Using A Practical Costume For Alien's Xenomorph Led To Some Surreal Behind-The-Scenes Moments

Even though he has had countless onscreen roles including "Top Gun," "SpaceCamp," "Poltergeist III," "Steel Magnolias," and even a quick cameo in "Singles" as the mayor of Seattle, legacy actor Tom Skeritt is probably most remembered for appearing as Dallas in Ridley Scott's "Alien." In a fascinating, tell-all 2019 interview with AV Club, Skeritt recognized just how special his time as the Captain of the Nostromo really was. "As it happens, one of the most memorable things in my career was making 'Alien.' I recognized we were making something extraordinary." 

Ridley Scott's vision for "Alien" and Dan O'Bannon's screenplay brought a level of astonishing scope mixed with a blue collar realism that completely re-invented what science fiction could be. Once artist H.R. Giger came aboard to create the biomechanical design of the Xenomorph, the look and feel of the "Alien" universe was born. Skeritt knew they were making something different, but he also maintained a sense of humor about just how strange it was at times to be on such a unique set. Imagine being behind-the-scenes during some quiet moments of downtime in-between shots and seeing the Xenomorph casually drinking a cup of coffee, for example. It must have been quite jarring for Skeritt and the entire "Alien" cast at times to see the man-in-suit aspect that was crucial to bringing the creature to life. 

My Adidas

Skerrit spoke about one memory, in particular, where he witnessed a casual conversation between the alien and a member of the crew, telling AV Club:

"One day I didn't have to come to work until the afternoon, so I came right as they were breaking for lunch, opening the big stage doors. And out walked the crew, and then the alien character, who was a 7-foot-1 guy. The head was off, and he's walking with the wardrobe lady, who's about five-two. And they're having a genuine British economy conversation, and holding the tail of the creature was the flamboyant wardrobe guy, his white scarf being blown, walking along, and the creature is wearing these very bright blue Adidas tennis shoes."

Skeritt was most likely referring to performer Bolaji Badejo, who will be remembered forever as the towering actor who brought the Xenomorph costume to life, and the "wardrobe guy" was probably Tiny Nicholls, who also worked on "Aliens" and "The Empire Strikes Back." It sounds like the moment is burned into Skerrit's brain, seeing how it was already decades old when he spoke of it. "I really wish I had a photo," he said. "I didn't have an iPhone, nor did I have a camera, so it sticks in my mind." (It would have been even more surreal to see an iPhone on the "Alien" set during filming in 1978, or maybe it would have blended right in.)

Unintentionally hilarious

With the extensive world building in the Alien movie series, the juxtaposition between the moviemaking fantasy and mundane reality can make for some truly odd interactions. I personally remember being of the set of "Predators" and having FX legend Greg Nicotero introduce me to actor-performer Brian Steele who was in the full berserker predator outfit at the time. Casually shaking the hand of a predator isn't something I'll be soon to forget, so I can relate to being on a sci-fi horror film set similar to the one Skeritt experienced. 

Actually, Skeritt doesn't see the original "Alien" as a science fiction movie or a horror movie. "It's neither," he told AV Club. "Honestly, I've never categorized — I've done such a variety of films. And it turns out now that they're classics, which is another genre." That's an interesting way to look at the small group of films that miraculously become an integral part of pop culture and, as such, transcend genre constraints. "Alien" is, without a doubt, a horror slasher set in space even if it has grown in stature over the years. That fact is exemplified in the tagline "In space no where can hear you scream," a catchline tailor made for a drive-in marquis.