Advertisement

‘Alien: Romulus’ Director Fede Álvarez Unveils First Teaser, Talks Ridley Scott and James Cameron-Approved Prequel

Alien: Romulus doesn’t hit theaters until August, but filmmaker Fede Álvarez already has the wind at his back. That’s because Ridley Scott and James Cameron — the highly regarded directors behind one of cinema’s ultimate one-two punches, Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986) — have already proclaimed their love for Romulus, which takes place between their two films and very much connects to them. Today, Álvarez and Disney finally pulled back the curtain on the “interquel,” releasing a terrifying 62-second teaser trailer that re-establishes the look and feel of the franchise’s bona fide classics.

The story focuses on a group of twenty-something space colonizers and scavengers who have the misfortune of meeting a Xenomorph inside a dilapidated space station. The film has a notably young cast that’s led by Cailee Spaeny, Isabela Merced, as well David Jonsson, Archie Renaux, Spike Fearn and Aileen Wu. Álvarez says that the idea to follow younger people in this world came from an Aliens deleted scene that Cameron eventually restored in his extended Special Edition cut.

“There’s a moment where you see a bunch of kids running [and riding a big wheel] around the corridors of this colony. And I thought, ‘Wow, what would it be like for those kids to grow up in a colony that still needs another 50 years to terraform?’” Álvarez tells The Hollywood Reporter. “So I remember thinking, ‘If I ever tell a story in that world, I would definitely be interested in those kids when they reach their early twenties.’”

More from The Hollywood Reporter

The eighth film in the Alien franchise was originally slated to be a Hulu release à la Dan Trachtenberg’s critically acclaimed Predator prequel, Prey (2022), but the studio wisely shifted to theatrical at the start of principal photography: “Right when we started shooting it, the studio was like, ‘Fuck it, we’re going into theaters with this,’” Álvarez shares.

Whether it’s the infamous basement scene in Álvarez’s 2016 hit, Don’t Breathe, or any number of scenes in his Evil Dead (2013) reimagining, he has a knack for making audiences squirm in their seats. Romulus is also following suit, as Merced recently told THR about a “disgusting” scene of hers that prompted ten people on set to avert their eyes in revulsion during playback. That scene is alluded to in the opening shot of the new teaser, in that you see remnants of it and hear isolated dialogue of Merced’s character during the sequence. For Álvarez, the disturbingly ambitious scene is meant to be his crack at creating something in the same vein as Scott’s iconic chestburster sequence in the ‘79 film.

When Álvarez screened his director’s cut for franchise mastermind and Romulus producer, Scott, it was done so without VFX, but the English filmmaker was still won over, remarking, “Fede, what can I say? It’s fucking great.” But as much as the Uruguayan filmmaker was trying to capture the spirit of Scott and Cameron’s franchise-launching films, he still tied Romulus to the entire series.

“I love all of those movies. I didn’t want to omit or ignore any of them when it comes to connections at a story level, character level, technology level and creature level. There’s always connections from Alien to Alien: Covenant,” Álvarez says.

Below, during a recent conversation with THR in support of Alien: Romulus’ first teaser, Álvarez also discusses writing the film for fast-rising star Cailee Spaeny.

Well, congratulations on this first step towards August’s release. The teaser was two hours too short, but I’m intrigued.

(Laughs.) Thank you. I’m glad that I can finally talk about it, and that’s the idea, right? I went to a crazy extent to make sure I showed the minimum amount at this point. It’s just enough to get you interested, but not too much. I personally hate spoilers or anything that makes me feel like it steals from that night when you finally sit down and watch the movie. And this teaser doesn’t steal from that [eventual] night.

Xenomorph in 20th Century Studios' ALIEN: ROMULUS.
Xenomorph in 20th Century Studios’ ALIEN: ROMULUS.

So Alien: Romulus takes place between Alien (1979) and Aliens (1986), but it’s reportedly “unconnected” to those films. Is that correct?

That’s not correct, but it does take place between the two movies. The way we crafted it is if you haven’t seen any of them, I’m jealous because you’ll have an incredible experience. You’ll have all these worlds of Alien coming at you, and you’ve never experienced any of this. You don’t know how the creature is born, and you don’t know any of these things. That’s fantastic. You’ll have a blast.

Now, if you’ve seen the others, then it’s a completely different experience in a way, because you’ll see and you’ll find those connections with the other movies. And if you’re a fan, you’ll be that person who annoys your friends in the theater, by telling them that you know what this is from and where that gun is from and what the characters are talking about.

So it is crafted in that way, and hopefully it works that way for everybody, but it is connected to all of them. I love all of those movies. I didn’t want to omit or ignore any of them when it comes to connections at a story level, character level, technology level and creature level. There’s always connections from Alien to Alien: Covenant.

The synopsis involves a group of young space colonizers and scavengers who encounter “the most terrifying life form in the universe” inside a run-down space station. Did you choose to focus on a younger cast just because that’s a relatively new dynamic for the franchise?

I wish there was some sort of deep-thinking strategy about it. It was really more based on Aliens. I remember watching an extended cut of Aliens, and there’s a moment where you see a bunch of kids running [and riding a big wheel] around the corridors of this colony. And I thought, “Wow, what would it be like for those kids to grow up in a colony that still needs another 50 years to terraform? There’s no sunlight and there’s no real life, except to just take the place of a parent and do the same job they did.” In my movies, I’m always interested in those characters. Maybe it’s because I grew up in the small country of Uruguay. I think it connects to a lot of people who grew up in small towns and think that all the important things are happening somewhere else.

So when I saw those kids, I remember thinking, “If I ever tell a story in that world, I would definitely be interested in those kids when they reach their early twenties, and what they want to do and where they want to go.” And when it comes to having them encounter the creature, the dynamics are completely different. So that might be the reason why we managed to make it. When Ridley [Scott] read it, he felt that It was completely different than the other movies. It had all the DNA of the originals and a lot of [the other movies], but it automatically felt different and fresh, mostly because kids that age approach problems in a completely different way than adults do and professional adults do. So it’s just a completely different viewing experience.

Were you asked to pitch what became Alien: Romulus? Or did you ask if you could come in and pitch it?

Right after Don’t Breathe, I had a meeting at Scott Free, Ridley’s company, and I think they were about to start doing Alien: Covenant. And I mentioned something that I would love to see. I said, “I hope this movie has some of this and that and this.” And he was like, “Oh, that’s interesting. What would you do with it?” No one was actually asking me [to pitch], believe me; it was more that they were intrigued about what I wanted to see as a fan. And I was like, “I think you guys should do this and approach it this way, and maybe it’s about that.” And suddenly, I was pitching, but I was not really being asked to do it. So that stayed in the air there somehow, and then a couple of years later, Ridley remembered that. He knew about it. He was like, “Fede had pitched this thing.” So they called me back and said, “Hey, remember that story you mentioned? Do you want to write it and direct it?” And I was like, “Fuck yeah!” And here we are.

It’s pretty intimidating to step into a Ridley Scott franchise. Denis Villeneuve recently told me how difficult it was for him on Blade Runner 2049. But apparently, you’ve already passed the Ridley test. He really spent an entire hour telling you how much he loved the movie?

He did! As intimidating as it is, that’s the best part of being able to work on something like this. For all of us and whatever it is that we do, the dream is to sit down with the masters of our craft and have a conversation about what we do and learn how to do it better. And the process of making this film definitely gave me that experience with Ridley. At the story level, we first told him what I was planning to do, and then when he read it, I discussed the script with him. And later, when he watched the movie, I discussed my cut with him. So I consider each one of those moments and creative conversations with Ridley to be a highlight of my career and my life.

James Cameron is also someone I’ve met through the years, and when he learned that I was doing it, we started chatting about it. So I also had that conversation with him at the script level. He’s now seen the movie and loved it. It’s also fascinating because [Cameron and Scott’s] notes and comments are completely different. (Laughs.) They wouldn’t repeat a note. Whatever Ridley said, Cameron said something different. They were all super smart comments, notes and thoughts on the film and the filmmaking, et cetera, but both of them have completely different approaches. So the fantastic part of being able to make this film is to have the chance to work with them.

Knowing that you’d already succeeded in Sam Raimi’s Evil Dead sandbox, did that also help lessen any nerves?

It did, but even when I did interviews ten years ago with Evil Dead, people would ask me about the pressure and the intimidation. And I told everybody, “You’re forgetting where I come from. I have been doing short movies in Uruguay since I was a kid, and all of a sudden, someone says, ‘You want to do Evil Dead?’ There’s no way you go, ‘Oh, wait a second, let’s think this through.’” (Laughs.) The joy of it and the passion for these things is so big that I tend to be a more glass-half-full kind of guy, and I really see it as a privilege to be able to travel to these worlds. That’s what it is for me. I get to physically go to that place. On Evil Dead, I was able to step out of a car every morning or every night, mostly, and see the cabin right there in the woods. I was in the Evil Dead universe, and I got to grab the camera and run around and witness things that will stay with me forever. And hopefully, that experience will pass to the audience.

And it’s the same thing with [Alien: Romulus]. I was able to walk through a Weyland-Yutani spaceship that’s designed in the style of [Alien and Aliens concept artist] Ron Cobb. I got to be in this world that Ridley created and encounter these creatures face to face. So the more I focused on that privilege, the more I forgot about the pressure. Instead, I was able to really think about how I will give the audience the thrills and the horrors of being trapped on spaceships in the Alien universe.

Did the response at test screenings ultimately upgrade this movie from Hulu to theatrical?

No, it happened before that. I wish I could tell you yes, but no, it was before that. Right when we started shooting it, the studio was like, “Fuck it, we’re going into theaters with this.” So we shot it already knowing that it was for theaters, and the team did such a good job.

Cailee Spaeny as Rain Carradine in 20th Century Studios’ ALIEN: ROMULUS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Cailee Spaeny as Rain Carradine in 20th Century Studios’ ALIEN: ROMULUS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Well, you picked a great time to be in the Cailee Spaeny business, as she’s having a moment with Priscilla, Civil War and Romulus. Did she exceed your expectations in every way?

Absolutely, yeah. She’s an amazing talent. I met her a few years before, and it was a complete coincidence in a way. It’s a credit to her talent, but when we started writing the movie a few years ago, my co-writer [Rodo Sayagues] and I already had her photo on the board. We put photos of faces on the board just to have a character face that we could turn to when they’re going to say a line. “How would that person speak?” So we had her face on the board from the beginning, and I always tell Cailee, “I wrote this movie for you.” So I met her and I’d seen her work, and then when this came about, I was lucky enough that she loved the script from the get-go. She then jumped aboard, and I’ve been thrilled to see her having so much success lately.

You have another great young actor in Isabela Merced, and she told me recently that she watched some of the movie on your iPad during additional photography. And then she explained that there’s a scene so disgusting that all the people who were watching over her shoulders had to turn away in horror. 

(Laughs.)

Do we hear a little bit of that scene in the teaser? 

I think we might! I’ll tell you more without spoiling too much. It takes place in [the teaser’s] first shot. There’s a tiny hint in there, and it has to do with that scene that Isabela talked about, which is great. When you manage to have an idea or concept that has not been seen before in any Alien movie — and it’s also something that has never happened before in the history of movies and science fiction — my first test usually when I shoot it is to just look at the boom mic guy. He has no idea what’s about to happen, and then I see his face completely in shock over what he’s witnessing. So that is, for me, the biggest reward, and when you know that there’s something special, then you just can’t wait for opening night. I’ll sit in the front and turn around to see people’s reactions to those moments.

And the original Alien was pretty much based on one of those moments. People had never seen a creature bursting out of someone’s chest, at least not in that way. So you always try to find those things, and with these movies, people want the same thing but different. If Alien was a band, then we wanted this to be the concert where we play all the hits and then a few more new songs, so they go, “Wow, that’s pretty good!” (Laughs.) So that’s the way we approached the whole thing. We want to make sure that we play all those hits and more.

Isabela Merced as Kay in 20th Century Studios’ ALIEN: ROMULUS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.
Isabela Merced as Kay in 20th Century Studios’ ALIEN: ROMULUS. Photo courtesy of 20th Century Studios. © 2024 20th Century Studios. All Rights Reserved.

Lastly, you just touched on the Weyland-Yutani spaceship that your team built, but overall, how did you balance practical effects and VFX?

For the creatures, we brought in all the guys from Aliens. They were in their early twenties when they made Aliens, and they were a part of Stan Winston’s [special effects] team. And now we had them at the top of their game. They have their own shops, and so we brought them all together to work on all the creatures, because we went with all animatronics and puppets at every level. I even got the chance to be under the table with them, puppeteering all these animatronics.

I have this obsession with no green screens, so we built every creature and set. Everything had to be built so we were really living and breathing in these spaces. But I’m not an anti-CG guy. I got the chance to do Evil Dead, because I had made this short movie called Panic Attack! with a couple of friends and we did all the CG. So I come from a background where I know how to build the effects myself. I still do VFX shots in my movies to this day. I’ll cut and do VFX shots on my computer, sometimes. So it’s just whatever is best for the shot, and when it comes to face-to-face encounters and moments with creatures, nothing beats the real thing.

For the sets, we built spaceships and we built miniatures. We went back to all of that. And then we figured out ways to marry it with the CG world. There’s some things that only CG can do for the scope and movement. So it really has to be the right tool for the shot. Ideally, you should never feel like you’re watching CG. Ideally, there should be nothing there where the audience goes, “Well, that was clearly CG.” It should always feel practical, but I prefer practical because I want to see it when I’m there [on set]. There is nothing worse than having nothing to look at when I’m shooting. But some things that are CG can really blow your mind when done right.

Ridley watched [Alien: Romulus] after I had just finished the director’s cut, and there was no VFX on the director’s cut. There was no time to make any. But he still had the whole experience. There was nothing missing. You know what I mean? So take it that way. You can watch it without VFX, and you’ll know exactly what’s going on. You won’t miss it much. That is a fact.

***
Alien: Romulus opens exclusively in theaters on August 16.

Best of The Hollywood Reporter