Ridley Scott: 'I'm doing pretty good, if you think about it'

As Ridley Scott prepares two new Alien prequels, he tells James Mottram why, at 72, he isn't ready to slow down yet

The epitome of self-made success, Ridley Scott is talking about his career. And, as you might expect from the 72-year-old director, he's not one to hold back. "Alien is a landmark," he says of the film that launched his Hollywood career. "One of the really good science-fiction films. Then Blade Runner's pretty good, too!" He reaches the 1985, Tom Cruise-starring Legend, a monumental flop at the time. "That I thought was [a landmark] but I jumped the gun and simply started doing fantasy 25 years too soon. But it's a pretty good movie."

He continues, clean forgetting Black Rain, Thelma & Louise and 1492 as he rattles through his CV. Someone to Watch Over Me and White Squall "are both really nice little movies", he adds, before understandably skipping over GI Jane to get to his most recent phase. Alighting on the Oscar-winning Gladiator, American Gangster and "the best war film of the last few years", Black Hawk Down, he allows himself a wry smile. "I'm doing pretty good, if you think about it."

While some might flinch at this un-British boasting, the South Shields-born Scott is one of the few home-grown directors of his generation to have wrestled with Hollywood and come out on top. In the last decade he's made nine films, from Gladiator to this year's Robin Hood, which took a chunky $300m globally. Of those, only the con-artist tale Matchstick Men and the Provence-set A Good Year could be considered small-scale. "I've gradually realised that what I do best is universes," he says. "And I shouldn't be afraid of that."

Even when he has fallen foul of the system, he has often won out in the end. While Twentieth Century Fox trimmed his 2005 Crusades drama, Kingdom of Heaven, by more than an hour, only to see it flop, an extended Director's Cut of the film was later released on DVD to much acclaim. It wasn't the first time. Scott famously re-edited Blade Runner (initially for a 1992 Director's Cut) after poor test screenings of the 1982 original saw him forced to add an explanatory voiceover and a "silly ending".

Scott gives the same treatment to Robin Hood. The DVD and Blu-ray release will see a Director's Cut, featuring 17 minutes of unseen footage, sit alongside the theatrical edition. Partly, no doubt, this is to counter the mixed reviews the film met with; Variety, for example, said it played like "a joyless corrective to Robin Hood's prior screen adventures".

As is typical of the bullish Scott, he's rather dismissive of these "prior screen adventures", in which the likes of Errol Flynn, Sean Connery and Kevin Costner played the Nottingham outlaw. "There have been 80 [Robin Hood films] made over the years. It's the kind of thing I used to enjoy as a kid, but when I revisit them, they're not very good. I'm trying to think of the last good one." He pauses before selecting a surprising choice. "Mel Brooks's Men in Tights! I thought that was the best one."

By casting Russell Crowe as a straight-arrow Robin Longstride, Scott was clearly hoping to repeat some of the magic they conjured on Gladiator. Robin Hood is now the fifth film they've made together, making the gruff Australian Scott's preferred leading man. "He's a bit of a buddy, really," Scott says of the actor, with whom he shares an agent. "He's Australian and there's something akin to British – particularly northern British. They were convicts, after all."

Though proud of his northern roots, Scott has rarely attached himself to projects set in Britain, which makes Robin Hood a novelty in his career. While he and Tony Scott, his younger film-maker brother, purchased a controlling interest in Shepperton Studios in 1995, Ridley seems set apart from the British film industry. Certainly, it's hard to imagine he shed many tears over the recent announcement that the UK Film Council is to be dismantled. Since making his 1977 debut, The Duellists, Scott has never been the sort of British director to go cap-in-hand for funding.

Scott began his career at the BBC, working as a production designer and helming episodes of Z Cars and Adam Adamant Lives!. He left in 1967 and, within a year, formed Ridley Scott Associates (RSA), a company dedicated to producing high-quality commercials. Scott estimates that he has directed more than 2,700 spots, the Hovis ad being fondly remembered. This earned him a financial freedom that helped his film career flourish. "In a way that was a huge advantage, because I was able to take my time choosing my film subjects. I wasn't relying on having to work."

Shortly after founding RSA, he recruited his brother Tony (whose 1983 feature debut was the vampire flick The Hunger) with a promise of riches. "I said, 'Come with me and you'll get that good car.'" Which was? "A Ferrari. Seriously dangerous." This willingness to keep it in the family has ensured that RSA, which now has more than 50 directors on its books working out of offices in New York, LA, Hong Kong and London, still thrives. Scott's three children – Luke and Jake, from his first marriage, and Jordan, from his second – all cut their teeth at RSA.

Scott, who has been divorced twice and now spends his time with the Costa Rican actress Giannina Facio, takes some credit for the fact that his offspring have become directors. "They watch me do what I do. They see me sitting in my study at 5.45am, working over a script. So they see it's a passion, not a job. Of that, they've taken to that passion." While Jordan saw her feature debut, Cracks, released last year, Jake recently completed his second feature, Welcome to the Rileys, starring Twilight's Kristen Stewart. Does Scott ever offer advice? "Are you kidding me?" he spits. "I wouldn't dare."

Perhaps he doesn't have the time. Scott Free Productions, the film and television production outfit he formed with Tony in 1995, has branched out lately to make films outside the family circle. This year alone, aside from Robin Hood and Tony's upcoming thriller Unstoppable, it has backed The A-Team and the wry comedy-drama Cyrus. Written and directed by another sibling team, Mark and Jay Duplass, Cyrus is about a divorcee (John C Reilly) who must contend with his new girlfriend's grown-up son (Jonah Hill). A million miles from the spectacle of Scott's own work, it proves his tastes are wide.

One only has to look at Scott Free's films in development for further proof. Alongside an adaptation of the Monopoly board game sits a new version of Aldous Huxley's Brave New World, a Gucci biopic with Angelina Jolie attached as the female lead, an adaptation of Justin Cronin's vampire novel The Passage and a remake of television's Red Riding trilogy. Boasting the energy of a man half his age, Scott says he has no intention of slowing down. "I think there's nothing worse than inertia. You can be inert and study your navel, and gradually fall off the chair. I think the key is to keep flying."

The anticipation for his next project is building to fever pitch: it will be a two-part prequel to Alien, shot in 3D. Scott was never asked to make a sequel to Alien; that honour went to James Cameron, before a further two sequels and two Alien vs Predator spin-offs milked the franchise dry. But with the Lost co-creator Damon Lindoff polishing the first prequel's script, you can sense the competitor in Scott, desperate to put his stamp back on the film series that launched him. "Jim's raised the bar and I've got to jump to it," he says, in a friendly jibe at Cameron. "He's not going to get away with it."

Set 30 years before the 1979 original, so with no room for Sigourney Weaver's Ripley, the prequels will explore the origins of the deadly aliens. "The film will be really tough, really nasty," he notes. "It's the dark side of the moon. We are talking about gods and engineers. Engineers of space. And were the aliens designed as a form of biological warfare? Or biology that would go in and clean up a planet?"

It's a bold move, one that could taint Scott's earlier contribution to the series if it goes wrong. But Scott loves a gamble, whether it's taking on the sequel to The Silence of the Lambs, Hannibal, or resurrecting an unfashionable genre with Gladiator. "Everyone sniggered because they thought I was going to do a sandals and toga movie," he remembers. Given the success he's had since, Scott has had the last laugh.

'Cyrus' opens on 10 September. 'Robin Hood: Director's Cut' is out on DVD and Blu-ray on 20 September

Arts and Entertainment
Performers drink tea at the Glastonbury festival in 2010

GlastonburyWI to make debut appearance at Somerset festival

Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister

TV reviewIt has taken seven episodes for Game of Thrones season five to hit its stride

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
Jesuthasan Antonythasan as Dheepan

FilmPalme d'Or goes to radical and astonishing film that turns conventional thinking about immigrants on its head

Arts and Entertainment
Måns Zelmerlöw performing

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Graham Norton was back in the commentating seat for Eurovision 2015

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
Richard Hammond, Jeremy Clarkson and James May on stage

TV
Arts and Entertainment
The light stuff: Britt Robertson and George Clooney in ‘Tomorrowland: a World Beyond’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
Reawakening: can Jon Hamm’s Don Draper find enlightenment in the final ‘Mad Men’?
tv reviewNot quite, but it's an enlightening finale for Don Draper spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
Breakfast Show’s Nick Grimshaw

Radio
Arts and Entertainment

Eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
'Youth' cast members Paul Dano, Jane Fonda, Harvey Keitel, Rachel Weisz, and Michael Caine pose for photographers at Cannes Film Festival
film
Arts and Entertainment
Adam West as Batman and Burt Ward and Robin in the 1960s Batman TV show

Comics
Arts and Entertainment
I am flute: Azeem Ward and his now-famous instrument
music
Arts and Entertainment
A glass act: Dr Chris van Tulleken (left) and twin Xand get set for their drinking challenge
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
MIA perform at Lovebox 2014 in London Fields, Hackney

music
Arts and Entertainment
Finnish punk band PKN hope to enter Eurovision 2015 and raise awareness for Down's Syndrome

eurovision
Arts and Entertainment
William Shakespeare on the cover of John Gerard's The Herball or Generall Historie of Plantes

books
Arts and Entertainment

Game of Thrones review
Arts and Entertainment
Grayson Perry dedicates his Essex home to Julie

Potter's attempt to create an Essex Taj Mahal was a lovely treat

tv
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the original Swedish version of the sci-fi TV drama ‘Real Humans’
tv
Arts and Entertainment
Hugh Keays-Byrne plays Immortan Joe, the terrifying gang leader, in the new film
filmActor who played Toecutter returns - but as a different villain in reboot
Arts and Entertainment
Charlize Theron as Imperator Furiosa in Mad Max: Fury Road
film
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

    The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

    How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
    Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

    Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

    'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

    Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

    How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

    Art attack

    Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
    Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

    Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

    Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
    Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

    'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

    Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
    10 best wedding gift ideas

    It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

    Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
    Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

    Paul Scholes column

    With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
    Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

    Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

    Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
    Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

    Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

    The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
    Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

    For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
    Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

    Fifa corruption arrests

    All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
    Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

    The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

    In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

    How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

    Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
    Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

    How Stephen Mangan got his range

    Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor