James Cameron’s 1986 sci-fi movie sequel Aliens simply wouldn’t be the classic it is without Carrie Henn. As Newt, the sole survivor of an alien infestation on a distant moon, Henn played co-star to Sigourney Weaver’s Ellen Ripley, accompanying her on a long journey to escape the terrifying xenomorphs of LV-426.
With no acting experience, the young star was a surprise hit in this movie, winning a Saturn Award for a debut performance in one of the biggest movies of the year. However, Carrie Henn never acted again, choosing instead to leave Hollywood behind and become a teacher in a small US town. Why did Henn cut her promising acting career short?
Carrie Henn was born on May 7, 1976, in Panama City, Florida, to a father in the US Air Force and a mother who was a nurse from the UK. When Henn was a toddler, her family relocated to the military base RAF Lakenheath in Suffolk, England for her father’s work.
When Henn was eight years old, development on the long-awaited sequel to Ridley Scott’s 1979 sci-fi horror Alien was underway. Casting director Sarah Jackson in search of young talent paid a visit to Henn’s school, where she spotted Henn in the school cafeteria, took her photograph and instantly called her in for an audition.
“I do remember at first a lot of the auditions happened at my elementary school in one of the rooms and so we go there sort of after school and I do my whatever scene they had,” Henn recalled to the AVP Galaxy Podcast in 2019.
“I know a couple times my mom would take me and obviously my brother [Timmy Jorden] would have to come with and be stuck sitting out in the hallway,” she remembered. “So sometimes they’d invite him to come in and do the scene and that’s how he actually got the part of my brother in the movie was because he had done so many of the scenes with me.” Timmy’s scenes were eventually cut from the movie.
Jackson selected ten girls from Henn’s school for a round of auditions in London. “I remember bits and pieces of that one and so they actually hired a tour bus and all the families and the girls, they took us all to London and we met with James Cameron,” Henn said.
For the final round of auditions, Sigourney Weaver travelled to London to meet with Henn and her family. Though Weaver was, at 35, 27 years Henn’s senior, the pair soon became firm friends, and the part of Rebecca ‘Newt’ Jorden formally went to Henn.
“To be honest with you, I don’t know if I completely understood the process of what was going on and we thought it was a small part in the movie,” Henn later said. “We didn’t realise that it was as big of a part as it was. I mean we were kind of clueless so I guess everybody was kind of laughing because of how well [Weaver] and I had kind of hit it off.”
In an interview with Black Gate, Henn later recalled how welcoming the other actors were to her and her family once the production began.
“Sometimes if I didn’t have time to leave set, I’d color or make crafts at a table on set,” she noted. “I had a table with lots of craft supplies to keep me busy. Often times some of the actors, or crew, would sit down and color with me. Bill Paxton was a regular at my table.”
The movie’s scare factor never affected Henn, who has said that she found much of the experience amusing rather than terrifying. “You have a difference sense of humor at that age,” she commented. “I just thought it was funny – like the Alien popping out… now it would completely freak me out…James Cameron, and everyone on set, always showed me everything, and how it worked before hand, which took away the scariness factor for me”.
Aside from winning a Saturn Award for her performance in Aliens, Henn was nominated for a Young Artist Award. Nevertheless, Henn’s positive experience making the movie failed to convince her that acting was her dream career. Over three decades later, Henn has never returned to the screen as an actor.
Once Aliens was complete, Henn and her family moved back to the USA, where regular life resumd. Henn has since made it clear that her parents had no influence in her choice to stop acting: “It was a decision that I made. My parents have always been encouraging of me to do what I want.”
After Aliens, Henn was offered a few other roles, but turned them down because she wanted to become a “normal kid” again, with regular school life and friendships. What’s more, Henn had already decided that a different career would suit her far better: teaching.
“That’s what a lot of people have a hard time understanding,” Henn told Tulsa World in 2016. “They don’t understand that [acting] wasn’t my passion. It wasn’t my dream. Did I enjoy it? Yes. Was it an amazing experience? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Of course. But it wasn’t my passion. Teaching was.”
Long before she starred in Aliens, Henn loved the idea of becoming a teacher. “As a child, I always enjoyed sort of lining up my dolls, especially my Cabbage Patch Kid and teaching to them and I really enjoyed that kind of stuff,” she has recalled.
In 1994, Henn graduated from Atwater High School in Atwater, California. She later attended California State University, Stanislaus (CSUS), in Turlock, California, and graduated in 2000 with a BA in liberal studies. She then followed her dream and became a school teacher at Shaffer Elementary, also in Atwater, California.
In 2005, Henn married her university classmate Nathan Kutcher, who later became a police officer. The couple have a child together.
Although she left acting behind, Henn retains many fond memories of her experiences on the Aliens set, and is still in touch with Sigourney Weaver. She attends the occasional fan convention and Aliens event, including a reunion with Weaver, director James Cameron, Michael Biehn and the late Bill Paxton in 2016.
Henn isn’t averse to returning to the franchise someday, despite her character’s death at the start of Alien 3. In her Black Gate interview, Henn noted: “As a busy wife, mom and teacher I’m not sure I would have the time to devote to reprising my role. However, I would love to do a cameo in an Alien franchise film if the opportunity arose.”