Sigourney takes '70s by 'storm'
October 13, 1997
Web posted at: 3:49 p.m. EDT (1949 GMT)
By Jane Wollman Rusoff
NEW YORK -- Years before she battled outer space creatures,
Sigourney Weaver wrestled with career choices: Should she
become a marine biologist? A journalist? A number of
challenging lifestyles whetted her college-student appetite.
Then she realized that by being an actress, she could sample
a host of different lives. And so she has -- from
Shakespearean heroine Portia in "Merchant of Venice" to
science-fiction Warrant Officer Ripley in "Alien" to
real-life ape scientist Dian Fossey in "Gorillas in the
And so it was to explore a life unlike her own that motivated
Weaver to take the role of housewife Janey Carver in "The Ice
Storm" (which opens October 17), a powerful drama set in
1973, co-starring Kevin Kline and Joan Allen. In the film
about wife-swapping and death in Connecticut, Weaver plays an
unhappy, unfaithful suburbanite, desperately determined not
to let the sexual revolution pass her by. She describes her
restless character: "On the surface, she is direct and no
bull. But, in fact, she's very vulnerable. Minute-to minute,
she wants oblivion, escape -- sexual release. She hates
driving the station wagon and doing the laundry. Everyone
else is in couples therapy; she doesn't even bother. She
knows that's not going to help her marriage."
Dressed in a bathrobe, the striking Weaver, 48, is in her
Manhattan apartment, where she lives with husband Jim
Simpson, a theater director, and their 7-year-old daughter,
Charlotte. The actress is smart, funny, unaffected and,
though she claims to be shy, extremely talkative.
She made the family breakfast at 6:30, then took Charlotte to
school and attended a Halloween-party planning meeting with
other class moms. Now it's early evening, and before reading
Charlotte some "Nancy Drew," she pauses long enough to
discuss her many lives.
During the time in which "The Ice Storm" is set, just when
the woman's liberation movement was really revving up, Weaver
was a spunky, single Stanford University student. "Playing
Janey was like going on the other side of the 'Looking Glass'
and seeing how pissed off the older generation was because we
were having such a good time while they were missing it all,"
she says. "It was interesting playing someone who was so
trapped at a time when I had been so wild and free."
In "The Ice Storm," directed by Ang Lee ("Sense and
Sensibility"), long-haired Weaver at her most feminine beds
her neighbor's husband, played by Kline, a friend in real
life. The movie was a major hit at this year's Cannes
According to Weaver, Lee calls "The Ice Storm's" conflicted
adult characters "adolescents trying to work out, in a very
clumsy way, their desire for sex and connection." The script,
based on a tragic, scathing novel by Rick Moody, appealed to
Weaver because it reminded her, she says, of Chekhov "in the
way that Chekhov is comedy. It isn't dreary and depressing."
Comparing her own life in the early '70s to that of Janey
Carver's, she says: "I certainly took the whole sexual
revolution for granted -- that wasn't even news. I remember
being very caught up in politics, outraged at what our
country was doing in Vietnam."
But she was hardly neglecting her love life: Costumed as
elves, Weaver and her then-boyfriend had set up housekeeping
in a tree house. "We wore matching outfits that we made
ourselves: red clown pants trimmed with very bright blue
pom-poms and little vests, with nothing underneath," she
As for their strange domicile: "I'd been sharing a house with
four other girls who were all cheerleaders. ... And I
suddenly felt as weird as I actually am, so I started to
climb in and out of the window of my room, instead of living
in the house," Weaver says matter-of-factly. "It was only a
question of time before I ended up living in the tree house
full-time. We had a little hibachi up there and a mattress,
but no walls. We used to climb down and steal vegetables from
the Stanford Experimental Garden."
All those shenanigans, of course, occurred before she got
serious about acting: at Yale Drama School and after,
charging around New York in search of a job -- and well
before her Tony nomination for "Hurlyburly," her Oscar
nominations for "Aliens" (sequel to "Alien"), "Gorillas in
the Mist" and "Working Girl," and her work in "The Year of
Living Dangerously," "Ghostbusters" and "Dave."
"Alien," Weaver's first movie, put her on the map in 1979.
She followed that action blockbuster with two sequels and,
this November, stars in her fourth go-round as hero T. Ellen
Ripley in "Alien Resurrection," with Winona Ryder. The three
"Alien" films have grossed more than $350 million worldwide.
Of her soldier character in this latest reprise, the actress
says: "I have feelings for the alien that are very
complicated. There are connections that turn out to be
intimate and sensuous."
The actress was born Susan Weaver, in Manhattan, the daughter
of television pioneer Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, NBC president
from 1953-1955, and British actress Elizabeth Inglis. By age
11, young Weaver had grown to her adult height of 5-foot-ll.
That's why she asked to be called Sigourney, a name she'd
come across reading "The Great Gatsby" at 14. "I was sort of
a goofus, very uncoordinated," she admits. "I felt so much
bigger than a Susie or a Sue. At that age you, feel sort of
crazy inside. So when I saw this name -- it was long and sort
of curvy, and from the research I did, it meant 'gypsy' -- I
just started using it."
Weaver's height, in fact, has dictated the direction of her
career. "It's protected me from doing a lot of conventional
stuff. When I'd walk in for a job, the producer's face would
always cloud over because I was too tall for what he
considered to be the ideal image for the part. I've been
fired a couple of times for being too tall."
Yet she's always insisted on "flaunting" her rangy build, and
to audition for "Alien," she wore "the highest hooker boots
you've ever seen -- at least 4 inches." She laughs. Her agent
had pressed her to try out for Ripley even after Weaver
expressed distaste for science fiction. "I wanted to do
Shakespeare ... but then I reread the script and thought,
'You know, I can do something with this part.'"
Yes, Ripley did die in "Alien 3," and it was Weaver who
insisted on her demise. "I'd heard that they wanted to do
'Alien vs. Predator,' and it made me ill. How dare they even
A "dynamite" script seduced her into resurrecting Ripley,
Weaver says. She'll make $11 million from the role, a figure
she herself -- not a representative -- negotiated. "I had to
be very clear that I would walk away if terms weren't met. I
felt very strongly that I wanted to get considerably more for
the fourth movie. Still, it's so much lower than any of the
male action stars would get for the fourth one of anything.
... Sexism is built into the industry. No one wants to be
embarrassed by paying a woman too much."
Weaver earned $33,000 for the first "Alien." "I had a
terrible agent," she says.
Right now, Weaver is sticking close to home; she has spent
the last year shooting both "The Ice Storm" and Showtime
cable TV's "Snow White: A Tale of Terror," which was filmed
in Prague. In the latter, she plays -- what else? -- the
crazed, murderous stepmother. Upcoming is "Dear Rosie," a
romantic comedy she's developing. "I hope it will be
eccentric," she muses.
Despite A-list stardom, Weaver has tried hard to avoid an
ivory-tower lifestyle. "Fame can make you very isolated. ...
I have a dread of being pushed into this netherworld of
celebrity -- separation from humanity," she says. So she
likes to stay real: "I wash the dishes. I get the groceries.
I pick up the cleaning. I'm not a good movie star. But my
fear is that if I don't do all those things, I'll lose touch
as an actor with what life really is."
She is, nonetheless, utterly put off by the approach of
aggressive fans. She half-jokes that successful actors should
be rewarded with anonymity, not celebrity. "Then you could go
on the bus and study all the people, the way you used to
before you were famous. Now everyone is staring at you, and
you have to put on a hat and glasses and (have) a book in
front of your face. When they come over and invade your
space, it's frightening. I'm very shy about that. If I'm ever
run down by a car, it'll be because I've been looking down at
the pavement for 10 years."
© 1997, Jane Wollman Rusoff. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate