For a while there, we figured that Sony had lost it completely. Even now, the advertisements the company used to sell early iterations of the PlayStation seem impossibly challenging, subtly provocative, and cool. Said adverts depicted an orgy of disembodied limbs, tattooed babies, weeping porcelain dolls, lots of blasphemy, people pretending to be blind so they could get in a few more goes on their PSP… Sony even slaughtered an actual goat in order to get a few more eyes on God Of War. Remember that? Give it a Google if you don't believe me.
And yet, the strangest of them all – which is some claim for a marketing campaign that succeeded in convincing Twin Peaks creator David Lynch to direct a short for it – was a video from 1999, directed by Aphex Twin collaborator Chris Cunningham. The video featured a teenage Scottish girl, with eyes on each side of her head, giggling about having never gone to Grimsby and monologuing about the idea of Mental Wealth.
What happened to that girl? What did it all mean? To celebrate the 20th anniversary of the most bizarre PlayStation advert that ever was and those like it first airing, we tracked down the alien girl in question. She's called Fiona. She's a nice person. And no, she isn't actually an off-world alien concerned that you may underestimate the power of PlayStation.
Hey Fiona, tell us how you came to be the PlayStation alien girl who haunted all our dreams?
Fiona: "Well, I was seventeen, still at school in Dumbarton in Scotland and I was very into acting and drama. I was signed with an extra's agency at the time and it was them who got me the audition for the part. They were looking for someone with a Scottish or an Irish accent, so I went to the audition and met Trevor Beattie, who was the creative director for the advert, and to be honest, I didn't know anything at the time – what the advert was for or anything. I was given the script and I read it, and then a few weeks later I got a phone call asking me to come to London for a second audition."
That must have felt a really big deal for a seventeen-year-old?
Fiona: "It did! And that's when I met Chris Cunningham, the director. He was really nice. Very cool. But very nice. He was young himself, probably only in his early twenties. And I got the part. It was so exciting. Even just flying to London was exciting!"
This question is a bit gross but we're going to ask it anyway. How much did you get paid?
Fiona: "I got paid quite well. I think I got £10,000, which after the agency took their cut was about £8,000, which felt like so much money to a seventeen-year-old."
Did anyone every recognise you from the advert. And if so, how on earth did they?
Fiona: "Well there's a bit of a strange story about that actually. I think it was The Sun who had the rights to the story, the unveiling of what I actually looked like. They told me not to let anyone take a picture of my face so that their exclusive wouldn't be blown. Then one day I woke up and there were paparazzi outside my house! Not loads, only two or three, but I was living in this little flat with my mum at the time and was quite unlike anything that went on around there. I remember wrapping my face in a scarf and running to the car when I had to leave. And then The Sun revealed my real face. I think I got interviewed by BBC News too. And then I got recognised a fair bit. Even now, twenty-years later people seem to find me on the internet and send me emails saying, "hey, are you the girl from the old PlayStation advert?"
Yeah, sorry about that. I think for so many people, the advert just confused us so much. It's such an iconic image from the '90s. I think people really thought there might be some teenage human/alien hybrid living in Scotland…
Fiona: "Oh, I know. I think if that advert to air today it wouldn't have made such a stir because there's so much noise and people aren't glued to the one channel and sitting through advertisements. But at the time, I certainly hadn't seen that kind of technology of manipulating someone's face before. People genuinely thought that's what I looked like. It felt so new. In fact, they didn't even tell me what they were going to be doing to my face. I only knew when I saw it!"
Fiona: "Yeah. There wasn't a lot of direction. It was quite relaxed. There's a bit at the end of the advert where I laugh because someone has said something off camera. That was Trevor Beattie and they just left it in. They sat me in this room, but beyond that I pretty much did it my own way. They just told me to speak the script to camera. They told me they were going to do something to my face in post-production, but I didn't know to what extent. So that was a shock!"
Did they give you a free PlayStation?
Fiona: "Yes, they did. I'm not really into games, but I did get some use out of it."
Did you do much acting afterwards?
Fiona: "I did a lot actually. I moved to drama school in London, I got an agent, I was a working actress for years. I did a Sky One series called Is Harry on the Boat? I did a fairly terrible movie called Minotaur that was saved by Tom Hardy being in it. I did some episodes of Waterloo Road, Holby City, some stagework. And then I met my husband, had kids and got really into photography which is what I do now!"
We've got to ask, do you know where Grimsby is now?
Fiona: "Not only do I know where it is, I've been there."
Oh, that's good to know…
Fiona: "Yeah, my husband is from there…"
No way! That's bonkers!
Fiona: "Yeah, I remember him telling me where he was from when we were on a date and thinking, 'what are the chances of that?' I'll be completely honest with you, when I filmed the advert, I genuinely didn't know where Grimsby was!"
You can see Fiona's photography at fionasaxtonphotography.com