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"Alien: Ore" (2019) Q & A, Ambrose Gardener, part 2

As the end of of my ongoing Q & A series on "Alien: Ore," this final interview is with Ambrose Gardener, who played Clark Witchell. 


Getting the Role, cont.

Nick: Did you choose Clark knowing he was going to die?

Ambrose: In the beginning I didn't see myself as Clark. I felt drawn to Kolton, but the Spear sisters saw something that I didn't which motivated me to explore Clark's world even more. The fact that he was going to die on camera made the role that much more exciting—Death by xenomorph? Any day! Call me, thank you.

Clark, shortly before his death (image courtesy of Suzanne Friesen).


Nick: Once you learned that he was toast, how did this make you feel? Did you imagine yourself dying in a similar fashion to John Kurt or other actors from the franchise? [editor's note: I ask this because some of the most memorable moments in the franchise are people being killed by the monster.]

Ambrose: I could not wait to get to that scene. I imagined Clark's death in every way possible. Alas, for Clark, it was a quick death, but a necessary one that moves the story forward with a higher level of urgency. [editor's note: I totally agree; once Clark dies, the momentum really picks up.]


Nick: Did you know the exact nature of Clarke's death, or just that he would be killed?

Ambrose: The script had everything beautifully laid out and painted like a chilling picture. I couldn't stop reading it.


Nick: Do you have any favorite deaths from the franchise, in general?

Ambrose: Kane's death via chestburster was glorious. My favorite CGI kill would be in Prometheus (2012) when the Engineer gets in a little bit of trouble with the Trilobite.


Nick: Once you were hired, how hard did you prepare for the role? Did you have to do any physical training? Did you rewatch the old movies?

Ambrose: My favorite part of prep was keeping the apartment as dark as possible and pretending my roommate was a xenomorph [editor's note: that is absolutely amazing]. He soon caught on as to why I was always running away from him. Many encounters ensued. I practiced my "death cry" quite frequently to the point where my lovely neighbors grew curious (or was it genuine concern)—

Bolaji Badejo, from an original screen test for Alien (1979)—in the same spirit as Ambrose and his dark, spooky apartment.

—Before filming the selftapes, I took a few days to marathon every film in the franchise, and I would try and place Clark into every scenario. What would he say, how would he react, would he do something differently? And, as silly as it sounds, I joined in on the conversations throughout the films. I watched hours of behind-the-scenes footage and studied up on H.R. Giger.

Being on Set

Nick: How did it feel being on-set, in an Alien movie?

Ambrose: It felt right. There was a certain electric vibe of unknown danger in the air when filming the sci-fi thriller. I really liked it. Everyday was remarkable and I learned a lot. I aim to be on another set just like it. [editor's note: To this day the actors for Alien still recall how claustrophobic and self-contained the Nostromo set actually was.]


Nick: I love the set for the locker room. Kailey and Sam mentioned it being a lithium-ion battery R&D facility that also included where Hanks' "office" was located. Did you have a chance to look around while you were there? How big was the actual building?

Ambrose: The building was massive and had lots of interesting rooms and gadgets to behold. What do those gadgets do? I have no idea... but I do know that I have a greater appreciation for batteries and those who make 'em!


Everyone, including Ambrose (center, right) crammed in like sardines (courtesy of Greg Massie).

Nick: I loved the scene in the elevator—in particular, your "I should've left with the others" bit. You say your line, and Mikela cracks a joke, causing everyone to laugh. How many takes were needed for to get the laughter right, or did it just get spliced together?

Ambrose: It took about three or four takes to find the right amount of playfulness; then, of course, a take or two from another angle, followed by "wild lines" (which is when we just record the dialogue separately in case there happens to be any overlap). The final cut was flawless; the editor did a great job because I couldn't tell ya the specifics.



Nick: Being in Brittania Mines, did you ever feel claustrophobic? Were you familiar with the mines, prior to working inside them?

Ambrose: In the past I have gone on short explorations with a guide through caves and tunnels as wide as my body—spooky at times, yes, but never claustrophobic). It never even crossed my mind, actually (come to think of it, the corridors in Britannia Mines are roomier than my very first apartment). I have been to Britannia Mines before, too, and what a great place to film! It was pretty special to me because many shows have filmed up there like Altered Carbon (2018), Supernatural (2005), The Flash (2014), The 100 (2014)...the list goes on. Being present in a space where others have previously created is just a great feeling.

The Death Scene

Nick: Before your character is killed, tell-tale slime drips onto his helmet. How many times did they have to do that?

Ambrose: We had a go at it a few times. By the third attempt we had a nifty li'l rig set up different from the first take, and the slime had been adjusted to a thicker consistency.


Ambrose, about to get slimed by Vancouver FX, who handled the film's special effects (courtesy of Suzanne Friesen).

Nick: Do you know what they used for the slime? I think in the original Alien (1979) the effects crew went with K-9 jelly.

Ambrose: Our FX team decided on using J Lube for the slime. Fun fact: J Lube is used for birthing horses. If it works it works!


Nick: To pull you into the darkness during your death scene, did the effects crew use a harness of some kind? How many takes did that need before getting the perfect reaction?

Ambrose: Yeah, I was strapped into a harness with a long rope stemming from my back. About fifteen feet behind me [was] the crash mat, [where] a gentleman on a ladder yanked down on the rope through a pulley system. Before lunch, I worked with the stunt coordinators to get a crash course on safety and we ran a few tests. We started out simple with how to fall safely and worked our way up to the maximum pull for the shot. After lunch (and perhaps one burrito too many), we did another practice run at 50% before going for the full pull. On the day, we shot maybe three wide angles takes, four close ups (and one more just because we had the time). Pull timing, line delivery, and preparing my body to be swept away was key.


Nick: In Near Dark (1987), the lead actor Adrian Pasdar is shot, but the squib actually knocked him breathless. It was technically a mistake, but they kept it in the movie anyways. Did anything similar happen to you when you were "killed"? For example, was there a three-count each time, and did they ever pull you early to startle you?

Ambrose: The cue for me to be pulled backwards was the last word of dialogue, which was “what..” Half way through saying "wha—" I would shift my weight to my toes, lean forward slightly, relax my body, and tuck my chin into my chest to avoid whiplash. If I were to be pulled back before preparing my body position it would have resulted in serious injury—

The final image of Clark before the xenomorph pulls him into the darkness.

—The pull is startling enough. Trust me. In a split second you are in mid air flying backwards and before you know it you're on the ground with adrenaline pumping throughout your body.


Nick: If you could have chosen Clark's manner of death, would you have kept it the same, or would you have opted for a gorier, more visceral demise?

Ambrose: I would have loved it to be gorier, absolutely. I'm talking like Ash Vs Evil Dead-meets-Tarantino gory. But that will come. That will come.


Nick: Did the script include Clark's death cry, or were you allowed to improvise that? [editor's note: I only ask because Kane's death reaction, in Alien, went along the lines of "Oh, my goddddddddddd...." Needless to say they didn't include that, in the movie.]

Ambrose: The death cry was included in the script. Again, this is what I love about this team—They know what they want and had everything mapped out beautifully.


Nick: Was your death scream recorded later and added in post? If so, how long did that take, and what were you thinking about, motivation-wise, when recording it?

Ambrose: The scream was recorded almost every take. Even when I was off camera I would yell to help the other actors react to the situation. My motivation for the death cry was to wake up my lovely neighbors who lived forty-five minutes away.


Nick: After you "died," were you able to keep in touch with the other actors to hear how the shoot was going?

Ambrose: I was needed everyday on set while filming. If I wasn't in the scene, ya, I'd check in with my fellow cast during our breaks to see how it was going. Or I would be in "Video Village" with the Spear sisters watching the scene play out.

Kailey and Sam, at "Video Village" (courtesy of Greg Massie).

Nick: For you, was the last day of shooting when Clark was killed?

Ambrose: I don't recall what day we orchestrated the death scene, but it was certainly not my last day. [editor's note: Movies are usually shot out of order, which is why continuity in them is, at times, more impressive than it otherwise seems.]


Nick: How long did you have to wait after the last day of shooting to see the movie in its entirety? Did you have a chance to watch the movie early, or see incomplete versions of it as it was being edited together?

Ambrose: No sneak peaks! The project was very private. It was during the third week of the 40th-Year Anniversary Celebration that it was made public. Even then, I held off and waited for the cast-and-crew screening party. I wanted to watch it for the very first time surrounded by everyone involved—well worth the wait!

The Ending (spoilers)

Nick: Clarke struck me as somewhat browbeaten—not a family man with kids to protect. Do you think there's any chance that, had he lived, Clark would've have taken the Company's offer when Hanks tells Lorraine to leave the creature inside the mine?

Ambrose: Had he made it as far as the others, I imagine Clark would interject in the elevator and confront Lorraine. He would choose the Company's offer, creating a divide within the crew and putting everyone's life at risk to fulfill his personal need to somehow makeup for his parents death [editor's note: I love this idea]. Maybe then he could move on.

However, this would lead to many more gruesome deaths and finally coming to the realization that his fear of abandonment is coming to fruition due to his own doing. Having this epiphany he would side with Lorraine, reunite with the others and ultimately achieve his personal goal by joining arms in the fight to protect the other families.

In postmortem hindsight, Clarke's surrogate family (courtesy of Shimon Photo)?

Nick: Who do you think wins, the xeno or the miners?

Ambrose: I would like to see the miners put up a good fight, but taking into consideration the close quarters that the short film leaves us in... I think the xenomorph wins this time. Sorry gang.

Closing Thoughts

Nick: How happy are you with the final product? Did it turn out better than you expected? In hindsight, would you do anything different?

Ambrose: I was blown away with the final product. Bloody unbelievable what these young professionals came together to create. The first day on set, getting to meet everyone involved—you could see their passion and dedication. And when it came down to it, everyone was in their element.

Would I have done anything different? In hindsight, I wouldn't have eaten that second burrito...


Nick: Given your experiences with "Alien: Ore," would you return for a feature-length version, if that were an option?

Ambrose: Give me a week to think about it—Yes, without hesitation!

Thank you to the Spear sisters for having me be a part of the team; and thank you, Nick, for coming up with these questions and arranging this interview.

Best,
Ambrose Gardener



***

This concludes the interview—and my "Alien: Ore" Q&A series! 

If 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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