Persistence Pays Off: Alien: Covenant’s Katherine Waterston is Finally Ready For Her Close-Up

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For Waterston, the movie represents a shift into a new gear: It’s a much more physical, stunt-centric role than she’s ever taken. While many have been quick to compare Daniels to Ripley (Sigourney Weaver)—the taking-no-prisoners protagonist of the franchise’s earlier installments and a kind of post-modern feminist icon—Waterston herself cites Daniel Craig in the James Bond movies as a source of inspiration. “One thing I loved was that he often seemed like he wasn’t going to make it. I just think it’s more fun when you don’t play it like a superhero. I didn’t want to seem too competent.”

Ridley Scott echoes the sentiment. “Coming out of theater, I found her to be quite helpful in certain areas,” says Scott. “You’re going for a popular target place and the smarter you can be the better. But you better not get too smart, otherwise you’ll bore the ass off everyone.”

Waterston and Scott found an approachable middle ground for the Daniels character on set. “For certain lines, I would say to her, ‘Do you really like this one?’ And she would say, ‘No, don’t take that line. I know how to deal with it.’ I would trust her at that level.”

Scott continues with the superlatives: “Tall, beautiful, smart as a whip, funny, and great intuition. I love actors who are inquiring, but don’t create a series of obstacles waiting silently on the other side of the fence for a fucking answer. That annoys the shit out of me. When there’s a free-for-all discussion and interaction, I love that. Everyone moves like lightning and enjoys themselves.”

Danny McBride, Michael Fassbender, Ridley Scott and Waterston at South by Southwest 2017 in March, where Covenant footage screened. Courtesy of 20th Century Fox

Bravo describes a similarly engaged relationship with Waterston on the set of “Eat!” “She had a fever the whole shoot, and even still she came on time and ready to play every day.” It’s telling that two moviemakers whose aesthetic (and budgets) couldn’t be farther from one another have similar accounts of the actress. Rain or shine, shoestring indie or big-budget blockbuster, Waterston is a diligent worker and compassionate colleague. She cares, deeply, both about the art and the people creating it.

Waterston’s experience making Alien: Covenant, a three-month shoot in Australia and New Zealand, mirrors Scott’s love letter. “If we were talking too much before a take, he’d say, ‘Ah, let’s shoot the fucker; the worst thing that can happen is that we’re wrong,’” she says. “He could’ve just been sitting somewhere on a throne, shouting at us on a loudspeaker, keeping his distance, and making it feel like a big Hollywood picture that we barely deserved to be a part of. It always felt like a scrappy crew of misfits trying to make some stuff.”

Waterston doesn’t take any of this for granted. Joining crews of misfits (and getting paid to do it) is a privilege, and she knows it. The lean years aren’t a distant memory; they’re part of her journey, and the destination is unclear, because there is no roadmap for actors. When I ask her for a moment of introspection, she hesitates. “I don’t sit with a journal and reflect,” she says. But does her career and her life, which appear to be going swimmingly, make sense to her?

“If it made sense to me that I’m here, then I’d also have to be able to make sense of why people I love and admire aren’t here, you know?” Waterston is answering my question by first deconstructing it. “There is a huge element of luck in show business. So far it makes sense to me that I got lucky. I understand how it happened: a combination of stubbornness and good fortune. I’m not the type to get out of my shell. That’s why it took so long for me to get a proper job in this business. I’m not so quick to advertise myself.”

Before I can ask a follow-up, she continues with her answer, now more passionate. “I’m uncomfortable with the idea that I deserve this, because the world just doesn’t work like that. That’s the lie they tell us when we’re kids—‘If you apply yourself and really care, all your dreams can come true.’ And it’s a lie—it’s just a fucking lie.” She doesn’t need my prodding to tell the truth. It just unspools out. “There’s just a little asterisk in very fine print that nobody can see: *if you’re lucky.” MM

Alien: Covenant opens in theaters May 19, 2017, courtesy of 20th Century Fox. This article appears in MovieMaker‘s Spring 2017 issue.

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4 Comments

  1. MACMAC

    September 13, 2017 at 6:23 am

    This makes me so happy for her. I remember when I first saw her film “Enter Nowhere” and how I was entertained by her performance and amazed by the story that led me to watching an idie gem “The Babysitters”. She easily became one of my favorite actresses. She has this brilliant on-screen charm that creates a connection between her and the audience. And now she’s making waves and I couldn’t be more proud.

  2. Mike

    May 19, 2017 at 2:41 pm

    Oh good for her. Its nice to see a struggling actor with no connections work her way up!

    Oh wait, Sam Waterston, whose worked for 50 years in the industry, is her dad? I guess there’s no way whatsoever she benefited from his connections to agents, producers and directors at all. Boo

    • Tom

      May 22, 2017 at 12:00 pm

      Yet if she sucks, then there’s nothing around that. It can’t be all about connections, right? So what’s your problem?

  3. Alex Merdjanian

    May 19, 2017 at 2:20 pm

    Knew she’d be something ever since I saw her in Inherent Vice! Really looking forward to seeing Alien: Covenant this weekend

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