A movie has a way of sitting up straight whenever Sigourney Weaver is in it. Whether the part is small or large, she reliably jolts any film alive with her intelligence and commanding presence. She usually means business.
That, of course, has been apparent since her breakthrough role as Ellen Ripley in Alien. But it’s no less true of Weaver at 67. She has an almost queen-like status on today’s movie landscape, particularly in science-fiction.
She has defined one mega franchise (Alien, with one more on the way) and been the MVP of another (Avatar, with four sequels coming). Just her voice is enough to lend sci-fi credibility, whether as the ship’s voice in WALL-E or as the all-powerful Director in The Cabin in the Woods.
Weaver has been particularly ubiquitous in 2016, gracing the year’s top box-office hit, Finding Dory, with its best gag (her aquatic centre greeting), and popping in to reprise her original role in the contentious Ghostbusters reboot. She was even glimpsed in Ron Howard’s The Beatles: Eight Days a Week - The Touring Years as a young, rabid Beatlemaniac.
But she ended the year with A Monster Calls, a smaller film that uses fantasy to plumb deeper emotional depths. Directed by J.A. Bayona (who’s helming the next Jurassic Park film), the adaptation of Patrick Ness’ novel is about a boy coping with his mother’s terminal illness. Aside from approaching grief with uncommon seriousness, the film flips some genre tropes, including Weaver’s grandmother character.
The actress (who hasn’t lost a bit of her glamour) recently reflected on A Monster Calls, her re-entry to Pandora and her legacy of strong female protagonists.
Your father, Sylvester ‘Pat’ Weaver was president of NBC and created the Tonight Show. Was it like you grew up in show business?
At the time, I thought everyone’s father ran a network. I thought everyone got to go on the set of Peter Pan and meet Mary Martin. I always used to think I was going to go to school and then come home and be a different girl and go to a different house. It took me a while to realise I was stuck with me. Maybe that’s the early awareness of an actor that we’re all changeable. I remember thinking, ‘Gosh, I’m so amazed I’m in this body for so long.’
You have such an impact on a film, regardless of how large your part is.
I really love being part of a good story. I don’t need to be the centre of the story. That’s why I really loved A Monster Calls because the grandmother was unlike anyone I’ve played before — not completely unlike my mother, who was British. It’s a movie I hope families go to together.
Was your small role in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall your first film?
Woody offered me a bigger part but I turned it down because I was in a play. I played a multiple schizophrenic... and I wasn’t going to give that part up.
Alien was quite a follow-up.
It didn’t feel like a big movie to me. It felt like a very small, dark, strange movie and I could relate to that because I was used to doing very strange things off-Broadway. I thought: This is fine. This is like a workshop movie.
Ripley was one of the first strong female protagonists in an action film. Is that a legacy you’re proud of?
I am. I’ve since read other scripts and I go, ‘Well that’s kind of an interesting part but I’d rather play this guy.’ Because I always feel still, like in our world, there’s a lot of testosterone in some of these movies where really legitimately a woman would be involved.
Do you think that’s changing?
I think by the time your daughters are in the world, everything will be different.
What did you think of the backlash to Paul Feig’s Ghostbusters?
I was very surprised by it. I enjoyed the movie. I love all those women. I think Feig is brilliant. I do think it has something to do with the misogyny Trump has unearthed. I thought it was very charming. Does it also make you remember how much you loved the first one? I think so, but not to the extent that I’m going to boycott it. We’re sitting at the table. You’ve got to make room for us. We’re not going to go away.
Ang Lee’s Ice Storm must be a film you’re particularly proud of.
I was discussing a character I might play with someone and they said, ‘This woman’s cold.’ I said I find that a nonsensical adjective for a woman. I’m sure you could describe Janey in ‘Ice Storm’ as cold but she wasn’t cold. She was so disconnected from her life and bored by it.
You’re soon to head into one mammoth Avatar production.
The scripts for Avatar are absolutely incredible. I have committed to a very interesting movie about a woman [Second Saturn] that I hope to do in May. It’s like: This is my wonderful meal before I go into Pandora.
Don’t miss it!
A Monster Calls releases in the UAE on January 12.