Exclusive: Jenette Goldstein on Aliens, Private Vasquez, Jim Cameron & more!

 LV 426 Alien Day

If you had told teenaged me that one day I'd be talking to Private Vasquez, I'd have had something akin to a nervous breakdown. Not unlike a lot of burgeoning film geeks growing up in the 80s/90s, ALIENS was a monumental moviegoing experience for me, viewed countless times and serving as a touchstone for the sci-fi and horror genres. The film's effectiveness stems not just from its terrifying action and suspense set-pieces, but from its impressive array of memorable characters, so many of which leave a vivid impression. And while there's hardly any doubt it's Ellen Ripley's movie, she's often not even the most badass female in the room. (How many genre movies nowadays contain not one but two tough, take-charge women who make most of the men around them look like wimps?) Jenette Goldstein's Private Vasquez, she of the bulging biceps, stoic demeanor and killer instinct, was easily my favorite character from the film when I was a teen, and 30 years after the film's initial release here I am getting a chance to chat with the actress.

The occasion is Alien Day, April 26th, where fans of the ALIEN franchise are able to revel in all things xenomorphic. (That a word?) On this day, Jenette and Carrie Henn (Newt) will be presenting a screening of ALIENS in L.A., while Sigourney Weaver will be attending a screening in NY. (Additional markets across the U.S. will also be showing both ALIEN and ALIENS; info HERE.) Speaking with Jenette - who, in case you were unaware, now owns her own very successful bra business in L.A. - I learned a little about the rough conditions on the ALIENS set (her first film), working with director James Cameron throughout the years, staying in touch with the old marines, and more!

Aliens Private Vasquez Jenette Goldstein interview James Cameron

I know you hear this all the time, but I'm really the biggest Aliens fan there is, and I love Private Vasquez.

[Laughs] Thank you!

How does it feel to be talking about this film 30 years later, knowing it's still as popular as ever?

I've been going to conventions for years and the fans are young, they're old, they're from all different walks of life. There's something about this movie touches people, and it just keeps going. It's the characters, it's the people and the story, that just seem to keep it going.

Of course you couldn't have known it would have this kind of a lasting impact, but when you were making it did you have a sense that it was going to be special?

You know, you just never know. This was my first movie. I loved Alien, even though that was a different writer and director, and I thought The Terminator was amazing, I had just seen that. But that was about all I knew about filmmaking, because I came from a theater background. [Laughs]

Aliens Private Vasquez Jenette Goldstein interview James Cameron

Were you able to relate to Vasquez in any way, despite your very different backgrounds, or was it a complete departure?

Well, I didn't come from her circumstances. I was a young character actress, I was trained in the theater to play lots of different characters. I mean, every human being has things in common, deep down, things they want, the will to live. But no, obviously I didn't grow up in east L.A. as a gang member, I'm not a chicana, you use your imagination to portray a human being the way they should be in the context of the script. You just tell her story, that's what was important.

I've read that it was a long, tough shoot. When you think back on it, do remember it being an arduous experience?

I got there the earliest of everyone, because it was filmed outside of London and I lived in London. So I had to be there first because I had to go into hair and make-up, I had to get the gear on, which was incredibly heavy. The first two weeks we worked with the smart guns, me and Mark Rolston, and that was really hard. Taking the smart guns off was much easier than putting them on. But yeah, it was long, there was lots of smoke and gunfire. But hey, we're supposed to be in a war, and so it worked, it all worked for the character.

Of course you went on to work with James Cameron a handful of times afterward, so you know him fairly well now, but what were your initial impressions of him during the Aliens shoot?  

I first met him when I auditioned, and I wasn't even sure if he was the director, because he was falling on the floor, improvising with me. I thought I was meeting the director but then I thought, "I don't know, maybe this isn't the director!" But he was just always working hard and getting in there with everybody. He came from the low-budget, Corman world of filmmaking, so if something broke he gaffer taped it back up. That's exactly what happened, he was going to bring it in like a low-budget film. If something did go wrong he just gaffer taped it back up, like, we're still going, we're not going to waste any more time. He's just great, just a great guy.

Aliens Private Vasquez Jenette Goldstein interview James Cameron

He has a reputation for being something of an intense director; did you find that to be the case?

You know, he's as intense as he needs to be to get the work done. He knows everyone's job and he expects hard work from them. He's incredibly loyal, hardworking, and god help you if you're lazy or incompetent. [Laughs] He doesn't need those social graces, those niceties, he doesn't have time for that. He doesn't come from a world where that's important. If you're not doing your job, he'll let you know it.

What was the hardest day of shooting?

The hardest day was when I killed Mark Rolston by accident, I'm sorry I got him sprayed with acid. [Laughs] He had a flamethrower, and it was a tough thing, it was very touch and go. They had sprayed the inside of the APV with a mixture to make it look older, but what they didn't realize - and we realized very soon after - was that once it was heated to a certain temperature it released a toxic gas. Me and Michael Biehn and Bill Paxton were asphyxiated. I had an emergency release on the steadicam rig I was wearing, and Michael pulled the cord and that thing popped off and we just ran, we bailed. Of course that little bit of panic, where we can't breathe, is on film. Of course, Jim used it. [Laughs] Because it's real panic. Who the hell ages a set with a toxic chemical?

Have you stayed in touch with any of the cast over the years? You worked with Lance Henriksen and Bill Paxton on Near Dark right after.

Oh yeah! Bill, Lance, Michael Biehn, Mark Rolston, who is like one of my best friends, Rico Ross. Mark Rolston and Rico Ross are two of my closest friends. I see Michael, I see Bill. I saw Sigourney for the first time last year, and Paul Reiser, and that was amazing. There were a lot of close bonds formed, it's really incredible how we've all stayed in touch despite living in different states and different countries.

Aliens Private Vasquez Jenette Goldstein Mark Rolston interview

I think I might have a heart-attack if I saw you and Mark Rolston hanging out together.

[Laughs] Well just come over to my Passover seder and you will see both of us! I'm not kidding.

Drake and Vasquez at Passover, that's awesome. You have such a different career now, obviously, but do people come into the store to meet you?

They're very respectful of what I'm doing. A lot of times a husband will come in with his wife while she's getting a fitting and she'll blow his cover. [Laughs] Usually they don't mention it straight out, sometimes they do, and sometimes they have no idea at all.

You're going to be at a screening in L.A. with Carrie Henn, what does it mean to you to be part of this new holiday, Alien Day?

It is kind of crazy. [Laughs] It'll be great to see Carrie. I've seen pictures of the movie theater, the Ace Hotel, really incredible. I'm sure it's going to be a lot of fun.

I could talk about this all day, but I appreciate the brief time I had to chat with you. Good luck on Alien Day!

That's very sweet, thank you.

Aliens Private Vasquez Jenette Goldstein interview bra

Extra Tidbit: How do you plan on celebrating Alien Day?

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