Spring sunlight floods the first-floor suite at London’s Soho Hotel, where Ridley Scott is holding court at a large round table. It’s a scene befitting a director whose proverbial “day” in the sun has already lasted three decades, with no sign of imminent cloud cover. And that kind of prolonged success guarantees a listener’s attention when he gives out tips.
“The secret to doing a film set in the future,” he says of working on sci-fi classics Alien and Blade Runner, “is not to make it look too futuristic. Fashion, architecture, it all goes in revolutions.”
If his recent career is anything to go by, film can be added to that list. He’s just signed up to make a second Blade Runner film -- the original was first released in 1982 -- and of course there’s the hotly anticipated Prometheus, a return to the tense, gory world of Alien, which launched his commercial career back in 1979. At 74, it would seem the Oscar-nominated Brit is at the top of his game.
The buzz around Prometheus, in particular, is immense. The star-studded cast includes Charlize Theron, Michael Fassbender, and Noomi Rapace, and the film has been teased with viral trailers released by fictional company Weyland Corp. But the expectation level doesn’t faze Scott in the least. “You can never worry about it,” he says,“or you’d be studying your navel. If you write what you think the audience wants, you’ll end up with an airport book. You should be the judge of what you’ve done and stand or fall on that.”
Box office successes from Thelma & Louise to Gladiator have given him enough industry cred to go running, and Prometheus marks a return to the big productions he does best.
“It brings up questions about evolution -- are we biology or are we creations of some entity?”
The film actually started life as a prequel, an answer to a question posed in Alien that had nagged at Scott: Who was the dead alien discovered by Sigourney Weaver and her team at the start of the film? But it evolved into a film that poses far bigger questions, only retaining what Scott calls “DNA links” to Alien. “It brings up questions about evolution -- are we biology or are we creations of some entity?” he says. “I believe, for us to be sitting here, having evolved from carbon, an atom… it had to have had help. I definitely believe that.”
This is Scott’s first foray into 3-D, a medium he’s long wanted to try, having watched fellow directors such as James Cameron (whom he refers to simply as “Jim”) use it to great effect. “I was a little put out 3-D still required spectacles,” he says, “but I had no problems at all.”
Digital technology meant creating Prometheus was a very different undertaking compared to the Alien set, which was handcrafted down to the last alien tooth. But Scott has lost none of his love for the physical, enlarging the soundstage at Pinewood Studios, the London home of James Bond sets, by 25 percent to fashion this new universe. “What I’ve done with this film I could never have done 30 years ago,” he says. “There’s a digital sequence in this film which is pretty monstrous -- it’s quite amazing. Then there’s a great sequence with Noomi where we use no tricks at all.”
But in terms of on-set temperament, it would seem the years have changed Scott. “The amazing thing about working with Ridley is, I never felt alone,” says Rapace, who plays scientist Elizabeth Shaw in Prometheus. “We were doing some quite disturbed things some days. It was tough… but it always felt like we were doing something together.”
Having been dubbed “Guvnor” on the set of Blade Runner, apparently because of his demanding nature, Scott is these days known as an actor’s director. “That evolution gradually occurs,” he says, slowly moving his finger across the table for emphasis. “I think every director has his own method, and mine is all in the casting; the actors usually trust me. I like to have a team, and I make it, honestly, as much fun as possible.”
Scott is jovial and relaxed, a man who is clearly enjoying his latest step into the world of sci-fi. “I got beaten up for Blade Runner,” he says with a smile, referring to its poor performance at the box office. “But guess what, I’m in a meeting about remaking it next week. There’s not many people who can do that.”
Check out the July 2012 issue of Red Bulletin magazine (on newsstands June 12) for more articles. To read the magazine on your iPad, download the Red Bulletin iPad app.