Sigourney Weaver thrives on changing from mainstream Hollywood fare to smaller Indie fare, such as her latest film Tadpole. A popular favourite at this year’s Sundance Film Festival, Weaver is luminous as a teenager’s stepmother, whom the former is in love with while having been seduced by the latter’s best friend.
This delightful charmer was shot in handheld digital for a miniscule amount of money, and Weaver loved the technical challenge. In this far ranging chat with Paul Fischer, Weaver talks tadpoles, digital technology, September 11 and yes, will she or won’t she return to the Alien franchise?
Question: So why do you feel that you were willing to play Eve as opposed to the flashier seducer?
Answer: vYou know, I had just done Heartbreakers, which was all about seduction, and I just thought that it would give me a chance to try something I hadn’t done before, which was a subtle kind of development in this woman’s life where she’s gotten married finally, she hasn’t had a chance to have her own family. She has one stepson, who she is devoted to and I think she’s going through a mid-life crisis or something. But, you know, she’s going through a very subdued stage in her life and Oscar kind of brings her out of it, I think, and also manages with his father to communicate that perhaps he is spending too much time on his book, and not enough time with his wife. So that it has a happy ending for her. But I just thought it was very interesting. It’s not certainly the focus of the story, but I thought it would be a challenge for me.
Question: So she feels that something is missing from her life?
Answer: She does.
Question: Could you relate to that aspect of the character?
Answer: Yeah, I think so. I mean, it’s rare when you have everything going perfectly all at the same time, you know, and I think she’s caught up in her work and spending more and more time at work and they are just going in separate directions and he, Stanley, my husband, is quite unaware of how things are, except that she is going to bed earlier and earlier. I just thought it was interesting. There are just a few clues in the script and I thought I could just piece something together.
Question: There’s something that the director, Gary, has said that you were when you first talked to him, you were interested in hearing about how the whole digital thing was.
Question: Why are you so interested in that?
Answer: Well, it was one of the reasons I wanted to do the movie was to see what a digital film would be like since it’s the way of the future, and I found the freedom of it and the fluidity of it was wonderful, although I also found the times that I was wishing for this particular script that we could make a movie that was not more conventionally shot to look at, but just had more money, frankly. You know, I thought it deserved a bigger budget than the $20,000.00 or whatever it was that we did it on. I love working quickly. I don’t like to do thousands of takes, and I don’t want to do thousands of set ups. I think there might be a perfect set up to capture a – you know, some times you can, it starts with a master and ends with a close-up, whatever it is, I just like that way of shooting, which is often a low budget way of shooting. I was a little concerned about lighting, or lack of lighting because I knew that Eve had to look rather attractive to merit his, you know, falling in love with her or whatever, or his obsession, and I still had concerns because there were many scenes where one was not lit, and also you were surrounded by cameras, and as an actor, I think I would feel like in a scene was one perfect place to be looking at it, to hear the story get told. Maybe it turned to theatre, I don’t know, but I always feel like there’s one more seat in the house, and when you have five cameras, but the end it felt like everyone who could hold a camera, was holding a camera. It’s hard to edit and, again, I think some times these are friendly shots, and you don’t figure out where the perfect place to be in the room is, so. But I thought it was very interesting, and I certainly feel that if the quality of the image can improve, that it’s the way to go.
Question: Do you feel that Tadpole, despite its digital imagery, an interesting reflection of New York?
Answer: I think it’s kind of a postcard to New York. I think Gary, our director, loved the city and grew up in the city, and it was a real treat for me, you know, we worked downtown. We worked on the west side. We worked in the subway. We worked in Grand Central. I mean I thought it was just a love letter to the city in a lot of ways. And also, kids in the city are quite sophisticated.
Question: Have you ever been the object of — someone obsessed with yourself?
Answer: I certainly hope so, but- [Laughing]
Question: Yeah, yeah.
Answer: Well, I, um, I don’t think my husband was ever obsessed with me, but he certainly loved me. I’m not sure if obsession is a good thing. I remember having a crush when I was 15 with a camp counsellor. I mean hopefully it wasn’t too obvious but it was a very powerful thing. I never acted on it but I remember it very well and I feel lucky that I actually had a crush on someone who wasn’t going to do anything about it, you know. Because I realize now how vulnerable I must have been.
Question: Has your 12-year old daughter ever said to you, I’m”in love?
Answer: Well, now they have this disconcerting habit of, you know, everyone is hot. Oh, he’s so hot. He’s hot. You know, and it’s like, why can’t you just say cute or something. And now the way they dress; it’s a great age. It’s so funny. They really think they know everything and some times, I think she does know more than I do about most things. Um, in the sense that she is very intuitive about stuff, but I haven’t hit that where she – there’s actually someone real involved.
Question: Do you ever think that – what do you do cool to her? I mean cool mom because you get to be in a movie?
Answer: Well, she – she is a princess. She has a small part doing about September 11, called “The Guys.” She’s very good. And Jim, my husband, is directing and he said, do you want a line, you know, we were improvising and she said no. And I thought that was very cool of her. We had to take her out of camp for two days because we have to do a re-shoot that involves her, and she said I really don’t want to leave camp. Everyone’s going to know that you’re my mother. And I said, oh, I said, well, I don’t know what to say. I guess that’s a bad thing. She said no, it’s not. It’s just that I’d rather everybody didn’t know. And, so, I think that probably the younger people, what they’re doing is more cool than what I’m doing, even though we’re doing the same thing.
Question: Now, how is it going from Tadpole to a movie about September 11?
Answer: I would say that September 11 was a test movie to do and we already shot it and there was a problem with the back focus of this one panavision, so we had to re-shoot. I would say the most disturbing parts of it. And that’s hard. It’s sort of a spoken memorial before these guys and that was really important to us, and now I’m not sure we can do that.
Question: You’ve been here in New York for a long time, this is where you are from.
Answer: Yes. I am more of a New Yorker than ever and just actually, sometimes I fantasize about living somewhere else, where it’s maybe not quite so crowded or stressful, blah, blah, blah and after September 11th, I guess I could just not imagine living anywhere else.
Question: What makes you more of a New Yorker now?
Answer: I just feel that getting out there physically and protecting New York, putting my arms around everyone and protecting them, I just think it… to see this happen to our city and our community.
Question: Were you here when this happened?
Answer: I was here, I was midtown. I guess I feel very possessive about New York and I’m still wheeling frankly, from what happened. I’m sure we all are.
Question: What about your daughter? Was it something like, “Can we get out of here now mom?”
Answer: No I don’t think so. She certainly didn’t like us to watch too much of it on the news. So we tried to watch it kind of secretly. I think a lot of parents were doing that anyway. And she certainly wanted to move past it. But she’ll bring it up every now and then. My husband is from Hawaii and his father who was also born in Hawaii was a teenager when Pearl Harbor happened, right before church and he ran up and got on the roof of his grandfather’s house and watched the planes go over and Jim was saying yesterday that it changed his father’s life forever and I think it is going to probably change my daughter’s life forever. And the older generation’s children.
Question: We all went through it, but you are in the entertainment industry right but I mean, does it change your attitude about what kind of movies you want, what kind of work you want to do or is it a see change or is it like, “Okay, now life is back to normal. “
Answer: It certainly wants to make me want to work less. Like I said, I don’t want to leave New York and leave my family. I don’t like the distance. I just did a movie in California and it’s kind of excruciating to be away from them so I think there is that sense. If anything happens, I would be here with them.
Question: You have gone from big Hollywood from what you have done in a substantial part of your career, a lot more in character driven pieces. Is that simply a direction for you?
Answer: Well I think it is two things. One, I think I have always tried to do the smaller films. I like to jump around and there is something really nice for acting in a smaller film. So I have always tried to do the smaller films. But I think now, I think Hollywood’s movies certainly involve a younger generation for the most part and so I think… like I have just done a big Hollywood movie, Holes for Disney. So I love going back and forth.
Question: Is Ripley ever going to rear her ugly head? Does that come out in your interviews.
Answer: I have people coming up to me on the street talking to me about when is the next one, I’ve actually spoken to Ridley Scott a number of times. He would like to do five and I have to say that because it six months away from home, I have very mixed feelings about it. I don’t know. Maybe that will change.
Question: So you’re not ruling it out?
Answer: You know if I can physically perform her task, or have a very good stuntwoman, I love what happened to Ripley. I love playing an alien.
Question: What do you think about, sort of the last couple of years the most interesting development has been the rise of the female as the action hero. There are just tons of movies more and more now, Wonder Woman and all these things. Do you sort of take any pride in being a sort of a trailblazer in a scene that allows young females to kick butt?
Answer: I am all for it, especially for my daughter’s generation. I have to say I have been a little disappointed because I don’t think they give them a lot to work with and I feel very luck in Alien that I had, I feel like I had a lot to work with, with the character and I feel Laura Croft and stuff. I feel she’s terrific, but it’s not about anything. And I was very disappointed for her. You get a great actress like that, give her something to play, just never get hurt. So I was a little frustrated. You’ve got to dig in and you’ve got to be about something more than good versus evil.
Question: Are you playing the warden in Holes?
Answer: I am.
Question: Are you playing a villain? She’s awful.
Answer: Awful. Louis the writer, Louis and I have quite a bit of sympathy for the warden because in fact, she’s also cursed because she’s had to dig as a child, she’s had to dig her whole life for this treasure so her life has never started. So I can really feel how misunderstood she is but she does do some evil things.
Question: Not playing evil right?
Answer: I find it hard. By the time I got to a scene where I have to really express that the boys are expendable, it was very hard for me. Now that I am a mother, it was so hard for me. I did, maybe it’s cheating. Maybe you’re better to play a villain just straight out but I kept looking for things in the character that had happened because of the life that she went through. Not to excuse her, but just to help me understand how she got to here from there, you know.
Question: What of your work has your daughter seen?
Answer: What has she seen? Of mine?
Answer: Not a lot. She certainly hasn’t seen the Alien movies.
Answer: She’s not good with the scary stuff. So she has seen Heartbreakers. She’s seen Galaxy Quest. She’s seen Ghostbusters, 1. Tried to get her to watch Girls, she was not that interested. She’s too young. That’s about it. I think I’ve gone through them.