Alien: Yaphet Kotto joins Alien

leading from 
and 
Yaphet Kotto

a) First news of the Alien script

Dan O'Bannon and Ron Shusett were Yaphet's friends long before the script was bought by Fox and then made into a movie.

Dan had just finished the early version of it and was showing around to get feedback, and Yaphet knew that there was something special about the script.

He read the first 72-page script, which Dan and Ron had wrote around the second year before Alien went into production.

He had been following up on its progress, even to the extent that his very mysterious friend named Maria who wore black and was oddly always around would also give psychic insights into its progress such as telling him about a dream Ron Shusett was having about Alien that would lead to the facehugger idea, although Ron had not yet had the dream.

On the first day Yaphet met Ron Shusett, he said that he'd he'd been waiting fifteen years for a script like this.

Yaphet Kotto as Kananga/Mr. Big in the James Bond movie "Live and Let Die"


b) Turning down other roles, for Alien

Dan was trying to sell the script and the year was 1977, Yaphet became afraid that if the movie were to be produced, he might be doing something else at the time.

He had done "Live and Let Die" which was released in 1973, and was payed around $150,000 which was practically nothing.

The script came through the mail when he had two other offers to do other films and so he read the script.

A question might be whether he had received a version of the script where Ripley was a female.

If we can't pin that down or really know exactly when he received it, we might think about what he thought about the script in general as they continued to develop it and know that Yaphet was impressed by what they had done with the character Ripley, a heroic role for a male had been turned into a role for a woman.

Also, for him there was he opportunity for him to play the first African-American in space in a movie in a role that was interesting enough in itself for an actor.

He was excited enough by what he had read in the script and the  words coming out of him were "I've got to be in this one, No, I'll wait. I'll wait and I'll wait and I'll wait -- and I'll keep on waiting until they are ready to go, and then I'll go and force my way into this movie. I've got to be a part of this."

His friend Stuart Rosenberg who made "Cool Hand Luke" offered him a film role, this time he was being offered $2,000,500 to be in this other film project, which was a big jump.

Yaphet found himself saying "Wow! Look at this!"

Stuart called him directly at home and said "C'mon I want you to do this. I'm going to send it to you."

Yaphet replied "Stuart, I really can't do this movie."

He asked, "Why?"

Yaphet replied, "Because I've got a script that I really love."

"Do they want you?" asked Stuart

Yaphet replied "I don't know,"

Still Yaphet had to let the role in Rosenberg's film go, but the trouble was there was that although an interesting amount of money being offered for a role in the film, there was no offer for Alien.

He found himself venting his concerns about the Alien movie to his agent who felt that a mistake was being made by not taking Rosenberg's offer.

Yaphet asked "What about the Alien movie? Have they talked to you about that?"

The reply was "No"

Yaphet asked "When are they going...?"

The agent replied "I don't know."

Yaphet said "Do you think they'll be going in a couple of months?"

The agent replied "They could. They could go next year, they could go today."

Yaphet the asked "Well... what are we going to do?"

He said "Take the offer that you've got in hand."

Yaphet replied "No man, I can't. I've just read the script and this is unbelievable. What if I take this movie and they call you back and say 'We want him for Alien?'"

He said, "What? This is more money than you've ever been offered in your whole career!"

Yaphet responded, "I can't do it, man, I can't do it."

The agent asked "What if Alien offers a lot less?"

Yaphet said "I don't care if Alien offers me nothing. Really. Turn the movie down and let's wait for Alien. Let's see what they do."

He said "You're taking a shot, they may not want you."

Yaphet spoke his final view, "Well, I've got to do it. I have to do it."

Rosenberg's next film in 1979 was "Love and Bullets" starring Charles Bronson, Jill Ireland and Rod Steiger, but Kotto would appear in his following film Brubaker in 1980.

Stuart Rosenberg

c) Signing up

Yaphet waited for four months for this offer and when Dan and Ron sold their script and Ridley was signed as director, Yaphet got a call from his agent saying that Fox wanted him, that appeared to be December 1977  

Yaphet Kotto didn't have to audition for the role, he didn't do auditions anyway, preferring to walk out of the door if asked to.

He came for a meeting with Ridley and others from Fox during that Christmas week.

Yaphet smiled, then  said, " I don't know what we're laughing about.

Ridley said it was because they were having a good meeting and later on told Yaphet that he knew he'd found Parker when Yaphet walked through the door. 

Yaphet thought that his work in the Paul Schrader film Blue Collar caught their attention, they signed him up for the role and then he was called to go to England.


Source quotes
  1. Last year was the 35th anniversary of Alien.  When were you aware it could be something extraordinary?
    Yaphet Kotto: I knew that two years before the movie had a deal.  Knew it from the first 72-page script, that was the version Dan [O'Bannon] and Ronnie [Shusett] wrote.  They were my friends long before the movie was made, long before Fox bought it.   When I got that script I turned down movies for two years because I was afraid that movie would be produced and I'd be doing something else.  Then, when it got that deal, I got a call from my agent saying Fox wanted me to go to England. (http://www.blastr.com/2015-2-11)
  2. Austin Chronicle: How did your casting in Alien come about?
    Yaphet Kotto: I really think that Blue Collar was responsible for me being selected for Alien. It happened so quickly. I got the script in the mail, and it came at a time when I had two other projects to make a decision about, and one of those projects was a firm offer for a great deal of money, and a friend of mine was directing it -- Stuart Rosenberg. He called me directly at home and said "C'mon I want you to do this. I'm going to send it to you." Blah, blah, blah. I said, "Stuart, I really can't do this movie." He asked, "Why?" I said, "Because I've got a script that I really love." "Do they want you?" I said, "I don't know," but I still had to let him go. So I waited four months for this offer -- and it came through.
    AC: So you knew when you read the script that Alien was something really special.
    YK: Instantly. I knew that it would be a hit. I knew that it would be a classic. It was a first, this movie. I was always looking out for a first, and I saw that this character, Parker, was the first African-American who was going to be in space. What completely shocked me and surprised me though was the character of Ripley (Sigourney Weaver). Whoa, this was history. "I've got to be in this one," I said. "No, I'll wait. I'll wait and I'll wait and I'll wait -- and I'll keep on waiting until they are ready to go, and then I'll go and force my way into this movie. I've got to be a part of this." I turned down everything. I waited for four months, and around December I got a call from Fox, saying they wanted to talk to me about Alien. And when I went over there, they offered me the part as soon as I walked in the door. (http://www.austinchronicle.com/screens/2003-10-31/let-the-work-speak-for-itself/)
  3. Q: What is it, do you think, that made Ridley decide to put you in the film, to cast you in Alien?
    KOTTO: I'm a good actor.
    Q: Was it your audition?
    KOTTO: Actually, I didn't audition.
    Q: You didn't?
    KOTTO: Nope, they sent me the script and eventually made me an offer.
    Q: Can't beat that.
    KOTTO: I was coming off a couple of big hits though. Live and Let Die was a huge success all over the world and then Blue Collar had critical acclaim, so, I think it was Live and Let that put me in kind of like a prominent position.
    Q: You read the script for Alien and you had this huge decision you had to make. Can you talk about what went down? You went over this at length with your agent?
    KOTTO: I read the script and I had two other offers to do two other films. And one of the offers I had was for two million, five hundred thousand dollars. This was a big jump. Live and Let Die I practically did for nothing, you know, a hundred and fifty thousand or something at that time. So to go from that kind of money to this offer I had, I went "Wow! Look at this!"
    But the trouble was that was for another film. There was, at the time, no offer for Alien. So I said to my agent, "
    What about the Alien movie? Have they talked to you about that?"
    "No"
    "
    When are they going..."
    "
    I don't know."
    I said, "
    Do you think they'll be going in a couple of months?"
    "
    They could. They could go next year, they could go today."
    I said, "
    Well... what are we going to do?"
    He said, "
    Take the offer that you've got in hand."
    I said, "
    No man, I can't. I've just read the script and this is unbelievable. What if I take this movie and they call you back and say 'We want him for Alien?'"
    He said, "What? This is more money than you've ever been offered in your whole career!"
    I said, "I can't do it, man, I can't do it."
    "What if Alien offers a lot less?"
    I said, "I don't care if Alien offers me nothing. Really. Turn the movie down and let's wait for Alien. Let's see what they do."
    He said, "You're taking a shot, they may not want you."
    "Well, I've got to do it. I have to do it."(http://uk.ign.com/2003/10/29/)
  4. (1:28:43 / 1:30:26)  Ron Shusett: Yaphet was so good, he was so intense. He said he'd be waiting fifteen years for something like this that I knew would become an amazing all time great movie before we even started shooting, imagine that what great vision. First day I met him he said that to me. (01:29:00) (Alien commentary from Alien quadrilogy)  
  5. Yaphet: The woman who continued to visit me on the Alien set, I had met years before during the civil righs demonstration she said her name was Maria and that she was a friend of my then wife from Germany, I would have blown her off except she told me about a dream Ron was having about the Alien, only Ron had not had the dream yet but he would..She was weird, always dressed in black and always around...
    (Facebook 8 September 2016 · https://www.facebook.com/kyaphet/photos/a.383757824981238.92731.263908530299502/1307845355905809/?type=3&theater)
  6. Yaphet: The movie opened the door up for women, never before in the history of movies had we seen a heroic woman do what Sigourney did, and all other movies after that portrayed women in those heroic roles. It was the first time an African-American has been seen in a role like that. And so today we see, we see women and African-Americans in those heroic roles because of this man right here (Ridley Scott is sitting next to him) Thankyou Ridley, god bless you. (YAPHET KOTTO on ALIEN | Opening Doors | TIFF)
  7. Yaphet: I met Ridley during Christmas week. He started laughing during the meeting. I smiled, then I said, " I don't know what we're laughing about." He said it was because we were having a good meeting. Later on he told me he knew he'd found Parker when I walked through the door.  ("Kill By Mouth, p118, Neon (UK). December 97);

12 comments:

  1. "They were my friends long before the movie was made, long before Fox bought it."

    I wonder if this is true. I've Shusett reference meeting Yaphet for the first time while doing ALIEN, and no reference to knowing Yaphet beforehand. I wonder if he's just pulling legs or misremembering.

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    1. It does seem that he was friends with Dan, that is for sure. If he hadn't personally met Ron before hand, perhaps he had talked to Ron on the phone enough times. I don't know if I've seen a quote anywhere from Ron saying that he met Yaphet for the first time on the set. I suppose it's hard for most of them to talk in interviews without generalising or saying things that probably didn't make sense afterwards.

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    2. This quote from Ron made me think about it:

      "He said he'd be waiting fifteen years for something like this that I knew would become an amazing all time great movie before we even started shooting, imagine that what great vision. First day I met him he said that to me."

      From that quote I would deduce that Ron first met Yaphet after Alien had been written. "before we even started shooting" gives some leeway, though it's a small window still confined to late 77 or early-mid '78. Yaphet has said on FB that he knew Ron before they wrote Alien. I think Shusett would have to be asked directly.

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    3. I suppose I'd go with Yaphet when he said he read the script two years before they got a deal, but when exactly that deal was is another matter, or did he mean Greenlit. Perhaps since Dan's original Alien was written in 1976, once he'd finished his version of the script that year, he decided to show it around to people perhaps like Yaphet, and since Dan and Ron were spending a lot of time with each, this would be an opportunity for Ron to meet Yaphet.

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    4. Okay, now I've just seen the Austin Chronicles article, I've updated my page about Yaphet Kotto. I just assume from what he said that he saw the Alien script in its early stages and loved it, but the main part of his story comes when he's about turning other roles down which takes places four months before the studios contact him. And its hard for these people to unpack all of the events in these interviews, commentaries etc.

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    5. It's very possible they knew one another, I just wish we had more details, but '77 is such a grey area for the film's development. Nothing started to be rigorously documented until Ridley came on in Feb '78 and of course Giger started his diary entries. I'd love to pick somebody's brain about 1977.

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    6. "What completely shocked me and surprised me though was the character of Ripley"

      From Austin Chronicle. Is Yaphet misremembering? What was significant about the character of Ripley at this point? She didn't become a woman until Ridley was hired, according to Ridley himself, who was asked what he thought of the change by Alan Ladd. So the first script featuring Ripley as a woman probably didn't appear until Feb '78.

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    7. I thought that I had a page summarizing the bits about the decision to change Ripley to a female, but it seems to have vanished if it ever existed. It looks as if Ridley received the script in late 1977, perhaps even November. His earlier set of storyboards to impress the producers etc has two females. Perhaps it was in the discussion since then. I don't know if I've seen the Feb 78 script, probably haven't unless it's a snippet in a magazine. I know the Cylinder script has Ripley as a woman and of course I don't know when that was written.

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    8. Sorry, yes, it seems that it was near to Christmas that Ridley is known to have received the script and was realising his problems with Tristan and Iseult in November

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    9. Ridley did appear to have two stories about receiving the script and responding to it, but they are conflicting and since then Ridley has always told the one where he immediately read it and went to Hollywood the next day. But I suppose I'm only thinking about how they're telling their stories these days and what sort of representation of a reality they're creating rather than claim to know they must be so definitely wrong or right about one date or another. But it certainly helps when it can conform to at least one version of a timeline. If Dan O'Bannon's biography every gets written and well he was a furious journal writer by the looks of it, perhaps a little bit more can be known. I suppose these days I find that lots of people have experiences of certain events that conflict with each other in the strangest way. Perhaps there were lots of mini "Mandela effect" moments taking place

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    10. I've had the same difficulties as you rregarding the '77 timeline. It's a complete mystery.

      If you go back as close to the release of ALIEN as possible then you find from a myriad of interviews (and stitching info together) that Ridley received the script from Leiberson in November '77, but he passed, since he was developing TRISTAN for Paramount. For that film, he wanted to go very HEAVY METAL, but Paramount weren't receptive. He turned back to ALIEN and called either Brandywine or Lieberson, and was in Hollywood anything from two weeks to one day later. Al of this happened late January or so, and he met Giger on Feb 6th '78.

      I imagine that, as time has passed, all the 'filler' days were compounded in his memory, TRISTAN slipped from relevance, and ALIEN came to dominate his memories of the period. It's natural I suppose, especially after forty years. Plus, when you're telling the same story again and again, you tend to become more concise, but also less detail-orientated. That's why the early interviews are the best source of information. Unfortunately, so much of it is out of reach for us (unless you can afford some ridiculous shipping costs for rare US magazines).

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  2. Now have expanded the section about Yaphet's response to the script, exploring what he thought about it, taking into consideration that he might be offering a generalised point of view when talking about it in the distant past.

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