The ALIEN inside me

Sigourney Weaver's journal from the set of "Alien Resurrection


The story thus far: at the end of "Alien3", Ripley, pregnant with an alien fetus, committed suicide. Now she has been cloned back from the dead, on the spaceship "Auriga", so that scientists can harvest the creature she's carrying. But something has gone wrong in the cloning process. When a band of intergalactic smugglers, including the impassioned and idealistic Call (played by Winona Ryder), board the ship with an unthinkable cargo, things take a sinister turn.


NOVEMBER 18, 1996


We closed Chris Durang's Sex and Longing on Broadway last night. For the last four months I've reveled in playing a blond nympho wrapped in a sheet in front of a live audience, with no marks to hit, no one shouting, "Cut!"… just one long, crazy take from 8 P.M. on. For an actor it is absolute freedom. 

I flew to the West Coast this morning. There has been no time for me to think much about Ripley; no time to get the pectoral and penile implants the male action stars do before filming. But I see the new Ripley as more fluid and enhanced than buff - like a vampire after a particularly juicy night. We shoot in 36 hours and my costume has not yet been finalized. Over the summer I suggested to our director, Jean-Pierre Jeunet(1), that Ripley look like a newborn chick, with a halo or albino fuzz on her head. He politely demurred. Soon after, Jean-Pierre sent me a drawing of what looked like an angry dyke in a frog suit, emerging from the surf at Zuma Beach. At this point I demurred. Today Jean-Pierre suggests I wear what the spaceship's guards are wearing. I respect J.P. He's clearly brilliant, and despite the language barrier, we've had some great talks about Ripley and the movie. But why would my captors dress me, their slave and guinea pig, like one of the guards? I ask if I can wear a modified version of a straitjacket. It looks like I'm going to need one anyway.

1)JEAN-PIERRE JEUNET The meticulous and imaginative codirector of Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children. A perfectionist who delights in dark gags. Starts the film not speaking any English, ends swearing like an American sailor. Thank God, never says "Pas mal."




I am dressed in a sheer paper robe, freshly cloned. It is my first day on the set and, of course, I'm practically naked. But the vulnerability is useful, and the crew is discreet and professional.I stretch out in Ripley's dark cell. My forehead tingles, my body grows phantom limbs, cracking from an alien Internet rumble toward me. What a relief, finally, to let out the monster in myself.




I have three hours to practice an underwater scene we're scheduled to shoot next Monday. If I do okay, I can go home for Thanksgiving. If not, I'll have to stay and practice. The scene requires the cast to swim 35 feet through and underwater kitchen set that's crowded with countertops and appliances. Both Winona(2) and I, who have been unable to practice with the other actors for the last two weeks, are feeling less than intrepid about all of this. It's not that I'm afraid of the water. I love to swim. I've swum in lakes, rivers, oceans…even swimming pools. It's just that I get a wee bit claustrophobic in the deep end.

I run into Winona on the way to the tank and ask her how it's going. "I'm really terrible," she says. "I almost drowned when I was little. They're really worried." "Hah," I say. "Wait till they see me. I'm totally pathetic underwater." "Oh, they're not worried about you," Winona smirks. "They think you're invincible." We share a hearty laugh. I enter the stage trying to look invincible. The Olympic-size tank is swarming with people. I can see my humiliation is going to be incredibly public. "You have to do this," I say to myself. "You're Ripley. She's brave, remember?" The stunt doubles are already in the water, rehearsing the first shot for the cameras. Our stunt coordinator, Ernie Orsatti, gets on a megaphone: "Okay. Go to the starting point and grab a hookah," he says, referring to the respirators built into the bottom of the set. The plan is as follows: You dive down to the starting mark, 15 feet below the surface; grab a hookah; ill your lungs up with air; then, on Ernie's count, swim 35 feet until you reach the back door of the set, where you can exit to the surface. The ceiling is crowded with pipes and air ducts, so until you hit that back door, there's no way out.

Ernie begins the countdown. The stuntpeople take off their raspirators and masks and swim like mad toward the other side of the set. I hold my breath with them. It's a long take. "Cut!" Ernie shouts. The swimmers emerge one by one. Is it my imagination or do they look a little freaked? "Not bad," says Ernie. Not bad? Good grief, I have to do better than that? I feel nauseous. Ernie takes me over to the far side of the tank and introduces me to Hank Hankins, a Pooh-like fellow in a frog suit, and Rod Francis, who has this immense mustache and looks like Neptune. "These guys will get you swimming in no time," says Ernie enthusiastically. I look at Hank and Rod. Neither looks like they have an advanced degree in psychology. "Are you certified?" Ernie asks. Certifiable, I think, but say, "No, but I've snorkeled." "Great. This should be a snap for you." As they put a tank on my back, Ron explains how you need to pinch your nose to pressurize your ears (hello?). I try to concentrate, but all I hear is, "Blah, blah, blah…ruptured eardrum…blah, blah, blah…the bends….blah, blah, blah…embolism …blah, blah, blah…death." Suited up, I dive into the water but get stuck on top like a buoy. "No body fat," Rod says to Hank. He makes it sound like a bad thing. "Give her about fourteen pounds." This time I sink like a stone. The tank feels huge and heavy and the air is so canned that I find it hard to breathe. I try to pretend that there are reefs around us and pretty fish. I swim fine but keep surfacing, out of breath. Is it too late to rewrite the scene on dry land?

After an hour in the baby tank we swim to the back door of the kitchen set and peer inside. It's dark and looks really dangerous. The ceiling is impenetrable and to my right swing three large dead pigs. I shoot up to the surface. "Look," I sputter. "I know they're paying me a lot of money" - my voice goes up an octave - "but I really can't do this." Horrible little embarrassing tears pop out of my eyes. "They're plastic," says Rod. "What?" I ask, confused. "The pigs," he says, "they're not real." I don't have the heart to tell him that plastic pig corpses aren't the problem. My mild claustrophobia has suddenly become my Achilles' heel. Does Arnold have one? Does Sly? Is this why I'm so much cheaper? "Well, what do you feel you can do today?" Hank asks. Go home and sedate myself? "Why don't we just swim around out here," I say, pointing to an open end of the underwater set. I slowly get used to the tank on my back and learn that I am breathing too hard. I relax and swim down to the starting position. Finally, I screw up the courage and streak through the set, holding on to Hank's hand from start to finish. It's over. Let's go home. But back at the starting point, Ernie's saying me he wants me to do it again - this time with no mask. Oh. How could I have forgotten that little detail? Without thinking, I push my mask off and the cool water rushes around my face. I have a quick sensation of drowning. Blindly, I grab Hank's hand and practically propel him through the water like a Jet Ski. 

Right before we break for the day I decide to try it once for real: no air, no mask, and no Hank. Curiously confident, I push off and streak to what I think is the end mark. First I ram into a column, then I crash into the ceiling pipes, then I bonk my head on a metal air shaft. By now I've started to lose it. Hands grab me and pull me up, sputtering and choking, to the surface. I stare into the stunned eyes of Ernie and the assembled stunt team. "Wanna see a playback?" he asks, numbly. 

(2)WINONA RYDER A wunderkind of brains, beauty, and wicked wit. Our chief mischief-maker.



I describe the Tank to my husband in great, horrid detail. Since Jim(3) is a bodysurfer from Honolulu, who grew up in riptides and eight-foot swells at Point Panic and Makapuu, sympathy is not forthcoming. "I told you you were going to earn every penny of that money," he says, with a grin. Then adds, more thoughtfully, "You'll be fine. Just play the character. Act the scene." "Act the scene!" I respond. "Good grief. Why didn't I think of that?"

(3)JIM SIMPSON  My husband. Voice of reason and kindness on the other end of the phone.




It is the big day. I have decided to swim like an alien, something I have not practiced. I envision it as doing the butterfly without arms. Jean-Pierre is crazy about the idea. My stunt double, Lesley Aletter, tries the new stoke. She says that since you can't use your arms, it's much slower and more demanding. In other words, I've fucked myself.The underwater cast(4) is a dedicated and deranged group, important when you're going to be out in space together for five months. To distract us from our terror, we play ¿Quién es más macho? Laden down with heavy boots and guns, all nine of us squeeze down the ladder. As we switch to respirators, set decorators swim through, dropping lettuce, sausage links, and all kind of other crap around us.On the surface, Ernie uses the bullhorn to remind us that we should make a throat-cutting gesture if we're in terrible trouble. Then he asks us for thumbs-up. Yes, yes, I want to get this done. "Ten…," Ernie yells, "nine…eight…seven… Masks off!" Ernie's adrenaline is terrifying. I take off my mask, my nose fills with water, my eyes blur. It is a feeling I will never get used to. "Six…five…four …Lose the hookahs! …three….two…one…Action! Action! Go! Go! Go! Go!!! " There's an explosion of movement around me - a tumult of guns, boots, and bodies. I hope Winona's okay. I push away, undulating on my route, and promptly run into someone. Havoc. "Cut! Cut! Cut! " screams Ernie. Someone jams a hookah into my mouth and swims me up to the surface. The whole thing is a disaster. Winona looks like a tiny drowned otter. Freeman is telling his diver not to grab him that way. Kim is rolling her eyes. "It needs to look more tense," says Nancy Gilmour, interpreting for Jean-Pierre over the chaos. Now that's funny.  We reset for the next take, this time choreographing who should swim over whom to avoid collisions. It is not a bad way to forge an ensemble. Here, underwater, we all take responsibility for one and another and no one wants to let the others drown…I mean down.On the next take my stroke gets better, but I get a big piece of lettuce in my face. We go again. The takes basically end when we run out of air. I do the throat-cutting gesture and hope Hank will find me. To my amazement, he is always there. At one point, Winona is brought up choking. She had made the throat-cutting gesture right after "Action" but no one saw her. Oy. We persevere. With relief I realize it's hard for everyone.

(4) THE UNDERWATER ENSEMBLE  Ron "100 Sit-ups" Perlman, Gary "250 Sit-ups" Dourdan,  Raymond "5000 Sit-ups" Cruz, Kim "Doesn't need to" Flowers,                J.E. "are  you kidding?" Freeman,  Dominique "Not Applicable - French" Pinon, Leland "Mostly Mental" Orser, Sig "Gets her Stunt  Double to Do Them" Weaver, and Winona "Note From Parents" Ryder.




Almost two weeks in the tank and it's beginning to look like the Ganges. I wouldn't be surprised to see a dead body floating by. Jean-Pierre informs me that we're going to shoot my close-up today. Ripley waves the others ahead, then watches as an alien grabs a terrified human swimming behind her. "If it's just a close-up, can't I stick my head in a fish bowl?" I aks. J.P. looks puzzled. It takes us a while to work out the irony thing. I'm curiously calm for this shot. On "Action" I take off my mask and stand at the bottom of the tank, motionless, letting a tiny stream of bubbles escape from my mouth. It is a strange feeling to be Ripley, watching this specter of death steal away a vulnerable human and do nothing to stop it. It feels powerful. I would like to stay under forever, but I am more than out of air. A respirator is stuck in my mouth and, like the victim I watched, I too am carried away, up into the real world. Jean-Pierre is happy. Indeed, when I watch the playback, I look completely comfortable in the water. I'm not, but Ripley is. And isn't that what it's all about? I look at Hank and Ernie and blow them a heartfelt kiss.


JANUARY 13, 1997


When I worked on Alien3 my daughter was a baby and we had matching bald heads. But since my daughter started nursery school four years ago, I have tried to take only one job a year, as close to home in New York as possible. This determination has resulted in jobs in Paris, San Fransisco, Prague, and now Los Angeles. To compound matters, the shooting schedule for Alien Resurrection was postponed from summer to winter - a disaster for my family. While I'm away I e-mail my daughter at school and commute home for all pageants, ballet recitals, and parent-teacher conferences. I fly her out for long weekends. I depend on my amazing husband, our baby-sitter, and two or three other moms to mother for me. Will I look back and think this was a big mistake? My daughter does not like coming onto the set. It is not the face-huggers or special effects that put her off. It is the noise and the huge number of people. "I'm not a set girl, Mommy," she explains. "I'm a homey girl."


FEBRUARY 13, 1997


For the last two weeks I've been practicing for Ripley's basketball scene with former UCLA Bruin star Nigel Miguel. Conceived to show off Ripley's strength and speed, the basketball scene originally consisted of her beating the shit out of everyone. But I want to make it about basketball, not about fighting. At the end of the scene, I want Ripley to make an impossible basket without any effort. Nigel, a majestic and fluid player, designs the perfect shot. Ripley walks away from the basket and, without looking, tosses the ball over her shoulder and gets it in. It takes me about ten tries, but on the very first day of practice I sink one. From then on I am hooked. I eat, sleep and dream B-ball. I look for the ball when I wake up in the morning, like a jazzman checking his horn. 

Was there a life before basketball? What was I doing when I could have been outside shooting hoops? The outrage I feel that only now, in 1997, has the NBA bothered to embrace women's professional basketball is intense. Sisters, unite! Slam that ball. Toss it. Fly. Float. Don't let the guys have all the fun. Basketball is the best-kept secret in the world. It's a total high and I have wasted my life. By the time we are ready to shoot, my average on the shot is one basket for every six tries.  The delicious presence of Ron Perlman ignites the scene. Take after take, I dribble, I pass, I knock him away. He loves it. Ernie is making Jean-Pierre nuts with all his talk about rigging people to fly through the air during the fight. You know, it's just not French. I'm anxious to show Jean-Pierre my shot, but I miss it again. My shot, my sweet shot, seems to be going sour. 

Unimpressed, Jean-Pierre says, "It's too close. Anyone can do it from there." "I can't," says Nigel. "Well, where do you want me to do it from?" I ask. "Here," says Jean-Pierre, standing almost in center court. Nigel whistles. "That's far, man. We didn't know she'd be doing it that far." Jean-Pierre shrugs. "She doesn't need to. Pitof from visual effects has a way to trick it." I'm feeling depressed. I look over at Pitof by the monitors and stick out my tongue. "You can do it," Nigel whispers, handing me the ball. Jean-Pierre calls "Action". I bounce the ball, walk forward, toss it over my shoulder…and miss. "Cut," says Jean-Pierre. Take two: I walk to my mark, sail it back…and miss again. Pitof comes bustling up with Jean-Pierre who says, "It's better for Pitof if you don't get it in. Start further away and send the ball back flat - easier to match. Don't try to get it in. Please, Sigourney. I know how much you want to do it, but I need to finish this scene." I practise throwing the ball flatter, from about 22 feet away. Nigel comes over, shaking his head. "They can't do this. Everyone will know it's fake. Don't listen to them. Go for it."I walk to my start position and look down at the ball. I feel it for what I know is the last time. I walk to center court and toss the ball up, up, up, along the lines of the set, knowing it won't, it can't go in. The crew explodes. "Did it go in?" I ask, in shock. "Nothing but net, baby!" shouts Nigel. We jump up and down. Everyone is cheering. 

Suddenly Ron's voice booms out. "It's no good!" he yells, mortified. "I broke up after the ball went in." We freeze, then rush to see a playback. Two beats after the ball goes in, Ron Perlman flashes a huge smile and yells "Oh fuck!" right into the camera. Cut Connie Hall, our genius camera operator, shouts, "It's okay, you can use it! You can get the scissors in." The set erupts again. People hug me and give me high fives. When I look over at Jean-Pierre, he and the French contingent are huddled morosely by the monitor. "Jean-Pierre," I say, bouncing over, "I got the shot!" "I know," he says mournfully. Confused, I say again, "No, you don't understand. I got the shot!" "Yes," he sighs. "But the ball left the frame, so everyone will think we tricked it even though we didn't." "They won't think we tricked it," I say, "because…because I'll tell them we didn't." "You can't tell everybody," says Jean-Pierre existentially. "I can try," I say.




At lunchtime Winona and I are standing outside Stage 16 behind a festive Valentine's table, offering champagne and little party favors that are filled with candy and condoms cleverly disguised as pirate coins. The French drink the champagne, the Americans eat the candy, everyone pockets the condoms. A guy comes by who we've never seen before. He picks up a pirate coin, unwraps it thoughtfully, pops it in his mouth, and strolls away, chewing. "I hope it's flavored," says Winona.




J.P. is pulling his hair out. For nine months he has been trimming scenes because of "budget considerations". Led by its fiery and astute head of production, Tom Rothman, Fox is committed to making a great film, but at a price. Now Jean-Pierre has hit the wall. So Winona and I, still in our space togs, set out to pay Fox studio chairman Bill Mechanic a visit. Bill greets us warmly and hastens to show us an incredible promo for Titanic. It alone looks like it cost more than our entire movie. Unnerved but determined, Winona and I explain that the scenes in jeopardy are the very ones that made us commit to the movie - the coolest and creepiest stuff. Unmoved, Bill mentions the soaring costs of Speed 2 and Titanic (what are we, chopped liver?) and the dismal box office of Alien3. "Not worldwide," I protest. "I'm talking domestic," says Bill. Winona and I persist. Bills hems and haws but finally says, "Okay, I'll look into it." "You pussycat!" we scream, and throw ourselves on Bill, knocking him down, sending his glasses flying, ripping off his tie, embracing him with wild abandon, untill…oh, sorry, that part was cut due to budget considerations. We thank him politely and leave. They restore the Viper Pit and a few other things; whew, that was a close one!




Today we shoot the scene where the alien pulls me down into the Viper Pit and carries me off. I open my eyes and see him, sinking back into his arms. It's a novel experience for Ripley to surrender. I am supremely lucky because Jean-Pierre really understands this relationship Ripley has with the alien. The French are great. You just can't shock them. Fortunately, I'm doing this scene with Tom Woodruff, Jr., who has played my nemesis since Aliens. You put someone else inside the suit and it's simply not the same. We start to shoot. I feel Tom inside the suit and sink back into his arms, only to be hit in the face with a waterfall of slime. Movie-making is so romantic. Tom tells me later that he was trying not to breathe too hard so as not to sound like a pervert. "I already know you're a pervert," I reply. "I enjoyed every minute of it through a quarter inch of foam rubber," he says with a grin. "Hey," I ask innocently. "Do you ever take the suit home?" "Only when I want to get lucky."

Later that day, we move on to the most amazing shot of the picture - Ripley in the Viper Pit. Tom and his partner in Creature Effects, Alec Gillis, have designed a monstrous landscape of alien parts: writhing tails and undulating limbs. When I arrive on the set, I am knocked out. It is a Hieronymus Bosch nightmare of tentacles and protuberances. "What are those things?" I ask Alec. "You don't want to know," he says. "But we call the area where you are sucked down the Sphincter." He smiles. Jonathan Leahey, the slimemeister, does his spiderwebby thing, applying over 55 gallons of Methocel over everything, including me. I crawl over to this dark, squiggly, curiously prickly set and lie down. "Open the Sphincter," Alec calls. I close my eyes and what's beneath me shudders and comes alive. Large greasy tails flick at my cheek, limbs and members nudge and squeeze me. After a few moments, the platform beneath me sinks and the rubber sphincter does indeed suck me down until I disappear under the stage. I open my slime-encrusted eyes and see the beaming faces of the puppeteers. 

Somehow a tail always ends up between my legs. Sometimes that's good. Sometimes it looks a bit strange. We just want to tread that line. "Who's on that particular tail?" I ask Alec. "I am," he says. "You're a sick puppy," I say. Alec instructs another member of the team to be more intimate with his alien body part. "This is difficult for me," says the puppeteer. "I'm married." "Nice guys," says Alec, turning to me, "need to be pushed to perversion."




Our shooting schedule is now so far behind that instead of saying hello to each other, we ask, "What are you bringing to the Fourth of July picnic?" They are still working on the Waste Tank set, the Auriga engine room the aliens have snagged for a rec room. So we have a later call. At 9 A.M. I dress like a somnambulist, looking out at the sun streaming down by the pool with a vampire's longing. When I get to the studio, I walk over the set with Fox production executive Jorge Saralegui(5). A huge cathedral of alien viscera bathed in golden light rises out of the gloom of the soundstage. Darius(6), our cinematographer, has lit it like a Grand Canyon of death. Unlucky humans, encrusted in cocoons, swing from the ceiling like kitty treats. Suddenly out of the shadows saunters an unthinkable apparition - and congratulations, Ripley, it's a boy. I walk up to him. The huge head coils down and sniffs me. It is impossibly human in its behaviour. I can't believe they haven't secretely spawned this in the basement of the executive building."And lunge," says Alec, into his walkie-talkie. The thing lunges at me. "Try to make it look less like a puppet," he says. I didn't know Francis Bacon designed muppets. Off to the side, fourteen puppeteers have materialized and are working a small city of levers and gadgets, following Alec's directions. Since I will spend the rest of the movie on intimate terms with this inanimate creature, I am apprehensive. But during the first take my fears vanish. This creature's terrific! He must have studied with Sandy Meisner.

5)JORGE SARALEGUI A poet in suit's clothing. Actually listens, actually tells you what he thinks (does this man really live in Hollywood?). Has, with Tom Rothman, saved this picture from the studio-director wars that plagued Alien3.

(6)DARIUS KHONDJI Jean-Pierre's closest collaborator; lit Delicatessen and The City of Lost Children, as well as Seven and Evita. Some cameramen light sets; Darius is lighting the soul of this movie.




Alien Resurrection is over. Jean-Pierre called "Cut!" and suddenly no one knew what to do with themselves. There was no champagne. Poor Jean-Pierre and our French colleagues - they must think we're barbarians. Bravo, J.P. Mes copains. Bravo, Fox. It was worth coming back from the dead for. Now I'm on my way to the Cannes Film Festival for The Ice Storm, a movie I did with And Lee a year ago. For the next week, I talk about key parties and wear the tightest skirts and the highest heels. 

I look down at my arm. No tattoo. I guess I dreamed it. At the Carlton Hotel, where we are staying, our bodyguard tells us that Sydney Polack and Milos Forman have oceanfront suites named after them. But he says Michael Jackson is in Milo's suite and some movie star is in Sydney's, so Sydney and Milos have been relegated to smaller quarters in the back. Ah, show biz. There is no lasting courtesey except for what's up on the screen.On the night of the 50th-year gala, I am sitting in the audience next to Bertolucci and Sydney. Behind me are Almódovar and Johnny Depp. 

We watch as the Palme d'Or winners of the last 50 years step out onstage: Altman, Antonioni, Coppola, Scorsese, the Coen brothers, and many more. Jane Campion enters last, dressed soberly in dark gray. Had I been the only woman director to win in 50 years, I would have come out naked.


Three-time Oscar nominee Sigourney Weaver has, sadly, retired from basketball.


This article has been published in Premiere Magazine.