Friday, August 31, 2012

Al Matthews - the Real Life Marine in "Aliens"

Sgt. Al Apone "Look into my eye." (Aliens -20th Century Fox)

Aliens is, and always will be, one of my very favorite movies. The scenes with the space marines chiding each other and suiting up for battle leave a lasting impression, especially on a 10-year-old. I actually couldn't watch the movie all the way through the first time I tried. It scared me so bad I was nauseated. But, like all great sci-fi/horror movies, I grew to adore it (and have watched it countless times since my first attempt in the sixth grade.)
   Sergeant Al Apone, played by Al Matthews, is perhaps the most convincing marine in the film. My father and I have commented that he must've had previous military experience to pull off such a genuine character. I recently searched the Internet to see if I could find out anything about Al Matthews' past, and I was pleased to find this interview where he discusses how proud he was to serve in Vietnam. I am cutting and pasting the entire interview below. The original web site is here: Al Matthews Interview

Al Matthews, Actor, Aliens
Written by Hicks Thursday, 26 October 2006 23:03 
Today we are talking with a man that I am sure really needs no introduction to anyone that calls themselves an Alien fan - Al Matthews. Al played the cigar-chewing, slogan-spewing, tough-as-nails, ground troop commander Sgt. Apone. Al, thank you for allowing us this opportunity to chat with you. Let’s get to it.

Alien Experience: Are you still living in the UK, because I thought I saw on the Internet you were living in Spain now?

Al Matthews: It's not my intention to be esoteric, however, we must remember John Lennon! One morning, I awoke to find 15 people standing outside my house, trying to get a glimpse of me, neither I nor my family need that! Plus, the Net told you that I was dead, and you (fans) bought it. Where I live is not important, how I live is.

AXP: What took you to Europe in the first place?

AM: I came to Europe because I no longer wanted to live in the country that I went to war for, by the way, I did not start that war. When I came home I was not a hero, I was still a black man trying to get a job. One day I was riding the bus on my way to work, just above my head was a bus hording, asking for donations to help build a memorial to my fallen comrades, I was grossly insulted. However, right next to that sign was another, which said 'If you don't like America, leave', which is what I did.

I have been in show business since the age of 4, Cab Calloway is my great uncle, Johnny Nash is my third cousin, my family also appeared in Our Gang comedies, the parts they played were 'Buckwheat' and a character, 'Stimey', it's more or less in the blood!

I arrived in Europe with 4 sea bags and a Gibson guitar, I first lived in Morocco, where I made myself learn to play the damn thing. I first became a Folk-blues singer, it worked! But let me tell you this, it worked because I now had the self-discipline that's necessary to do anything. I got that discipline in the United States Marine Corps, and that's gospel!

AXP: What made you want to leave the Marines?

AM: I have not left the Marine Corps, 'once a Marine, always a Marine'. Sadly, I still have bad days and nightmares, I try not to think about Nam, but I find it hard not to think about that period of my life, but it was also a very necessary thing for me, I got my act together.

AXP: Are you still singing/songwriting?

AM: Yes, indeed I still write music, if you visit my website, you can hear a few of the 5,000 songs I've written over the years. I have a song in a film at the moment. These days, I only write for films. I coed in a film called Soul Survivors with Isaac Hayes, Antonio Fargas, (whom I grew up with in NYC) and Ian McShane, I mention this because I wrote the songs for the film, again they can be found on my website.

AXP: Are you still involved in broadcasting, and to what extent?

AM: After fifteen years of broadcasting, I'd more or less had enough. I have won 'Best Gospel Music Program in Europe' five times running, I might like to do some kind of program, but I don't exactly know what, my collection is 8,000 albums strong and over 400 cd's. Do you think I might get a gig somewhere? Just kidding!

AXP: And what have you been doing since 1997 after your last two films The Fifth Element and Tomorrow Never Dies? Are you still performing theatre?

AM: I have been writing cook books and other things, I am also a journalist which is another string to my bow. Theatre is my first love, a film is a walk in the park compared to the theatre. My agent once told me something which I now know to be true, unless you tread the boards, you are not an actor. I am very proud of my work in the theater. I took the James Baldwin play The Amen Corner, from fringe to London's west-end. The Amen Corner was and is the first all black cast, in the long history of British theatre to appear in London's West, and not be a musical! I was very lucky, James Baldwin was there, he was giving a standing ovation which lasted 15 minutes, we both cried, it was very moving. There, now you've glimpsed my soft side. I did another film, which I don't want to discuss, in all, I've made 62 pictures, the last we will not talk about.

AXP: How did you land your role in Aliens?

AM: I was shooting a film called (in Europe) The American Way, in the States it's called Riders of the Storm with Dennis Hopper, James Cameron ask to see me, he read my CV, and that was that. I asked James how long did it take him to make up his mind, he said "thirty seconds".

AXP: Did your time in the military help in your performance in Aliens?

AM: Yes, I was the only person in the movie not pretending to be a Marine, in fact I taught the other actors how to look and act. Mr. Cameron was pleased with my input, in fact he said to me, he had no idea I was that good, had he known, my part would have been bigger. (Oh yeah!) You see, when you live in Europe, it is assumed that you live here because you can't cut the mustard...tut, tut! There are many more films shot in the UK, because we have some of the best craftsman on the planet, Aliens was shot at Pinewood, just down the street from my home at that time.

AXP: And is there any part of Al Matthews in Sgt. Apone…or Sgt. Apone in Al Matthews?

AM: My five and a half years in the Corps as was the Marines are so believable, I did not have to act, I was just my normal self. Al Matthews and Sgt. Al Apone (bet you didn't know his first name was Al, we did that as a joke) are the same person.

AXP: What was it like working with James Cameron?

AM: James Cameron is one of the finest directors I have ever had the pleasure of working for. A good director casts actors to help them tell their story, a great director does the same thing, but with a slight difference, a great director bothers to ask his actors their opinions. James Cameron is a great director, he let me do my thing, he place his trust in me. I am very proud of that fact. What most folk don't know is, I made up most of my own line's, James let me do that! He's the MAN! I was asked to come to the States, but declined for business reasons, plus, I do not like being far away from my children.

AXP: What is your fondest memory from your time working on Aliens?

AM: My fondest memory on Aliens, was this: We were trying to get my whole squad into the 'APC', as quickly as possible. Man, we must have done ten takes, on the very last take, we got it right. Once we were all in, in a 'military manner', we had the take, in the can, suddenly the door opened and I shouted "What the fxxk is going on?" Yes, I was tired and I knew the opening of the door would screw the sound, and we would have to go again. I turned towards the door, with smoke coming from my nostrils. There was Miss Weaver holding the biggest birthday cake I had ever seen in my life, and wearing the warmest smile ever! The whole cast and crew knew it was my birthday, and they were all in on it. I was so embarrassed, I broke down and cried. There was Sgt. Apone, balling like a baby, at the best of times, I don't like surprises, you can call it a 'Nam thing.'

I forgot to tell you about the opening shot, which was us waking from deep space sleep. A little known and never seen again actress, (I'm calling her that to be kind) accused me of taking her light. I told her I could take her light without even leaving my dressing room, (it was her first film and last, I may add) I also told her that I could make the camera do anything I wanted it to do. She said 'BS'. I said, 'ok watch this', that's when I put the cigar into my mouth, the camera was shooting from the opposite direction, James saw me put the cigar in my chops, and made them move the camera for a single on me. I just looked at the actress and winked, she could not believe it. I told her,' not to try to get where I am, because she would be where I was, because I keep moving.'

AXP: Did those missed takes in the APC inspire your line later in the movie "I want a nice clean dispersal this time!"?

AM: Sorry, the line refers to the last op we were on (not really), or the last time we tried that move or tactic. By the way, that was not one of the lines I made up, I would have said, 'spread it and keep it flat.' It means the same thing.

AXP: Which version of the film do you prefer, the original theatrical release or Aliens: Special Edition?

AM: When I saw the finished cut, I was very surprised indeed. I watched, (because, that's how you learn your craft) James shoot all the stuff that ended on the floor, which became 'The Director's Cut'. The director's cut told the whole story, but, it slowed the film down. When I saw the 'D's cut, I knew why 'Fox', put it on the floor. For a very long time, I thought that I had made all that stuff up in my head, (as actors do) what I'm trying to say is, I thought I had dreamt all those shot's, they did happened, but I convinced myself, it was all in my head. To answer the question, I prefer the original cut. the 'D's' cut was all about riding that horse into town, just one more time. By the way, I only saw the 'D's' cut 3 months ago. What is really a good laugh, is to see the film in another language, like Spanish for example. I speak 7 languages, I like to see what the translators made of my lines.

AXP: Alien is a classic, but at the time did you realize Aliens was going to be as big as it became?

AM: You know something, a hit film is like a hit record, you just know! Plus, one day I asked James if I could see some 'rushes', which he doesn't like his actors to do. James said, 'sometimes actors go to rushes and see something that they are doing, and they keep doing it through out the whole film, just because they like one thing they did.' You see what I'm saying? Anyway, I loved what I saw, it was then that I knew, this film is going to be massive. I say, 'to hell with 'rushes', just carry on having fun. By the way, I have never been to 'rushes' since, if a director tells you something, you should listen, take his advise on board, after all, it is his film.

AXP: Moreover, did you think that your role as Sgt. Apone was going to be as popular as it became?

AM: I had no idea Sgt. Apone had gotten so large, it was not until my IMDb death, did I realize how the character had grown. Which brings me very nicely to this, if they publish any more crap, there will be hell to pay! The 'Internet Movie Database' people have a lot to answer for. I have friends all over the world, they all thought that I was dead because these people did not check or verify their facts, they just printed an unconfirmed rumor. Someone thought it would be funny! Sadly for him, I know who he is, I intend to deal with him. My children, didn't find it funny either! Sorry for that, but you can see where I'm coming from with that.

AXP: Aliens grossed over $130 million worldwide, when you first set out as an actor did you ever think you’d be involved in something that big and successful?

AM: All I knew was, it's not possible to have a cast and crew this strong and not have a hit. I never set out to be an actor, it just happened. Most of my life I had been a singer, I still am, acting is just something else that I do. All the gift's that I have been given seem to get used over and over again, and in different forms. Shit, man, I never know what tomorrows going to bring. Let me give you a little tip, never leave the floor until you are happy with your work, normally, if you ask the director 'can we go again', they say 'ok'. Never call a track finished if you are not happy, because you will have to live with that for the rest of your life. Every time you see yourself, you'll think 'damn I could have done better.' 'Pain goes away, but failure lives on forever.'

AXP: Have you seen/spoken to any of the other Aliens alumni recently? Anyone specific you keep in touch with?

AM: I am in touch with Rico Ross, but everybody is so busy, it's hard to keep track of people.

AXP: If Fox asked you to do a cameo in any upcoming Alien or Alien vs. Predator movies would you be willing?

AM: I am always ready to work, I love my craft.

AXP: Hot Toys (a toy company in Hong Kong) has just released a series of 12 inch figures from Aliens, one of them is Sgt. Apone, what does it feel like to be made into an action figure?

AM: I shall mention 'Hot Toys' to my lawyers, on the one hand, I am happy about having an action figure, if it looks like me, and I get paid!

AXP: We've seen 2 Alien films and an Alien vs. Predator film since Aliens was released, in your opinion, and taking those films into account, how do you feel the franchise evolved since then? For better? For worse?

AM: Pete, I liked Alien, it was a great film, but I loved Aliens, not just because I was in it, but because of the action. That movie scares the shit out of me, and I was in it! God! I could not wait to touch the little creep that popped out of that girls chest. I first saw it undressed, but when Stan and his boy's had dressed that damn thing, I was really ready to kick ass, film or not! Sorry, it still gives me the creeps to think about it. I think the Aliens ticket has been over worked, no more, its down hill from here.

AXP: And what is your opinion of the whole Alien vs. Predator crossover?

AM: I have not seen Alien vs. Predator, not sure I want to.

AXP: In your mind has the release of Alien vs. Predator killed any chance for another stand-alone Alien film? James Cameron and Sigourney Weaver seem to think so.

AM: I agree with James and Sigourney, it's done and dusted, we all gave our best, we have no more to give, the planet has been blown up, end of story.

I would like to take this moment to thank you all for your support over the years, you are why I can't stop acting. Now that I am back from the dead, let's kick some butt! You can contact me, it's