Show: FRESH AIR
Date: FEBRUARY 01, 2000
Head: Sigourney Weaver Discusses Her Career in Cinema
This is a rush transcript. This copy may not
be in its final form and may be updated.
TERRY GROSS, HOST: From WHYY in Philadelphia, I'm Terry Gross with FRESH AIR.
On today's FRESH AIR, Sigourney Weaver. She's currently starring in the comedy "Galaxy Quest" and the drama "A Map of the World." In "A Map of the World," she plays a mother and school nurse who feels responsible for the death of her best friend's child. As she shoulders the guilt, she's also falsely accused of sexually abusing one of the students.
Sigourney Weaver became a star with her 1979 film "Alien." We'll talk about her movies and her life. Sigourney Weaver, coming up on FRESH AIR.
First, the news.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "ALIEN," 1979)
SIGOURNEY WEAVER, ACTRESS: Well, let's talk about killing it. We know it's using the airshafts. Will you listen to me, Parker? Shut up!
ACTOR: Let's hear it.
WEAVER: It's using the airshafts.
ACTOR: We don't know that.
WEAVER: That's the only way. We'll move in pairs, we'll go step by step and cut off every bulkhead and every vent until we have it cornered, and then we'll blow it the (bleep) out into space. Is that acceptable to you?
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: That's Sigourney Weaver in a scene from the 1979 film "Alien." "Alien" made Sigourney Weaver a star and established her as one of the few women action heroes of the time.
She received an Academy Award nomination for her role in the sequel, "Aliens." She also starred in "The Year of Living Dangerously," "Working Girl," "Gorillas in the Mist," "Death and the Maiden," "Copy Cat," and "The Ice Storm."
Now you can see Sigourney Weaver in two films, the comedy "Galaxy Quest" and the movie adaptation of Jane Hamilton's novel "A Map of the World."
In "A Map of the World," Weaver plays Alice Goodwin, a school nurse and mother of two young girls. She and her husband have recently moved from the city to a farming community, where they're seen as outsiders.
Early in the film, Alice is at home taking care of her children and watching her best friend's two daughters. While Alice runs upstairs for a minute, her friend's 2-year-old wanders outside and drowns in the pond.
Overwhelmed by guilt and grief, Alice falls apart and loses all faith in herself. Others lose faith in her too. In this scene, two investigators approach her at the school where she works as a nurse and question her about a boy she's taken care of. What the investigators can't tell her is that the boy has accused her of sexual abuse.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "A MAP OF THE WORLD")
ACTRESS: Do you have a relationship with Robbie?
WEAVER: No. (inaudible), kids aren't usually afraid of the school nurse.
WEAVER: Yes, I'm a tall person who carries a needle. (laughs)
You know, I have to go.
ACTRESS: Oh, just a few questions, please, Mrs. Goodwin. The more we know about Robbie, the better we can assist him.
WEAVER: What sort of trouble is he in now?
ACTRESS: We're not able to comment, I'm afraid. We wondered if you remember any strange behavioral patterns?
WEAVER: (laughs) Oh, well, his crazy mother always brings him to school sick.
ACTRESS: What kind of sickness did he have?
WEAVER: Oh, God, I mean, you know, sore throat, ear infections, you know, the common cold, you know, you name it. I have to go.
ACTRESS: Are you OK?
WEAVER: (inaudible), I'm not well.
ACTRESS: I'm sorry to keep you standing. Why don't we sit? This really won't take much longer.
WEAVER: You see, I'm sick, and I really can't...
ACTRESS: I just have a few more things to ask.
WEAVER: You want to know the truth? I am trying to have a complete nervous breakdown, and no one will let me do anything.
ACTRESS: What's the matter? Mrs. Goodwin? Mrs. Goodwin!
WEAVER: And I hurt everybody.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver, welcome to FRESH AIR.
WEAVER: Thank you, it's a pleasure to be here.
GROSS: Did you talk to Jane Hamilton, the author of the novel that the movie's based on?
WEAVER: I did. I visited Jane before we shot the movie. I went to her apple farm in Wisconsin. And it was a great visit. I took my daughter, and I was also able to visit a couple of the schools and talk to the school nurses, and talk to some dairy farmers and their wives, and also I went to the local county jail, and I asked them to book me and put me through what Alice Goodwin would actually have to go through once she was arrested.
GROSS: Why did you want to go through that? You know, some people say that it's best to experience what the character does, and others say, Oh, you just act.
WEAVER: Well, I think that acting comes from specifics. And since I've never been booked, so far, on charges, I thought, it's one thing to be arrested for something you didn't do, but it's another thing to actually be put through the process with people treating you like a sexual molester of children.
And I just -- I thought the -- since you never see her having her fingerprints taken or any of those things, you just see her at the jail, that I wanted to experience what -- because I think you would go into shock if you were -- got up with your family, were on your way to the grocery store with your kids, and you were arrested for something you didn't do. It would all be so incredibly surreal that I wanted the details.
GROSS: So what were some of the details you got out of that? What did they do to you?
WEAVER: Well, first of all, you're -- you sit for a while, and you're handcuffed to something while they take down your personal information. And as the guy said who very kindly gave me sort of the personal tour, he said, "You know, if you're arrested for a charge like this, people aren't going to like you very much." So unfortunately, that even if you're falsely arrested, there -- people already sort of shun you. It's like the accusation is evidence enough.
And then just to have my fingerprints taken -- and they now do it on computer. It's not like you just push your fingers into an ink pad. They -- you have to keep pressing down. It took me at least a half an hour before they could get 10 decent fingerprints, which is a very -- you feel so impotent already, and then not even be able to do the simplest thing is very unnerving, you know, and adds to the sort of shock of the whole experience.
And then I went through, you know, where you give up your own clothes, and I was introduced to my cell and the other inmates, who were very generous in talking to me about the experience of being in jail when they had children, et cetera. And so it was a very useful day for me.
GROSS: You're very beleaguered and very vulnerable in this movie. You made four "Alien" films in which you're really tough. How do you use your body differently for vulnerable than for tough?
WEAVER: Well, it's funny, but I consider the role of Ripley, which I played in the "Alien" movies, that she's also a very vulnerable person. It's just she has no one else to turn to, so that she has to also be tough. So I don't think it's any different. To me -- there might be more opportunities in which you see Alice feeling at a great disadvantage. Her life is not being threatened, as Ripley's is. So I think in that case, that, you know, you see her in a more relaxed way.
But I think, to me, the great thing about acting, one of them, is that the body is not sophisticated. The body doesn't really understand acting. So if you're prepared, you know, if you've done your homework, you get in the scene and the cameras -- you know, they say Action, and you're saying these words, and you've done your preparation, the body doesn't realize that you're not talking about a child that didn't really die. You know, you're -- the body, it doesn't know that jail is sort of temporary.
So your body's reacting to all these things. I think it's very important for the actor to be very relaxed and deal with whatever the reality is of the scene. In other words, to try to keep your head out of it and just let yourself honestly respond to the -- as a human being to what's going on in the scene, what's being said.
GROSS: Your character in "A Map of the World" is someone who doesn't pay a whole lot of attention to her hair or to her clothes. She's kind of haphazardly dressed, hardly fashionable. Compare how you have to dress in "A Map of the World" to how you're dressed in "Galaxy Quest," the other current movie that you're in.
WEAVER: Yes, it's sort of the other end of the spectrum there. (laughs) My cat suit in "Galaxy Quest" was -- had very -- had a lot of...
GROSS: Yes, we should say here that you play an actress in a "Star Trek" kind of show.
WEAVER: Right. I play a character named Gwen DeMarco who plays Tawny Madison, Lieutenant Tawny Madison on "Galaxy Quest," the TV series. And Tawny is a sort of '70s-looking babe who wears a tight suit, a lot of cleavage, long, blonde hair, a lot of makeup. And it's -- it wasn't the most comfortable costume. (laughs) You're much more exposed. I -- but it was a hoot to do something that was so opposite to "A Map of the World."
GROSS: Well, what does it do to you to be in clothes like that, the long blonde wig, showing lots of cleavage, babe clothes?
WEAVER: Well, I've gotten in trouble for saying it, but when I put the costume on, I really lost -- I started -- and I think this is my reaction to the costume, it's not any kind of generalization about blondes who are built. But I found myself coming much more from the actress who's been treated like a sex object. I felt that I had much less confidence in what I had to offer on the set.
And sometimes I would say very naive and gullible things. And my director would say -- Like, one day I said -- he said, "Sigourney, can you say that line as you're moving?" And I had worked out that Gwen was a former Vegas showgirl. So I was much more confident walking than talking my lines. And when he said I had to walk and talk at the same time, I said, "Gosh, Dean, I'm sorry, but I just don't think that will work as well." And he said, "Sigourney, are you listening to yourself?" And I just stopped, and I thought, Oh, thank goodness I only have a month more of filmmaking!
WEAVER: Because I really felt like -- and also, I'm -- I play a character who's been rejected by Tim Allen's character, romantically, for about 20 years. He won't make a commitment. And I don't think that's very good for a woman's confidence either. So it was really -- playing the dumb blonde made me feel kind of like a dumb blonde.
GROSS: If you're just joining us, my guest is Sigourney Weaver, and she's starring in the new movie "A Map of the World." She also co-stars in "Galaxy Quest."
Your mother was an actress. What stage name did she use?
WEAVER: She used the name Elizabeth Inglis, I-N-G-L-I-S, in England. And she was in -- actually, she has a small role in "The Letter" with Bette Davis, and she's also very briefly in Hitchcock's "The 39 Steps."
Then she made a couple of American movies under the name Elizabeth Earl, because I guess Inglis was too high-falutin for them, which was my grandmother's maiden name. So she was Elizabeth Earl.
Those movies I have not seen.
GROSS: And did you want to do that too, be an actress, from seeing your mother, or was it unrelated?
WEAVER: You know, my father was in -- ran NBC in the '50s, so he used to come home from work laughing a lot, and I just got the sense that he was having a great deal of fun with his career. My mother had by then given up acting and had never really talked about it. So I think I came into acting really because -- I tried to avoid it, frankly. I didn't think I'd be any good at it at all, and I didn't feel I'd be able to, like, live up to whatever my parents had done.
So I kind of backed into it. I kept doing it, and I even went to drama school, where they told me I had no talent. But my friends kept hiring me for their new plays. And suddenly I was working more than anyone else I knew.
GROSS: Now, you mentioned your father, Pat Weaver, who was the head of NBC. He also created the "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show."
WEAVER: Yes, he did.
GROSS: Did you spend a lot of time in TV studios when you were young?
WEAVER: You know, I didn't really. I did visit him at Rockefeller Center. I remember J. Fred Muggs was this little chimp on "The Today Show" with Dave Garroway. And J. Fred grabbed my hat and ran away with it, and I never got it back. Probably it was in shreds. But I remember not liking that very much. He was about my size, too, so that left a negative impression.
GROSS: I'm just thinking, it was just great practice for "Gorillas in the Mist." (laughs)
WEAVER: There you go. I could have been severely traumatized by this first incident with an ape.
But I remember him taking me to see Mary Martin in rehearsal for the first televised production of "Peter Pan." And it was so exciting to meet her and see her fly. And I also met Captain Hook and I saw the crocodile. And that impressed me.
But again, I was terribly shy, and I think -- I would never have dreamed that I would feel comfortable in that world, because I was kind of a very late bloomer.
GROSS: Since he created "The Today Show" and "The Tonight Show," do you always feel when you're on a talk show, you should really be a good guest? (laughs) You know the importance of good guests. (laughs)
WEAVER: You know, it gives me a kind of secret pleasure when I'm on, like, "The Today Show" or "The Tonight Show." I kind of look around, and I'm -- I -- what I feel is, gosh, look at all the jobs Daddy created. (laughs) That's sort of the way I look at it. I just think it's good for the industry, and it makes me very proud, obviously, because when he created these two shows, no one believed that when he said people will want to watch TV at those hours, they never believed him for a second. He really had to push.
GROSS: My guest is Sigourney Weaver. More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver is my guest. She's starring in "A Map of the World." You can also see her in "Galaxy Quest."
You went to Yale School of Drama, I think at the same time as Meryl Streep, Wendy Wasserstein, who else?
WEAVER: Christopher Durang, Albert Inorato (ph), Francis Lee Beatty (ph), William Ivy Long (ph), who's -- these are also costume and set designers. I guess those are the most famous people.
GROSS: Did you work with any of them after college?
WEAVER: After drama school, I worked -- I did a lot of Chris Durang's work, and I was on "Gemini" -- in "Gemini" on Broad -- off Broadway (inaudible)...
GROSS: This is Albert Inorato...
WEAVER: ... Albert Inorato.
GROSS: ... yes.
WEAVER: Right. And I -- you know, luckily -- the good thing about Yale for me was, we did a lot of new plays there all the time, and I think it really helped me learn how to read a script. And it made me -- it made all of us quite daring, I think, as actor. You know, there certainly is not a second where I worry about making a fool of myself, because I just assume I will. And that's fine, you know, I think that's just part of the work.
I feel extremely fortunate to have spent my early years during playwrights like Durang and Inorato and Wasserstein, John Guare, Lynn Jenkin (ph). You know, I just feel that that was such a wonderful part of my life, you know.
GROSS: Now, I think that there was a year, maybe, before you established yourself as an actress that you modeled.
WEAVER: Actually it was a summer.
GROSS: (inaudible) shorter than a year, OK.
WEAVER: I was (inaudible) -- yes, I didn't want to do it much after that. I did it when I was, I think, 17. I was the Love Cosmetics Body Girl. And I did it for a summer. And then when I was at Stanford, I was about to take exams. They asked me to come back and do another ad campaign. And I said, "Are you crazy? I'm about to take exams."
And, you know, I just -- it never really interested me, modeling. And I also thought at that point, especially, it was a very short career. I said, if I'm going to, you know, stick my neck out, I want to continue doing whatever it is till I'm, like, 85, you know.
GROSS: You're very tall, I think nearly six feet?
GROSS: How -- how -- how does -- I'm interested in how height affected you in terms of casting, and also how it affected you before you started acting, just when you were growing up, and you kept getting taller than the other girls.
Let's start with, you know, you personally, when you were a girl. Some girls who get really tall start to -- try to shrink themselves by hunching over, lowering their head and putting it forward, just so that they decrease their height a little bit. Did you go through a stage like that?
WEAVER: Well, when I was 11 I was as tall as I am now.
WEAVER: Which now I (ph) -- really, I was a -- like, a behemoth. And I grew so quickly, I really hadn't caught up to myself. So I was also quite clumsy by mistake, which was mortifying. But, you know, my mother's quite short, and she would always say, "God, I'd love to be tall like you." She always said, "You may not be happy now, but you'll be happy later." And I guess I trusted her. But I certainly was a class clown always because of my height, because I wanted to make fun of myself before someone else could.
And it -- and I took a lot of modern dance in high school. First they put me on the basketball team, you know, and I was a huge disappointment, and it was, like, watching this spider trying to, you know, go down the court. And so I took a lot of modern dance, which I loved, and I loved choreography.
But I also -- you know, it did keep me, actually, from getting a number of roles. I remember being fired once because they had to replace my boyfriend with a much shorter actor. I got fired because I was too tall. And I remember thinking, This is good, in a way, because the conventional people won't hire me, because I'm too tall. It'll be the crazy people who don't think in conventional ways that want to see me as part of a romantic couple or whatever.
And it's a great litmus test. And I may have lost out on a lot of roles. You know, I haven't played a lot of girlfriends and stuff. But I think I've been very lucky in what it did bring me. And, you know, people like Ridley Scott, who cast me in "Alien," which was basically my first film, they're not conventional thinkers. And I think I've been so extraordinarily lucky to work with the directors I've worked with, because they didn't think like everyone else thinks.
GROSS: Did you ever work opposite an actor where he had to wear platform shoes, or you had to bend in order to be the same size?
WEAVER: Well, Mel Gibson is about five-nine, I guess, and so I'm a little taller than he is. But he is such a secure guy that it was never a problem for him at all. I -- we did have one scene where he had to have little lifts in his shoes. But Peter Weir, who was our director, never said, Sigourney, you're really looking tall, can you shrink a little? So I never did that. You know, I always had good posture. I don't know why, I don't know why I wasn't trying to hide.
But there you have it. I think maybe the dance gave me good -- dance -- all the dance I did gave me good posture. But I have worked with much taller men who are much less secure about their height, my height -- they're more insecure about my height. I won't mention any names. But it's been -- it's very revealing, actually.
GROSS: How were those insecurities expressed? You know, without naming names or betraying anybody?
WEAVER: Well, just, Does she have to wear high heels? Can't we sit down? And I -- there was one play I did where the actor obviously read a review that said that he was much shorter than I was in a certain scene. And every time I came near him that night, he sat down, which really screwed up our blocking and infuriated me, because I think if you're going to read -- if you're going to take reviews that seriously, you shouldn't read them, because it's very hard for us to play all these love scenes with him sitting down and me standing up.
WEAVER: So it's interesting, it's interesting how people react to it. I certainly don't -- I certainly don't think I'm intimidating as a person, you know. I'm pretty easygoing. And yet, because I do wear high heels, I'm a -- and when I wear high heels, I'm taller than my own husband, who's almost the same height as I am. But, you know, it's -- as he would say, no big hoohoo.
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver will be back in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross, back with Sigourney Weaver. She's starring in the new movies "A Map of the World" and "Galaxy Quest." She made her film debut with a very small part as Woody Allen's date at the end of his film "Annie Hall." It was her first starring role in the Ridley Scott film "Alien" that made her famous.
Now, your first starring role was in "Alien." Did you ever think you'd play an action hero?
WEAVER: I don't know, did we even have action heroes then? Maybe Douglas Fairbanks or someone like that. No, I never did, and I still -- that's still not really the way I look at her.
GROSS: Tell me how you look at her.
WEAVER: First of all, I think the producers were very savvy, and they thought, It'll be cool if, you know, instead of the man turning out to be the hero, it will be a great surprise to the audience if the young woman turns out to be the survivor. So it was just sort of -- you know, they didn't do it for any kind of political reasons, feminist reasons or anything. They just thought it would make sense for the story.
I guess I sort of always saw Ripley as my breeches part. A breeches part in Shakespeare, for instance, is what Gwyneth Paltrow played in "Shakespeare in Love." It's when you get to play Viola in "Twelfth Night" or whatever, when you are disguised as a boy. And to me, Ripley was my chance to play, like, Henry V, to play the -- you know, the male role in battle. But I always saw it -- I thought of it in very classical terms, the sort of woman warrior.
And what I think is interesting is that people always say, You've played these tough women, when in fact I think women traditionally have had to be very tough, because often the men are away, fighting wars or hunting. The women have had to protect the hearth and home and their children, and they've had to, you know, rely on themselves and their wits and whatever they can bring to hand to defend themselves.
And there's no time for sort of sentimentality or, you know, fragility, because there's too much at stake. So that's sort of how I see it.
GROSS: How did you, how did you get the part in "Alien"? It certainly wasn't as a result of your performance as Woody Allen's date (laughs) at the end of "Annie Hall."
CAINE: No, I'm afraid not. Actually, I was on apparently a short list of classically trained actresses that they wanted to see, and I remember I went to the wrong place. They gave me the wrong address. And I showed up there, it was the wrong place. I called my agents and I went, "You know, I'm a little tired," because I didn't really -- you know, to be in a science fiction film for me was not -- I mean, I always enjoyed them, but I wanted to work with New York directors, you know, Arthur Penn and Mike Nichols and stuff like that.
So I almost didn't go to the interview. Then when I went to the interview, I met Ridley Scott, and I -- he showed me all of Giger's designs, because the artist -- Swiss artist, Giger, was designing the -- all the sets and to a large degree the alien eggs. And Karla Ramboli (ph) had done the alien.
And I -- my jaw must have just dropped to the floor, because I knew I'd never seen this kind of imagery in a movie, ever. And really, that -- when Ridley and I were starting to talk about the script, I was somewhat critical of the script, because I'd been an English major at Stanford. I didn't understand that you were supposed to act like, you know, meek and polite, and I just thought, Well, if we're going to talk about the work, let's talk about it.
And, you see, that worked for Ridley, because he's a very honest person. I remember the casting agent sort of giving me, like, looks, like, Will you please -- you know, you haven't gotten the job yet, you know, this look she was giving me. But I always felt that it was better to put your cards on the table, and I think that helped me get the part of Ripley, because Ridley wanted that kind of confidence, I guess.
GROSS: Well, we'll...
WEAVER: In that part.
GROSS: We'll show an example of confidence. This is from the second "Alien" film, for which you were nominated for a best actress Academy Award. And in this scene, you've just discovered that the man who hired you, played by Paul Reiser, is trying to transport two of the alien species back to earth for his company. So here's, here's that scene.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "ALIENS")
PAUL REISER, ACTOR: Look, those two specimens are worth millions to the bio-weapons division, right? Now, if you're smart, we can both come out of this heroes, and we will be set up for life.
WEAVER: You're crazy, Burke, do you know that? Do you really think you can get a dangerous organism like that past ICC quarantine?
REISER: How can they impound it if they don't know about it?
WEAVER: But they will know about it, Burke, from me, just like they'll know that you were responsible for the deaths of 157 colonists here.
REISER: Wait a second!
WEAVER: You sent them to that ship.
REISER: You're wrong.
WEAVER: I just checked the colony log, directive dated 6-12-79, signed Burke, Carter J. You sent them out there, and you didn't even warn them. Why didn't you warn them, Burke?
REISER: OK, look, what if that ship didn't even exist? Did you ever think about that? I didn't know. So now if I went and made a major security situation out of it, everybody steps in, administration steps in, and there's no exclusive rights for anybody, nobody wins. So I made a decision, and it was wrong, it was a bad call, Ripley. It was a bad call.
WEAVER: Bad call! These people are dead, Burke! Don't you have any idea what you've done here? Well, I'm going to make sure that they nail you right to the wall for this. You're not going to sleaze your way out of this one. Right to the wall.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: My guest, Sigourney Weaver, with Paul Reiser.
Well, you got to throw Paul Reiser against the wall (laughs) in that scene.
WEAVER: I did, I did. It's great, it's like listening to an old prison movie, you know, on the radio. (laughs)
GROSS: Are there things you had to learn to do for the "Alien" films that a lot of men have to do all the time in films, that you didn't expect you'd have to do, you know, shoot guns, talk tough, you know, fight?
WEAVER: You know, I did have to do all that. Again, I was thinking of it in this great tradition of being able to play some of these parts that women traditionally don't get to play. So I was -- I didn't ever -- I've never -- I've always been a gun control supporter, so I was quite horrified. I was very busy the year I did "Aliens," and I think I skipped some bunch of stage directions that were all about guns, because when the day came and Jim Cameron showed me what I had to do, I said, "I don't remember this being in the script, I don't remember having to do all this with guns."
And I realize, now, that I -- you know, if you're working really hard, you tend to kind of flip through a story, trying to get the story, and maybe you'll miss a few details. And so I had to overcome some moral objections. But I have to say that I totally enjoyed all the rehearsals I had, where I had to, like -- I had a gun which had flamethrowers in it, and a sort of a bazooka, and it also shot -- it was a machine gun, it did all three things.
And in -- there would be long takes where I had to make sure that I enflamed the dummies, and shot blanks at the stunt men, and did the bazooka thing toward the right place. And it's amazing to me, because we'd shoot, like, a 10-minute take, I certainly always got it right, but they certainly trusted me with these very powerful guns. God forbid I should have made a mistake ever. But they were very -- it's amazing thing to have a flamethrower, which I've used quite a lot now. (laughs) Never in real life.
GROSS: Did you have to pump up for the film?
WEAVER: You always have to be in good shape just to do a movie. I think most people don't realize how much stamina it takes to be an actor, to shoot those long hours day in, day out, for several months. You have to be in pretty good shape. It's like to be in athletic shape. And these things I had to do, some of them -- for instance, "Alien Resurrection," which is the latest -- the last one we did, because I'm part alien creature, I wanted to be extremely light and extremely strong. And I really did train hard for that particular part, because I didn't want to have to do anything. I wanted to emanate that kind of, you know, superhuman strength.
And the training -- I did mostly karate, and it helped me enormously, even mentally, to play the character.
GROSS: So do you feel like you emerged from the "Alien" films stronger mentally and physically than you otherwise would have been?
WEAVER: I'm not sure I'm any stronger mentally. (laughs) I think I've done some things I wouldn't normally have done, like...
GROSS: I guess when I said mentally, I meant, you know, to think of yourself as being stronger, to have a stronger self-image.
WEAVER: You know, there was something I had to do on "Alien Resurrection," which was, I had to swim underground -- I'm sorry, underwater in these subterranean kitchens and everything. You couldn't come up for air. You had no mask, and you had no -- you had no air, and you couldn't see anything. And I'm -- I'm quite claustrophobic. And the only way I could do the scenes was to only do them as Ripley.
Ripley does not have a big imagination. She does not waste time thinking of what could happen to her. She just does it. She's kind of like one of those pilots, you know, who has the right stuff, and when the jet plane is going in spirals down, they're thinking, All right, now I need to try A. That didn't work. Now I need to try B.
And I think it's -- I think I'm much more neurotic. So if I want to be less neurotic, I can pretend to be Ripley.
GROSS: My guest is Sigourney Weaver. She's starring in two new films, "A Map of the World," and "Galaxy Quest." We'll talk more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Sigourney Weaver.
Well, let me get to a performance very unlike Ripley, and this was your performance in "Working Girl," for which I think you were also nominated for an Academy Award. And you played Katherine Parker, you know, a corporate executive, and Melanie Griffith played the secretary that comes to work for you. And this is a very funny scene. This is a scene in which you're preparing for a ski vacation in Germany, and Melanie Griffith is helping you try on your ski boots and helping you prepare.
And you're talking to her about this upcoming vacation.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "WORKING GIRL," 1988)
MELANIE GRIFFITH, ACTRESS: I called the inn. They said all they can give you is a ground floor single in the new wing.
WEAVER: Did you tell them it was me?
GRIFFITH: Well, I said Parker.
WEAVER (dials phone): Helmut? Hier ist Katherine Parker. Wunderschoen, danke. Und Sie? Wie ist der (inaudible) kind? Gut. (inaudible), fabelhaft. Hoeren Sie, ist es moeglich das 314 zu bekommen? Vielen, vielen dank. Sie sind mine suesser. Gut. (inaudible) da. Also, ciao.
It's this tower room with a canopy bed and a fireplace big enough to stand in. Perfect. Everything's in place.
GRIFFITH: For what?
WEAVER: Man I've been seeing for a while. I think he's it. And I think this could be the weekend we decide. He said there was something very important he wanted to discuss with me. I think he's going to pop the question.
GRIFFITH: You do?
WEAVER: I think so. We're in the same city now. I've indicated that I'm receptive to an offer. I've cleared the month of June. And I am, after all, me.
GRIFFITH: Well, what if he doesn't pop the question?
WEAVER: I really don't think that's a variable.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver. That's a very funny scene. Was that all real German? I mean, is "fabelhaft" a real word?
WEAVER: Well, you know, Mike Nichols directed the film. He's such a wonderful director. And I, of course, didn't speak a word of German. And so he taped it for me. And I think it is all German, but I think, like, "fabelhaft" might be, you know, the equivalent of the German Sloane Ranger way of talking, you know, that's sort of, you know, kind of slight -- you know, the slang of the very rich or something. It's a very funny scene. Makes you want to see the movie again.
GROSS: Now, your timing in that scene is very good. Have you played -- did you play a lot of comedies early in your career?
WEAVER: You know, comedy is what I was always extremely comfortable in. You know, I think -- I don't know why, but I was always good at making people laugh. It's actually been strange for me to play some of these serious roles, or to be considered an actress who -- I don't know, in some of my films, you might have said my characters were humorless. I always try to find the humor, because I think people use humor to cope. So that's been odd.
But I always was much more confident in comedies.
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver is my guest. You can see her in two new films, "A Map of the World" and "Galaxy Quest."
Let me move on to another movie, also made in 1988, the same year as "Working Girl," and this is "Gorillas in the Mist," in which you played Dian Fossey, who was a real live expert in primates. And she studied the mountain gorillas in the Varunda (ph) Mountains at the preserve there.
And she tried to protect them from poachers, and in this scene you're trying to explain to the interior minister that the gorillas are being killed, and you need help.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "GORILLAS IN THE MIST," 1988)
WEAVER: They were murdered by poachers. The gorilla population now is half what it was 10 years ago.
ACTOR: Your problem is decreasing gorillas, mine is increasing people. We're on opposite sides of the same problem.
WEAVER: Can I have this water (ph)?
ACTOR: Sure. That kind of money provides people with food, clothing, shoes, medicine, necessities. Do you want to compare priorities, Miss Fossey?
WEAVER: No, I don't. The Varundas are supposed to be protected parks land. Where's the protection?
ACTOR: Protection is expensive.
WEAVER: That's your problem. Make new laws, raise taxes, but give my gorillas the protection they're entitled to.
ACTOR: Your gorillas? As I recall, Miss Fossey, you are a visitor on a yearly renewable work permit. Now, I don't believe that status entitles you to make government policy.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: You know, some of the people who worked with the real Diane Fossey felt that she was really too obsessed for her own good, that she got too emotionally involved with the gorillas. Did you have to just, like, figure out where stood on that before playing -- before you played her?
WEAVER: Well, I didn't, really, because I was quite ignorant of this situation before I played her. And what was interesting, trying to research Diane, was that everyone said something different about her. There were people who loved her so much and followed her, and there were other people who were -- who completely dismissed her, since she did not have a degree.
And she was really in there somewhere, so it was quite important that I concentrate on the truth of each scene. I would say that I work for the Diane Fossey Gorilla Fund. I'm on the board. And since Diane's death, it became -- it was clear to us even then, I guess, that the welfare of the gorillas had to be, in a sense, embraced by the Rwandan people, because they're in each other's country. And since then, I'm happy to say that the -- that a whole community of Rwandan families has grown, out of which come all the rangers who watch over the gorillas and protect them. And there's a huge commitment among -- in this community to take care of the gorillas.
And I think that it was a mistake for Diane to think of the gorillas versus the humans. But at that time, I didn't really want to see it any other way. I only wanted to play it from Diane's point of view, as twisted as it might have been. She believed in it wholeheartedly, and if you spend a lot of time with the gorillas, you can begin to imagine that for her, they were her family. And they were being, you know, killed just for their hands. And I think she had a very visceral, unscientific, maternal reaction about this.
GROSS: It must be kind of odd in a way when your real self and a character that you play come together. You know, you played Diane Fossey and now you work with the Diane Fossey Fund. And in some way, you know, you have a responsibility for helping that group carry on their work. Is that a coming-together that you welcome, or that sometimes makes you uncomfortable? You know, it's just a role, and now I'm not playing it any more.
WEAVER: Well, you know, for me, the time I spent with the gorillas, which was on and off for about three months -- I mean, really, like, three or four visits a week over several months -- I felt it was like a huge gift I was given by Diane and by the gorillas to have spent so much time with them. And I felt I was in a unique position as a celebrity in the world to tell people about the experience of being with the mountain gorillas, and how much there is to learn from them, and how important it is for us to ensure their survival.
And also, Diane taught me something very profound. She truly believed that animals and humans have equal rights, that there is no -- there's no reason at all for man to think, I am the superior one, therefore I will take the land and build my cities, and the hell with the animals. There -- that simply kind of disappeared from my philosophy in terms of conservation.
GROSS: My guest is Sigourney Weaver. We'll be back after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: My guest is Sigourney Weaver. She's in two new movies, "Galaxy Quest" and "A Map of the World."
I'm going to squeeze in one more movie scene, and this is from your 1995 film "Copy Cat." And you played Helen Hudson, who was an expert on serial killers, who ended up going into seclusion after being terrorized by a serial killer, a serial killer played by the singer Harry Connick, (laughs) who ended up being caught and imprisoned. And this -- in this scene, two police officers, played by Holly Hunter and Dermot Mulroney, are trying to get you to help them with a new serial murder.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP, "Copy Cat," 1995)
HOLLY HUNTER, ACTRESS: I talked to you this morning, Dr. Hudson. Do you remember?
WEAVER: Of course I remember. There's nothing wrong with my memory. You called me a crank.
HUNTER: Yes, ma'am.
WEAVER: Well, I suppose I am. I got a couple of crank calls myself. That's why I thought Daryll Lee Cullum must have gotten out of prison.
DERMOT MULRONEY, ACTOR: Ma'am, if Daryll Lee had gotten out, I assure you, you'd be the first to know.
WEAVER: Well, good. I'm relieved.
HUNTER: I hate to sound like a broken record, but you called us, Dr. Hudson?
WEAVER: Yes. I did, I'm sorry. It won't happen again.
HUNTER: Would you mind telling us why?
WEAVER: There's a serial killer out there who strangled three women. He's going to do it again.
HUNTER: Even if there's a chain of evidence connecting these murders, nothing's been reported in the press. How do you connect them?
WEAVER: I don't know. Twenty years of clinical experience and having serial killers on the brain.
HUNTER: Would you work with us on this?
WEAVER: You're kidding, right?
HUNTER: No, ma'am.
WEAVER: I thought you knew that I don't do this any more. I'm retired.
HUNTER: Is that why you called our office 14 times, because you're retired? Come on, help me out here. I really admire your work.
WEAVER: Does she do this, this wide-eyed little girl routine, often?
WEAVER: Does it work?
WEAVER: You can spare me the (bleep), inspector. You don't admire me, you don't even like me. None of your people do. But the beautiful part is, I don't give a (bleep). That's the upside of having a nervous breakdown.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver, I think one of the things that's really interesting about this movie is, you know, the female energy in it, the two leads are, you know, you, an expert on serial killers, and Holly Hunter, who's this, you know, tough cop. And it was really nice to see that in a movie, two really strong, dynamic, and different women leads.
WEAVER: It was great. You know, it doesn't happen enough. And our characters were so opposite. I think actually "Copy Cat" is one of the best movies I've ever been in. Unfortunately, we came out right after "Seven," and everyone had already seen their serial killer movie for the hour. But I think the movie is very well directed by Jon Amiel, and I think one of the great things that people liked so much about it, because it's been very successful on -- in video, et cetera, is that relationship, and the fact that, you know, we're trying to play those two very different women so honestly.
You know, there's none of this sort of fake camaraderie, you know. It's also, you know, in "Map of the World," I play -- I'm a best -- Alice is a best friend of Julianne Moore's character, Theresa, and there again you have these two very opposite women who, in fact, be -- are very close friends, and one of the things I admire about the friendship also in a "A Map of the World" is that it is not there to give exposition. You know, they often have the two women sort of talking about things and giggling, and you find out about the boyfriend or the job or the something.
And it's kind of a token scene to show that this woman has someone else in her life besides the guy. But it's not really convincing. And I think the relationships in "Copy Cat" and the relationship in "Map of the World" are both very true. You know, they're both very honest. And women can relate to them. You know, they're not soppy sort of movie relationships.
GROSS: What do you have coming up?
WEAVER: I have another movie coming out, I think this spring or summer, called "Company Man," which is a comedy about the Bay of Pigs. And I'm in it with Woody Allen and Doug McGrath, John Turturro, Dennis Leary, and Anthony LaPaglia. And it's a crazy farce about the CIA in Cuba during the Bay of Pigs. And I play Daisy Quimp, who is obsessed with mink and actually inadvertently causes the Bay of Pigs because of her interest in mink.
It's really -- (laughs) it's a very funny, sweet movie. And then I'm going to be working on another comedy with Jennifer Love Hewitt called "The Breakers," and we play a mother and daughter con artist team in Palm Beach.
GROSS: Well, Sigourney Weaver, thank you so much for talking with us.
WEAVER: My pleasure.
(BEGIN AUDIO CLIP)
WEAVER: Final report, the commercial starship "Nostromo," third officer reporting. The other members of the crew, Caine, Lambert, Parker, Brecht, Ashe, and Captain Dallas are dead. Cargo and ship destroyed. I should reach the frontier in about six weeks. With a little luck, the network will pick me up. This is Ripley, last survivor of the "Nostromo," signing off.
(END AUDIO CLIP)
GROSS: Sigourney Weaver in "Alien." She's starring in two new films, "A Map of the World" and "Galaxy Quest."
FRESH AIR's interviews and reviews are produced by Naomi Person, Amy Salit, Phyllis Myers, and Monique Nazareth, with Ann Marie Baldonado and Patty Leswing. Research assistance from Brendan Noonam. Roberta Shorrock directs the show.
I'm Terry Gross.
TO PURCHASE AN AUDIOTAPE OF THIS PIECE, PLEASE CALL 877-21FRESH
Dateline: Terry Gross, Philadelphia
Guest: Sigourney Weaver
High: Actress Sigourney Weaver made her first film appearance in a scene so short you could miss her. She played Woody Allen's date in "Annie Hall" after he broke up with Annie. After that she made her big debut in "Alien" as Ripley, and went on to star in the other Alien films. Her other credits include: "Gorillas in the Mist," "Working Girl" and "CopyCat." She's now starring in "Galaxyquest" and "A Map of the World."
Spec: Entertainment; Movie Industry; Women
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End-Story: Sigourney Weaver Discusses Her Career in Cinema
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