Ellen Ripley aside, Alien would not be the most iconic sci-fi/horror movie of the past four decades without its space creature that stalked our heroine, and who continued to stalk her peers in the films that followed. The Xenomorphs were always terrifying and stomach churning, and fans of the franchise will be aware of how these creatures function in the films. But do you know what it takes to bring them to life behind the scenes?
Several talented individuals — including a ballet dancer — have stepped into the creepy skin of the Xenomorph to breathe life into the creature on the big screen. However, the person with the most experience with our favorite space nasty is special effects makeup artist and creature actor Tom Woodruff Jr. With #AlienCovenant — the latest installment in the franchise — finally here, Woodruff has spoken with Vanity Fair, revealing his nightmarish journey within the alien.
Complete Isolation From The Rest Of The Cast And Crew
The only reason a #Xenomorph would have to hang around humans is to either kill, eat or impregnate one. Generally, they're isolated creatures, and that translated to real life for Woodruff Jr. He revealed that during lunch hours on set, while the cast and crew would break for a meal, he'd sit in a dark corner of the deserted set by himself, because the suit's tedious process did not allow him to remove his costume's head:
“It would be horrible. I would just sit there in the dark and think, Oh, if I could just fall asleep.”
On a positive note, that isolation was probably a good way to get into the mindset of the Xenomorph.
You Simply Can't Go The Bathroom While In Full Xenomorph Mode
This has been said about countless elaborate costumes worn in movies. There's just no easy way to go on a bathroom break. Woodruff Jr. revealed that while in his Xenomorph suit, when nature called, he simply wouldn't answer:
“There was no opening that would allow, you know, easy access for a bathroom break. Particularly since my hands were glued on, I wouldn’t want anybody else. . . doing it for me. I just don’t have that kind of, um, I don’t have that affection with anybody else, that I would trust to do that, just the right way.”
Being At The Mercy Of The Bugs That Get Into The Suit
During filming for Alien 3, Woodruff Jr. was covered bugs, with the insects managing to find an entrance into his costume:
“I remember the feeling. I had to be completely motionless, and [the bugs] were climbing all around, getting stuck in the slime on the suit. Several somehow made their way down the back and into the suit. That was probably one of the most difficult things, to remain completely still while that was going on.”
Care For A Milkshake?
Adding to their out-of-this-world appearance, the Xenomorphs are famously covered in slime. This goo may be a normal bodily fluid for the alien, but not for the person wearing the suit. To pull off the effect, the film crew repurposed the food-thickening agent used to bulk up milkshakes. Indeed, while Woodruff Jr. filmed Alien vs. Predator in rainy Vancouver, the thickening agent had the unpleasant side effect of antifreeze:
“It was raining, and the water was freezing all around me. That one really kicked my ass.”
Discomfort Takes A Back Seat When It Comes To Art
Despite all the hardships the performer has been forced to endure in the name of his craft, Woodruff Jr. insists it's all to benefit the audience. He believes that seeing the alien as an actual, physical part of the film rather than a CGI creation makes for a much more realistic and frightening experience:
“The audience can just feel it, if is a creature is there in the room. And, someone in a creature suit—there are layers to that. It’s a character. If there aren’t layers to it, it gets very dull pretty quick. ... It’s the simplicity of a guy in a monster suit. That should never be lost."
While they're often uncredited, there's no doubt the practical effects actors responsible for bringing the Xenomorphs to life are just as important to the #Alien franchise as the actors who fight the vicious space creatures.
Alien: Covenant is in cinemas now. Would you ever be willing to put on a Xenomorph suit? Sound off in the comments below.