's Exclusive Prometheus Interview with Damon Lindelof

By Vanessa Butler

We sit down with writer Damon Lindelof to talk about one of the most anticipated movies of the year, Prometheus.

For the past nine years, writer/producer Damon Lindelof has been making fanboys foam at the mouth. It’s not that his writing is subpar; as part of some of the most talked-about pieces of entertainment, Lindelof has had to contend with die-hard fans. You’ll recall the Lost finale, in which many felt they were cheated out of answers, and his coproducer role in the first Star Trek film since 2002…It should’ve come as no surprise to see him named as a cowriter when talks of an Alien reboot by Ridley Scott himself began circulating.

After months of anticipation, the highly anticipated film Prometheus will be coming to the United States June 8th. After talking with Damon, it is safe to say that he’s just like all of us sci-fi crusaders. The only difference between him and us is that he’s the one creating and molding the things that we love for the big screen. Well, Damon, we’re almost at Friday. I know I can’t wait, but you must be anticipating the groves of fanboys once the end credits are rolling. What are your plans for the U.S. opening?

Damon Lindelof: I’m probably going to go check out the movie in IMAX. I haven’t seen it in IMAX yet, but I’ve seen it in regular 3D. Every time I see it I get asked, “Have you seen it yet in IMAX?” and I say, “Where is that going to happen? Do you think I have that kind of pull that I have an IMAX theater in my basement or something?” I have to wait for the movie to come out like everybody else. I think that’s probably my plans for Friday night.  Are you going to shut off your Twitter account for the weekend or do you like seeing the comments roll in from the masses?

Lindelof: I’m taking it as I can. I resign myself to the fact every time I go on Twitter or I check my feed that while there will be positive comments, there will also be their dark sister. The “How did you ever get a job in this town?”, the “You ruined my childhood retroactively by crapping on the Alien franchise, may something burst out of your chest and kill everyone you love.” I can take that with a fair degree of humor in doses, but in the case of Friday night I just want to enjoy the birth, for lack of a better word, and I’ll let all the pain come later. The idea of having two strong female leads in the film, played by Noomie Rapace and Charlize Theron, is wonderful. Does gender play a role in the Prometheus storyline at all?

Lindelof: I think it definitely does. Ridley [Scott], in the first Alien movie with Sigourney [Weaver], showed that having a female hero for a movie shouldn’t feel that outside the box, especially thirty years later. He was always committed to that idea and I think for me as a writer it was really cool to develop a character who was not just a kickass action hero who happens to be a woman, but a woman who, for reasons that the movie makes obvious, has to be a woman in that situation in order for the true psychological terror to sink in.

Charlize, who plays a character named Meredith Vickers, at first comes across as a prototypical hard-ass bitch character on the surface. But the more you scratch at that surface, you realize how she came to be that way. Hopefully by the end of the movie you find yourself questioning that initial judgment.

And clearly we have two incredible actors: Noomi, whom American audiences aren’t really familiar with yet, and Charlize, whom they are, but are looking at in a slightly different way. I think it brings the movie to an entirely different level every time they’re on screen, particularly when they’re together. I just feel enormously grateful to be able to write some stuff they say. I like the idea of a story being written in the same “world” as another, yet not quite a prequel. It’s something that I fantasize about seeing after finishing a good film. Was it more or less difficult as a writer to develop something that is its own separate story while not dramatically changing Jon Spaihts’ draft?

Lindelof: I think that the big ideas in Jon’s draft were so exciting to me when I first read them that I just wanted to clear everything else away to let them breathe more. But what I wanted to clear away is the stuff that I think was the most familiar to viewers. This can be a scary process since people like familiarity. If you hear that Ridley Scott is returning to the Alien universe, you’re going to want to see Alien. But then there’s another part of you that says, “Okay, but I’ve seen it. I’ve seen the thing stuck to somebody’s face, I’ve seen the thing out of the chest and I’ve seen the acid blood, so can you give me any new iterations of this?”

So the first part of my job became freeing the movie from the expectations of what an Alien movie should be and exploring the deeper themes in Jon’s work, as well as the story that Ridley wanted to tell. What’s that story?

Lindelof: Alien and Blade Runner, the science fiction movies that he directed over 30 years ago, are very different movies. Alien is a straight-up psychological horror sci-fi and Blade Runner is this very thematic, poetic think piece about the future, humanity and our relationship with cybernetic individuals. In a lot of ways, because Ridley and I spent so much time talking about Alien and Blade Runner while we were working on the Prometheus script, because [I] figured I could get fired any day now so I’m just going to ask Ridley Scott every question that I have ever wanted to ask him about those movies, Prometheus kind of ended up being a mashup between those two films and the idea that the film was going to start exploring those bigger questions.

It may not necessarily give the answers that people would want, but that’s the downside of going and asking god why he created you. Sometimes he just shrugs and says, “I don’t know, I wasn’t doing anything else that day,” and it can be kind of a letdown. But it’s also really interesting on a thematic level for someone who is so driven by answering a question…What happens when they get an answer that they don’t like? The Greek myth of Prometheus and the Alien universe…Was it hard marrying those two things? Or is it just the name of the ship?  

Lindelof: I think the reason that we chose Prometheus as the title is because the Greek myth is one that not everyone is familiar with and is always cool to reintroduce. The idea behind the myth is essentially, Prometheus steals fire from the gods. It is sort of a classic mythological story whether it’s Greek or Roman. The gods don’t want the humans to have something because they don’t trust us with it. It’s like the gods are sort of the parents of five-year-olds thinking, “Let’s not leave a gun in the room because you guys might start shooting each other.”

And in this point in time, technologically speaking, we’re constantly faced with the question, should we or shouldn’t we? Just because stem cells can do all of these amazing things, should we start injecting them into our bodies? What is the price of immortality? Every time we build a robot in a science fiction movie it goes crazy and tries to kill us and wants to take over, so maybe we shouldn’t be building robots? So in the Prometheus movie, the idea of fire is really representative of technology.

We did this TED Talk piece in which Guy Pearce sort of talks about that idea. But in the movie itself we didn’t want to get overly precious or pretentious about it. There is one sort of throwaway line of dialogue that corresponds with the myth of Prometheus, but every other time you hear the name, it’s just when they refer to the ship.  We wanted to make a movie that had the qualities of being intellectual and having a more meaningful conversation, but really wanted to make a cool summer movie that was thrilling, exciting and scary, so we tried not to overdo it. Going back to the TED Talk video, how involved were you with the viral videos that popped up online? It was reminiscent of some of your past work.

Lindelof: They were my idea from a pretty early stage. They were really interested with all of the viral that we were doing on Lost in terms of how you can really build a world with viral videos. And from the moment I took the job, I started getting asked, “Is this a prequel?”, “What does it mean to be a prequel?”, “What is the connection to the original Alien?” So I thought it would be great that instead of you and I answering those questions in interviews, we could start putting some content out there that answers those who are asking if this is an Alien prequel.  

Then the TED Talk idea came about. I figured that if Guy, who is playing Peter Weyland (Weyland Yutani is the company in Alien) would do this TED Talk, audiences would know that there is a connection since Weyland is a fixture from the Alien universe. I called a friend of mine at TED and asked if we could use TED branding even though it’s taking place in the future and was fictional. He said, “Not only can you call it a TED Talk, but you can also unveil it at the TED conference this year. We’ll also host the video through our website.” So that piece of viral made a big splash. It also gave us all of the benefits of TED branding, smart, clever ideas. And for some people who had never heard of TED, but were interested in Prometheus, the video became their introduction to TED.

And then I thought we could do a commercial with Michael Fassbender for the David 8 Robot piece. That idea came about after I had seen an ad for the new iPhone 4S. I thought, if Apple does commercials for iPhones, wouldn’t they do commercials for robots? And if we can talk Fassbender into it, that would be great! Johnny Hardstaff, who is a very talented director who works out of London for Ridley’s commercial company, just sort of took that idea and started doing the David 8 commercial. I wrote some copy for it and he brought these amazing visual ideas to it. I know you said that you drew a lot of inspiration from Ridley, but were there books or shows that you enjoyed while working on Prometheus?

Lindelof: I think that I was just so locked into the world of Prometheus, and obviously already have dozens of sci-fi influences, so not really. Ridley was talking about Erich Anton Paul von Däniken’s work in terms of ancient aliens and the idea of life on earth being seeded from extraterrestrials, so that was a notion that he mentioned a lot. The other two things that came up that I sort of studied were 2001 and Lawrence of Arabia, for reasons that will become obvious for anyone who sees this movie. Congrats on the newly signed contract with Warner Brothers. Are you relieved to be back to television?

Lindelof: I miss TV a lot, though the last two years have been great and movies have been wonderful. I will hopefully make a couple more of them, but my heart is in television and the frenetic energy of it. I just really love being able to tell a story over a much larger canvas. I think for me the idea of painting murals is much more creatively energizing than doing one-off paintings. As great as my experience on Prometheus was, it has been two years since I took this job; in that time we’d make 50 episodes of Lost. I am looking forward to being a little less lazy and a little more nose-to-the-grindstone on a writing level. Is there much we can expect this early in the game? 

Lindelof: Not ready to say anything yet. I’ve got a couple of ideas rattling around in my brain but some of those ideas are best left to continue rattling before they come out of my mouth.

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