In a dark, smoke-filled room, I’m standing over Michael Fassbender’s lifeless body. It rests on a table. He’s staring right at me, completely ignorant of the white tubing and clear pearls protruding from his neck.
“Wanna touch him?” a crew member asks. “Go on, poke his cheek.” I can honestly admit this wasn't on my list of things to do before I die. But hey, what the hell, right?
My encounter with the Fassbender cadaver occurs partway through a set visit that offered enough Alien secrets to make my chest explode. Movie Pilot sent me to Sydney, Australia to visit the set of Alien: Covenant. There, I found myself meters away from the shuttle used by Elizabeth Shaw (Noomi Rapace) and duplicitous android David (Michael Fassbender) - whose body double is sprawled out in front of me - to make their getaway in Prometheus.
It's a lot to take in. I've discovered, for one, that David somehow gets his body back. That's quite a step up after finishing up Prometheus as nothing more than a head in a bag. Bet it must feel good to be up and about again.
“Thank God, yeah," confirmed Fassbender, sharing his thoughts on getting a brand new body.
So David is alive and well – or reassembled, at least. But Alien: Covenant, in which a ship full of colonists runs afoul of the nasty bio-mechanized xenomorphs, takes place ten years after the events of Prometheus.
What have we missed in this decade-long dip away from the Alien timeline? Are David and Elizabeth still on speaking terms? Or is there trouble in this interplanetary paradise?
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"Like any good marriage, there’s a growing affection between them and they get on each others nerves - well he gets on her nerves, rather. I suppose that they went through quite a lot together.” Whatever "a lot" may be, Fassbender isn’t saying, but it’s apparent that David has been affected by the previous incident.
"We saw him in Prometheus with this concept of David witnessing Weyland meeting his creator. David was, in some respects as Peter Weyland was, in awe of his creator... until he sees the fallacies of his creator," says Fassbender. "So I think he’s moved on a little." Having got back inside the artificial head of this interesting character, the star went on to reveal what, besides an internal power supply, makes him tick.
"I think he’s the kind of guy," the actor muses, "that likes to keep himself busy, I suppose, and that idle hands are the devil’s work. His interest in the way things work – in creation – we could see in Prometheus. These guys [Engineers] created humans, humans created us [synthetics]."
"[It's] this idea of creation and life and art. There’s a sort of artist there, there’s definitely an ego in there, we saw that before. These are very human things and he’s alone on this planet. Like a human, I suppose - like why we do all of this - we want to leave something behind. There’s a legacy of some sort that we’ve left behind."
This legacy David is laying out is what the clueless Covenant crew will be a part of, whether they like it or not. Besides that, there's also the additonal inhabitants of this supposed paradise who can't wait to get their hands (or teeth, or tail, or acid blood) on the new arrivals.
One we feel won’t go down without a fight is Katherine Waterston’s character Daniels, who will face off against the xenomorphs, and this artificial man with a God complex, with the aid of her own android, Walter. This second character is also played by Michael Fassbender.
As the movie-making man-machine sits with us he's in Walter-mode. In a costume bearing the Covenant's emblem, he provided interesting details about the difference between David and Walter, and the upgrades and downgrades that distinguish the two.
"When the David 8 came out, there was a resistance from people to that model. Because it freaked them out a little bit," Fassbender explains, "because he demonstrated many human qualities, and his programming was veered towards human characteristics like ego and vanity and pride.
"[The company] found that to be not so much useful as opposed to making people uncomfortable, so they designed the following models with fewer human traits." This brings us to Walter, fresh off the assembly line, programmed with limited emulated emotion.
"Walter is a very straightforward, logical synthetic," says Fassbender. "He’s more like a Mr. Spock type character. Whereas David is… it’s been ten years since we last saw him, without any maintenance. So those human qualities have sort of gathered momentum a little bit, I suppose. They’re as much a part of him now as his synthetic qualities."
Previous Weyland-Yutani synthetics are known, to audiences and movie characters alike, as unpredictable machines. ("They always were a bit twitchy,” said Bishop in Aliens of some prior models.) Fassbender insists that Walter is a more docile servant to the Covenant crew.
Walter is "a very efficient butler/bodyguard/technician. He’s just solely there for the purpose of the crew," explains the actor. "There are no complications in his programming. Not like anything we’ve seen in the previous Alien films as well. I suppose he’s like Bishop in Aliens. Probably with fewer human traits, but [more] along those lines than of Ian Holm’s [Ash] character for sure."
Asked how this seasoned artificial specimen will view his improved counterpart, Fassbender revealed "I think he sees him as kin in a way. Perhaps a student, a younger brother." Could Walter find himself synchronizing with David, or will the new bot on the block get his wires crossed for the safety of Daniels and the crew?
Fassbender kept quiet on such matters. Considering the importance of the two characters, it almost makes you wonder why director Ridley Scott chose to have one man play both sides of the same artificial coin. Fassbender's response to the question is frank.
So he is human, after all.