Some actresses become stars overnight, over a summer, over the course of several years. For Katherine Waterston, it happened at precisely the moment she emerged from the shadows into the living room of a beach town shack in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice (2014), announcing herself with a whisper: “Psssst!” In addition to setting into motion the story’s Pynchonian mystery, that appearance launched her into her present mainstream breakout, with one expected blockbuster opening this month, three more films on the horizon, and many memorable characters in her wake.
Waterston, the daughter of veteran actor Sam Waterston, spent several years performing Off Broadway, with critically acclaimed turns in The Cherry Orchardand Dreams of Flying Dreams of Falling. Her first feature film role was a small part in Michael Clayton, the 2007 legal thriller starring George Clooney. Eight years, several glancing parts, and Inherent Vice later, the major roles began unfurling: alongside Michael Fassbender in 2015’s Steve Jobs, as the Apple co-founder’s former lover; as a wizardly bureaucrat in last year’s Harry Potter spin-off, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them; and, this month, playing the intergalactic explorer Daniels in Alien: Covenant, the sixth installment in the Alien franchise. And while Covenant is a prequel to the very famous 1979 original, Waterston’s Daniels will surely be linked in the minds of many to her precursor, Sigourney Weaver’s ass-kicking Ripley. (Big shoes to fill, Waterston is aware.)
As Waterston tells her friend, the actress Natasha Lyonne, it’s tempting to draw a dividing line between her life pre-celebrity and post-celebrity—to see her years of toil followed by years of reward. In this romanticized but facetious vision of her career, Waterston, now 37, emerged from the shadows and into the bright lights of Hollywood, fully formed.