Ridley Scott's Style Didn't Sit Well With Some Of Alien's Stars

Directors have to balance a myriad number of elements when making a movie: Shot composition, performances, and plenty of logistical concerns, like maintaining a shooting schedule or massaging any egos on set. When you have so many responsibilities, you'll prioritize — consciously or subconsciously. Ridley Scott certainly did when he was directing "Alien."

Scott spoke to The Hollywood Reporter in 2019 for the 40th anniversary of "Alien," and he discussed how during the shoot, he was preoccupied with the visual storytelling. When it came to his actors, he was more concerned with perfecting their blocking than their characters.

"Alien" was only Scott's second movie, but he wasn't a filmmaking novice. He studied film at the Royal College of the Arts and enjoyed "inordinate success" directing commercials during his 30s. One of his greatest advertising triumphs was the "Boy on Bike" ad for British bread-making company Hovis. In commercials, character motivation isn't a concern, but leaving an impression on the audience definitely is. Scott's debut feature, "The Duellists," had crystal clear character motivations: Armand (Keith Carradine) and Gabriel (Harvey Keitel) are rivals engaged in a series of duels.

Scott's experience as a director helps explain his priorities during the "Alien" shoot. However, not all of the cast appreciated this attitude from their director.

Not an actor's director

In the aforementioned interview, Scott had this to say about his relationship with the cast:

"I wasn't too popular with some of the actors because I'd say, 'If it catches you, it's going to take your head off and stick it in a dark place. That's your motivation.' I wanted it to be very icy in terms of, 'It's only this.' I don't want to know about where you came from, who your mum and dad was, all that crap. I avoided all that conversation. They didn't like that. But, you know, at that moment, I'm responsible for the film."

Scott doesn't name names, so it's unclear which of the actors he rubbed the wrong way. Considering most of the "Alien" cast is no longer with us, Scott might not want to speak ill of the dead. Of course, while the cast didn't appreciate all of his directing in the moment, it wasn't to the film's detriment.

The Nostromo crew are working stiffs caught in a bad situation. The characters being blue-collar everymen and women allows the audience to easily identify with them. Aside from Ash (Ian Holm), none of them need a backstory or motivation beyond survival. After all, if any member of the audience was in the characters' shoes, that's what their motivation would be, regardless of their history. In short, the interiority of the "Alien" cast doesn't stem from where they came from, but how they react to their current circumstances.

Even with Scott's limited attention to their backstories, the actors all give good performances. Scott's focus on the visuals resulted in a gorgeous movie with art design that's inspired countless others. When a director knows exactly what they want, sometimes it can be best to just trust that they'll deliver in the end.