Ridley Scott has one goal with his new movie, “Alien: Covenant.”
“I’m hoping to scare the s–t out of you,” says the legendary director. “If I don’t, I’m in trouble.”
If the past 40 years are any indication, the odds are in Scott’s favor. Since entering the movie game later in life — he was 40 when his debut feature “The Duellists” came out in 1977 — Scott has been taking audiences on wild rides with such films as “Alien,” its prequel “Prometheus” and, most recently, with the Academy Award-nominated blockbuster “The Martian.” Along the way, he’s racked up four Oscar nominations, won two Emmy Awards and landed a permanent place in the film zeitgeist with groundbreaking movies including “Blade Runner,” “Thelma and Louise” and “Gladiator.”
This week, Scott will earn another honor when his hands and feet are encased in cement outside the Chinese Theatre on May 17. Though Scott has created unimaginable worlds on film, he can’t quite fathom this particular accolade. “You’re always in awe when something like that happens,” he says. “It’s wonderful. There’s no other word for it.”
It’s something Scott never could have imagined when he first set foot on the famous sidewalk in 1960, particularly considering he had no intention of entering the movie business. He was 22, fresh out of college and after working in New York for nine months, saved enough money to travel to L.A. on a Greyhound bus.
“One of the big deals for me was to come to Hollywood,” he says. “I stayed in a boarding house nearby and walked to Hollywood Boulevard. I remember standing outside and staring at the footprints. Never, ever, would I have thought that this would happen.”
After his Hollywood trip, Scott returned to his native England, where he forged a prominent career in advertising. He didn’t return to L.A. until the age of 40, the same year he made “Alien,” which came out in 1979.
“Life begins at 40,” Scott chuckles. “And I’m still flying. It’s bizarre, isn’t it?”
And flying high. In addition to “Alien: Covenant,” Scott is a producer on this year’s “Blade Runner 2049,” a sequel to his cult hit from 1982. His production company, Scott Free, also has the Watergate thriller “Felt” and Kenneth Branagh’s “Murder on the Orient Express” due this year. On the TV side, Scott is a producer on “The Man in the High Castle,” Tom Hardy’s “Taboo” and “The Good Fight,” a spinoff of the hit “The Good Wife.”
|“My plan is: I have no plan. I tend to go from pillar to post, and I’m one of those lucky guys
who gets to do it.”
With such a varied resume, can he pinpoint one common thread that makes a Ridley Scott movie? “Not really,” he says. “My plan is: I have no plan. I tend to go from pillar to post, and I’m one of those lucky guys who gets to do it.”
One could say that a recurring theme in his movies is outsiders, from the rebels of “Thelma and Louise” to the heroes of “Gladiator” and “The Martian.” Concurs Scott, “They’re frequently more interesting people. That’s a sweeping statement, but loners are complex. That’s why they’re alone. And that’s always an interesting study.”
As an example he points to 2013’s critically reviled “The Counselor,” in which Michael Fassbender plays a lawyer in over his head in the world of drug trafficking. “I love that character and find him fascinating,” he says. “In fact, I love ‘The Counselor,’ and I was so beaten up for that. It’s one of my favorites. People complained it was nihilistic — of course it is! But nihilism’s OK. So was ‘Apocalypse Now,’ so was ‘The Godfather,’ for God’s sake.”
And “The Counselor” features a stunning performance from Fassbender, which brings us to another commonality in his movies: standout performances. Since building a flawless ensemble headed by Sigourney Weaver in “Alien,” his movies are often perfectly cast and under his watch, such actors as Russell Crowe, Matt Damon and Geena Davis have given some of the best work of their impressive careers. “I take a lot of time casting because if I cast properly, they’ll take care of me,” he notes. “I’m quite lazy, really.”
He adds that he has a deep admiration for actors. “I love them all. They really reveal and expose themselves in a way I would never dare do.”
It’s to his advantage to work with the same actors over and over again — he’s collaborated with Crowe five times and Fassbender three. “You’ve done the dancing, you can get to the heart of the matter much quicker. And you can say what you think, as opposed to being polite.”
Of course, actors in his films sometimes meet untimely ends. For someone who loves his actors so much, does he ever feel bad killing them off? “Nah,” he says without hesitation. “They love it.”
As do audiences, who are expected to line up to watch the fates of the cast of “Alien: Covenant,” which includes Fassbender, Danny McBride and Katherine Waterston.
Scott says the sequel to “Prometheus” will be even darker. “When I decided to resurrect the story, I felt I couldn’t let it go so dark so soon. When we did ‘Prometheus,’ it was a more genteel way of easing back into it.”
While acknowledging that there was some terrifying material in that film, he says that this “one’s quite tough. It’s definitely an R, don’t show the kids. I decided I better nail this one, so I did.”
That said, “Covenant” is “a thinking man’s scary movie,” Scott says, tackling questions raised in “Prometheus” about who would create these creatures and why.
“All those things are answered: Why and to what purpose they exist,” he says. “I’m scared about getting highbrow, but it raises questions of creationism and all that.”
Intellectual themes aside, Scott promises the movie will still be terrifying. He admits that in today’s seen-it-all age, it can be difficult to find new ways to scare audiences. “It’s the hardest thing to do,” he says. “Comedians will disagree, but I think its easier to make people laugh than to really, really scare the s— out of somebody. We’ve seen so much, we get a little bit numb to what should be scary. I’m not sure that’s a good thing.”
When it comes to the “Alien” franchise, the only thing Scott doesn’t hesitate to discuss is how he’d like to make more. “I think we’re relatively confident we’ll do pretty good, and it’s already in the works.”
But first, he’s in the throes of “All the Money in the World,” the real-life story of the 1973 kidnapping of John Paul Getty’s grandson, John Paul Getty III. Kevin Spacey will portray the senior Getty. Says Scott: “The film will focus on the three months where he nearly lost his grandson to kidnappers. It’s those three months that are very interesting — quite shocking, really.”
And after that? Scott takes a moment to muse, before simply responding: “Well, hopefully, I’ll keep getting employed.”
What: Ridley Scott imprint ceremony
When: 2 p.m. May 17
Where: TCL Chinese Theatres, Hollywood