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Written by Timothy Sexton
Ripley was the role that turned Sigourney Weaver from an unknown into a bankable star. During her college career at Yale, Weaver was commonly accepted as the second best actress of class. Unfortunately, she was number two behind classmate Meryl Streep. For the first—and likely the last—time, however, Weaver managed to beat out Streep…for the role of Ripley. Not that Meryl had much reason to complain for losing the role; in the same year that Alien was released Streep appeared in Kramer v. Kramer for which she won her first Academy Award.
Skerritt was offered the role of Dallas early on in the development process, but almost waited too long to accept it. In the interim, another actor took a look at the part, but ultimately decided against playing it: Harrison Ford.
Although an initial choice to play Kane, John Hurt only got to take on the role thanks to a common mistake at the time. Both John Hurt and John Heard essentially came to prominence in Hollywood around the same time (despite Hurt's acting career having begun more than a decade earlier) and even though the former is British and the latter American, they were often confused for each because of the striking similarity of their names. Hurt had to turn down the role because of a previous commitment to a film to be shot in South Africa. As a result of John Heard’s public criticism of the racist policy of Apartheid, John Hurt was not allowed entry into the country. This confusion on the part of racist morons helped to transform movie history.
While much ado was made to keep the crew of the Nostromo gender-neutral—Ripley was originally written for a male actor and the other characters only use last names—such attention to diversity did not expand to the issue of race. Parker winds up being not just the only black character, but the only non-white character. Not that such lack of diversity hurt Kotto; his rather prickly relationship with Ripley sticks out all the more due to the racial undertone which can be easily be read into it.
The original story did not feature the android named Ash. Thanks to Ian Holm's beautifully modulated performance, the android wound up being one of the most memorable characters in the film. With a career dating back to 1957, Holm exceeded John Hurt and was exceeded only by Harry Dean Stanton as the most experienced member of a cast notable for its youth.
All of the cast members of Alien, Cartwright had the most impressive resume as far as the thriller type of horror film to which Alien belongs. In addition to early appearances in episodes of One Step Beyond, The Twilight Zone and Alfred Hitchcock Presents, she also acted in Hitchcock’s The Birds and the 70s remake of Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Lottery, the Yellow Wallpaper, Witches of Eastwick and Eastwick, Invasion and as a recurring character on both The X-Files and, perhaps most horrifying of all, Leave it to Beaver.
Harry Dean Stanton
Harry Dean Stanton had been a successful and instantly recognizable character actor long before he was asked to play the part of Brett. His response was that in his long and illustrious career overwhelmingly dominated by Westerns, he had pretty avoided horror films. He only accepted the role upon being convinced it would play more like a suspense mystery where each character is killed off one by one.
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