October 25, 2019 Interview – Veronica Cartwright
In film and television sixty years, British-born American Actress Veronica Cartwright has built an impressive, award-winning career. Starring in the iconic 1979 film Alien, as Joan Lambert, she also lit up screens in 1978 with Invasion of the Body Snatchers, 1983’s The Right Stuff, earned Emmy nominations for her guest roles in ER and The X-Files, plus so much more. Diverse and still giving fantastic performances, Cartwright continues to find passion in acting all these years later.
Most recently starring in the new Fantasy Thriller The Field – which is available now On Demand and being screened at several film festivals this fall – she portrays a mysterious character that complements a compelling story matched with vivid cinematography. An exciting time for the talented actress, she recently took a moment to chat about her career, working on The Field, the 40th anniversary of Alien, and more.
Cryptic Rock – You have been involved in entertainment six decades now. From film to television, you have a lengthy résumé. First tell us, what inspired you to pursue a career as an actress?
Veronica Cartwright – It was sort of accidental we got into the business in the first place. We had immigrated from England, went to Canada, and my dad wanted to go to Los Angeles. We drove across the country, and we moved into an apartment in El Segundo. My mother didn’t know anybody, but it turned out the lady a couple of apartments down had a little girl who was in entertainment. The landlady said, “Why don’t you talk to her because your kids are cute.” (Laughs) My mom did and we ended up doing modeling; I ended up doing commercials and different things.
I guess it was when I did The Children’s Hour (1961), I had done other things, but working with Shirley MacLaine, she was so cool. She talked with the crew, she was fun, and she was just the embodiment of what you thought a movie star should be. I think she was my sort of inspiration. She would come over to me, hug me, tell me when things were great, and give me advice. She was just my ideal of what it should be. I would say it happened around then. That’s what I wanted to do: I wanted to be gracious and fun to be around. It just all sort of worked out.
Cryptic Rock – It sounds like a very interesting path that led you forward with a very good inspiration from a legendary actress. You have been very diverse through the years and many of your roles have been within the Sci-Fi and Horror genres. Are these two genres you enjoy working in?
Veronica Cartwright – It was more of what just the part is. It just happened. (Laughs) It wasn’t that I went out and thought this is what I want to do, but the parts were really great. There was Alien (1979), and before that I did Invasion of the Body Snatchers (1978); where Nancy was this really strong woman who believed we could really overcome whatever this invasion was. I liked her stance, I thought she was really terrific. Then Alien came along and it was a groundbreaking film. There was no CGI; it was just an entirely different experience. The sets were enormous and everything was built. I think that sort of set things off.
It wasn’t like I planned to be in Horror movies. I was in Candyman: Farewell to the Flesh (1995) – Octavia was this fabulous sort of alcoholic character that was really fun to play. Scary Movie 2 (2001) was sort of a spoof on all different movies, and I happened to be in quite a few of them. It wasn’t like I was planning it; the parts were really fun and I liked them.
Cryptic Rock – Right, it all comes down to the story and character. Speaking of genre films, you most recently star in the new Mystery Drama The Field. How did the role of Edith come about for you?
Veronica Cartwright – What was interesting about it is my character is like from another world. It’s sort of paranormal, but more like a fantasy thing. This couple moves out to this farmhouse where he wanted to be a chef, but now he wants to be a photographer. He starts taking pictures of this field and light, but a figure runs through or is standing there and he keeps trying to pursue that. My character wants him, or at least his wife, to cross over into this other world and experience it.
I really liked the character of Edith. She was really an interesting character and Tate terrifically worked on the language. She was sort of very child-like in this world that she was now in and people felt like they needed to protect her. Nobody was very sure what had happened to her, but she had crossed over into this other world, came out, and sort of wanted to go home. I thought she was a very interesting character.
Cryptic Rock – Yes, your character is rather eccentric in nature. Were there any challenges in portraying such a character?
Veronica Cartwright – Yes, we didn’t want to make her seem silly. She was very mysterious because nobody could quite figure out what her story was. There were challenges, but making the language seemed like it was natural and part of what she was.
There was an inquisitive quality about her: she wanted to find out things, but at the same time didn’t want to intrude. In that, you just want to make her as real as possible and not just thought of as a goofball.
Cryptic Rock – Right, and there is a believability to the character. What is great about The Field is it also has a good deal of subtlety to the story.
Veronica Cartwright – Yes, the photography was fabulous too.
Cryptic Rock – Indeed, this film is the type of film you want to discuss after viewing.
Veronica Cartwright – I found that too. I saw it for the first time a couple of weeks ago. There is something very haunting about the whole thing. You find yourself asking questions and that’s good.
Cryptic Rock – For The Field you worked with Tate Bunker. What was that experience like?
Veronica Cartwright – Well, Tate knew exactly what he wanted. He was very open to discussions and talking about things. He had an absolute visual of what he wanted, and I thought he did a really fine job with all of that. He made you feel part of it and it didn’t feel rushed. He had an absolute vision and we all jumped in and tried to be part of that whole thing. That’s a really nice quality to have with low-budget movies. It was a really good experience.
Cryptic Rock – That is good and you have worked with so many directors through the years from Alfred Hitchcock to Ridley Scott. Let’s briefly look back on 1979’s Alien. Now an iconic film as it celebrates its 40th anniversary, what are your lasting memories from being a part of Alien?
Veronica Cartwright – It was a very hard shoot. Everything was sort of connected in the spaceship: you would walk down an aisle and to the left was the hospital, to the right the catering room; everything was connected. That just added to this feeling of claustrophobia. Then we got onto this space jockey, which was massive; there is no trick photography, we are really climbing over the top of that space jockey. Everything was huge: we had the largest sound stage in Europe at that time. There was no CGI, everything was total reality. Bolaji Badejo, who was the alien, and you didn’t really have to act, you just had to look at him. (Laughs) The whole experience was very real.
I’ve stayed in touch with several people from the film. Tom Skerritt and I are going to be in New York at Winter Con in November on the 23rd and 24th for a 40th anniversary convention. I’ve always tried to stay in touch with most of the people who were involved in that movie. John Hurt I actually saw a few months before he passed away. It’s 40 years, it’s a long haul, and to be able to stay in touch with people is really cool. The film was the first of its kind really. It was very Hitchcock-like, you weren’t quite sure what you were looking at; you used your imagination to experience that, which is what Hitchcock did. It was tough, long, and we were filthy dirty, but it was a good experience.
During the scene where we are in the desert, we have 50 lbs of equipment on us. There turned out to be a heatwave in England, I think I lost about 10 lbs in my space suit that week. (Laughs) They forgot to put air holes in our helmet, we were breathing CO2, and all three of us passed out at one point or another. Obviously it was well worth it if something could be that iconic though.
Cryptic Rock – Wow, what an experience, but as you said, it paid off because the end result is an iconic film. What were your thoughts on the second Alien film, 1986’s Aliens?
Veronica Cartwright – I liked the second film, but I began to feel after that there were too many Alien movies. By the time they got to the one with Winona Ryder, Alien Resurrection (1997), they were like sperm swimming through the water – there were so many of them, it was ridiculous. (Laughs)
Cryptic Rock – Yes, that was a little much. (Laughs). Last question. What are some of your favorite movies?
Veronica Cartwright – I’m a big fan of The Shawshank Redemption (1994). Love Tarantino movies: Reservoir Dogs (1992), Pulp Fiction (1994). For fun, I love the Fast and Furious movies. I loved The Right Stuff (1983). I love just movies in general and see as many as I can.