We spoke to Harry Potter actor Matthew Lewis about his latest project, Alien: Out Of The Shadows (which you can download now from Audible.co.uk), Ellen Ripley, his geeky influences and more…
How did you get involved with the Alien: Out Of The Shadows audiobook?
I’ve never done anything like this before and I wasn’t really aware of the medium at all, to be totally honest with you. Then my voiceover agent sent me the script and said ‘would you be interested in doing this audio drama?’ and sort of explained what the concept was, and I was like, why is no one doing this kind of thing? And then I read the script and realised that it was Alien, it was set in between the first two movies, and I was like, oh yes. I’m sold. I want to do that.
What was it about the project that made you so keen to get involved with it?
Well, I was keen for it for multiple reasons. One, I’m always excited to do things that I’ve never tried before. And when it was described to me, the challenge of trying to create this atmosphere, this tension and this fear of being trapped on a claustrophobic ship with an alien loose, the challenge of trying to create that with just audio sounded really exciting. And then they mentioned the calibre of people involved, and then I read my character. My character is called Baxter, and he’s a communications officer on board the mining vessel. He’s a fun guy. I’m channelling a bit of Bill Paxton from Aliens in there. He’s this sort of wise guy. Very good at his job but he’s a bit of a smart arse.
How does your character come into the story?
So, we’re all aboard a mining vessel, the Marion, and we’re just out doing our daily job. We’ve got some miners out on the planet’s surface. I’m the comms officer who’s just keeping contact between the miners on the surface and the crew aboard the Marion. And then something goes terribly wrong on the planet. I’m the one who’s trying to communicate the gargled messages I’m getting from the surface to the rest of the crew, and not only that but we have this constant distress beacon that keeps going off from a woman called Ripley, who’s ship was supposed to be lost 37 years ago. And so all this mad stuff starts to happen, and as a comms officer I’m trying to make sense of it all, and then it all goes to shit basically. The crew of the Marion are trying to not only piece together what had happened but also how to get out of it alive.
How did you find the experience?
It was good! It was really good fun. I got in and I read the whole script thinking, oh, he’s going to be an American, and then I was told that, ‘no, no, no, it’s fine, do your own voice!’ and I thought okay. But then I got there and the director said, ‘no! He is American!’ So he is American.
Did you find it a lot different to what you’re used to doing with film and TV?
Yeah! Definitely! It took me a little while to get into the rhythm of it, but it was great to have all these experiences guys around me. I could follow their lead, really. You just have to be so aware that you’re trying to conjure up these images with just one sense, with just the sound of your voice, Audio is all you have, so you have to make sure you hit every piece of information, you squeeze as much emotion out of every line so that you can convey that to the audience that’s listening. I found myself, during the first half an hour or so, internalising a lot as if I was on TV and had a close-up. The director, Dirk [Maggs], worked tirelessly for the first hour or so trying to squeeze out every bit of emotion from my dialogue, and by the end of it I think he was trying to bring me back down! I was bloody full of it!
Were you already a big Alien fan before this?
Yeah. That is part and parcel of what attracted me to this. I mean, just to say that I am a part of the Alien canon now is pretty exciting. The first two movies are two of my favourite films. The first one is just a masterpiece. So just to be in the studio yesterday, talking to Ellen Ripley and going, ‘Hey, Ripley!’ That was just the coolest thing.
If you were forced to choose, which would be your favourite Alien film?
Ooh, you see, now it’s tricky because as an actual movie I think the first film is a masterpiece. In terms of horror, in terms of tension, it’s just so, so well done and set the bar for so many science fiction movies thereafter. However, in terms of just sheer buckle-up roller coaster fun, Aliens is just… I mean, c’mon. When you’re watching the first Alien film, the only thing you’re thinking towards the end is just, how good would it be if we took a load of colonial marines with pulse rifles and stuck them in the middle of this? The second one is a joy.
What do you think makes Alien so iconic and enduring?
There’s something brilliantly dystopian about it. It’s that future with the dirty mining ships, the grime of it all, it all just felt so embedded in reality. You could easily see a future where humans are miners doing that same dirty job. It’s Average Joes just getting screwed over by the Man, by the company. It just happens to be set in outer space. I also think the idea of the unknown is really exciting. Dropping down to a planet and finding something fascinating and otherworldly. I love the idea that in the first one, and even now, you never find out where they come from. There’s no back story. There’s no explanation as to how they got on the planet, what the eggs are, it’s just there, and a lot that idea. It’s something that I think sci-fi does very well. In that situation, you wouldn’t have all the information. You wouldn’t have some marine there that just goes, ‘just so you know, here’s the whole back story for the alien’. That just doesn’t happen.
Are you a big fan of sci-fi in general?
What other sci-fi movies have impacted your life as much as Alien has?
I’m a huge Star Trek geek. I love Star Trek. And I love Star Wars! I mean, Star Wars was my original kind of—growing up as a boy I was obsessed with Star Wars. I watched that religiously, every night on repeat. I loved Luke Skywalker, still do. But then as I got a bit older I got more into the space politics. I got more into Star Trek and the idea of this utopia world where everyone is trying to explore. I love the idea that Gene Roddenberry came up with a future for humanity that we’re striving for. There’s a lovely running arc in Star Trek where humans are capable of great things. We’re one of those things that other species in the universe look at and go, ‘They’re one to watch! They’re not there yet, but they’re one to watch.’ I love that idea. I’m quite an idealist. I love the idea that one day we’re living in this utopia society where all we really care about is curiosity and exploration and just helping. It’s a lot of optimistic rubbish, but Star Trek always gave me that bit of hope.
Are you more a fan of the TV series or the movies?
I was a Next Generation fan out of all the TV series, and then on the back of that naturally the films as well. First Contact is one of my favourite films ever.
What was the gateway thing that brought you into the Star Trek fandom?
My brother is eight years older than me, and he started with Next Generation, so I don’t think he’d seen any of the Original Series either, but he started with Next Generation, so it was always on in the house when I was growing up. He kind of converted me really, and since then I watched Voyager and the rest of them.
You mentioned you’re also a Star Wars fan… What did you think of The Force Awakens?
I loved it! I absolutely loved it. I was fortunate enough to go to the premiere and I’ll admit that I shed a little tear when the opening titles came on. I was literally just like, this is so good. I was like a eight-year-old boy. It was amazing. It was everything I sort of hoped it would be. I know there’s a lot of chat about how it’s basically just a rip off of the first one but Luke Skywalker is now a girl called Rey, and I was like yeah, I can see where you’re coming from, but that story in that first movie, in A New Hope, there are a lot of very common themes within that story. You’ve got a young boy who is growing up in a dead end life, who’s going nowhere, and then someone comes along and goes, no, you’re actually meant for something more. You know that feeling you always felt, how you were special? That’s actually true. You are actually special and you’re going to do amazing things, and be bigger than you’ve ever dreamed. It’s the story that we had in Harry Potter, it’s the same story that’s in so many movies, so many great books, like His Dark Materials, or The Lord Of The Rings, or whatever. The idea that we all sit around our houses in our lives when we’re kids, how we just go to school and we come home and then some of us just go, gosh, I wonder if there’s something more. I wonder if I’m meant for something more. It’s that imagination that someone will come along and go, ‘yes, you are’. So yeah, okay, [The Force Awakens] was very similar to A New Hope, but it’s a story that will never die. It’s a story that will never get old. People love that. I love that.
You can download Aliens: Out Of The Shadows now with your Audible account, or download it for free with a 30-day free trial for Audible.co.uk. Get all the latest sci-fi news with every issue of SciFiNow.