“Part of me is attracted to other worlds”

Sigourney Weaver

Interview

  • INTERVIEW FRANK SIERING

In Alien, she laid down a glittering performance as the first female action star. Many hits later, Sigourney Weaver, 65, talks about the visionary power of sci-fi, what it’s like being tall in showbusiness and small, everyday adventures

Ms. Weaver, how important was it for your career to have played Officer Ellen Ripley in Alien back in 1979?

Very important. Without Ripley my life would have taken a different direction. I was a real snob back then and didn’t really want to do cinema. I was much more interested in theater.

But then along came the director Ridley Scott, who convinced you that aliens were the key to achieving international fame?

Fame is something I don’t feel that comfortable with. On the one hand, I’m happy to be a well-known actor and I’m thankful that I’ve been able to provide a good living for my family all these years, but I’m really a person who can do without the fame part. I get along fine without the glamour.

Don’t you like being famous?

I don’t have a very big ego, and I’ve always been more of a team player. Let’s be honest: I’ve been very lucky with my career. When I started out hardly anybody wanted to hire a woman that was six feet tall …

Because most leading men were short?

Right. What agent wants to explain to an actor that they will have to spend most of the time on set standing on an apple crate so they can look me in the eyes? A lot of directors decided to play it safe and pass on hiring me, casting someone shorter for the role of co-star. They say Hollywood doesn’t like women over 40, either.

I’m no longer the young woman who gets to fight aliens

What’s it like to be the exception to the rule?

Well, I no longer play the young woman who gets to fight aliens, but I certainly cannot complain about not getting enough work. I naturally hope my talent and discipline are part of the equation, but I am also an actor who fits certain roles perfectly – mostly parts for strong women who know what they want.

You were educated at the elite universities Stanford and Yale, where you studied both drama and English language and literature. Is it important for an actor to be well educated?

Is that a trick question? Not all actors have to be dumb. I’m not going to make excuses for my education, but of course I am aware that you can have a career in Hollywood without a degree from Yale. I never followed particular trends – and always looked for specific roles, choosing to take part in projects that spoke to me and made me happy. Looking back, I still believe that the majority of decisions in my career were very good ones.

You have played in quite a few films that revolve around artificial intelligence: Aliens, Wall-E, Avatar and now Chappie, a story about a new type of robot that learns to think on its own. How do you explain your connection to this subject?

Perhaps part of me is attracted to other worlds, I haven’t thought about it much. But my motivation is quite pragmatic. I never wanted to be a star in a movie that nobody wants to see. I wanted to take part, even in a small way, in what people were watching.

“They say Hollywood doesn’t like women over 40, either”

“They say Hollywood doesn’t like women over 40, either”

© Ian Derry/Bafta/CameraPress/Picture Press
Sigourney Weaver starring in Alien becoming the first female action star (1979)

Sigourney Weaver starring in Alien becoming the first female action star (1979)

© action press
On Wall street with Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith. Being the boss in "Working Girl" (1988)

On Wall street with Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith. Being the boss in "Working Girl" (1988)

© action press
CEO of a weapon manufacturer - Sigourney Weaver in the current sci-fi movie Chappie

CEO of a weapon manufacturer - Sigourney Weaver in the current sci-fi movie Chappie

© Sony Pictures Releasing GmbH

You were one of the first Hollywoods actresses to demonstrate on screen that not only men can be tough. Do you see yourself as a kind of pioneer?

Of course I am proud of that. I have always believed that women can take on the same roles as men. Nobody would have thought that a woman would survive in Aliens, but I have to disappoint the feminists among my fans: The producers were not making a political statement. It was just a good twist to the story.

How close do films like Alien and Chappie come to reflecting today’s reality?

It’s amazing how relevant certain aspects of science fiction have become. When I watch Alien today, I see things that could be reality tomorrow. It’s quite similar with Chappie. We’ve made incredible advances in the field of robotics.

Do you believe that there’s intelligent life out there?

It’s the eternal question, isn’t it? (laughs) Ellen Ripley certainly believed in aliens. I am not so arrogant as to state that we are the only ones moving around in this big universe of ours. I do believe there are other forms of life around us.

How does Sigourney Weaver travel when she’s not fighting aliens in space?

Very comfortably and relaxed (laughs). I am somebody who likes to take it easy. Flying first or business class is like a visit to a spa. I am tall, so it’s a real treat for me to be able to stretch out on a long flight.

Are you somebody who likes to plan her life down to the last detail?

I love to get up in the morning and not know what will happen that day. I’m a person who likes jumping off the cliff. Always following the same routine is not my cup of tea.

You’ve been in show business for 40 years. Did you ever have doubts and think about quitting?

I’ve never looked at my life that way. I see it as a journey, in which some parts are more interesting than others. Your life cannot consist of one adventure after the next, there are always sequences that will be a little bit more mundane.

Rumor has it that you will be returning in upcoming sequels of Avatar – is that true?

Yes, I will be part of the next installments, but it’s not something I’m allowed to talk about. The director James Cameron has threatened me with force if I do (laughs).