Xenomorphs Exposed! James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, and Cast Reveal Secrets of 'Aliens'

·Editor-in-Chief, Yahoo Entertainment
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Sigourney Weaver meets the alien queen in Aliens. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Thirty Julys ago, a sequel announced itself with a simple tagline: This time there’s more. That sequel was James Cameron’s Aliens, a follow-up to Ridley Scott’s seminal 1979 sci-fi horror film that became a classic in its own right. Aliens, which infested theaters on July 18, 1986, celebrated its 30th anniversary in style over the weekend, with a packed panel at San Diego’s Comic-Con followed by its first screening in a movie theater in three decades. Yahoo Movies spent time with director Cameron, producer Gale Anne Hurd, and stars Sigourney Weaver (Ripley), Bill Paxton (Private Hudson), Michael Biehn (Cpl. Hicks), and Carrie Henn (Newt) beforehand, and they shared some incredible insights into the film, discussed its legacy, and even entertained the possibility of revisiting that universe in the future. Here’s what they told us.

Related: Summer of ’86: ‘Aliens’ and the Adrenaline Jolt of a Lifetime

Cameron plagiarized himself for Aliens’ snappy screenplay about two dueling mothers: Ripley, who becomes a surrogate parent to young Newt, and the alien queen.

Before he started developing Aliens, Cameron had a different kind of extraterrestrial-themed project in mind, tentatively titled E.T. That name, of course, changed once he learned of Steven Spielberg’s film — Cameron retitled it Mother after its maternal themes. The script languished until he started developing the Alien sequel. “I cribbed some chunks from [Mother]. But it seemed to fit very well,” Cameron told us. “In the same way we needed to evolve and ratchet up Sigourney’s character, we needed to take the nemesis — the idea of the alien — and take it to another level. It was kind of staring us in the face: There was this ship filled with all these eggs. … Who laid the eggs?

Gale Anne Hurd and director James Cameron pose post-interview. (Photo: Marcus Errico)

Continued Cameron: “Now, a scene that was removed from Ridley’s film showed there was a closure of the life cycle where the humans were cocooned and became eggs. We just threw that out. In my mind, I didn’t go against canon because that scene hadn’t made it into the release cut. So, I thought, ‘You got a mother someplace.’ Now you’ve got two mothers. Obviously, I never went anywhere with [Mother] — I just stuck it all into Alien 2.”

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Bill Paxton and the rest of the Marines. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Cameron’s script was good, but Bill Paxton’s ad-libs made Private Hudson’s freak-outs extraordinary.

Asked if he came up with all those meme-worthy lines, Cameron gave credit where credit was due. “It was the actors. You remember Hudson,” he said, beginning an imitation of Paxton’s whine. “‘What the f*** are we gonna do now, man?! We’re in some pretty s*** now, man.’ That was Bill.”

“I’m not great at improvising on the spot,” said Paxton. “But the stuff that wasn’t in the script I had thrown at Jim in a rehearsal. Jim has a mind like a steel trap. He remembers something I had said when we were rehearsing when he’s doing a scene two months later. He’d say something about the ‘express elevator to Hell.’ ‘You mean, ‘Going down?’ ‘Yeah, put that in here.’”

Paxton’s most memorable line — “game over, man” — was inspired by the backstory he imagined for Hudson: “He probably came up on simulators and video games,” said Paxton. “Back in those days — I don’t think they do it anymore, but I don’t play video games anymore — at the end of your quarter, ’Game over.’ So, I thought, ‘Game over. Has anybody ever used that? I wonder, because it’s kind of good.’ I had no idea it would catch on.”

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Weaver and Michael Biehn. (Photo: Everett Collection)

Weaver’s most famous line was all Cameron.

During her climactic battle with the alien queen who’s got young Newt in her sights, Ripley starts the brawl by shouting, “Get away from her, you bitch!”

“That line was scripted. Oh, yes,” she told us. “And I think I only did one take. And I remember [my voice] went up. I went, ‘Get away from her [then raising her voice an octave], you bitch!’ And I thought, ‘What the f*** did I do that for?’ I wanted to do it again, but they said, ‘We don’t have time.’”

“I remember seeing that at the premiere, at the Avco Embassy in Westwood, and the place went crazy,” added Paxton after imitating Weaver’s delivery.

Everyone in the cast and crew was impressed by Weaver.

“Sigourney set the bar. I was in awe of her before I ever met her. I had her picture up on the wall while I was writing the script,” said Cameron, who directed her to an Oscar nomination for the performance. “No actress had gotten nominated for Best Actress for a genre picture until then, not for science fiction or horror.”

“I was just starting Gorillas in the Mist, which was an intimidating project because I had to play a real person and I had never done that,” Weaver recalled. “So it [the Oscar nomination] was a real shot in the arm. I didn’t realize it was groundbreaking until Jim told me. He still thinks I should have won.”

The creative team believes Aliens had a huge influence on sequel culture.

“For better or for worse,” said Hurd, who currently produces The Walking Dead. “All of a sudden, sequels, which were not common then, became considered a little more viable.”

“A lot more viable,” Cameron interjected. “At the time we made Aliens, the rule was that a sequel would cost twice as much and make half as much. So, it never looked like a particularly good business model.”

Hurd said Aliens established a rulebook for making a quality sequel: “As opposed to formulaic filmmaking, go to an auteur and have the auteur write the script and reinvent the story while staying true to canon.”

“It’s about answering a question they didn’t know to ask, but when they see it, it seems obvious,” said Cameron. “And that’s a tricky space to play in, but it’s what I’m doing with the Avatar sequels and what I did with Terminator 2. With Aliens, we didn’t know it was going to be a hit. We liked it. We thought it was cool.”

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The Aliens crew at Comic-Con on Saturday. (Photo: Getty Images)

Team Aliens aren’t big fans of David Fincher’s Alien 3, which kills off Newt and Hicks.

“I thought it was dumb. I thought it was a huge slap in the face to fans,” said Cameron without hesitation. “Look, David is a friend of mine. David is an amazing, amazing filmmaker, unquestionably. But that was kind of his first big gig, and he was getting vectored around by the studio, and he was dropped into the production late, and they had a horrible script, and they were rewriting it on the fly, and it was just a mess. I think it was a big mistake.”

“I was disappointed,” added Biehn. “But I actually got into [Aliens] because another actor dropped. So, I got into the movie on a fluke, and then I got cut out of Fincher’s movie. And Fincher’s movie, because he was young and they didn’t have a good script, wasn’t any good. And the fourth one [Alien: Resurrection] wasn’t any good. … So, to me, I’m the leading man in the best Alien movie.”

Henn, who at 16 would have aged out of the Newt role by the time Alien 3 was made anyway, had already decided by that point that she wasn’t going to continue acting. She got to experience some of the hoopla, though. “Sigourney actually made sure I was invited to the premiere for it,” she said of Alien 3. “I got to experience it as 16-year old, and I knew who these movie stars were and I was like, ‘Oh, wow!’”

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Weaver and Bill Paxton during our interview. (Photo: Marcus Errico)

Then there’s director Neill Blomkamp’s planned Alien sequel, which would ignore the events of Alien 3 — it’s currently in a holding pattern while Scott finished his Prometheus sequel Alien: Covenant.

“There is an incredible script,” gushed Weaver of the Blomkamp project, which would bring back Hicks and an adult Newt. “It gives fans everything they are looking for, plus innovates in ways that immediately became part of the world. So, he has work to do. I have work to do. And I’m hoping when we finish those jobs, we’ll circle back and start to do it.”

“If I know Sigourney, she’s going to get her way,” said Biehn. He added, joking about Weaver’s role in the upcoming Cameron-directed Avatar sequels: “Especially since she has to do all that promotion for all those Avatars for the next 20 years.”

Even Cameron is on board. “I think it works gangbusters. [Blomkamp] shared it with me — I think it’s a very strong script and he could make it tomorrow. I don’t know anything about the production. Seriously, I just don’t. You could stick bamboo shoots into my fingernails; I couldn’t tell you more than that. And I don’t know anything about what Ridley is doing. But hopefully there will be room for both of them. Maybe in parallel universes.”

In any universe, Aliens is, and always will be, a classic.