Sigourney Weaver has created a host of memorable characters in films, both dramatic and comic, ranging from the iconic Ripley in Ridley Scott’s Alien to Dian Fossey in Michael Apted’s Gorillas in the Mist to Dr. Grace Augustine in James Cameron’s 3D sci-fi epic, Avatar. Over the years, the Academy Award-nominated and Golden Globe-winning actress has captivated audiences and won acclaim as one of the most esteemed actresses on both stage and screen.
MoviesOnline sat down with Sigourney to talk about her new movie, You Again, directed by Andy Fickman, about what happens when your high school nemesis comes back to haunt you. She told us how she survived an all-girls boarding school, how her high school experiences inspired her performance, and what it was like working on the film’s awesome Samba dance sequence and playing opposite such a terrific female cast that included Jamie Lee Curtis, Odette Yustman, Kristen Bell and Betty White.
Sigourney also updated us on her upcoming projects including Vamps, The Cold Light of Day, Ghostbusters III, the Alien sequel, and Happy Holidays Catherine Sloane with Kate Beckinsale.
Q: This is great. We actually get to see you doing some very physical slapstick comedy again that we haven’t seen since Heartbreakers with Gene Hackman.
Sigourney: Oh well thank you. I haven’t seen the movie yet so I’m glad that all that crazy stuff is still in it. That’s awesome. It was a delicious character. Fun.
Q: Did you have a nemesis from high school or somebody you hated or hated you?
Sigourney: I was at an all-girls boarding school so there were a lot of us who were really awkward. I was tall when I was eleven so I was really awkward and self-conscious. No one would have really wanted to be mean to me, I was too unimportant. I still am in touch with several friends from high school. I don’t go to a lot of reunions much. I’m afraid if I go back to the school, they’ll suddenly go, “You know what? We’ve checked the records and you still have one more French class, get back in here.”
Q: Do you think the premise of this movie, that the things that happen to you in high school affect you later in your life, means that it doesn’t matter how old you are?
Sigourney: I think without question. I mean, I think that’s so true for men and women that we’re still trying to recover from whatever happened in high school whether it was good or bad. It’s either a great base or it’s still something we’re trying to overcome. I actually think that the reason I am interested in certain parts is because I was such a dweeb in high school. When you are such a loser, it is actually helpful. It’s a helpful way into a lot of characters because even very powerful people are not all that powerful really. They all had a high school. I think that kind of vulnerability is completely permanent and, as an actor, I think it’s a good thing.
Q: Did you have to prepare anything for that dance scene? You looked great.
Sigourney: Well you’re so sweet. I actually rehearsed with Kyle (Bornheimer) a lot because we had that duet and neither of us knew anything about the Samba and we really worked hard on it and I hope that some of it is still in [the film] because we had so much fun doing it. That was a whole awesome sequence, only in an Andy Fickman movie would you get that. We had to stand like A Chorus Line for two hours. I had to stand like Cassie. All of these things. He loves the theater and he loves musicals so he’s really a showman. We tried to up our game for him.
Q: How long were you and Jamie in the pool?
Sigourney: It actually went pretty quickly because we shot it at the very end. It was such a delight to work with her. She’s such an amazing woman and it was really fun to hate her because I really love her.
Q: Did you know each other before?
Sigourney: We’ve only met and we’ve worked with a lot of the same people and a lot of the same genres but it’s rare. It took a movie like You Again to put both of us in the same movie because we wouldn’t normally. It would be one or the other.
Q: Did you share Dan Aykroyd stories? I watched Ghost Busters this weekend by the way. You look so fabulous in that orange dress.
Sigourney: Oh thank you. Now what did she do with Danny?
Q: Trading Places.
Sigourney: Oh of course. Well you see I’d forgot about that one. So, now we will trade some Danny stories.
Q: Do you think this story could exist if it was men?
Sigourney: Yeah, I do but I think it’s especially fun for women because …sorry men, but I think boys are a little more oblivious in high school. Girls are just more sensitive. We’re so concerned about how we look and how we’re doing and I think boys, at least in my daughter’s school, what I felt was boys were like they’d find their niche and then they’d kind of go along. Whereas girls you’re trying to move niches, trying to attract boys, boys who are oblivious, and so all of our nerve endings are much more on high. So, these things that happen to us in high school I think are — like a girl who’s not as well developed or whatever it is. No one is normal. No one feels normal, girls or boys but I think it’s particularly hard for girls and I shouldn’t say that. Maybe, you’re looking at me like that’s not true…but I just think that it’s more complicated for girls. We’re trying to attract boys and I don’t know. I watched Freaks and Geeks, and I think it’s one of the greatest things I’ve ever seen.
Q: Have you ever heard of any diet like that ‘eating in the dark’ diet?
Sigourney: Isn’t that a ridiculous line. Probably somebody will create something like that now. No. The idea of covering your eyes, then you’d just smell it more I think and that would not help you. I think you have to…the ‘get up from the table’ is the one I’m on.
Q: Your character has a really great wardrobe.
Sigourney: She does. Now, see I had to fight for that.
Q: What was your favorite thing that you got to wear?
Sigourney: I think the scarves were fun. She wants to look so breezy. She’s not. She’s like (makes noise) but she wants to look ah ha ha with the jewelry and all the accessories. I am a person who goes out with a purse. I put things in my coat pocket. So, I don’t have any accessories and she’s just nothing but accessories and I loved having all of that stuff.
Q: Did you like the David Meister dress that you and Jamie both wore?
Sigourney: I loved that dress. That was cool. I loved that.
Q: Did they make several copies because you had to get it wet?
Sigourney: I don’t know if they did. I think we just did one take really or then we jumped in. I don’t think we had other dresses but maybe we did for our stunt doubles, but pretty much we just kind of jumped in again. Our fall in was so awful and it’s good that he just went from wet when we did it again.
Q: Did you have a crazy high school experience that inspired your performance?
Sigourney: You know what happened to men in high school? It’s not crazy but it was funny because I was so tall in the theater, such as it was. I played all the men’s parts and I would also write the shows. So, in one show I remembered I played …who’s that guy who’s a big silent film star? Rudolph Valentino. So, I played big sheik, very sexy and then I came in on a motorcycle and I did a whole Elvis thing and I was chased by a girl and I kept saying, “I’m a girl. I’m a girl. Look, look I’m a girl” and it was just funny because we had no boys to be in class with or anything, just sort of a story about how obsessed girls can get and things. Anyway I had to shake her and say, “It’s just me. It’s Weaver” and she went “Oh, you’re right.”
Q: There’s a line in this story about integrity and self-sacrifice. Why do you think those things are so important?
Sigourney: Well I think that’s what gives the movie its very sincere base. Ultimately, for us to carry on, we have to take a cold hard look at where are we. What lies do we tell ourselves about who we are, what we were, and where we’re going? I think every person in the story instead of trying to come over in a certain way, which certainly Ramona tries to do, needs to just try to take the blindfold off and really look at yourself and say, “Are you who you want to be and is this true? Is this real?” and I think one of the things that was cool about the way that we shot the movie was that by the end, Jamie Lee’s character and mine, we realized what we really missed and what we’ve really given up was the friendship we had and we get to reinvent that as women and it’s very meaningful to us.
Q: With these dance skills, would you consider going on Dancing With The Stars?
Sigourney: No. I’d go to Vegas before I’d do that.
Q: You’ve got a really great high school crush giggly scene with Patrick Duffy. Is there anybody that to this day after all of these years would still make your heart go pit pat and giggle like that?
Sigourney: Steve McQueen but he’s not around. I did have a dream about him the other day though. He looked good.
Q: Can you tell us about the younger actresses? Did you and Jamie take Kristen and Odette under your wings and show them the ropes?
Sigourney: Well I don’t think we needed to show those girls anything. Kristen is such a consummate performer. She’s got incredible timing. I think she’s just one of our great young stars. She’s such a terrific person to act with. She and Odette worked so beautifully together, and Kristen just went out of her way to make Odette feel completely at home. It was an amazing ensemble, to work with Betty White too. Betty used to sit in the chair next to me with her little feet dangling off the end. She used to say, “Can you hurry please because I don’t want to be late for the call” and she was 87 and I just thought wow. I just had so much respect for her professionalism and her joy in life and her generosity and her chops are serious. She’s amazing.
Q: What do you think of the resurgence she’s having now?
Sigourney: I think it started probably with The Proposal but I think she’s just been Betty this whole time and we’ve finally woken up to how precious she is. She’s an American treasure. She represents decades of the business, from when my father was working in live television. She hasn’t missed a step and she’s a great icon to me.
Q: Did she work with him?
Sigourney: I don’t know. We talked briefly about how she was so busy during those times. I don’t know that she had time to do one of the dramas or anything. She was pretty steadily in comedy, but I know he knew of her and I’m sure there was some mutual admiration.
Q: It looks like this film was a lot of fun in so many ways. Is there a scene that was really difficult for you, and if so, why?
Sigourney: No. What was fun was Andy’s [approach]. He really encouraged us to go for it and to improvise and I had great fun with Ramona being awful, just awful enough and being pleased with herself and also I got to work with Victor Garber again. Victor and I, our first jobs on camera for PBS were The Best of Families which was produced by Ethel Winant, who was an amazing producer. There are a lot of people who have since become quite well known. But Victor and I hadn’t worked together since then and we just glommed onto each other because we’re both New York actors and everything. I miss him. I miss him today.
Q: What are you working on next? IMDB lists a bunch of different projects. Which ones are real and which ones are actually happening?
Sigourney: I’m afraid most of them are real. I don’t know. It’s like a revolving door. What’s next is, I do Vamps with Amy Heckerling where I play this awful wonderful vampire in a comedy, and then I’m going to do this action film over in Spain called The Cold Light of Day, and then I’m going to, I hope, do this comedy with Kate Beckinsale, [which has a] wonderful part for me. It’s called Happy Holidays, Catherine Sloan.
Q: How about an Avatar sequel?
Sigourney: Well I can’t…I’m not at liberty to talk about it but anything can happen. Anything can happen in science fiction. Ghost Busters apparently is happening.
Q: Ghost Busters III?
Sigourney: Yeah. Ghost Busters III. I got a call from Ivan (Reitman) and they’re working on the script. If it’s not a great script, we’re not going to do it but we hope it will be a great script.
Q: Are you doing Abduction also?
Sigourney: I did Abduction so that’ll come out.
Q: How was Taylor Lautner?
Sigourney: He was awesome. He was great. I think he’s doing a wonderful job.
Q: When you take a role, do you get into a different frame of mind when it’s a big budget film compared to a small comedy or drama or is it all the same?
Sigourney: It’s not the same but I think every film teaches you how to do it. It’s like Top Chef. It puts certain ingredients bubbling inside of you that are unique to that film but you still cook them and that’s the same, but the ingredients are always unique
Q: How about an Alien prequel?
Sigourney: Well actually when I talked to Ridley a while ago I said — and he probably had this idea too — but I said, “You’ve got to go back to where that space jockey came from.” To go there is really the movie. So, I’m glad he’s doing it.
Q: Would you do the time travel thing?
Sigourney: No, I don’t think so. I think my Alien days are over. My Avatar days are beginning.
Q: What do you look for now when you’re looking for roles at this stage of your career?
Sigourney: My daughter is now at college so I have more time. So, I have to say that I love going from a drama to a comedy back to another comedy. I love mixing it up genre-wise and I love coming in even for a small part. It’s very interesting for me. I think small parts are harder than the leading parts. You’ve got to really dial it in and it also gives me a chance because I’m part of a theater in New York called The Flea where we have a lot of young actors come through and they are awesome and they’re equals with us. We don’t say, “Oh we’re training you now.” So, we’re all part of the same company and what I find is that I had so many wonderful mentors when I came into the business. People like Hume Cronyn, Jessica Tandy and I feel like we older actors now are in that position of handing that baton over and it’s a worthwhile thing. I think mentoring as you get older is where it’s at. Not that Taylor Lautner needed me to mentor him. All I’m saying is your presence on the set sends the message that acting as a career is a long term thing and that work is kind of progressive and you can build on a career. It’s part of the great tradition of the theater to me.
Q: So often we hear that you take a part that was written for a man and turn it into a part for yourself. Don’t they get it yet – that they should just write a part for Sigourney Weaver?
Sigourney: That’s so true but I don’t mind that. In fact, in the Spanish movie I’m doing, I’m in a man’s suit. I’m wearing what look like men’s shoes. It’s interesting. I’m going to see what happens.
Q: It’s like going back to high school.
Sigourney: Yes, exactly. There I am again. I’ll be chased in the street. Thank you very much.
You Again opens in theaters on September 24th.