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"Alien: Ore" (2019) Q & A, Tara Pratt, part 2

As part of my ongoing Q & A series on "Alien: Ore" (2019), what follows is part two of a three-part interview between actress Tara Pratt and myself. New interview segments post every Friday at 2 p.m., EST.

In case you missed it, read part one.

On Hanks and Androids (cont.)

Nick: A memorable villain is paramount for any story. Played by you, Hanks is especially memorable.

Tara: Aw, thank you, Nick!

Androids can be sweet, too (courtesy of Greg Massie)!

Nick: To make yourself seem extra cold-blooded, did you have to draw inspiration from evil androids and corporate baddies in the franchise?

Tara: You know, I did watch Alien (1979) for a refresher on Ash's behavior in particular. Of course, in his world, the crew didn't know he was an android, but when you watch it again after learning his secret, you can see these beautiful moments—of eerie stillness and mannerisms that were there all along.

[That's] what I wanted to imbue Hanks with: Hanks' crew knows she's a synthetic, so the layer of having to hide her "true nature" is something she doesn't have to worry about; this means she doesn't have to slouch or even necessarily blink in order to make herself appear to be more human.
[editor's note: I'm not sure why blinking is a "human" response, but it does look uncanny when people fail to do it! In fact, Robert Patrick and Anthony Hopkins famously refused to blink on camera to denote a lack of humanity in their respective villains, the T-1000 and Hannibal Lecter.]

[When] things go seriously wrong and [Hanks] has to carry out the orders that actively endanger the crew, it's almost like Ash's malfunctioning [in that something] flips in Hanks' brain that suddenly makes her another obstacle to the crew's survival. So I watched [Alien] for those moments where Ash belied his true nature: how he sometimes spoke to the crew with a certain kind of arrogance that just barely masked a threat, the way he carried himself, and how he looked at people with shark-like eyes—always aware and always calculating, studying like a dormant-but-ready hunter.


Nick: Do you have any all-time favorite villains outside the Alien franchise? These can be anything: the Blob, Captain Hook, Iago... Whatever leaps to mind!

Tara: Ooh I think Hannibal Lecter is terrifyingly wonderful, especially as portrayed by Mads Mikkelsen in Hannibal (2013). I couldn't believe that after the horrific things he'd done I was actually still rooting for him not to get caught for three whole seasons! (Please tell me that was just great manipulation by the writers.)

I find [Hannibal] to be such an interesting thought experiment: Is there some rule of social decorum that I'm breaking that would provoke him to want to kill me, since he's all about his tastes being offended? Or would he spare me for a reason that I find equally as arbitrary? I think his mastery of the human psyche—in order to manipulate people and beguile them as intensely as he frightens them—makes him one of the most interesting characters ever created.

Hanks's true nature, on-screen. [editor's note: There's a two-fold sense of division, here. The android's reflection and the ominous green font are separated by monitors; she and her human wards are separated by physical space, but also according to corporate status and positions of argument. More than any of them, Hanks is unenviably caught in the middle, neither here nor there.]

Nick: A scene in "Alien: Ore" reveals your model number as 121 - A/3. Bishop described the 120 - A/2s as "always a bit twitchy." Did the fact that you were a different model inspire you to take liberties with your performance—to try things different from Ian Holm, but also Lance Henriksen?

Tara: Ha, yup, absolutely! Great catch. By the time Bishop rolls around, of course, his model couldn’t "harm or by omission of action allow to be harmed, a human being,” and obviously Hanks doesn't quite get there—I guess she doesn't have those behavioral inhibitors yet! So while she still has the programming that lets the Company take over her initial priority to preserve human life, she doesn't short-circuit [the way Ash does] in order to do so.

But I thought, "something does need to change in her demeanor to signal that she's processing an entirely new directive." So [when] Lorraine shows Hanks Al's body and his fatal injury, the [directors] and I thought it was important for some kind of physical manifestation that demonstrates I'm seeing something I've been programmed to look out for from the beginning—like an eye twitch.

[After that,] my movements become more precise... almost like the Company suddenly "uploaded" new software that changed everything about Hanks in [a single] moment! [editor's note: Or perhaps Hanks had a "software" pre-programmed into her that would only activate once she saw the creature? Dan O'Bannon described Ash as a "Russian spy." A sleeper agent could just as easily "trigger" and not be aware of it.]


Nick: Does Hanks prefer the term "artificial person," as opposed to "Synthetic Safety Officer?"

Tara: I think Hanks has absolutely no preference; she’d be comfortable with whatever you'd like to call her!

A dynamic duo (courtesy of Greg Massie).

Nick: Does Dan the dog belong to Hanks?

Tara:  I looked at Dan as more of the "station dog," but of course Hanks would take responsibility for feeding and entertaining him. [In that sense,] I think Hanks felt [that] being in charge of Dan would help make her more human-like to the crew, [thus putting] them more at ease [while] working with a synthetic.

Nick: Why else do you think an android like Hanks might own a dog or look after it?

Tara: I feel like Dan was a gateway for Hanks [to try and] understand humanity, much like Data had his cat Spot, in Star Trek: The Next Generation (1987): Caring for [Spot] was providing Data insight as to why people do what they do.

Nick: Much of Alien  is about motherhood, in some shape or form; in "Alien: Ore," it's about grandmothers, too. Do you think that an android could be a mother, as well, if only a surrogate mother like Ripley was? In Alien (1979), Ripley's maternal instincts are brought out through Jones the cat. Are Hanks' "maternal instincts" brought out through the presence of Dan, sitting next to her?

Tara: I think as far as androids can have instincts—I suppose their equivalent would be automatic responses to stimuli—Hanks would understand that Dan is dependent on her for survival, and she would therefore tend to him. But I don't think she’s capable of caring for him at the level that animal mothers care for their young, [or] humans [for] their pets—of having a deep, emotional attachment to the [other's] well-being and survival. In the end, [an] "emotional connection" would [still] have to be programmed, and is that the same [as human emotions] if it doesn’t arise organically [in synthetics]?

It wasn't possible for Walter to love Daniels; he saw it as duty.

Nick: Hanks seems to largely ignore the dog. Do you feel Dan is there to show her lack of humanity?

Tara: Yes, I actually feel Dan is a great signifier of Hanks' lack of humanity, though not only because Hanks ignores him [during the attack], but because Dan's reactions to her online communication with the Company represent how any biological being would react to a threat on their life: Dan and the audience understand what Hanks' communique with the Company means, and the methodical way in which she carries out their orders is juxtaposed with Dan's instinctive warning.

[editor's note: Animals in horror media are generally effectively at spotting evil-in-disguise—terminators and vampires, etc. In Dan's case, he's a little slow on the draw...]


Nick: Do you think androids in the Alien franchise are forever doomed to be childless and/or cold-hearted—if not instruments of the company then a mad artist like David, whose children are his demonic creations?

Tara: I actually think this is their fate, but [needs] to be in order to add an interesting component to the narrative. [There] has to be a being that's untouchable by the alien.

The characteristics that make synthetics "other"—i.e, no biological components, a lack of mortal fear—are [also] the things that actually ensure their survival. So the dynamic of the story is much more interesting when you not only have [an alien monster] killing people out of sheer instinct, but also [an android] whose loyalties can go either way (and whose presence the alien is indifferent towards). [This] makes [androids]  just as terrifying and sometimes even more powerful than the alien itself: In being [so] cold-hearted, [androids] don't have the same weaknesses as humans [do. It] makes them [an] interesting [element] for both [species] to contend with; it makes for great storytelling!

"No one understands the lonely perfection of my dreams."

Nick: Do you have a favorite android from movies or television, in general? This needn't be horror. Maybe Data from Star Trek, for example?

Tara: Actually that’s a great example, because that's who I thought of for my Spot analogy and I love The Next Generation! It was so endearing watching his curiosity develop about his crew mates and friends (and yes, I do think Data was an example of an advanced synthetic that was capable of actually caring about people); and my god, when he got that emotion chip and started reacting to things the way humans do, what a great payoff! We [laugh] with [Data] because [we're] laughing at our own absurdities. He was a wonderful character.


Nick: In horror, androids and robots play a special role: As sci-fi proponents, they explore the uncanny in the trans-/post-human. This goes all the way back to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein (1818), as well Carlo Collodi's The Adventures of Pinocchio (1883) and legends of the Golem, etc.

In the Alien universe, androids are often close to human. However, the "Working Joes" from Alien: Isolation (2014) were deliberately not human at all, but still had the human shape. As a result, they wound up being creepy from the offset (whereas androids like Ash or David gradually reveal their evil intentions; they are less uncanny and more perfidious, from the off-set). A good non-Alien example of the uncanny would be Michael Myers from Halloween (1978), whose face-less mask and robotic gait is very comparable to the Working Joes; he's not duplicitous, but creepy.

The uncanny personified.

(to Tara): Do you have a preference in regards to which kind of android appears on-screen? Seemingly human, or not human at all?

Tara: I would prefer the "seemingly human" type myself. Because you're right, those Working Joes are just creepy! Though I will admit it is [also] unsettling to have something that looks human carry out calculated motions...

Getting the Role

Nick: Did you hear about the project beforehand and audition for it, or were you approached for the role?

Tara: Oh, this was so great! I heard about the Tongal competition for screenplays when it came out—as my friend and I are huge fans so he pointed me to it—and I remember saying, "Well that's great but I'm not a writer!" [Later] when I was browsing online audition notices, I came across the Spear sisters’ project; I had no idea a local team had won a spot. [I] was beside myself [and] I emailed my agent about it right away. [She] knows how big an Alien fan I am [and] replied that of course she'd already submitted me.

I was invited to put an audition on tape as one of the miners, originally. We sent that off. I was on a vacation with my family when I got an e-mail from my agent saying I was invited to the callbacks—again reading for the miner but now also for Hanks. So, I prepared both and honestly, I can't remember coming out of another audition that I wanted so badly in my life! And as much as I enjoyed reading for a miner role, I loved having a shot at a part like Hanks. I mean, if I can't be "the Ripley character," I wanna be the antagonist!

Before I heard whether or not I got it, I knew I'd be inconsolable if I didn't get to be a part of this; I was sure I wouldn't be able to watch anything Alien-related for a year. I would've been so upset if I didn’t get to be a part of my favourite franchise when I'd had a shot—

Kailey directing Tara, on set (courtesy of Greg Massie).

Nick: How did you feel when you heard about the contest, and when you got the job?

Tara: I still have the e-mail my agent sent me (the subject line is "OHMYGODOHMYGOD!!!!"). She knew I’d be over the moon (and I was); so [naturally] she was so excited for me (I love her). I was at home by myself, I did a little Flashdance "fast-feet" in my living room, and I ran out to my neighborhood wine shop and grabbed a bottle (made by this winery that has dozens of different cheeky titles). So I picked up one that was appropriately labeled "Holy Guacamole" and celebrated. It was like the biggest dream [I'd] had since a little girl had [suddenly] come true.

That was a wonderful day.

***

This concludes part two of the interview. Click on the link to read part threeIf you liked this interview, check out all my interviews on "Alien: Ore." For even more details on "Alien: Ore," watch my lengthy analysis.

Many thanks to Fox for allowing these interviews; to the interview subjects; and to Kailey and Sam for being so friendly, enthusiastic and helpful

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