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In the much anticipated ‘Alien’ strain ‘Prometheus’, the cold efficiency of Charlize Theron’s character might be characterized as machine-like, but another crew member, David, portrayed by Michael Fassbender, is, literally, a machine – an android creation of the corporation.
While David possesses extraordinary intelligence and other capabilities, his principal tasks on the Prometheus, says director Ridley Scott, are servile. “He’s basically the ship’s housekeeper, keeping an eye on everything while the human crew is in suspended animation [necessitated by the two-year journey].”
David is however far more “human” than one might expect of a synthetic person. Executive producer Damon Lindelof explains: “David is programmed to help the human crewmembers, but he thinks the mission, in and of itself, is ridiculous because he’s in the company of his creators – humans – and he’s completely and totally unimpressed with them. I was driven by the idea of having him articulate his disdain in ways that his programming would allow.”
The combination of David’s intellect and menial directives makes for some of the film’s most unexpected moments of humor. When we meet David, he’s like a child in a playground – but his playground is the Prometheus. “While the rest of the crew is suspended animation, David is enjoying himself, tinkering with the ship’s many technical wonders,” says Fassbender. And like a child, David enjoys watching the same movie over and over again.
His cinema touchstone is David Lean’s epic masterpiece ‘Lawrence of Arabia’; David, like Peter O’Toole’s T.E. Lawrence, is in many ways an idealized construct of a man. Further, says Lindelof, “Lawrence was a stranger in a strange land. He fancied himself a liberator – and all these things are a part of David.”
Additionally, David’s views on the human crew are somewhat child-like. “He is jealous and arrogant because he realizes that his knowledge is all-encompassing and therefore he is superior to the humans,” says Fassbender. “David wants to be acknowledged and praised for his brilliance, yet nobody gives him the time of day. They don’t accept David and that upsets him. And like a child, David can be very bold in the decisions he makes.”
Janek, the captain of the Prometheus, is described by Scott as an “old sea dog” – an officer in the classic tradition, and an alpha male whose primary mission is to protect the ship and its crew. His ambitions and vocation provide a sharp contrast to the heady goals of the scientific protagonists Shaw and Holloway and the venal corporate interests of Vickers.
British actor Idris Elba, who portrays Janek, reunites with Scott, with whom he collaborated on the director’s award-winning American Gangster. Elba’s formidable presence and performance in that film left a strong impression on Scott, as did the actor’s searing work as drug overlord Stringer Bell in the series The Wire and as a complicated police officer in Luther.
Elba describes Janek as “a longshoreman and a sailor. It’s his life and the crew is his responsibility. Ultimately, he makes a huge decision that sums him up as a man.”
Logan Marshall-Green takes on the role of Holloway, who is Shaw’s partner, both personally and professionally, in a quest for answers to some of humanity’s most important questions. Like Shaw, Holloway has a thirst for answers, but he thinks the end of their search will yield very different results from those Shaw expects.
“Shaw is the heart of the search; Holloway is the guts,” adds Marshall-Green. “I think Holloway is searching for answers to these huge questions because he’s always pushing the envelope. He goes to the extreme in everything he does, sometimes for the better, sometimes for the worse of the team. I think what drives him is the thrill of the search.”
Image Courtesy of Prometheus