Nationality: American. Born: Susan Alexander Weaver in New York, 8 October 1949; daughter of the former president of NBC Sylvester "Pat" Weaver. Education: Attended Stanford University, B.A.; Yale University School of Drama, M.F.A. Family: Married the theater director Jim Simpson, 1984, one daughter: Charlotte. Career: 1974—stage debut on Broadway in The Constant Wife ; continues as stage performer; 1976—featured film debut in Madman ; 1977—walk-on part in Annie Hall . Awards: Academy of Science Fiction, Horror, and Fantasy Films Saturn Award, for Aliens , 1987; Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Motion Picture-Drama, for Gorillas in the Mist , 1988; Golden Globe for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture, for Working Girl , 1988; British Academy Award (BAFTA) for Best Performance by an Actress in a Supporting Role, for The Ice Storm , 1998; Hasting Pudding Theatricals Woman of the Year, 1998. Agent: Sam Cohn, ICM, 40 West 57th Street, New York, NY 10019, U.S.A.
Annie Hall (Woody Allen) (as Alvy's date outside theater)
Alien (Ridley Scott) (as Ripley)
Eyewitness ( The Janitor ) (Yates) (as Tony Sokolow)
The Year of Living Dangerously (Weir) (as Jill Bryant)
Deal of the Century (Friedkin) (as Mrs. De Voto)
Ghostbusters (Reitman) (as Dana Barrett/The Gate Keeper)
Une Femme ou deux ( One Woman or Two ) (Vigne) (as Jessica Fitzgerald)
Aliens (Cameron) (as Ripley); Half Moon Street (Swaim) (as Lauren Slaughter)
Working Girl (Mike Nichols) (as Katharine Parker); Gorillas in the Mist (Apted) (as Dian Fossey)
Ghostbusters II (Reitman) (as Dana Barrett); Helmut Newton: Frames from the Edge (doc)
Alien 3 (Fincher) (as Ripley, + co-pr); 1492: The Conquest of Paradise (Ridley Scott) (as Queen Isabella)
Dave (Reitman) (as Ellen Mitchell)
Death and the Maiden (Polanski) (as Paulina Escobar)
Jeffrey (Ashley) (as Debra Moorhouse); Copycat (Amiel) (as Helen Hudson)
Snow White in the Black Forest (Michael Cohn) (as Claudia Hoffman)
Alien Resurrection (as Ellen Ripley [Number 8/Number 7], co-pr)
Get Bruce (Kuehn) (as herself); A Map of the World (Elliott) (as Alice Goodwin); Company Man (Askin and McGrath) (as Daisy Quimp); Galaxy Quest (Parisot) (as Gwen DeMarco/Lt. Tawny Madison)
Company Man (Askin and McGrath) (as Daisy Quimp)
Interview in Photoplay (London), December 1979.
Interview in Films and Filming (London), November 1981.
Interview in Première (Paris), November 1985.
Interview with M. Pally, in Film Comment (New York), November/December 1986.
Interview in Time Out (London), 4 January 1989.
"You've Heard of Watergate—This Is Surrogate" (telephone conversation with actor Kevin Kline), in Interview (NewYork), May 1993.
"Ripley's Game," an interview with S. Rebello, in Movieline (Escondido), September 1997.
Maguffee, T. D., Sigourney Weaver , New York, 1989.
Sellers, Robert, Sigourney Weaver , London, 1992.
Levine, R. M., "Is This Face Funny?," in American Film (Washington, D.C.), October 1983.
Films in Review (New York), December 1985.
Kennedy, Harlan, "Weaver, the Woman," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1986.
Current Biography 1989 , New York, 1989.
Murphy, Kathleen, "The Last Temptation of Sigourney Weaver," in Film Comment (New York), July/August 1992.
James, C., "As the Academy Hails Women, Women Talk Back," in New York Times, 28 March 1993.
Lee, C., "Starstyle," in Movieline (Escondido), September 1995.
Jones, A., "Reconstructing Ripley," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 27, no. 9, 1996.
Jones, A., "Sigourney Weaver," in Cinefantastique (Forest Park), vol. 29, no. 3, 1997.
* * *
Sigourney Weaver has become a feminist icon in the eighties and nineties largely because of the coherence of her determined and tremendously self-reliant screen persona. Although she was memorably paired with Mel Gibson in a sultry turn in The Year of Living Dangerously , and has been variously partnered on the screen with Bill Murray, Michael Caine, Bryan Brown, and Charles Dance, Weaver has retained an air of independence about her in even her romantic roles. She is most usually seen on her own, struggling against tremendous threats to her own life and to those under her protection (often animals or small children). Strikingly, however, Weaver has resisted being typecast as watchful mothers or as heroic career women; indeed, she has had a screen career of remarkable variety.
Weaver's strong screen persona owes much to her striking physical appearance. Her great height and striking beauty, coupled with her forceful jawline, have lent her a tremendously regal air. This air is itself perhaps intensified by Weaver's background. Like the earlier Hollywood star she most evokes, Katharine Hepburn, Weaver enjoyed an especially patrician upbringing: the daughter of former NBC president Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, she attended Stanford for her undergraduate degree and the Yale Drama School for her M.F.A. Weaver's air of hauteur has often led her to be cast in somewhat aristocratic parts, including those of an American First Lady in Dave and of Queen Isabella in 1492: The Conquest of Paradise. The latter role was practically a cameo; yet so entertaining were Weaver's subtly arch and bemused reactions to Gérard Depardieu's wranglings for patronage that she almost took one's mind off the endless torchlight processions and overwrought debates over navigation in the film's opening half.
Yet the greatest asset to Weaver's persona has been her sheer physicality on the screen. Almost alone among actresses in the last 25 years, Weaver has enjoyed a partial career as an eminently bankable action-adventure hero. In Ridley Scott's Alien , Weaver's Second Officer Ripley, her first sizable role in a major film, seized control not only of the space frigate Nostromo but also of the audience's attention by sheer dint of her physical authority. As the film progresses, the director effectively counterpoints Weaver's levelheadedness with Veronica Cartwright's mounting hysteria, and her humane compassion with Ian Holm's lethal coldness. As a role, Ripley in the first Alien film might seem to be on paper scarcely more interesting than a stalked teenager in a run-of-the-mill horror film; yet Weaver so effectively allowed her audience to empathize with her that the role made her a star. She stood alone among other action stars of the decade, such as Schwarzenegger, Stallone, and Willis, not only because of her gender but also because of her disciplined training and emotional range. Weaver could not only seem effective discharging a flamethrower or uttering wry wisecracks but could also memorably evoke pathos, loneliness, and empathy. James Cameron capitalized on this to tremendous effect in Aliens , the second film in the series, by emphasizing Weaver's more maternal aspects, giving her a young child to protect as well as an evil counterpart in the queen alien. Who would have thought that the Space Parasites would become series figures like Charlie Chan or Boston Blackie, albeit to diminishing box office returns in the nineties?
Aside from Ripley and Dr. Helen Hudson in Copycat , Weaver has not been cast to date in any other true action roles—due in large part, one suspects, to the misogynistic unwillingness of producers and studio executives to recognize her bankability as an adventure heroine. Yet many of her best screen moments have allowed her to display her physical talents. Weaver is never better on the screen than when she is in motion: shoving a car off a cliff in Death and the Maiden or roughhousing with one of the title animals in Gorillas in the Mist , she is nothing less than magnetic. One of her most remarkable moments in her screen career occurs in the precredits chase sequence to the otherwise negligible Ghostbusters II. Weaver watches in horror as poltergeists send her infant son's carriage madly careering through busy Manhattan traffic and frantically chases after it. Her almost palpable sense of desperation as she races between cars—and then of relief when she at last clasps her child safe against her body—are so powerfully evoked as to overshadow the rest of the film.
Weaver began her stage career out of drama school in the seventies performing in the frenzied comedies of her friend and Yale ex-classmate Christopher Durang. Although the eighties and nineties have not been the most fortuitous period in film history for women's comic roles, Weaver has made the most of those that have come her way. The best of these was in Working Girl , where Weaver took her trademark authority and determination to maniacal extremes for hilarious effect. Whether barking orders at Melanie Griffith or schussing down ski slopes with berserk self-confidence, Weaver so thoroughly dominates the film that it seems almost incredible today that Working Girl could have made Melanie Griffith a star.
In recent years, Weaver has worked to extend her range by accepting some roles ( Death and The Maiden, G orillas in the Mist) that have accentuated her histrionic vulnerabilities rather than her strengths. Unlike Glenn Close or Jessica Lange, she doesn't wear hysteria well. Bravely tackling other uncharacteristic roles, she shows astonishing range. In the otherwise unremarkable serial killer round-robin, Copycat , Weaver acts rings around her monotonous co-star and hammy antagonists by portraying her character's agoraphobia as an act of aggression against herself. Besieged by a manipulative sociopath, Weaver's psychiatrist deteriorates before our eyes as the maniac makes her rue the day she ever dabbled in profiling. Even more remarkable is her star turn in the Cable TV film, Snow White , in which she abandons herself to this Freudian fairy tale's rueful implications while somehow drawing inadvertent sympathy for a monstrous stepmother.
Unlike her contemporaries, she doesn't often settle for leading lady status opposite a male box office titan. Unjustly overlooked for a supporting actress nomination for The Ice Storm, Weaver's suburban matron seems to be breaking apart from psychological brittleness. Wearing her trendy outfits as if they were strait-jackets, she interprets this role of a tightly wound 1970s swinger by exposing her character's lacquered self-loathing. Just as revelatory is her bravura performance in A Map of the World, in which she refuses to gloss over her recalcitrant character's self-destructive folly during travails that would have forced Job to throw in the towel. Unlike other actresses who wink at us to suggest they're only playing at being wicked, Weaver unapologetically flings her work in your face.
Making the most of the skimpy opportunities offered women her age, Weaver should seek another action role that could shore up her box office now that the munching Aliens have lost their bite. (Of course, the pitfalls of becoming a female action star have been demonstrated by Meryl " The River Wild" Streep and Geena " Cutthroat Island" Davis.) Unlike them, she has already proven her prowess in a male-dominated field.
She also has the razor-sharp timing of the screwball goddesses of yesteryear, but comedies that aren't built around Julia Roberts are in short supply. Resourcefully, she poked fun at her own cosmic past by kicking up her gravity boots in Galaxy Quest, a spoof about sci-fi TV stars thrust into an actual galactic fracas. In a tiny role in Jeffrey , her perspicacious acting satirizes modern-day priestesses like Marianne Williams. Simultaneously droll and frightening, Weaver encapsulates the smug self-infatuation of self-help gurus preying on the gullible. It's a tour de force that confirms her readiness for a dazzling, sizeable comic role. As some stars age, we dread the choices forced upon them by exigent box office; with Weaver, we look forward to her continued courage under fire in a selection of genres.
—Jay Dickson, updated by Robert J. Pardi