Bolaji Badejo: The Nigerian giant who played ‘Alien’

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Bolaji Badejo played Alien in his only on-screen credit

The six-foot-10-inch tall Nigerian was discovered in a London pub after a long casting process

CNN  — 

Dripping with menace, the alien in Ridley Scott’s 1979 space horror classic was quite literally the movie’s break-out star.

With an extendible jaw that salivated acid, it wasn’t enough that “Alien” could capture and kill; it wanted to use humans unfortunate enough to cross its path as a surrogate womb as well.

Yet while enthusiasts know much about the film’s cast – its heroine Ripley, played by Sigourney Weaver, and the unfortunate crew of the spaceship Nostromo – the man behind the titular creature was nearly as elusive as his enduring on-screen character.

“Alien” was sold with the strap line “In space no one can hear you scream.” Fittingly the actor in the suit, Bolaiji Badejo, was largely silent in his part in one of the 20th century’s most celebrated films.

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The six-foot-10-inch tall Nigerian is no longer with us, dying from sickle cell disease in 1992. But by talking to those who knew him on set we can piece together the story of one of Hollywood’s greatest villains – and one of its unlikeliest actors.

From squeezing into rubber suits to being covered in KY Jelly to mimic the appearance of acid, it was quite a way to earn your first film credit.

Close encounters of the thirst kind

Special effects supervisor Nick Allder laughs when recalling his first encounter with Badejo.

“Ridley walked in with this guy. I thought I was looking at a giraffe… Stood in the doorway, you could see his body, but his head was above the frame.”

Director Ridley Scott and associate producer Ivor Powell had long been scratching their heads as to who could fill the not inconsiderable shoes of Alien. Peter Mayhew (known for playing Chewbacca in “Star Wars”) was considered, as were basketball players, mime artists and six-foot-three-inch” German model Veruschka von Lehndorff. But none were quite right for the otherworldly being created by Swiss surrealist artist, H.R. Giger.

“We’d had this vision of a praying mantis,” Powell remembers. “We needed somebody incredibly tall with very long legs, so when they crouched down it gave the impression of an insect.”