Sigourney Weaver talks to Starburst magazine about surviving, dying, Hicks, Newt, Clemens, killing the Alien, birthing the Alien, and more…
Starburst: Alien 3 has just grossed $25 million in its first weekend. Is that the highest of all time for a film starring a woman?
Sigourney Weaver: I’m sure it is [smiling]. I don’t know.
SB: You got paid a reported $5.5 million for this movie. Do you see yourself as a leader for women to get good money?
SW: Well, only once and probably never again. If I did another big budget action movie, then yes, I probably would go to the wall again. But most pictures don’t have that kind of money, and I don’t want to be considered as one of those actors who wants a lot of money, because a more interesting film might not find its way to you then.
SB: So why did you do another Alien movie?
SW: Well, firstly I think we approached this one with a lot of trepidation, because the first and second ones were so successful and so well done that, in my opinion, I think that everyone was a little worried that if we did a third one it wouldn’t measure up. So everyone took a long time and tried to figure out what story we should tell and what elements we should try to duplicate.
SB: It’s taken quite a lot of time to come up with those elements. What were they?
SW: Well, I know that we decided that James Cameron had done ‘guns’ so brilliantly it would be best not to try and reprise that. I don’t think there was any moment when people said, ‘Ah, let’s just do another Alien‘. It was more like, ‘Well, let’s think about it and see if we can come up with an original idea and a wonderful director, and then let’s go ahead with it.’ It was a very slow process and that’s why it took so long.
SB: There were many changes in the script and also problems about appointing a director. Did that cause a lot of disruption?
SW: I think of it as a constructive process really. Vincent Ward came in with a very original idea, and a very arresting one as far as I and everyone else was concerned. And then for various reasons he probably didn’t want to do an Alien film. See, there’s a big Alien responsibility as well as just telling the story – and then David Fincher came in and he was very keen to do it and was obviously a brilliant young man.
SB: It seems to me that the director is the most important individual on the Alien films.
SW: Me too. I’ve always felt that the directors have always been the stars of these pictures. And until we found the right kind of genius I think everyone was a little apprehensive. It was like the project never felt set, and then we found Fincher. I think we felt we were in good hands.
SB: Did David Fincher impress you?
SW: Oh yes, he was great, I mean, the first thing out of his mouth was, ‘Shave Ripley’s head’. So we knew that this wasn’t going to be a quiet, undaring director – and he’s very funny too, which is nice to have on a difficult set. On a long cold freezing, uncomfortable movie a few laughs go a long way.
SB: So much has been made of the shaved head. How did it feel?
SW: It made me feel colder. Actually you have no idea, I mean you don’t have long hair, but it’s amazing how much your head stays warm when you’ve got hair. So I just felt colder most of the time, and other than that, I just felt lighter.
SB: Do you think it change Ripley?
SW: I think she felt more frail, perhaps because she had no hair we all sort of looked like these skeletons in a way, and I felt it brought out everyone’s vulnerability, but I don’t think it made her tougher. In fact it made it ore surreal because you could never see yourself in the mirror you always saw the character facing you.
SB: But there has been criticism about the shaven heads – that you couldn’t make out who was who, and that it might change the perception of people.
SW: I actually disagree with those people. I think it makes everybody’s face really jump out. Maybe you do have to pay more attention to the faces of the people, but I think it brings out the faces and the vulnerability of these actors very much.
SB: There are some people who see it as a symbol of being very offensive.
SW: Yeah, that’s what it’s there for. You have all these convicts on this planet and they all look even more frightening – and solely because of this hair style. In some ways it’s just an act of defiance. I also noticed, while in England, that there were a lot of people avoiding me – but I guess it wasn’t usual to see a 6 foot tall bald woman walking in the streets of London.
SB: But did you like it?
SW: I liked it in a way that I found it very liberating, and my husband was very supportive. He pretended to like it and then told me, after my hair had grown back, that he had hated it, while my daughter tried not to look at me. But non of us [in the film] had hair anyway so we all knew who was in the cast. So if you saw a bald person at Pinewood you knew it was a friend, so you could say, ‘Hello’. And the only other thing that was a problem was that it took a lot of up-keep. We had to shave it every two days, because even then two days’ growth looked shaggy – but yeah, I found it okay. You should try it.
SB: You managed to swindle yourself a co-producer’s credit on this movie. How did that come about?
SW: [Laughs] Well I think they made me a co-producer out of courtesy. They knew, as an actor, I would open my mouth a lot, so they thought, ‘Why not make it legal?’ [Smiles] I don’t ever recall asking to be co-producer, and I was very touched they [Walter Hill, Gordon Carroll, and David Giler] invited me to be on board – and it was a fascinating process, and one in which I learned a great deal. And I felt very privilege to participate in some decisions.
SB: Did you have a lot of input?
SW: I had a certain amount of input. I would call it ‘input’. Some people have called it ‘control’, and I never wanted control. I just wanted to be able to hear all the different ideas and voice my own thoughts, but it was never ‘control’.
SB: Would you co-produce the next movie?
SW: Not if I had any sense [laughs]. [Note: Weaver did in fact co-produce Alien Resurrection.]
SB: The trailer for Alien 3 has a shot of yourself and the Alien with the voice over saying ‘the bitch is back’. What did you think when you saw it?
SW: Someone else asked me this, Fox called me about the trailer, which had already been made, and I remember seeing it and saying, ‘Am I supposed to be the bitch?’ And they said, ‘No, no, it’s the Alien,’ and I think anyone who’s seen Aliens knows that the bitch is the creature.
SB: The production of Alien 3 seemed to take forever – certainly pre-production. Did that cause you any problems?
SW: Right, their plan was that I would not be in the third one and come back and save the day in the fourth. It was a very good script, but Fox very nicely wouldn’t make the film without the character of Ripley.
SB: So when Fox said this did you immediately jump at the chance to do Alien 3?
SW: What I basically said was: I love this character, and I love to do another one if you can give me something that Ripley hasn’t had the chance to do before.
SB: Was the original script what you wanted to do?
SW: Well, the first script I read was the one without me, we made half an effort to write me into it, but in the end it didn’t work.
SB: So, personally, what did you want to do?
SW: I wanted her to have a different set of circumstances, and I think the writers came through brilliantly for me in regard that firstly, in this picture she‘s the alien, she’s disliked and an outcast and oddly that’s one reason she’s not afraid of the convicts, because in some ways she’s like them, in that the system has sort of thrown her out onto the garbage heap as well – and this really appealed to me and was extremely challenging. So, selfishly, I wanted to do it once I saw what the basic storyline was.
SB: As a co-producer, did you have a lot of involvement regarding Ripley’s dialogue?
SW: I would say I had some input in this one, because I kept saying I didn’t want to go over the same territory, and again I trusted the writers. I mean a lot of people write Ripley like a pissed off gym instructor. David [Giler] and Walter [Hill] have always understood that she’s a person, while some of the writers had her swearing constantly, and actually Ripley almost never swear unless she’s really in trouble, so it’s really David’s and Walter’s credit
SB: Did you have any say about there not being any guns?
SW: I think I said no to guns, but it wasn’t up to me to dictate those kind of things, but to me it was more original to investigate what real courage is. Which is when you don’t have any weapons and you cannot even get along with each other, how do you go about fighting this common enemy?
SB: Would you say that her sexuality was a weapon in this one, considering the planet is inhabited solely by men?
SW: Absolutely, sounds good to me (laughs)
SB: Ripley seems to have more responsibilities in this film, but at the same time appears to be more feminine, how have you played her this time round?
SW: I guess I’ve tried to play Ripley just as an ordinary person that is put in extraordinary circumstances and comes through, and that enables her to take care of the people that she hates. There’s this unjudgmental quality about her. She may judge them very harshly intellectually, but she will still try to save them. That’s what makes her female and that’s what makes her a hero. It makes her a good officer.
SB: Did you get involved in the politics of making this film, considering the problems it had?
SW: Well, I would have been involved in that anyway because I was making it every day, and we had a lot of pressure understandably from the studio saying that we were spending too much money and taking too much time, so that would have affected me anyway. At least in this case I felt I could get on the phone and say, ‘We understand there’s a lot of pressure, but can we just reduce it for this week because we were under enough pressure as it is thank you.’
SB: Was it the toughest Alien to work on?
SW: No, it was the easiest in some ways, because we had a lot of laughs and it was a friendly company. I think the hardest one for me was the second one because I had to carry the little girl and the gun almost everyday , and that was just so physically draining, and the active power station which is such a lovely place to work in winter!
SB: Talking about the second one, are you pleased with the new Aliens special edition?
SW: I’m happy that the three minutes was put back in.
SB: You mean when Ripley’s told about the death of her daughter by Carter Burke?
SW: Yes, that was the scene.
SB: Do you know why it was cut?
SW: I think it was probably to do with the fact that the film was already around two-and-a-quarter hours and that was probably long enough, but I was very disappointed that that scene wasn’t in the original, because it changed everything. I based Ripley’s whole relationship with Newt due to the fact she lost her whole family and that was the price she had to pay for surviving the first one. I think Jim [Cameron] is also upset that it wasn’t in the original release.
SB: In that scene Burke shows Ripley a photo of an elderly lady that was her daughter, which I read somewhere was a photo of your own mother, is that true?
SW: Yes it is, I pulled a bit of my weight on that one!
SB: Does the production differ on this one compared to the previous Alien films?
SW: Very much so. I mean, the directors I worked with in these movies I really have to take my hat off to. I think it was Ridley Scott who showed me what could be done with the character of Ripley. Basically he let me go off and do what I wanted, but at the time I didn’t realize what a great opportunity it was at first because I was such a snob. I really didn’t want to do science-fiction, but I learnt quickly that this was an unusual and brilliant opportunity. The second one, James Cameron had written without having ever met me, and when I read the script, to me is kind of crazy of the studio, but they in fact just took it for granted that I would be in it because it was such a great role, which it was.
SB: Were you surprised by the script for Aliens?
SW: When I finally was sent the script I was very busy, and I think that I skipped over a lot of stage instructions which went on and on about the guns, and I didn’t realize that they were the stars of the film. So when I got there, there was all this amazing hardware coming out every day, and I was a member of Hand Gun Control in America, and I was just amazed that I was in this very war-like picture, and to be honest I was never comfortable with the aspect of it, and Ripley didn’t have to be a ‘gun creature’ for this part.
SB: This movie like the others was filmed mostly in England, this time with a mainly inexperienced British cast. Did you have to guide them through this picture?
SW: Well I’ve always tried to do that, because I’ve noticed all the best actors are the ones who can help the other actors perform. They will bring the best out of you, because you’re not thinking about yourself. With the character of Ripley in Aliens she was more like a mother hen in a way to all those actors because, for a lot of them, they were doing their first film. Whilst in this movie these guys were more experienced than I was, they had been in the theater, done every conceivable play, and so I was listening to them, but I think in the Alien pictures everyone sort of takes care of each other, the delineation between the cast and crew becomes muddy because we were all freezing, exhausted, dirty and bloody.
That that’s one of the things I like about the Alien films. It really feels like a collaboration . It’s like one giant crew, and you often forget that you’re in front of the camera.
SB: You don’t think the American audience will find it difficult to understand some of the accents, or was anybody dubbed?
SW: Oh no, no one was dubbed. I love the accents. I think they’re great, but saying that, there are still some people back home asking what a ‘wanker’ is.
SB: You’ve played Ripley three times now. What do you admire about her; is there anything you dislike about her and are there any similarities between you?
SW: There are certain things I don’t feel any kinship with. I think one of the reasons why she is so brave is that she doesn’t have a powerful imagination. She tries to think clearly, it’s kind of like ‘The Right Stuff’, the way they train pilots to react if something goes wrong they go to plan A and if A didn’t work let’s try B and so on. That’s what I feel about Ripley, but I’m not very Ripley-like.
I try to keep a cool head but I’m not always successful and I scream when I see a mouse, but I am trying to make an effort with my daughter when I see a creepy crawly and go, ‘Oh yes, that is a spider, let’s go pick it up and look at it’, and things like that, but that’s a real effort for me.
SB: Do you enjoy playing Ripley?
SW: It’s been a real privilege to play her because she is so different from me, and I find a very comforting presence when I play her, she’s good company and I’ll miss that.
SB: One of the most horrifying scenes in the movie is the autopsy.
SW: The little creature they had playing newt was a life-size dummy of Carrie Henn. It was very difficult for me because as soon as they pulled the sheet off her little face I just thought I was going to die. It was excruciating scene to do personally, and I think it was meant to be that excruciating to watch.
SB: But did you have to kill off Newt?
SW: You wanted her to be on this planet with rapists and child molesters? There was a desire on behalf of the filmmakers not to continue with the family ideas that Jim Cameron had started because that was so much him, and I think it was very romantic and in some ways very sentimental. But I think the producers wanted to make a very dark unsentimental film and to get back to something like the first one where no one really gets along.
I was horrified by what they were going to do with Newt. It was a very difficult scene to play, and in fact when it premiered I asked Fox to fly Carrie Henn over so we could watch it together, because I was so afraid that she would be freaked out. I’d already written to her and told her what had happened, and of course she wasn;t freaked out at all. She’s always been so cool about this stuff, but yes, I was upset by it.
SB: But it was still pretty callous of you.
SW: Yes, I know, but the variety of things that could of happened to her had she survived the crash were awful. So to me it was better to kill her off right away, and there were other options which were even more unsavoury concerning Newt. I think that Vincent [Ward], and I’m not too sure of this, had a chestburster coming out of Newt. So in terms of all things considered, for her to drown was very tame, it’s not that everyone hates children, what we were heading for was an end of the century film, where what you expect doesn’t happen and that you can’t count on anything. It is awful. I agree with you.
SB: In Aliens Ripley spent nearly all of the film saving the little girl and within the first five minutes in this one she’s drowned. It just seems to make the second one pointless.
SW: Well, I certainly can’t speak for Fincher, but I think he would say, ‘Yeah, it was pointless,’ and that’s the point of this picture and the philosophical bent of this movie.
SB: In the first movie there seems to be an attraction between Ripley and Dallas, and in Aliens with Hicks.
SW: Yeah, and they all get killed! [laughs].
SB: Two pretty good looking guys but you don’t have any physical contact, while in this picture within ten minutes of the start you’ve met a bald ex junkie and you’re in the sack together.
SW: Oh, I think Charles holds his own, while with Hicks it’s just hinted at, and if Jim [Cameron] had been directing the third one we would have continued that relationship, but it was so much his view of life that I guess we felt we couldn’t continue, and as for Ridley [Scott’s] film there was a scene in the original script where myself and Tom Skerritt had a love scene.
SB: Was that filmed?
SW: No, I don’t think so, we did it in the screen test. It’s pretty awful and very bleak. I mean people forget how bleak the first one is; it’s very bleak And the bit with me and Tom is sort of like, ‘I need some relief,’ and it’s a very heartless scene.
SB: So why do you think that after having the one thing Ripley cares about die, she immediately gets into bed with someone?
SW: Well, don’t you think they were these kind of lost souls and that she was on her own and so was he, what I liked about it, even though it was a bit far-fetched, was that it showed she was going to start over again, she really was going to try and lead a new life.
SB: As in the first one, your leading man gets killed off rather early in Alien 3.
SW: Well, killing Charles Dance is very similar to the first one when John Hurt was the obvious hero, and the same sadistic writers [laughs] really pulled the rug out from under the audience. When he was the one that everyone thought would go on to the end and that also applied to Tom Skerritt. And it’s the same case with Charles Dance, as brilliant as he is in the film, everyone expects that he will continue, and the next step would be that Ripley tells him about the Alien and gets his support, and in the end I guess the writers just didn’t want it to go that way.
SB: The sex scenes in Alien 3 really aren’t sex scenes, was that cut on purpose?
SW: This has been asked before and I’m fascinated, because we didn;t think a lot of people would want to see the two of us grunting and rolling around. I mean, when I see a sex scene with characters I respect, to me it’s not a pure love story, and I guess I want to respect the characters’ privacy. So I think what we did was cut to the chase, as it were, and in my opinion it was a very sophisticated shot. You see all of it; there has been nothing cut out. I found in America that one of the reactions was, ‘Why does Ripley sleep with a man who she hardly knows?’ while in your country it’, ‘Why didn’t we get to see you sleep with him?’ [laughs].
SB: Just prior to Alien 3 you had a child, and in the movie there’s also the strange pregnancy you have to deal with. Was there any comparisons that helped you?
SW: Well, it didn’t compare at all. It really didn’t help me because Ripley was so close to the little girl that losing her was traumatic enough without my trying to even make a parallel with myself. And the other thing really didn’t seem like a pregnancy; it felt more like a cancer.
SB: The ending is quite touching, especially as Ripley seems to embrace the Alien, as if Ripley felt that she was the mother.
SW: I love that and I’m glad you think it too. It was Fincher’s idea that it wouldn’t be a brutal ending -that it was a tender ending- because, yes, in a way it was her child and that she had been this frustrated mother. I think some of that comes from me because I wanted to be a mother for so long before I was successful. I always wanted Ripley to have a normal life and instead of getting that life she has this awful thing happen which seemed to bring a kind of intimacy with the Alien.
David [Giler], Walter [Hill] and I talked quite a bit about that. Ripley had this daughter that she had lost then then found another daughter that she also lost, and now she’s carrying this creature which I hope will be a surprise to the audience, and I never lost the irony of that.
Personally, I think that if you do a monster movie it should also be about that kind of intimacy. It should be about the guts of life – that’s where you’re threatened most of all.
SB: Of the many criticisms concerning the movie most have been about the ending being too similar to T2, and that there were several different ending shot.
SW: There were no different endings. What you see is the original ending, and what we shot recently we never got to finish. In the end we went with the ending that was in the original script, and yes it is a little bit like T2 but we didn’t feel that it was too similar to change it. There was an ending where she churned up and got back into her space vessel and went away.
SB: It was Vincent Ward’s script when Ripley would somehow vomit up the Alien embryo…
SW: Right. It was a very powerful scene but I don’t think you could actually film it, and there was something very depressing about er getting back into the space shuttle and going off into the stars again. It just seemed to me that this for better or for worse was her destiny, and she does save the world from the Alien. Theoretically she kills the last one, this is the Queen and it would have taken over the world so she does make the right choice.
SB: So this is finally the end of the line for Ripley?
SW: Well, if Walter, David, and Gordon and all those guys can come up with some amazing scenario where Ripley could be reconstituted from her finger nail clippings, I’m not saying no. It’s just that how many times can the same character wake up to the same situations again and win, and then go back to sleep and then have the same thing happen in the next movie?
SB: Would you like to see more Alien movies?
SW: I hope they will make more Alien films because I think there’s a whole new aspect of the series that really hasn’t been dealt with since the first one, which is, ‘What is it doing, what does it want from us, how does it communicate, where does it come from?’ All of these things.
SB: What is the Alien to you?
SW: To me the Alien is anything that terrifies each of us the most. It’s a very personal image that manifests itself in this Alien creature which is so indestructible. It’s whatever our own personal nightmare is.