Though many of the characters in Alien: Covenant might not survive the facehugging of certain monsters, the actors who played them worked very hard to create realistic backstories for however long their characters lived. The biggest secret of the movie isn’t about any space aliens but instead that director Ridley Scott decided to develop most of the characters’ biographies only for the film’s trailers. Ahead of the release of the movie, cast members Danny McBride, Billy Crudup, and Jussie Smollett spoke to Inverse about how the entire ensemble collaborated with director Scott to create a believable starship crew.

Fans of the Alien franchise who have been following, along with the new unfolding of Alien: Covenant marketing know that several brief clips have been released already, which taken together, weave the journey of the spaceship called Covenant. As McBride points out, a lot of this advance footage was specifically designed not to be in the movie.

“The scene that they released in the trailer — “Last Supper” — that was actually just written for marketing,” McBride clarifies. “It was kind of cool to be able to do that, because in this film, things start out in a dark place and only get darker from there, so it was nice to actually have a scene where your characters can interact without their lives being in jeopardy.”

McBride plays the ship’s pilot, Tennessee, and without spoiling anything, Tennesse really doesn’t get many scenes in the actual movie that don’t involve jeopardy.

Billy Crudup plays a man of faith in the film, named Oram, who becomes the ship’s de facto leader. He says that the extra scenes released before the movie “give [me] an opportunity to create a history for [my] characters,” and will help audiences “understand some of the dynamics of the entire group.”

Jusse Smollett — who plays crew member Ricks in the movie — doubles-down on the notion that the extra footage shot for Alien: Covenant helped to “introduce ourselves to the fans.” Smollett also credits this unorthodox character-building approach to Scott’s confidence. “Ridley is soooo not afraid from the jump to just be like, ‘And go.’ Everything is wide open from the beginning.”

From left to right: Jussie Smollett, Danny McBride, and Billy Crudup in 'Alien: Covenant'
From left to right: Jussie Smollett, Danny McBride, and Billy Crudup in 'Alien: Covenant'

According to the cast, Scott also encouraged improv on the set of Covenant, allowing for the actors to bring their own flavor to each character. “If you had an idea, he was completely open to hearing it,” McBride said. But that doesn’t mean he always accepted the new spin or change. “He’d tell you if it wasn’t working,” Crudup said. “He’s say it with such clarity. Usually to Danny. Danny was the only one offering ideas.” But McBride tells a different story: “I always remember it always being Billy,” he jokes.

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With the character backstories established before the audience gets to the theater, the film itself wastes no time getting to the horrific thrills of the various aliens. And for the cast, the physicality of the creatures added to the realism of their performances. “There’s like a seven-foot guy walking around with this big-ass alien costume,” Smollett says. “It’s like a giant cockroach. And you see him and it’s freaking hell. Genuinely. You’re like, ‘Our job is so not normal.’ It’s so weird.”

“I mean this movie is one of those rare things where it’s like it scares the shit out of you, and then you leave the theater still, like, with questions,” McBride says.

Ultimately, Crudup praises the detail that Scott “revels in” to create the totality of the fictional world of Alien: Covenant. When the characters hear the screams of other characters in their radio headsets, Crudup clarifies that those are real screams that the actors respond to.

“Nobody cut any corners on that set,” Smollett says. “It was all very real.”


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Alien: Covenant is out in wide release on May 19.