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"Alien: Ore" (2019) Q & A, Tara Pratt, part 1

As part of my ongoing Q & A series on "Alien: Ore" (2019), what follows is part one of a three-part interview between actress Tara Pratt and myself. 

"Alien: Ore" Interview, Tara Pratt

Nick: Hello, everyone! My name is Nicholas van der Waard. I have my MA in English Studies: the Gothic, and run a movie blog centered on Gothic horror, Nick's Movie Insights. Joining me for this interview is Tara Pratt, who played cold-as-ice android, Hanks, in "Alien: Ore."

Tara, on set (courtesy of Greg Massie).

Apart from being an actress, Tara has done podcast voice-over work. This includes an episode on Paul Bae's The Big Loop (2017), and Kelly & Kelly's This Sounds Serious, season two (2018). She's assisted with other podcasts, including as a producer/production assistant for Rabbits (2017), as well as production assistant with other Public Radio Alliance shows, including Tanis (2015). She also provided the voice for  the sassy A.I. in Sony's virtual reality videogame, Evasion (2018).

Past Work

(to Tara): How long have you been acting? Can you tell me about some of your past experiences?

Tara: If I were to count going all the way back to my high school drama club, I can say I've been acting for over twenty years now! I completed my degree in drama at the University of Alberta, where I received some great training in performance, directing and crew work. Moving to Vancouver in 2006 started me down the path of film, TV and commercial jobs; I've been fortunate to be involved in some Vancouver series staples—like Supernatural (2005) and Fringe (2008)—and indie films like No Men Beyond This Point (2015).

I like to mix in some theater projects when I can, and I've had the great pleasure of performing in some lovely theaters around town. I was also involved with the burgeoning web series community when it was really laying its foundation here a few years ago; I loved being a part of "picking up a camera and shooting wherever/whenever we can" adventures. Those were always hugely rewarding.

Tara as Evelyn, in the SyFy series, The Magicians (2015; photo courtesy of Devon Baker)

Nick: Do you have a favorite actor/actress that made you want to act?

Tara: I was still young enough—when I saw the movies that would inspire me to pursue this work—that I didn’t really separate them from real life. So I didn't necessarily want to act like Linda Hamilton; I wanted to be  Sarah Connor's long-lost daughter ("John who?"). The same went for Sigourney Weaver (and Sandra Bullock when I got a little older): I transplanted myself into their worlds.

[I] think watching them, I first wanted to be their sidekicks in their stories; [when] I realized that wasn't possible, I figured the next best thing would be to act like them. And I loved watching action stars in general; my dream is to get trained up to do some John Wick-level fight scenes. I think that would be hugely satisfying.

Nick: Team Scott or Team Cameron?

Tara: Team Cameron! Aliens (1986) is my absolute favourite movie of all time. I'm sure I could rewrite the script from memory. [Cameron] crafted such smart, suspenseful and character-driven action flicks—not to mention, he was among the first to showcase powerful female characters who were warriors in their own right:

Jenette Goldstein and Mark Rolston, as Private Vasquez and Private Drake. [editor's note: Cameron originally wrote the screenplay for Aliens alongside Rambo: First Blood Part II (1985). Lead actor Stallone rewrote portions of the Rambo script; Cameron kept the war allegories, in Aliens, and tailored Ripley (and Vasquez) into something of a "female Rambo."]

Nick: What was your first Alien experience? Can you describe the first time you saw an Alien movie, and which one it was?

Tara: You know, it [would make] sense if I [saw] Alien (1979) first, but I can't be absolutely sure [that] I did! I probably saw Aliens when I was about ten or eleven, maybe one Friday or Saturday night with my mom and stepdad. I know for sure I'd watch Alien with my cousin at our grandma's place when we were kids, hopped up on sugar (and laughing at the "farting" noises the computer made [when] the ship was waking up the crew). I had a VHS copy of Aliens that I think my mom still has somewhere; I’ve played that tape into dust.

I can remember the first time I saw Aliens in the theatre. It was 2010 and Cineplex was screening it as part of their Classic Film Series. [I] wanted to see it so badly in order to finally have the theater experience, but I was so afraid: that in this huge, sold-out theatre, you'd get the usual crowd of texters, talkers—people just disrespecting the event in general. But I tell you, you could've heard a pin drop (with the exception of an appreciative laugh and round of applause for Bill Paxton's iconic, "Game over man, game over!"). It was magnificent. Clearly everyone there loved it as much as I did.

[editor's note: I've seen both movies countless times on VHS and DVD. I eventually saw them in theaters—in 2018, when Ourscreen was hosting classic showings in Manchester, England. The Alien crowd was pretty quiet; the Aliens group  was a bit more rowdy, but only when they were "supposed" to laugh or cheer. Both movies were a lot of fun.]

On Hanks and Androids

Nick: I love the strong heroines of the Alien franchise; I also love the villains. However, I can't recall there ever being a human/android villain that was female in an Alien  movie, before. [editor's note: With the possible exception of Vickers, from Prometheus (2012), all of the human/android villains are men (Ash, David, Weyland, Burke). Given Weyland's propensity for androids, I'm still not sure if Vickers was human.]

(to Tara): How does it feel to play a villainous female android and help establish something of a precedent?

Does her plight—cognitive dissonance as a form of executive dysfunction—parallel Lorraine and the other miners' human condition (courtesy of Greg Massie)?

Tara: I was actually never convinced that Hanks was in the same category of villain as, say, Ash. I don't believe she was programmed [to throw] the humans under the proverbial bus for the sake of the alien; it just happened that she received a sudden and immediate directive that [prioritized] one life form [over another.]

[Some] tactics [Hanks employs inevitably put] her crew in danger. [I] feel [a] precedent has actually been set with our film [in] how Hanks is the first android—at least to my knowledge—that experiences that kind of conflict. Watching it now, I see we may not have had the time to explore and demonstrate that aspect of her, but that’s certainly where my character work was heading (and [constituted] a large part of my discussions with Kailey and Sam). Hanks' assignment was to preserve the lives of her [crew. With] one command her priority not only shifted, but was now in direct opposition to what she understood was her main purpose [as a safety officer].

What I find so interesting about Hanks [is] her reactions to what was happening to the crew. She was genuinely shocked watching their demise (there was no one around for her to demonstrate these emotions to, so something must have been going on in her wiring to make this outcome displeasing and even horrific to her):

There's no audience for Hanks to fool; she's genuinely emotional. [editor's note: I always thought Hanks was worried about the creature she was trying to protect. However, in hindsight the audio cues—of the crew being injured—do seem to sync with her concerned facial expressions.]

I think, in some moments, [that] Hanks experience[s] the equivalent of regret—in being unable to resist carrying out company orders, even though she was [more than] capable [... When] she encourages Lorraine and the crew to come up, it's partly out of wanting to preserve the specimen (though I think she realizes they have a very small chance against it); [she also] wanted the remaining crew to come up to safety [in order to prevent] more casualties. [Male] or female, what sets Hanks apart is [the fact] that she's more of a "reluctant villain."

[editor's note: I love how Weyland-Yutani's nefarious company practices are ostensibly railroaded by corporate legislation—to improve the behaviors of the Hyperdyne android model (and why lobby for change at all unless some violation had been committed, making shareholders nervous?). It reminds me of the Walter model replacing the less reliable, more dangerous David model; similar to Ash, David was more independent, and somewhat insane, whereas Walter—bless him—was calm and subservient. Hanks almost seems caught in the middle. Her inability to side with her wards is almost ignominious.]

Getting the eggs ready for prime time (courtesy of Suzanne Friesen).

Nick: The eggs, when discovered, are just sort of sitting in the mine shaft. Had there been a larger budget or more time to shoot, I suspect their origin would've been outlined more strongly (Kailey and Sam mentioned the potential for other monsters within the mine). Regardless of where the eggs ultimately came from, I think Weyland-Yutani are using the mine as a front. Nevertheless, a "naive android" like Hanks, who must serve the company no matter what, is actually really interesting from a dramatic standpoint.

In your opinion, do you believe that Hanks didn't know about the eggs, and that Al, the dead miner at the start, had merely stumbled on them as something endemic to the mine?

Tara: Yes, the way I approached Hanks' motivations was exactly that, that she wasn't "in on" whatever designs the company had. The way the sisters and I figured it, Hanks was programmed with the directive—of looking out for signs that an organism like this was present, and to report back to the company—but she had no idea about whether the company planted them, [or] whether they sent the miners there specifically to be hosts, etc. Perhaps giving her more information than needed [would've] made her more of a liability for the company, so they chose not to.

I think [Hanks'] story is similar to that of a soldier that goes into combat—believing she has all the information as to why she's there, and suddenly discovering she might have been used for a far greater and possibly more nefarious purpose, but only after it's too late.

Nick: As a woman playing a "female" android, how did it make you feel to pit yourself against the human women played by Mikela and the other cast members, who were only wanted to safeguard their children?

Tara: I think Hanks understood Lorraine's and the crew's motivations, in the way that she's been programmed to [...] But I don’t think it necessarily mattered that Hanks is female (as a male counterpart would have been programmed with the same knowledge). I don't think Hanks' gender is relevant to how she behaves or perceives things, but instead [serves] to make her a [traditionally comforting] presence [to her crew. Many corporate] HR reps [are] female; there's an idea that people see women as more nurturing and capable of emotional understanding—regardless of whether that woman is actually synthetic!

Nick: Most of the female villains in Alien are non-human: M.U.T.H.U.R., but also the Queen. As Simone Beauvoir once put it, "Woman is Other." Described in Gothic terms as the Archaic Mother, the female villains of the Alien franchise represent the ancient past as female, a kind of "dark mother" (furthermore, the "doorways" into the Derelict were vaginas, courtesy of Giger). For this reason, even the xenomorph is described through its ability to reproduce as a kind of "phallic woman" or monstrous female:

Her Majesty. 
[editor's note: Male or female, the "Archaic Sire" is generally hidden, a kind of "tremendous mystery" sealed inside the castle, or haunted house; felt palpably within a given location, it must be tracked to its source. In the Queen's case, she is the source of all terror and horror the marines experience, inside Hadley's Hope.]

(to Tara): Do you ever find yourself acting for women everywhere—to show audiences (of any gender) that actresses in the Alien  franchise can play a villainous, female android? [editor's note: The android villain is has historically been played by men, in Alien movies. Winona Ryder played female android Call, in Alien: Resurrection  (1997), but was not a villain.]

Tara: Not necessarily, because I think there have been enough examples in the genre (the T-X or the Borg queen). [At this point,] audiences [won't necessarily be] surprised that a female android in the Alien universe could also be a villain.

But I do like thinking about what the idea of "dark mother" means. When we look at how we've labeled "mother nature," for example: We conjure up images of things that are wild, light and free,  and forget that death, decay, predatory instincts and uncertainty of survival are as much a part of the natural world. While Mother Nature sometimes nurtures life, [she's] also indifferent to its passing (as the death of one life form often means sustenance for another).

So I don't feel a responsibility—to show audiences that a woman can be the artificial bad guy—so much as point out that, in designing [Hanks] as female, Weyland-Yutani were just preying [upon] assumed gender stereotypes: The Company is using the crew's [sub]conscious bias to lull them into a false sense of security [with] Hanks. She's a reminder—[to not] assume something identified as female would automatically contribute to the survival of all life.


This concludes part one of the interview. Click on the links to read part two and 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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