley was going to do this film and he would make magic out of it
And perhaps in this other telling of events a week later, he got the call from the producer telling him the good news
c) Eager to join
To some extent he knew Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton.
He didn’t know Sigourney began she was brand new in the cinema seen and he was quite eager to work with Jon Finch (who had been cast as Kane until he was taken ill early into filming) and Ian Holm.
In Ridley's offices, the actors gathered to start doing some dialogue together and while Ridley would interrupt to describe his visuals.
Although it was fascinating, it seemed as if in the first half hour while they were doing this, they only managed to get a couple of lines in while Ridley was caught up in his visuals.
The rehearsal was interrupted when an assistant director came in to speak to Scott about a technical issue, “We need you on the set to show you something.” and Ridley apologised as he left the room.
Skerrit looked around at the other actors, and now he was ship's captain he felt that he had to say something, said "I guess this makes me the captain of the ship. We might as well all know that we’re in this together." somewhere with that his other words were “Hmm, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Okay. Let’s go to lunch.”
- Tom Skerrit:I was working halfway through ‘Ice Castles’ when I received a script for a movie called ‘Alien,’ (http://bringmethenews.com/ February 19, 2013)
- Tom Skerrit: I had turned it down initially when I was offered that because I had, they didn't have the director at that point and, and the budget was small, and it seemed to me that they weren't going to make a good film out of that, given the parameters, but they came back a few weeks later and said, "Ridley Scott is going to shoot that", so I met Tony as a result of that and I saw the finesse, the , the detail, what they looked at when they were looking at a camera, because they'd always look through a camera, so that you're looking at a photograph, a damn good photograph. ( Tom Skerritt | CONVERSATIONS AT KCTS 9 12 Jan 2010)
- Interviewer: How did you first hear about Alien and how did you get the part?
Tom Skerrit: That I remember very clearly. I was in Minneapolis doing another film. I got the script called Alien and my understanding of it at that time was that it was going to be an inexpensive film, two or three million dollars. I read it through, and they didn’t who the director was at that time. I read it through and I thought well this is all special effects. Not much for an actor to do here, it’s ensemble. I don’t know. Two or three million dollars is not going to make a great special effects science fiction picture. So I turned it down. Three or four weeks later I got a call from England, one of the producers, I forget which one it was at the time, perhaps Gordon, said Ridley Scott was going to be directing it and this was the budget. I thought well, "Hold on here, let me see. I’ve heard of this Ridley Scott guy, I’ve heard that he did this thing called The Duellists. Can I see this?" And they said "yes, we’ll run a screening for you tomorrow." So I went to see this The Duellists. And it was a masterpiece. I mean, he…I have never seen a picture that captured so much production value as The Duellists. Magnificent looking film, painting from beginning to end. So I had to do Alien at that point. And the only other actor I knew at all was Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton to some extent. I didn’t know Sigourney, who she was, she was brand new. So…and to be working with John Hurt and Ian Holmes…yeah. (report from the interview for Alien Evolution, 2001)
- But originally, the actor turned down “Alien,” which celebrates its 40th anniversary on May 25, though he thought Dan O’Bannon’s script read well. “There was nobody involved at the time apparently,” said Skerritt. “I read it and thought, ‘it’s solid. It’s not a great script but it’s solid enough I can see it. But it was a $2 million budget! I thought, okay at 2 million bucks this might be an Ed Wood movie.”
As fate would have it, he went to see 1977’s “The Duelists,” for which Ridley Scott unanimously received the award for best first work at the Cannes Film Festival. “I was just blown over by ‘The Duelists,’” noted Skerritt.
“I thought, this is a masterpiece. It’s a painting. I thought I wanted to remember who this this guy is. Then I got a call from one of the producers of ‘Alien,’ Gordon Carroll, and he said “They’ve kicked up the budget and a guy named Ridley Scott is doing it." I said, ‘I’m sold.’ All I needed to know was Ridley was going to do this and he would make magic out of it.” (https://variety.com/2019/film/news/alien-40-anniverary-ridley-scott-1203223989/)
- “This one came along and I read it and I thought, ‘Well, it's okay. I
mean, it's crafted well,’ And they said, ‘You're the only
one they sent it to. There's no director and no other actors and it's a
$2 million budget.’ And I thought, ‘Hold on, a $2 million budget, no
director… And it feels like it could be an Ed Wood movie!’”.
- Tom Skerrit: I remember getting the offer and reading the material, I asked for more background, and they said they had a budget of $2 million and no director. I read it and, well, it’s not really an actor’s script. At the time, I was being spoiled by having a lot of good roles coming along. My work up until that point involved directors like Robert Altman and Hal Ashby. It didn’t come off the page. (https://www.gamesradar.com/uk/40-years-of-alien-remembering-one-of-the-most-influential-sci-fi-movies-of-all-time/)
- But Scott was not a great director of actors at this stage in his career. Skerritt recalled how the first rehearsal, in Scott’s London office, set the tone. "We started doing a little bit of dialogue, and then he would interrupt to describe his visuals," he said. "It was fascinating but, in the half hour we were doing this, we only got a couple of lines in. He was so caught up in the vision of it." The rehearsal was interrupted when an assistant director came in to speak to Scott about a technical issue. (https://www.gamesradar.com/uk/40-years-of-alien-remembering-one-of-the-most-influential-sci-fi-movies-of-all-time/)
- The director apologised and left the room. Skerritt remembered: "I immediately looked around at everybody and said, ‘I guess this makes me the captain of the ship. We might as well all know that we’re in this together.’" Scott, it turned out, didn’t become more hands on with his actors when the shoot started. The only time Skerritt recalls him commenting was after they had shot the breakfast scene, prior to the Nostromo landing on the planetoid LV-426. Scott’s comment after the scene? "Interesting." Skerritt remembers: "That was about the only thing I remember him saying to us." (https://www.gamesradar.com/uk/40-years-of-alien-remembering-one-of-the-most-influential-sci-fi-movies-of-all-time/)
Vulture: One of your biggest films is, obviously, Alien. People I know who’ve worked on horror movies say that horror-movie sets are often the funniest sets. Was that the case for Alien? I know it’s more than just a horror movie, of course.
Tom Skerritt: Well, there were very good actors involved who took their craft very seriously. That was interesting, because at first I just did not want to do that film — because nobody was attached, no director or anything else. Then (Ridley Scott) showed up, and he’d done this film called The Duellists, and I said, “Oh, man, I want to work with this guy.”
If I may just tell a little quick story here. I remember we’d gathered together to meet each other and do a read-through of the script. We got through about two pages, and Ridley says, “Here’s the platform: Texas Chain Saw Massacre,” which I hadn’t seen, but I’d heard it was pretty scary. And he says, “I’m going to scare the shit out of them.” That was about as far as we got with the read-through, because somebody comes in, “We need you on the set to show you something.” So he left. And I looked at everybody and thought, Well, okay, I’m the captain of the vessel. So I better just say something important. I said, “Hmm, Texas Chain Saw Massacre. Okay. Let’s go to lunch.” That was it. (https://www.vulture.com/2021/10/tom-skerritt-has-a-story-to-tell.html0
- Skerritt: Well my story's a little different. I, I was offered the role, I was sent the script, told it was a two million dollar project and didn’t have a director, so I guess I was the first one that they did ask. And. er, I was somewhat snobbish in those days because I was getting a lot of work and I thought, "oh this is not, this is really not an actor’s script, and a two million dollar film – it’s gotta be, you know, another Ed Wood movie. "And then, um, couple of weeks later I saw The Duellists , have you seen the Duellists,
Interviewer: Ridley's first film
Skerritt: you must see it, the first film he ever did, he was a graphics artist
Interviewer: It's a double feature
Skerritt: Yuh, it was just a remarkable film and he did it with his own money for nine hundred thousand dollars. It’s just a stupendous film. And I saw this and thought, ‘jeez, I’d like to work with this guy, I love this’. Maybe another week later I get a call from the producer, and he said, and he says ‘we’ve got Ridley Scott, and the budget’s up to ten or twelve million bucks.’
I said, ‘On second thought…’ (Alien Panel Discussion With Tom Skerritt & Veronica Cartwright at 05/04/13 at Texas Frightmare Weekend)