Veronica Cartwright Looks Back at the Chestburster Scene from ‘Alien’

Veronica Cartwright in Alien

While Veronica Cartwright was at New Beverly Cinema to talk about “The Right Stuff,” filmmaker Brian McQuery couldn’t help but ask her a question about another famous movie she starred in, “Alien.” Specifically, he wanted to know more about the “chestburster” scene which is one of the film’s most horrifying moments. The story behind this scene has been told over and over again throughout the years, but Cartwright was still willing to talk and clear up a few things about it.

Legend has it neither Cartwright nor the other actors in “Alien” had any idea of what exactly was going to erupt from John Hurt’s chest. Cartwright, however, said the actors had read the script and knew something was supposed to come out of there. Also, she and Sigourney Weaver had a scene where they were supposed to know what it looked like, but they had no clue what they were going to be talking about. As a result, they visited the studio where the infant alien was being built.

“A few weeks earlier we had gone down and seen the little mockup of that little penis guy with the tail, but it wasn’t working at that point,” Cartwright said of the alien. “It was sort of a gray thing and the artists were saying ‘oh his teeth will be like this and he breathes…’ It was just like a little puppet thing that came out.”

Then came the day when the chestburster scene was shot, and Cartwright described it as though she had just filmed it yesterday.

“We’re all upstairs in the dressing room and they take John (Hurt) down, and for four hours we never saw John. John was having his false chest made,” Cartwright said. “When we were told that we could come down to the set, the entire set was dressed in plastic, everybody’s wearing raincoats, and there were big buckets of this awful stuff that smelled like formaldehyde. It stank and you gagged when you first went in there.”

“So, here’s John packed in this thing, and they had four cameras so that they would get everybody’s reaction,” Cartwright continued. “What happens is that they cut the t-shirt so that the puppeteer could push the thing through, so we all start leaning forward because you’re just fascinated to see what’s going to happen. One of the effects guys told me, ‘oh you’ll be getting a little blood on you,’ and I said, ‘oh okay.’ Not thinking, I leaned right into it. I had a jet pointed at my face, and it just shot me square in the face. It was unbelievable, and then I backed up and (in the dailies, it’s the most hysterical thing) my knees hit the back of a set piece and I flipped upside down to where you can see my cowboy boots sticking up above. I did not expect to get shot with a full blast of blood.

Veronica gets sprayed in Alien

Cartwright pointed out that the scene was done in just one take, and McQuery replied how her reaction looked “really real!” The audience at the New Beverly laughed loudly in agreement with him.

“Years later I worked with that same guy and he said, ‘sorry about that!’ How rude,” Cartwright said.

Looking back, Cartwright described “Alien” as being a very “sweaty” movie because the cast would come on the set in the morning and get covered in glycerin from a pumper. She described this as being “so gross,” but that in the end it was an experience.

While she was primarily at New Beverly Cinema to talk about “The Right Stuff,” the audience was glad McQuery asked Cartwright about the making of Ridley Scott’s classic 1979 film. Just when you think you have heard the definitive story about a classic movie scene, one of its participants comes around to inform you of one or two details you might have missed.

Photos courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Exclusive Interview with Kenneth Walker and Julia Lallas about ‘Loving’

Jeff Nichols’ “Loving” is a beautiful movie from top to bottom as everyone involved in its making did an expert job of transporting us back to the 1950’s and 60’s. Based on a, yes, true story, it introduces us to Richard Loving (Joel Edgerton) and Mildred Jeter (Ruth Negga) who are deeply in love with one another. They eventually get married, but with Richard being white and Ruth being black, they are arrested and put in jail as their interracial marriage violated Virginia’s anti-miscegenation laws. As punishment, they are banned from returning to Virginia for 25 years and forced to live in Washington D.C., but they soon sue the state and their case eventually made it all the way to the Supreme Court where it was ruled banning interracial marriage is unconstitutional.

I recently got to speak with two artists who worked on “Loving” behind the scenes: Kenneth Walker and Julie Lallas. Walker was the head of the hair department, and his previous credits include “Jimi: All is By My Side,” “Munich” and Ridley Scott’s “American Gangster” which he described as the hardest film he ever worked on. Lallas headed up the makeup department and worked with Nichols previously on “Take Shelter,” and she has also worked on the set of “Enchanted,” “Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist” and “We Need to Talk About Kevin.” Talking with them both was very illuminating in terms of how they went about their jobs, and it also allowed me to ask them if they want their work to be showy or to instead just disappear into the framework of the movie.

Check out the interview above, and also included below is a trailer for “Loving.” Nichols’ movie is now playing in Los Angeles and New York, and it is definitely worth checking out.