Hollywood -- Every summer at least one major studio production becomes a lightning rod of industry attention, either because of some problem on the set or in the front office. This year it looks like that picture will be "Alien 3," the third of the highly successful series about the interplanetary grudge match between a 23rd-century pilot, Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, and various representatives of an alien breed of creatures who cherish humankind both as food and as unwilling incubators for their young. Of course, with a $50-million budget, it would have been surprising if the movie hadn't invited controversy, and one member of the cast, at least, isn't the least disturbed about it.
"It was a tough shoot. Everything you read about all the things that went on in London is basically true," the burly Charles S. Dutton says, laughing.
Now known to many as the star of Fox Television's sitcom "Roc" (Mr. Dutton's real nickname), about the travails of a black sanitation worker, the Baltimore native is far more celebrated as a star of stage. A graduate of the Yale School of Drama, he won accolades and awards for appearing in two of August Wilson's plays, "Ma Rainey's Black Bottom" and "The Piano Player," in which he starred. "It was a physically tough, exhausting shoot. And it wasn't much fun.
"But," he goes on, "I had a great time. It was my first time in London, so I enjoyed myself tremendously. I enjoyed the crew, I enjoyed [director] David Fincher. I thought he was a great director. I think there was a communication problem early on because it was his first movie. He had never dealt with actors before; he had done music videos. So instead of the things that you normally [hear], the simplistic things about what an actor wants out of a scene, David had a tendency -- which is great -- to speak in images. It was interesting, because I found in working with David that he would be a great stage director.
"In film," Mr. Dutton explains, "you have all these instruments and objects intruding on you, so you cannot really see the image. But I knew what he was going for visually. I knew the technical problems and the budget problems that were going on and what David was faced with. Fox, in a way, was criticizing him for doing too many takes and spending too much money, but yet they spent all this money on these fabulous, gorgeous sets -- there was also an eeriness and a wickedness to them -- and the man simply wanted to shoot them. It was just the scope of his vision."
On a prison planet
In the movie -- which takes place just after the end of the series' Part Two -- Ripley lands on a remote prison planet. Mr. Dutton plays Dillon, the charismatic leader of a small band of remaining inmates who have formed a religious cult. Initially hostile to Ripley, they join with her to hunt down one of the title critters, a formidable hunter who not only feasts on stray humans but apparently figures that Ripley is the nurturing type.
"Dillon is the spiritual leader," Mr. Dutton says of his character. "They count on him to make a final decision about what they do, he leads the prayers. He basically says when to sit down and when to stand up. It's a weird sort of thing. They're seeking redemption not only for their sins but in a large sense for being mortal, for being human. They want to get to stand on the side of God. They accept, at least Dillon does in his own head, the fact that the beast is on this planet tormenting them as a test from God. And they all must not be afraid to die. They must view it that when you do, you go to a better place, a higher place. So it's not really Christianity or Islam or anything we know of. I guess it's a hodgepodge."
Although anyone would look good against the alien beast, Mr. Dutton believes the film does more to put you on the side of these lost souls who, since they are, after all, prisoners, have nothing to fight with but sticks and stones. "At the end of the movie, you're on their side. I think at the beginning of the movie, the audience is intimidated by them. But the men do some very, very courageous things -- out of survival. We have a plan to tackle the monster and it backfires. Which I think is a great setup."
Creating the character
Sympathy for inmates might come a little easier for Mr. Dutton than for most people. Before he graduated from the Yale School of Drama -- where he first became friends with co-star Ms. Weaver -- the actor had put in several other terms at a harsher institution: In 1976, he finished serving a sentence in the Maryland State Penitentiary for manslaughter. "Alien 3" marked the first time the actor played behind "prison" bars. Yet Mr. Dutton says that his prison experience was of limited value in making the film.