Sigourney Weaver on confounding others’ expectations

Credit: CBSNews
Credit: CBSNews

▶ Watch Video: Sigourney Weaver on her unpredictable career

At the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx, lifelong Manhattanite Sigourney Weaver is in her element: “I think that’s why I like it so much,” she told “CBS Sunday Morning” anchor Jane Pauley. “We in the city need to come and get our hands dirty, and smell the soil. It’s very inspiring.

“They say that with a garden you plant the garden, first year it sleeps, second year it creeps, third year it leaps,” she said.  

But there’s never been a year like this one for the 72-year-old Weaver: four movies in the next four months. “I usually have something simmering,” she said. “And so, it looks like I threw some magic beans out the window and they all suddenly went like that.”

sigourney-weaver-jane-pauley-botanic-garden.jpg
Actress and “city girl” Sigourney Weaver with “Sunday Morning” anchor Jane Pauley at the New York Botanical Garden. 

CBS News

Cuddling with gorillas or cavorting with ghosts, the three-time Oscar-nominee is a commanding presence in power suits, and iconic in space suits –one of the first badass heroines in space. 

Warrant officer Ellen Ripley in the “Alien” franchise is how Sigourney Weaver made her name. Though she was born Susan Weaver, Sigourney was the name she took for herself from the novel “The Great Gatsby” when she was 13.

“I had great trouble saying, at the height of 6’0”, ‘My name is Sue’ – so small,” Weaver said. “I just saw this name and I went, ‘Oh, I love that. It goes on – that’s fantastic. I like the look of it, three syllables.’ I thought, ‘I’m gonna use that ’til I can figure out what name I’d really like, because I’m not gonna use crazy name like Sigourney. It was absolutely a placeholder.”

Pauley said, “My pretend name was Gisele.  And you went with Sigourney, and that wasn’t a stage name?”

“No.”

“We both had parents who were not expecting the careers that we went on to have,” said Pauley. “Did your parents think you could act?”

“I’m sure they didn’t!”

Her English mother had a career on stage and film in the 1930s and ’40s; her father was a pioneer in television in the ’50s. Sylvester Weaver created both “Today” and “The Tonight Show.”

Weaver said, “I think that they were horrified that I was gonna take this on. My father thought it was good to go to drama school. That would probably shake this goal right out of me, and it almost did.”

Weaver attended the Yale School of Drama. “I didn’t really belong there; I wish I’d gone to, like, Second City or something.”

She felt like a fish out of water – and the faculty seemed to agree. “They were not supportive,” Weaver said.

“Explicitly so?”

“Yeah. No, I have to say could not have been meaner,” Weaver replied. “And the irony was that they were fired when I graduated. So, the lesson to me is, don’t believe what your teachers tell you.”

On the set of Alien
Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Ridley Scott’s “Alien.” 

Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Deflated but undeterred, she returned to New York City with a new attitude: What did she have to lose?

Weaver said, “When I went to an audition, I was just trying to inhabit that character for a few minutes just to be able to work. And I wasn’t trying to, you know, get somewhere because I figured I wouldn’t. So, I just thought, ‘I’m gonna just do my thing.'”

After four years on stage off-off Broadway, her first film appearance was a small non-speaking role in “Annie Hall,” followed barely two years later by the Ridley Scott blockbuster “Alien.”  “I got really lucky,” she said.

“You sorta came out of nowhere.”

“Totally.”

“How on Earth did that miracle happen?”`

“I remember thinking, ‘It’s science fiction. It doesn’t matter what I do.’ I wore these very high hooker boots that made me about 7’0” tall. I stalked into that meeting. Ridley asked me what I thought of the script. And we just started to talk. And I could see the casting person in the background, who was kind of going like you know, [miming], He doesn’t really want to know what you think, dear.

A superstar had arrived. But she didn’t play the part.

Weaver said, “It certainly didn’t make me want to have a film career, which is ironic because I was in very good position. So, I didn’t really do anything for a couple of years. I went back to the theater, and I just felt I really wanted to learn my craft.”

Now in the fifth decade of her career, the long-awaited sequel to the box office record-setting “Avatar” arrives in December. But in the coming weeks, she’ll be seen in “Master Gardener”; “Call Jane,” a timely and provocative film about abortion set in the pre-Roe 1960s; and out this week, “The Good House,” with Kevin Kline. She plays a recovering alcoholic.

“Here’s this woman who was at the top of her game who’s sort of slipping, and she’s fighting against ageism,” said Weaver. “You know, her assistant’s stolen all her clients, and she’s being pushed off her perch, and she decides to fire back and fight back. You know, how many projects are there where an older woman gets to do any of that? Like, none!”

To watch a trailer for “The Good House”: click on the video player below:

With more than 60 film credits and still counting, Sigourney Weaver seems to have found her place, and at her own steady pace.  And that’s the secret of Hollywood longevity.

“I think I was very lucky because I wasn’t a babe but I could play a babe,” she said. “I wasn’t this, but I could play that. So, I would always just pick the story and not the role. I thought, ‘Is this a story I want to see? Is this a story about something I really believe in?’ It has cumulatively shown a lot of different fun things that I got to do.”

“The lady’s got range!” said Pauley.

“Well, that’s, I think, for me, the greatest compliment. So, thank you.”

WEB EXTRA VIDEO: Sigourney Weaver on what makes creativity thrive


Web extra: Sigourney Weaver on what makes creativity thrive

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Story produced by Kay Lim and Julie Kracov. Editor: Lauren Barnello. 

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