Actress Sigourney Weaver on the virtues of being a tall action heroine and why she loves to play nice people
Sigourney Weaver has long had her place in cinema history. She became world famous as Ellen Ripley in the “Alien” films, she was nominated for an Oscar three times. Her work includes box office hits like “Ghostbusters” or “Avatar” as well as challenging dramas such as “The Ice Storm” or a guest appearance in the French series “Call My Agent”. Your current film “My Year in New York”, which will still be the opening film of the Berlinale in 2020, will unfortunately not be shown in theaters in Germany, but only online or on DVD. Still a good reason to talk to her.
Miss Weaver, in your new film “My Year in New York” you play a literary agent who tries to keep all fan mail away from her most important client, JD Salinger. Do you get a lot of letters like this yourself?
I can’t tell you exactly because, of course, they usually don’t reach me personally either. Those that come in at the agency or something like that are answered with an autograph, because unfortunately I don’t have time for more. But if, for example, someone finds out my home address and writes to it, then of course I don’t react. That would open the door and wide open.
So you prefer to keep your fans at a distance?
No, but privacy is of course important to me. I try to make up for that by appearing at fan events like the Comic Con trade fair. There is a real interaction with fans, which I always find wonderful. Even if these encounters are of course far too short and often accompanied by a little too much shouting.
Do you sometimes read what fans on the internet say about you?
Oh no, I’m not looking at that. You never know what you will come across. My motto is always: Why take the risk of getting into trouble when nobody is forcing you to?
And have you ever written fan mail yourself?
Absolutely. I especially remember one for John Lennon. I must have been twelve years old and read that Lennon likes to go to a certain restaurant in New York. I wrote him a long letter, several pages front and back, on purple paper. I wouldn’t be surprised if I had perfumed it too. I then delivered the letter to the aforementioned restaurant, where they were delightful to me and promised to keep it for Lennon. But of course I’m very sure that he never read it. Which is perhaps better that way, because I’m no longer sure what I wrote back then.
“My Year in New York” takes place in 1995 – and your character doesn’t believe that computers will really establish themselves in everyday life. Do you remember when you realized that the Internet would change our communication forever?
For that matter, I was definitely not a visionary. I had my first email address while working on “Galaxy Quest”, if I remember correctly. So around 1999. It seemed practical to me, but I had no idea what kind of far-reaching impact the internet would have on our entire lives. And that the film and entertainment industries will change forever. When I look today at how many young people are only online and no longer read at all, I’m glad that my daughter was in high school when she got her own internet connection. She grew up with books and read in bed every evening, which I find wonderful, not just for developing my own imagination.
And today? Do you hang on your smartphone a lot?
Too much for sure. These devices now tell you how much time you spend with them. I am often very frightened about this, because then you see in black and white that you have been online for hours again, although you actually only wanted to check something briefly. Terrible. That’s why I try to put my phone down as much as possible every time I checked my emails and took a look at the world situation. And when I turn, I always leave it in the cloakroom in the morning.
Let’s talk about other changes, namely those that have been happening in Hollywood for some time. The fact that women were responsible for the camera work as well as the editing and production design for “My Year in New York”, for example, is anything but a matter of course, right?
Indeed not, and in fact my heart beat faster when I realized how many women were really involved in this film in positions of responsibility and led their teams. I’m really not the best person to talk to when it comes to your question, because as a New Yorker I really rarely get an insight into the intricacies of Hollywood business. But overall there is still a long way to go, I would say. Because actually we shouldn’t be satisfied until the entire cast in front of the camera and the crew behind the camera are a reflection of our society. Regardless of whether it is about gender, origin or something else.
Have you experienced a lot of sexism yourself?
All in all, I can fortunately say that my work experiences have always been positive. I never felt unsafe. And I’m so tall that it seems that nobody could give me a goat or ignore me. However, I have always been careful and checked as closely as possible in advance who I would be working with. I always avoided people who had a certain reputation. Life is too short to waste my time on such people and their films. Even if it had turned out to be a masterpiece in the end.
Did your height of 1.82 meters protect you from being harassed or discriminated against?
The fact that I don’t seem like a tender, helpless being at first glance certainly contributed to this at least in part. And after “Alien” everyone had pictures of me with a flamethrower in hand, something like that also plays a role. Plus, of course, the fact that my mother tipped me to be suspicious from an early age. As far as the body size and the action image are concerned, of course, there were also situations in which they were more of a curse than a blessing.
In what way?
For many producers in the eighties I seemed to be a real challenge. Nobody could picture me in a love story, I was apparently too tall for that – and not blonde enough. I would have liked to have shot more romances and relationship dramas. I hardly got any comedies either, because after “Alien” I was committed to action and serious roles. But as I said: the positive side effects of this image also had something in themselves. And recently I was finally able to shoot a love story, “The Good House” with Kevin Kline, in which – in the third collaboration – we were finally both allowed to play more or less nice people. That was a real pleasure for me.
Interview: Patrick Heidmann