The cast of ‘Alien: Covenant’ knows exactly how to terrify you

It’s hard to believe that it’s already been 40 years since “Alien” roared into theaters and terrified audiences with its famous chest-bursting scene. Now, director Ridley Scott is back with everyone’s favorite Xenomorph for more screams in “Alien: Covenant,” which hits theaters on Friday.

CNN sat down with the movie’s stars during March’s South by Southwest conference and talked about why the franchise is so enduring — not to mention terrifying — for audiences.

Turns out, it has something to do with channeling real fear in the actors so viewers can experience the terror for themselves.

“We had pretty good visuals to work with,” actress Katherine Waterston, who stars as the lead female character Daniels, told CNN. “We didn’t have to many CGI, green screens or sticks with Xs on the end to look at.”

Comedic actor Danny McBride, who rarely takes on dramatic roles said he approached the prep work for the movie in the same way he tackles comedies.

“When we do comedy, for me, the comedy has to feel real, it has to be grounded,” McBride said. “You gotta find what makes this person seem real and seem relatable.”

The movie makers used sets that look and feel real, which is something McBride cites as a source that made the terror authentic for him.

“You’re on what looks like a spaceship. You feel the claustrophobia,” he said. “I could remember there was something where we are in pursuit and it felt real. You saw the guy come out of the chamber in costume… It does spark something in you.”

For director Scott, the fear in “Alien” is a primal one, which harkens back to the famed chest-bursting scene from the 1979 original.

“I think the event that occurred right in your face, at the kitchen table… was primordial, was so shocking I think it stuck with people forever, really,” Scott said.

Scott said that when he previewed the original film, he walked around the theater to look at viewers’ reactions. And he liked what he saw.

“I was in good shape, because people were already sliding down the seat,” he said.

Aside from being one of the scariest series in film history, with a windfall of $1.3 billion worldwide, 20th Century Fox’s “Alien” franchise was a trailblazer for featuring a strong female lead with Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, a role that made Weaver a star and helped her score an Academy Award nomination.

Waterston said that Weaver’s performance in “Alien” was an inspiration for her.

“I grew up watching that movie, and she’s so brilliant in it… I remember being very impressed with her reactions, her stillness,” she said. “Her stillness in that film, I think really helped sell a lot of the horror.”

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