Sigourney Weaver: Ripley’s Game
Q: It’s bewildering that people didn’t try to pair you and Mel again right away. If it had been the old studio days…
A: … We’d have been doing mysteries, romances, musicals, I know. We could have danced down to Rio together. [Laughing] I loved working with Mel. He had no qualms about my height. He was just cool. The Year of Living Dangerously is one of the four good ones I’ve made. Even though Mel and I have the same agents, you still have to kind of engineer it. I’m only a few years older than Mel, but Hollywood thinks more along the lines of, “Let’s put Harrison Ford together with Anne Heche.”
Q: Or Julia Ormond.
A: It’s the actors who want to do that. It’s male vanity. It’s some sort of male fantasy that no matter how old they get, they want to be with a very young woman. I don’t think I was under consideration for 6 Days/7 Nights, the movie Anne Heche is going to do with Harrison, although I’m sure I’m a few years younger than he is. I never understand why these movies don’t even mention the age difference, make it something you can play off.
Q: You sometimes miss out on projects for which I think you’d be a natural.
A: Here’s my theory: producers are short. I’m not the average producer’s sexual fantasy. I am tall. When I come into a room wearing platforms, they go, “She’s not my type of woman,” because what they’re looking for is the petite blonde who looks up to them. With me, directors either sit up in the middle of the night and go, “Sigourney Weaver!” or they don’t. It hasn’t been a problem with leading men, although I remember on Scarface coming in to meet [5’7″ tall] Al Pacino, and he didn’t get up to shake my hand. The only leading man I ever worked with who was psychotic about my height was Chevy Chase, and he’s 6’4″. It’s ended up that I’ve played lots of women who are very isolated. Those are interesting parts, but they’re not as easy for me as a love story. My West Coast agent says, “Sigourney, nobody knows how sweet you are.”
Q: The Ice Storm isn’t going to do that PR for you. How would you say that film worked out?
A: What I loved about it was that I play the bad girl, a character [director] Ang [Lee] loved and whom he never judged. The movie’s set in 1973, in WASP-y, rich New Canaan, Connecticut, with people who smoke pot and have sex, but Ang, who is from Taiwan, seemed to find a part of himself in each of these people. He could see these characters in mid-life, panicking about not being able to squeeze out all of life’s juices. If the same movie had been made by an American, it could have seemed moralistic. The world press I met at Cannes had the same reaction: this is mankind, not just New Canaan.
Q: Your character in the movie is pretty depressed.
A: When I told Ang, “I didn’t mean to play her so sad,” he said, “You didn’t. She just is so sad.” It was like playing someone whose head is separated from her body. The only time she can be in her body is the brief moments when she’s having sex.
Q: I think you should get nuts on-screen, and soon, with Jim Carrey.
A: Will you tell him that, please? I’m such a sucker for that kind of talent. At the Oscars, he was wearing a Richard Tyler shirt the same color as my gown. I went over and totally fawned over him, telling his wife, “I’m sorry, but he’s got to be with me the rest of the night because we match.” I told him that he was my daughter’s and my favorite actor and it’s true. We watch all of his films. I would love to work with him. Given the choice, I run to see Jim Carrey’s movies as opposed to sitting through a four-hour Hamlet.
Q: Still, you do have something of a rep for turning down things. Such as Body Heat and 9 1/2 Weeks years ago, and Marvin’s Room and the Barbara Hershey role in The Portrait of a Lady more recently.
A: Funny, because I was talking with [agent] Sam [Cohn] earlier about the post-Alien years when I turned down everything. I think I was so afraid of making a mistake. Or, because I was an English major, no script seemed good.
Q: But you must have had specific reasons for turning down specific jobs.
A: I didn’t really have confidence in Adrian Lyne [for 9 1/2 Weeks]. I feel like I’ve never unleashed my real sexuality on the screen, maybe because of my own reticence or my lack of trust in what I thought might happen or the lack of the right story. I turned down Body Heat because I was going out at the time with a very conservative guy from the South and he was put off by the script, which was much more risque than the movie.
With The Portrait of a Lady, I was one of the people Jane Campion considered when Susan Sarandon dropped out. But a 17-week shoot playing a supporting character? I said to her, “You have a child, too. Can’t you make this a little shorter?” They sent me Marvin’s Room with [Meryl Streep’s] part in mind when one of the producers was going to direct it. It was one of those things where I could tell they didn’t have their money together and I didn’t want to get involved. The movie is flawed, but I thought Diane Keaton was amazing. And Leonardo [DiCaprio] is wonderful. Actually, I’d love to play an older woman opposite Johnny Depp. I think he’s extraordinary. I loved Donnie Brasco. And those lips!
Q: Are you going to direct a film?
A: Now that my daughter is older, I feel I have more options. My husband is the most supportive man in the world, always encouraging me, “Get out there and work. Direct, do the things you want to do. The time is right now.” It has also taken me many years to rid myself of the horrible training at Yale, which was all intellectual.
Q: You’re going to direct an Alien movie at some point, aren’t you? I can feel it.
A: [Laughing] I am in a better position to know what’s needed and hopefully, someday, I will direct. I want to direct the one where they go back to the original planet. But I have to direct a couple of other things first. The prospect would be really too scary, otherwise.
Q: Still, you know Ripley so well.
A: I am used to her company, even though I’m so unlike her. I don’t know where she comes from, yet she’s like an old friend. How many actors have been able to do the same role over and over for so many years? It’s like getting to do James Bond every few years.
Q: Given your icon status as Ripley, how do fans respond to you?
A: After seeing me feel like a hunted raccoon, I’m pretty sure my daughter will never do anything that will make her famous. What I usually get is people’s incredible exhilaration when they see me on the street, especially kids. In New York, I always wonder, “If I’m about to be mugged, do I mention Ripley?” And if I did mention her, would the mugger’s response be, “Uh-unh, we couldn’t mug Ripley”?
Q: Have you ever made any star’s life difficult, in public, that is?
A: I saw Tom Cruise downtown and couldn’t believe I would have such a reaction, but I just screamed, “Oooooh, it’s Tom Cruise!” because I was so thrilled to see him come out of nowhere into this deli. I thought I would die. I now understand why people have a reaction to seeing someone they recognize. I went to John Travolta’s birthday party, and I’m on the floor dancing with him to Sergio Mendes, thinking, “Hmm, not a bad dancer. Dancing must be his hobby or something, because he moves really well.” Then I realized, “Oh, my God, I’m dancing with Saturday Night Fever!” I’d completely blocked out his early career. I hurriedly said, “Oh, I have to go!” because I knew there was going to be some disaster–like, I was going to fall on my ass.
Q: You mentioned earlier the specter of Alien vs. Predator. Let’s imagine other horrifying sequel possibilities involving Ripley and other cultural icons. In a fair fight, would you bet money on Ripley or Godzilla?
A: Oh, I’d embrace him. I’d want to be carried away with him. I’d want to be his Godzuki.
Q: Ripley or Barbarella?
A: I’d win. I’m smarter. But we’d probably only pass each other by in some corridor in space.
Q: Ripley vs. James Bond.
A: Oh, I think she’d want to put on a nice sleek dress and go gambling with him. Poor Ripley she’s never had a romance, really. She’s busy, busy all the time.
Q: Ripley and Rush Limbaugh.
A: I’d make sure he’d get killed. Or terrified.
Q: Ripley vs. Kathie Lee Gifford.
A: I think it would be like, “Hi, bye. You’re on the wrong ship.”
Q: Let’s talk about money. You were reportedly paid something like $4 million plus back-end participation to do Snow White: A Tale of Terror and $11 million to do Alien Resurrection. When a figure gets reported, does that mean you actually get that money? Or can it mean you will get that money if the movie makes over a certain amount? Are there steps? Contingencies?
A: If it’s published, it means you’re getting that money up front. On Snow White, one of the reasons Interscope published my salary was to show that the film was happening, that it was a done deal. But I was a little surprised to pick up Variety and see it. I sort of thought it was a private thing. The studios always say they don’t want actors’ salaries published because then it’s harder to deal with all the other actors. On The Ice Storm I hardly took any money because I wasn’t there to make money off a small picture.
Q: Did you have that kind of experience on Snow White? What I mean is, what’s it like being paid so many millions and then the movie goes direct to cable in America?
Q: You didn’t know that it was going to debut on Showtime?
A: I didn’t even know that. They were afraid to tell me, probably. Listen, Showtime is fine. At least it’ll be seen. I think the movie has some of my best work. It was a weird movie, but it was treated like a little orphan. It makes me sad when you work that hard on a movie, then the original producers don’t know what to do with it, so they pass the buck. I think there are flaws in it, but why not at least bring it out in theaters in America? Oh, well, on Snow White, at least it was so nice to have long hair and pretty clothing for a change.
Q: What did you make on the first Alien?
A: Do you know, when I finished the movie, I thought I’d made so much money? I thought I could live on my $33,000 forever. I actually went to the Dakota and asked about the cost of buying a unit there. They showed me something on the ground floor–a studio. I never wanted to live there. I thought it was a good investment. You know, I think I’ll get an electric boat. It’s good for the environment and it’s a folly. I need a folly.
Q: Still, you’ve gotten some great paychecks recently. Did you blow the money on anything terrifically frivolous?
A: Actually, I’ve been thinking about buying that electric boat, but I haven’t done it yet. It’s the only big thing I’ve really considered. I’ve also been thinking about what charities to donate to, because it feels like I should get rid of some of it. But getting [the Alien Resurrection] salary was a small, important victory for me.
Q: How happy are you these days with career stuff?
A: I’m usually satisfied with my career. What I find difficult is modern life. I have too many things going and my constant plight is, Where do I put my energy? Into acting? Into things I’m producing that are actually going to be shot? Working with writers? My family? It would be easier if I could just concentrate on the acting, but I’m too schizy. I still have a small child and I don’t want to miss time with her.
Q: The movie you’re interested in doing next is something funny and local, too. Something you’ve been developing for some time, right?
A: It’s Dear Rosie, based on a British short that was nominated a few years ago for an Academy Award. It’s just a wonderful, quirky kind of comedy, in which I’ll play a serious novelist who attains sudden success when she is coerced into writing a trendy diet book. I’m relieved to finally play someone ridiculous. In fact, she’s the closest to myself that I’ll probably ever play.
Q: What’s your career plan for the next few years?
A: Whenever I’ve done that, nothing happens. It’s almost like a curse. I’m of an age now where I’ve lost friends, contemporaries, to various diseases. Who needs a three-year, a five-year plan? I’d love to be relaxed enough to live on some peaceful island somewhere, take my electric boat and go crazy. But my engine’s running and I can’t turn it down. As you get older, you sort of get feverish about spending your time productively, when you’d probably be better off going to that island. So, my solution is: “Don’t even make a list. Do everything right now.”
Stephen Rebello interviewed Jonathan Taylor Thomas for the August issue of Movieline.