Americans, Gun Controllers, and the “Aggressive Edge”

I rented the Collector’s Edition 2-disc set of James Cameron’s Aliens this weekend, and thoroughly enjoyed the extended director’s cut of the film. It made a good movie that much better, in my opinion, and it should have been the one originally released. Anyway, the second disc has a lot of special features about the making of the movie; the pre-production, the casting, filming, special effects, etc. And there were interviews interspersed with the cast and crew and support people. Some of those interviews were really fascinating to me.

The first section on pre-production talked about the fact that the film was shot in England, mostly at Pinewood Studios, but this little bit piqued my interest:

Mary Selway, UK casting for Aliens:

“It was INCREDIBLY hard to do, because, um, James kept saying, ‘State of the art firepower. They’ve got to be incredibly, sort of on the cutting edge of American military…’

“So, what often happens here when American actors come to live in England, they become a bit Anglicized, and they don’t… they lose that really, sort of aggressive edge if you like, that this sort casting required.”

She said it, I didn’t.

Immediately after Ms. Selway’s piece:

Gale Anne Hurd – producer.

“I think we probably went through 3,000 people before we could even consider bringing anyone over from the United States.”

Hmmm… They went through 3,000 “Anglicized” people and couldn’t get enough aggressive ones?

Well, two Americans they did find in England were Jenette Goldstein, who played Vasquez, and Mark Rolston, who played the other heavy gunner, Drake. However, they apparently brought Lance Henrikson, who played the “artificial person” Bishop over straight from New York:

“The first time I walked on the set..

“I told you this story…

“The AD (Assistant Director) put his hand on my chest, and, and, nobody ever touched me like that – you know, like stopping me, and I, um, being from New York I said to him, uh ‘You ever touch me again, I’m gonna kick your ass.’

“The next thing he did was say, ‘Alright. Bring in the Artiste!”

“And I said, ‘Man, you really are a wise guy’ because I thought he was, like, putting us down, and I, I didn’t realize the British call people “artistes.”

“Even though we speak the same language, it’s a different language. And…

“They’re different than us.”

That’s pretty apparent. And it’s also apparent that we both prefer it that way.

The next part that really got my attention was the section on the weapons used in the movie. There’s a lot of neat technical stuff and pictures to keep us gun-nuts happy, but the interviews with the actors were, shall we say, illuminating. Some of the interviews were shot during principal filming, and some were shot for the 2003 DVD special edition re-release. I’ll identify them where I think it’s important:

Sigourney Weaver, during initial filming:

“It’s actually hard for me morally to justify being in a film with so many guns.

“I just find it… very upsetting. And that’s the biggest problem for me, is that I, reading the script, I had no idea how…martial the atmosphere would be, and how much emphasis that would have.

“I give money to anti-gun legislation, and..

“I mean, I never, I never even go to see movies about guns. Especially killing people. I can’t, you know, I mean I just think… Oooh, I think it would be very difficult for an actor. You’d really have to sort of, do a number on yourself, you know.”

Apparently not some actors:

Bill Paxton (Hudson):

“I love shooting guns. That’s like the best part of my job.”

Michael Biehn (Hicks):

“I got a really good sense of handling weapons when I did The Terminator because I had that shotgun throughout, and I was always firing off weapons and working with, with uh, you know, the guns.”

Bill Paxton:

“Oh, I’ve shot a few weapons in a couple different situations, and I grew up in Texas. I shot a lot of shotguns and stuff like that.”

Jenette Goldstein (Vasquez):

“I’ve never shot a gun before. I’m actually frightened of guns. You know. It doesn’t take any imagination for me to pretend that it’s a real weapon.”

Al Matthews (Sgt. Apone):

“Well, y’know I suffer from the Vietnam syndrome. If you point a gun at me I’m gonna shove it down your throat. I’m sorry to say that. (Laughing) Sorry gang! But that’s the truth. If you point…

“So, uh, we have things where everyone’s instinct is to automatically put their fingers on the trigger. Well they stopped doing that on the set with me, because I don’t have it. I really don’t have it. It’s an instinct. That’s the way I was trained, thank you very much America. Uh, that’s how I was trained because you put your finger when you’re talking or you’re waving your weapon around, I’m gonna jam it down your throat. I gotta do that.”

“At some points, we’re using blanks. Uh, blanks can hurt people. And so if everyone’s aware of, of what it is that they’re actually walking around with, I want each and every one of these people, which they have already done, they’re starting to fall in love with their guns. I know it sounds very silly, but, from a military point of view, it’s correct.”

Remember that quote. There’ll be a test at the end…

I was very pleased to see Al Matthews’ interview piece. Excellent!

However:

Sigourney Weaver, filmed during the original shooting of Aliens:

“I don’t think Ripley is a gun person. At all. And I want to make sure that in those scenes, although I look like I’m handling it, I don’t turn into a Marine. I’m not a soldier. I never wanna be a soldier.

“The thing that scares me about the guns is that after you’ve been using then a couple of days, you go ‘Oh, well, you know, this is…’ you know, it, you sort of get into it. And I think that’s what happens to people with real guns, and I think, I think Jim Cameron’s very anti-gun too, in his own way, but yet I think he’s fascinated by them in a way that I’m not.

“I don’t like that feeling you get after you’ve shot off a few rounds of “I’m Immortal” you know. It’s just.. garbage.”

So, familiarity breeds contempt. Or, in the case of some of the actors, love. For an “anti-gun” guy, Jim Cameron’s made some hellacious gun advertisements blowup movies.

But wait! There’s more!

Sigourney Weaver, filmed for the 2003 special edition release:

“There were moments on Aliens where I had to shoot stunt dummies who were dressed as aliens. I would have to shoot stuntmen who were moving as aliens. And, um, I always thought it was amazing. We rehearse it, of course, in detail. But then they kinda left it to me. I mean I know they were blanks, but still the.. I mean, what if I’d flamed a real person, you know? They trusted me completely. And I have to say that once you start shooting, you get to lik… you know, the, the target practice alone was, you know, very, like (growls) you know. (With a smile.)

Putting on my amateur psychoanalyst’s jacket…

So, Sigourney Weaver, gun hater, was trusted to use a flamethrower and a (blank-firing) gun on the set. Other people trusted her completely. Apparently she doesn’t trust herself and finds the concept somewhat disturbing and encouraging at the same time. She admits – almost – to liking to shoot the set weapons. She found it, let’s say, primitively exciting, but at the same time the fact that she liked it frightened her.

One thing I think that is common among the really strident anti-gun people is the fear of responsibility, and they see guns (quite rightly) as a large responsibility. They don’t think themselves worthy of it. They fear a loss of control. Or they fear an inability to handle it. Not that evil brain-warping waves will cause them to rush out and commit mass murder, but that they just aren’t responsible enough to have a gun. Since they have found themselves unworthy, they don’t trust others to handle that responsibility either, because hey! They’re just average people like everyone else, right?

After all, they have so many examples to point to of people who misuse guns both criminally and negligently, they must be right.

Right?

This letter to Kim du Toit (fourth one down the page) is illustrative of that mindset. An excerpt:

I thought, all my life, that I couldn’t own a gun safely, that no one could, really. Guns were dangerous and icky. Even after I realized that the Second Amendment was not quite the shriveled, antiquated appendix I’d been taught, for a couple of years or so I still wobbled around with the training-wheel comfort of believing that while not all gun owners were necessarily gap-toothed red-necked fascist militia whackos, I myself ought not to own firearms. I was too clumsy and careless, and guns were still dangerous and icky.

Read the whole thing, and Kim’s response. I’ll still be here when you get back.

Some who get over their inner misgivings actually learn to shoot. Many of them lose that fear, learn that they are responsible, and begin to see the flaws in gun control philosophy. Some “get into it.” They learn to like guns – something Sigourney Weaver fears. Few of us develop an “I’m Immortal” sense of power. Guns don’t make you immortal. Only fools think that. But some stay fearful, and never learn to be responsible for themselves. They depend on others exclusively to do the difficult, dangerous stuff.

I think the difference between Americans in general and the “anglicized” English is that most of us believe we’re at some level personally responsible, and that along with that responsibility comes at least a little agressiveness.

I’d much rather have Lance Henrikson as a neighbor than Sigourney Weaver. And I think having Bill Paxton or Michael Biehn on the other side would be a blast.

I hope that America doesn’t ever lose that aggressive edge. It’s important in more than just casting.

(Edited to correct the spelling of “aggressive” – which I know has two “g’s” – dammit.)

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