a) First Approached
Tom Skerrit was in Minneapolis half way through working on a film called Ice Castles and he received the script for a movie called "Alien".
At the time he understood that it was going to be an inexpensive film, two or three million dollars.
He read it through and it was at a time when they didn't know who the director was at the time.
When he read the script, he thought "oh this is not an actor’s script, and it's a two million dollar film – it’s gotta be, you know, another Ed Wood movie."
He saw that it was an ensemble piece but thought that there was not much for an actor to do here and two or three million dollars wasn't going to make a great special effects science fiction movie, so he turned it down.
In 2001 , looking back, Tom Skerrit's memory of the event stated that about a month later, he got a call from one of the producers, perhaps Gordon Carroll telling Tom "We’ve got Ridley Scott, and the budget’s up to ten or twelve million bucks. " and that was certainly was a higher budget.
Tom's earlier story stated that his response to that was "hold on here, on second thoughts, let me see. I’ve heard of this Ridley Scott guy, I’ve heard that he did this thing called The Duellists. Can I see this?"
The producers said "yes, and we'll run a screening for you tomorrow"
By 2013, his memory of the event was that he saw the film a week or so after turning down the script,
But still his appreciation for the film would remain the same, he thought it was a remarkable masterpiece.
He had never seen a movie that caught so much production value as The Duellists.
It was a magnificent looking film painting from beginning to end.
So now he had to do the movie.
He knew how Ridley did it with his own money for nine hundred thousand dollars and so when he saw it, he thought "jeez, I’d like to work with this guy, I love this."
And perhaps in this other telling of events a week later, he got the call from the producer telling him the good news
c) Eager to join
To some extent he knew Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton.
He didn’t know Sigourney began she was brand new in the cinema seen and he was quite eager to work with Jon Finch (who had been cast as Kane until he was taken ill early into filming) and Ian Holm.
- Tom Skerrit:I was working halfway through ‘Ice Castles’ when I received a script for a movie called ‘Alien,’ (http://bringmethenews.com/ February 19, 2013)
- Tom Skerrit: I had turned it down initially when I was offered that because I had, they didn't have the director at that point and, and the budget was small, and it seemed to me that they weren't going to make a good film out of that, given the parameters, but they came back a few weeks later and said, "Ridley Scott is going to shoot that", so I met Tony as a result of that and I saw the finesse, the , the detail, what they looked at when they were looking at a camera, because they'd always look through a camera, so that you're looking at a photograph, a damn good photograph. ( Tom Skerritt | CONVERSATIONS AT KCTS 9 12 Jan 2010)
- Interviewer: How did you first hear about Alien and how did you get the part?
Tom Skerrit: That I remember very clearly. I was in Minneapolis doing another film. I got the script called Alien and my understanding of it at that time was that it was going to be an inexpensive film, two or three million dollars. I read it through, and they didn’t who the director was at that time. I read it through and I thought well this is all special effects. Not much for an actor to do here, it’s ensemble. I don’t know. Two or three million dollars is not going to make a great special effects science fiction picture. So I turned it down. Three or four weeks later I got a call from England, one of the producers, I forget which one it was at the time, perhaps Gordon, said Ridley Scott was going to be directing it and this was the budget. I thought well, "Hold on here, let me see. I’ve heard of this Ridley Scott guy, I’ve heard that he did this thing called The Duellists. Can I see this?" And they said "yes, we’ll run a screening for you tomorrow." So I went to see this The Duellists. And it was a masterpiece. I mean, he…I have never seen a picture that captured so much production value as The Duellists. Magnificent looking film, painting from beginning to end. So I had to do Alien at that point. And the only other actor I knew at all was Yaphet Kotto and Harry Dean Stanton to some extent. I didn’t know Sigourney, who she was, she was brand new. So…and to be working with John Hurt and Ian Holmes…yeah. (report from the interview for Alien Evolution, 2001)
- Skerritt: Well my story's a little different. I, I was offered the role, I was sent the script, told it was a two million dollar project and didn’t have a director, so I guess I was the first one that they did ask. And. er, I was somewhat snobbish in those days because I was getting a lot of work and I thought, "oh this is not, this is really not an actor’s script, and a two million dollar film – it’s gotta be, you know, another Ed Wood movie. "And then, um, couple of weeks later I saw The Duellists , have you seen the Duellists,
Interviewer: Ridley's first film
Skerritt: you must see it, the first film he ever did, he was a graphics artist
Interviewer: It's a double feature
Skerritt: Yuh, it was just a remarkable film and he did it with his own money for nine hundred thousand dollars. It’s just a stupendous film. And I saw this and thought, ‘jeez, I’d like to work with this guy, I love this’. Maybe another week later I get a call from the producer, and he said, and he says ‘we’ve got Ridley Scott, and the budget’s up to ten or twelve million bucks.’
I said, ‘On second thought…’ (Alien Panel Discussion With Tom Skerritt & Veronica Cartwright at 05/04/13 at Texas Frightmare Weekend)