At six feet tall, Sigourney Weaver is far from removed from traditional images of feminine perfection, epitomized by past stars like Monroe and Bardot. Even so her striking looks have been celebrated by photographers of the calibre of Helmut Newton, and paraded in fashion spreads for magazines such as Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar. She has, some would say, a host of natural assets: an intelligent, sculptured face, accentuated cheekbones, a wide forehead and a long neck. Her hair is brown and naturally curly, her eyes piercing and dark. A critic once remarked that Sigourney possessed "the looks of an untouchable princess”.

On the threshold of middle age Sigourney’s looks and figure remain wonderfully lean and trim, thanks to a strict regime of daily exercise. The pursuit of fitness is essential for her own well-being and peace of mind. “When I can’t go to the gym I feel awful.” She has always been the sporting type. Athletics, horse-riding, karate and snorkelling, which she mastered during a long vacation in the Bahamas shortly after completing her role in Alien, are just a few of the demanding activities in which she indulges. The actress also enjoys dancing (as a child she was made to attend ballroom dancing lessons), and for an evening’s entertainment prefers a trip to the theatre than a seat in the stalls of a movie house. Reading is another pleasure and she numbers Kingsley Amis’ Lucky Jim among her favourite novels. She also enjoys poetry, especially that of Robert Frost and Shakespeare.

Sigourney Weaver is one of the most popular and acclaimed actress in the world cinema, a genuine star in a firmament littered with pretenders. She has overcome what many people in the industry considered grave handicaps: her extreme height, prejudice towards her beauty and sex, and absurd preconceptions about her background and class. Yet all the while she has remained true to herself, close to her roots. She is today as she has ever been: delightfully forthcoming, surprisingly approachable and diverting (in complete contrast to her intense and serious screen image), and remarkably uncorrupted. Fame has not changed Sigourney Weaver. She remains an unlikely star in a business where inflated egos and double-dealing are the norm.

Sigourney Weaver is the daughter of Sylvester Weaver - president of the NBC in the fifties - and Elizabeth Ingles, a British actress. After the war, which saw Sylvester Weaver as a lieutenant in the Navy, they started a family with the birth of a son, Trajan, named after Sylvester´s favourite Roman Emperor. So great was Sylvester´s penchant for Roman history that he even considered calling Sigourney "Flavia". The arrival of Trajan marked the end of Elizabeth´s acting career.

Susan Alexandra Weaver (later Sigourney) first drew breath on 8 October 1949. She was born in New York, the city where she was to spend most of her childhood and many of her later years. Susan led a life what can only be described as the life of a little princess. She was a spoilt, pampered, and sheltered child who lived in a virtual bubble of guiltless bliss and unblemished contentment. The real world hardly ever got a look in. Nannies and maids tended to her every whim and TV studios were her playgrounds. In the first 10 years of Susan´s life, the Weavers resided in thirty different households. Today Sigourney remembers the various appartments in which she lived by the names of the elevator men, who were always her best friends. In a strange way, the innocent Susan equated the entertainment business with real life. To her, this perpetual merry-go-round of fun and happiness was the real world: "I was so naîve that I thought everybody´s father worked in television." In contrast to most other girls of her age Sigourney did not play with dolls and toys; she was already an avid academic and an eager bookworm. At grade school she read such diverse works as Moby Dick and Suddenly Last Summer. Reading gave her the opportunity of acting out her fantasies; in her imagination the characters from books were brought vividly to life.

She was also maturing at a rapid speed. By the time Susan reached her teens she was a tall, intelligent and cultured young woman. The last two qualities helped her excel at some of New York´s most celebrated schools. Susan first attented the Brearly Girls Academy, but her mother moved her to another prominent establishment, Chapin, because she preferred the uniforms there. Sigourney´s extreme height was initially an almighty hindrance at school. By the age of thirteen she was a lanky 5 feet 10 inches and a rather clumsy ugly duckling of a teenager. At Chapin, Sigourney became the centre of attention for all the wrong reasons and was constantly laughed at and made fun of by the other children. What often happens in such cases is that the tormented child deliberately accentuates her physical defects and accepts the role of class clown. This was certainly true in the case of Susan Weaver. It was during this period that she began to participate in school drama productions. Her very first stage role was Bottom in A Midsummer Night´s Dream. Acting was a kind of release from the personal anguish she was currently enduring, although, to a certain degree, she was already putting on a performance making her fellow school-mates laugh. She had discovered that acting, like reading, was a way to create characters and assume the identity of another person, living their experiences.

When Sigourney was thirteen, her parents left New York and moved to San Fransisco. For her San Fransisco was something of a culture shock. In New York the teenager had been well protected from the harsh realities of everyday existence. This shielded upbringing had produced a shy and anxious girl who found herself unable to mingle with people of her own age. She felt particularly lost amidst the fast-living inhabitants of an early sixties California. The class system which was seen as so important in New York just didn´t exist on the West Coast: here you were accepted on your own merits as a human being and judged on recent achievements, not past glories. Your background, your parents´ wealth and social standing accounted for very little.Susan´s stay in California was thankfully short-lived. "I wanted to go away to school. I had this romantic idea of what boarding-school would be like. Then I went away to Ethel Walker´s there and I just cried for the first year." Ethel Walker was a private school of much propriety in Sumsbury, Connecticut, and was populated by largely by girls who came from priviledged backgrounds. But the perceptive Susan was aware of a noticeable difference between herself and the average Ethel Walker pupil. Many of her new school colleagues were from extremely rich and powerful stock, whose massive fortunes were the product of old inheritances, whereas Sigourney knew that her father had made his fortune by going down to work at a television studio. "We were like gypsies compared to those New England people."

The general consensus was that the school´s new basketball star had arrived. That first year at Ethel Walker was an arduous one. By the end of term Susan´s fellow school-mates had voted her `Freshman Fink´: ´the nerdiest girl in my class´. Hardly a boost to her flimsy confidence. Despite this initial setback, she managed to win a reputation for herself among the teachers as a top-class student, hard working and well mannered. Sigourney´s height, however, was yet again causing problems and personal heartache. She was forced to return to her role of class clown in order to win acceptance, perhaps even sympathy, and to shield off attack. "I was very uncoordinated. A laughing stock." She had also grown to despise her own name. Sick and tired of being called Sue or Suzie, names which were far too plain and better suited to little girls, whe deperately wanted to find a replacement, something a bit more grandiose, a name befitting her personality. One night, while reading F. Scott Fitzgerald´s The Great Gatsby, Susan found the perfect name. During a plush party scene, a flirting Jordan Baker asks Nick Carraway to contact her later under her aunt´s name, Mrs Sigourney Howard. The name is mentioned only once and the aunt never actually appears, yet the impassioned reader was captivated by the sound and mystery that the word evoked. "To my ear Sigourney was a stage name, long and curvy."

The very next day Susan rounded up her best friends and announced that henceforth she was to be referred to as Sigourney. When her parents found out about the name change they were fairly upset and shocked; it had all happened so quickly and without warning. In the end they were most reasonable and respected their daughter´s wishes, although Sylvester stressed the fact that in his opinion Sigourney was more of a man´s name, and for a while both he and Elizabeth insisted on calling their daughter "S", just in case she changed her name again. Sigourney was named after her mother´s best friend in England, Susan Pretzlik, an explorer of some note and repute. Once, at a reflective moment, the actress confessed that if she had met Pretzlik before switching over to Sigourney she probably would have kept her original name. "I think I´m very definitely a Suzie", she later admitted to Interview magazine in July 1988. "I wonder how perverse it would be if I had a daughter and named her Susan." On the threshold of her departure from Ethel Walker Sigourney Weaver had little idea what the future would bring or what her role in life was to be. Like so many dreamers before her, the only thing Sigourney was really sure about was that she wanted to experience everything the world had to offer. Her ambitions were honourable, if perhaps a little too varied and wild. Sigourney used to change her career options like some people change their socks. She wanted to be a marine biologist, a doctor, a lawyer; she wanted to work with animals like Jane Goodall, who had successfully studied wild chimpanzees in Tanzania.

Sigourney´s teachers were at a loss as to how to make their student commit herself to one single, specific subject. In the end they pushed Sigourney towards a more concentrated study of English literature in the hope that her unique gift for bringing stories and fictional characters to life could be channelled into a teaching career. This was a wise move and, most importantly of all, Sigourney also appeared to like the idea. At the age of sixteen, Sigourney won her first real theatre job working with a summer stock troupe in Southbury, Connecticut. Over the course of that summer Sigourney was cast in two productions at the Red Barn Playhouse. She played all the extra women, flower-vendors and the like in A Streetcar Named Desire, and was cast as Alice in You Can´t Take It With You. Alice was one of the play´s main characters; it was a great role, a real challenge, and Sigourney couldn´t wait to get to grips with the text. But there were problems. The producer had cast his boyfriend opposite Sigourney and then callously fired her because his lover was about half the actress´s height. Sigourney was extremely hurt and offended by this incident. Almost immediately she was on the phone to her mother, pouring out her woes. Expecting to hear a sypathetic voice on the other end of the line, Sigourney instead received some carefully judged words of advice. "Well, welcome to the business", said Elizabeth. "Your heart will be broken a hundred times."

Despite the fact that Stanford didn’t possess a very good drama department in the late sixties, Sigourney still managed to attend a few acting classes and join a local theatre group. In her second year the acting bug began to bite more intensely. Sigourney took part in two Shakespeare plays. She portrayed Ariel in The Tempest and Goneril in a ‘rather irreverent’ production of King Lear, which was presented in the form of a Japanese Noh play. Even this early on Sigourney was enjoying the thrill of experimenting with theatre styles and the structure and staging of plays, be they modern or classic. In her last term at the university Sigourney moved into a tree house with a male friend and began to dress like an elf. She had built her new open-air abode herself. This was no great architectural feat: the dwelling was rather crudely constructed. “It didn’t take a lot of skill.” Dismissed by many at the time as a silly fad, the tree house was a necessity. Sigourney simply couldn’t find anywhere to live and had no intention of remaining in a dorm. Her actions were not really that unusual when taken in the context the era and the community to which she belonged. Many of her friends, for instance, lived a basic and communal existence in domes and tents up the hills outside San Fransisco. But dressing up in a home-made elf costume was a touch bizarre. Sigourney and her companion wore matching outfits in a wide variety of bright colours. As they strolled gaily together across campus no one could fail to notice them. “It wasn’t as if I were this astounding eccentric. Everyone I knew was strange,” Sigourney told You magazine in November 1989. Despite Sigourney’s behaviour, Sylvester and Elizabeth were pleased with her academic progress at Stanford. She had continued to study as hard as ever in the English honours programme and still seemed hell-bent on pursuing her Ph.D. However, serious doubts about whether she had made the right decision lurked beneath her sincere ambition to achieve that Ph.D. 

Despite the fact that she had never seriously studied acting at school nor been a drama major, the theatre had always held a special place in her heart and in recent years this passion had begun to consume her. She decided to leave Stanford and apply for a place at the Yale School of Drama. Her parents were only moderately pleased when they heard the news. Both had great misgivings about seeing their daughter enter the acting profession, but were aware of Yale’s glittering reputation as a respected seat of learning. Veterans of the business, the Weavers never directly encouraged Sigourney to take to the stage. Both were familiar with the pain of failure and the distress caused by having one’s talents and ideas constantly on trial and open to critisism. The heartbreak of a rejection is a feeling an actor never quite recovers from and the Weavers were worried that their daughter was too shy and fragile even to survive the hostile world of show business, let alone to rise above it and succeed. For her audition piece at Yale Sigourney chose a speech from St Joan of the Stockyards by Bertolt Brecht. One can only imagine what the expressions and the thoughts of the adjudicators must have been when they saw the elf-like Sigourney walk through their door in corduroy trousers, with a lenth of rope acting as a belt. But that was least of her problems. The piece which she was about to perform in front of this rather stern-looking panel of teachers was woefully under-rehearsed. That Sigourney had allowed herself to arrive so poorly prepared showed either severe recklessness or supreme confidence. When the news filtered through that she had been accepted by Yale Sigourney probably registered little surprise; after all, her academic record and background spoke volumes. But she was still very lucky to have been chosen. Yale was very selective (up until 1969 only men were allowed to study there), and was among the country’s most highly rated schools in terms of academic and social prestige. But there was a slight error in her letter of admittance. It was addressed to a Mr Sigourney Weaver. This clerical slip was only the first of what was to be a long series of misunderstandings between Yale and Sigourney.

Sigourney prepared herself for the three year stay at Yale. She was excited by the prospect of attending what may have been the country’s leading drama institution, and eager to tackle the variety of challenging roles she would be called upon to play. Her dreams were to be dashed in the cruellest way. Yale was not to be the great learning experience she had hoped for, but a punishing lesson in rejection and perseverance.  Sigourney’s wonderful craziness manifested itself in some pretty off-the-wall drama work at Yale, similar in content to the kind of stuff she had been doing at Stanford. But this didn’t go down very well with her new teachers and as a result Sigourney was harshly criticized. “It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t wrong, they were.” The first two years at Yale were a testing time for Sigourney; never before in her life had she felt such genuine misery and frustration. The most immediate problem to overcome was the fact that the teachers had categorized Weaver as ‘uncastable’, mainly due to her height. Sigourney was taller than the average male student and because of a nonsensical theatrical ruling that the man should always be taller than his leading lady, she was never given the opportunity to shine in a major role. Instead of the demanding roles that Sigourney had expected to play at Yale she more often than not portrayed minor characters, such as old ladies or prostitutes, characters that carried with them few challenging or educative qualities.

At Yale, in a world of their own, the teachers simply dictated which student was to play which part. Meryl Streep, who was a year behind Sigourney, walked away with all the plum female roles. To say Sigourney was bitter is would be an understatement. In Sigourney’s case, during the whole of her three years at Yale the teachers never once selected her for a leading part. Whereas Meryl Streep was treated almost reverently by the Yale teaching staff, Sigourney was callously dealt with. Her tutors actively discouraged her from continuing as an actress. In their opinion she had no talent whatsoever and shouldn’t even be contemplating a theatrical career. By her third year Sigourney had all but given up on the drama people and had begun making regular visits to the play-writing department. The writer’s workshop was a weekly class in which drama students were invited to come along and read extracts from the student playwright’s work: a most beneficial exercise for actors and writers alike. Such lessons gave Sigourney a big advantage over students in other drama schools. Here she got used to working with budding playwrights and dealing with new plays, which for an actor starting a career is where all the work is.  At these classed Sigourney came into contact with some of the most talented and creative individuals she had ever known. Compared to her stuffy and pretentious drama colleagues these Bohemian writers were a breath of fresh air. Sigourney was thrilled to discover that these artists were also interested in experimenting, and extending the boundaries of contemporary theatre. But, most importantly, they were open to the actress and her wacky ideas. During her last tormented year at Yale the playwrights became her salvation; in their company she could relax, liberate her frustrations, and let off steam. Sigourney quickly made a number of friends in this coterie of wild artistic talent, many of whom went on to carve reputations for themselves on the New York theatre circuit - Albert Innaurato, Kate Macgregor-Stewart and Wendy Wasserstein, who was particularly struck by her acting. “You would always notice Sigourney,” she said. “Your eyes would always go to her.”

Significantly the writer who was most impressed by Sigourney Weaver was Christopher Durang. “She was the immediate star of her class,” he told Interview Magazine in July 1988. “Beautiful, sculptured face, slender body - and she seemed to be about seven feet tall. She looked like a mythological godess.” The first time Durang laid eyes on her she was wearing a costume that was comparable to her old Stanford elf garb. The sight of this tall and striking WASP wearing green pyjama pants with small dangling pompons one the side of her legs, could have put Durang off her for life. The first time they actually spoke to one another turned out to be a rather unfortunate and dark occasion. Sigourney asked him, quite innocently, whether he had any brothers and sisters. Unbeknown to her, Durang’s mother had been Rh-negative (a very rare and tragic blood disorder which causes a woman to give birth to still-born children). Durang politely answered the question. “Yes I have three, but they’re all dead.” There was complete silence, Sigourney stared at him in utter disbelief. Then she looked deeper into his eyes, realized that he was actually telling the truth, and roared with laughter. Lesser mortals, devoid of Durang’s warped sense of the bizarre, might have reacted violently, but he saw the joke and from this surprising first encounter grew a lasting friendship. Some months later Steve Zuckerman, a student director, asked Sigourney to join the cast of Darryl and Carol and Kenny and Jenny, the first play written by Durang to be performed at Yale. It was a musical comedy which concerned the wild antics of a showbiz foursome. Sigourey was Jenny, a mentally unbalanced woman. Durang was mightily impressed by the way the actress handled the role; she played every freaky scene completely straight and the comedy seemed all the more eccentric and natural as a result. Watching from the wings, Durang sensed that Sigourney had a special report with the audience. At one point in the proceedings Sigourney sang a quaint little ditty called “Better dead than sorry” while enduring shock treatment in a straight-jacket. Sigourney saw fit to make her own hat especially for the occasion. It had empty thread spools on each side, with wires protruding out of them. Each time her singing was interrupted by the deadening ‘buzz’ of the shock treatment, Sigourney would momentarily freeze, her eyes would widen, and her head would fall slightly to one side, all in death-like silence. Then she would continue with the song. It was extremely effective. The show was a great success for all concerned and Sigourney’s performance in the shock treatment scenes must have lingered in the memories of the audience far beyond that closing night. Pitched together by this hastily rehearsed production Weaver and Durang soon emerged as committed friends.

In contrast to British actors who all swarm to London to begin their careers in the myriad of fringe theatres that litter the capital, American thespians have the option of two vastly different places - Los Angeles, where the sun and the movie industry are; or New York, where the more theatre-conscious actors tend to prosper. For Sigourney the choice had been a simple one; after all, she was first and foremost a stage actress, although she was later to attain fame in the cinema. A return to New York was also a nostalgic trip back to the memories of her childhood. Unfortunately, one of the more painful aspects of her youth had reappeared to haunt her in the present. Once again Sigourney’s great height was causing her grievous personal disappointment. On one occasion a producer was unwilling to use her because she was taller than the leading man. “Look,” she said. “Why don’t I paint a pair of shoes on my feet and I’ll play the role barefoot.” The producer thought deeply about the idea. “I don’t think that would work, Sigourney,” he finally answered. She was amazed by his response, she hadn’t meant her suggestion to be taken seriously. It was a joke. “And the idiot had taken me seriously.”

The first year out of Yale was extremely tough. The big agents complained about her height and kept trying to typecast her as a high society girlfriend, the kind of superficial female who nods politely at cocktail functions, pours the drinks, and stands in a state of servility behind her centre-stage boyfriend, the kind of sickening outdated character that Sigourney would rather lose a major part of her anatomy than play.  After years of acting in arty and experimental off-Broadway plays, Sigourney suddenly found herself in the conservative world of commercial television. The transition from the stage to TV wasn’t easy, but she soon began to receive offers of work, primarly for supporting or brief guest spot roles. In common with the majority of American actors Sigourney ended up working in one or other of the never-ending legion of daily soap operas that plague US television. She appeared in the fondly forgotten Somerset, alongside the young Ted Danson, playing a woman whose ambition was to become America’s first female president.

1977 was the year of Sigourney Weaver’s feature film début. In complete contrast to the multitude of actors who have gone on to claim stardom but whose early movies were turkeys or forgotten relics, Sigourney made her début in an acknowledged masterpiece of modern cinema, Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Her audition was the archetypal actor’s nightmare. Sigourney was nervous enough (she was a great admirer of the comedian’s work), but when her performance was greeted by Allen’s customary silence, panic took over. In a state of dismay, she struggled to find her way out and stumbled into a broom cupboard by mistake. She eventually found the exit door and left in a sullen and highly embarrassed state. But she got the part, much to her surprise, although she later had to forsake it due to prior stage commitments. Luckily, Allen was still keen to use her, so he arranged for Sigourney to appear in a walk-on role close to the end of the film. She played Alvy’s date outside a theatre. So small was her contribution that Sigourney later joked, “Unless you know my raincoat you’ll miss me.”

As 1977 turned into 1978 Sigourney Weaver, now approaching thirty, has still to find that exclusive first big break, that initial springboard which every actor needs in order to launch his or her career. Her career was in the dumps. She had just opened in the off-Broadway play, The Conquering Event, and was gallantly trying to be objective about the opening night’s foul reviews, when she received a phonecall from Mary Goldberg, an independent agent who was a keen admirer of her work. Goldberg arranged for Sigourney to meet Walter Hill, David Giler and Gordon Carroll, a group of creative producers who had come to New York looking for someone to play Ripley, the female protagonist in a new and ambitious science fiction film called Alien. Sigourney had been highly recommended to them and was the first batch they wanted to see. The role of Ripley was a arduous one. She was a tough, unglamorous and uncompromising character and the person to portray her needed to be equally tough and independent. Also, as the sole survivor of a space expedition, Sigourney, if chosen for the part, would occupy more screen minutes than her experienced co-stars. Amazingly, she seemed to display blatant indifference to what was a golden opportunity, the chance of a lead role in a major Hollywood movie, a once in a lifetime offer that other actors might have killed for. But there were more weighty matters occupying Sigourney’s mind, namely her loyalty and commitment to The Hunger Project, and her concerns about ending the plight of the world’s starving millions. Nevertheless, the interview went ahead and was a success. The men asked if she would read the script overnight and return for further discussions the following morning. In near-disregard for the obvious advantages of being involved in Alien, Sigourney harboured grave reservations about the project. “I didn’t want to play this awful part in this awful movie,” she recalled to You magazine in November 1989. She had not suffered the indignities of Yale just to star in a low-grade horror flick. “I mean, to do science fiction was below even me. I didn’t know Alien was this masterpiece. I thought it was this big blob of yellow jelly running around.”

The actress was most critical of the screenplay after the initial read-through. she found the story very bleak and unappealing, and felt that the characters failed to relate to one another and were too impersonal and bloodless. When Sigourney returned the following day she made her opinions known in blunt fashion to the producers, much to the open consternation of a casting agent who was heard to mutter, “Stupid woman! Don’t you realize this is your big break?” But Sigourney knew that if Hill and the other producers were at all serious about hiring her then they would accept her criticisms and encourage her views on the character of Ripley and the script. The film’s director Ridley Scott was present at that second meeting. After talking with him at some length and studying the designs for the film and for the eponymous monsters, Sigourney began to realize that Alien was going to be a very innovative picture. Suddenly, the project was starting to engage her interest.   Everyone agreed that Sigourney was perfect for Ripley. After months of searching, the right actress had at last been found. Soon Sigourney’s entire circle of friends had heard the news that she had won the star part in a major movie. Sigourney’s mother, however, was curiously restrained when she heard the happy tidings. In the script there was a semi-romantic scene in which the no-nonsense Ripley walks into the captain’s cabin, unzips her suit and announces, “I need some relief.” Elizabeth, on reading this section of the screenplay, turned to Sigourney, took off her glasses and said, “Nude?” The thought of her own precious daughter appearing stark naked on the cinema screen in front of countless millions, shocked Elizabeth deeply. Such a thing had never happened in her day. Despite this being one of Scott’s favourite moments in Alien (they had built a special chair for the couple to make love on), the scene was scrapped, much to the relief of Sigourney who thought it ‘a ludicrous idea’. How could anyone cavort naked in a room when a murderous alien monster was amock outside?

Originally, all seven crew members of the spaceship Nostromo were male. It was Alan Ladd jr. who ordered that the roles of Ripley and Lambert be played by women. This was a wise move on his part and gave Alien a unique quality that its rivals lacked: a woman had become the hero in a genre where men usually reigned supreme. The only obvious concession to Ripley’s sexuality comes near to the end of the picture when she strips down to a T-shirt and a pair of tight briefs. Ridley Scott decided to include this sequence in order to feminize Ripley slightly and to stress her vulnerability, after some observers had claimed that she was too hard and unsympathetic. Even partially naked, Sigourney provoked an inordinate amount of fan mail, some of which was very strange indeed. She also courted some bizarre attention; men began to follow her around. Thankfully, by the early eighties such mad worship had eased off, but Sigourney was left mentally scarred. “It made me pull right back from the movies.” Sigourney Weaver received unlimited praise for her remarkable début movie performance. Newsweek hailed her as the new golden girl of the cinema, with the actress claiming the front cover, which was subsequently framed and hung on her office wall. After Alien, the actress had naturally assumed that other great parts existed in Hollywood. As a rule, however, it is a man who plays the more interesting characters and around whom the film’s plot and situations resolve. This was a disturbing revelation. For a star in the making, Sigourney expressed remarkably bold views on anti-feminism among producers. The film industry en masse appeared to be deliberately promoting female stereotypes and wilfully blind to the demands of professionals on the screen. Films like Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girl helped enormously to rectify this detestable oversight. Journalists have also been chided for calling her an actress. “I’m an actor,’ Sigourney proudly proclaims. “An actress is someone who wears feather boas.”

Sigourney’s search for a valid and strong female character to play ended when the British director Peter Yates (Bullit, The Deep) offered her the part of TV reporter Tony Sokolow in his romantic thriller The Janitor (US title: Eyewitness). This was the kind of role she had been waiting over a year to play. Daryll (played by that consummate American actor William Hurt), works the late shift as a janitor in a Manhatten office building. He is besotted by top TV journalist Tony Sokolow (Sigourney Weaver), whom he avidly watches every night. On his rounds one evening, Daryll stumbles upon the murdered body of a Vietnamese diamond merchant. This grisly discovery brings him into contact with the woman of his dreams, for it is Tony who is sent to cover the story for television. Daryll seizes his chance to know more about her and piques her professional interest by pretending to know more about the murder than he actually does. This reckless action soon puts both their lives in danger. Daryll is disarmingly direct in telling Tony the extent of his love and soon the couple are cavorting between crumpled sheets, after an incident in which Daryll rescues Tony from a gang of kidnappers (a sequence which called for Sigourney to roll out of a moving car and jump to a getaway motorbike). She performed this stunt herself ‘because it told you a lot about the woman’. It tells us a lot about Sigourney Weaver, too.

The lack of any great romantic foreplay prior to the love scene suggests that Tony is sleeping with Daryll just to get the story. However, her feelings for the man grow rapidly thereafter. While reading the script Sigourney had doubts about her character’s true feelings for Daryll. Only after watching the film did she feel that their romance was genuine. Her love for him blossoms gradually; “it’s as she begins to listen to Daryll as a woman and not as a reporter”. The Janitor remains an underrated film, an overlooked curiosity. Between the close filming on The Janitor and its eventual release Sigourney Weaver’s life was a veritable whirligig of activity. There was an admirable return to the stage in yet another Durang play, Beyond Therapy, perhaps his best-known work due to the fact that it was made, unsuccessfully, into a film in 1987 starring Jeff Goldblum and Glenda Jackson.  The off-Broadway version was decidedly better and more respectfully received. The play, which seeked to ridicule the psychiatrist and his curious occupation, was presented at the Phoenix Theatre in January 1981. Sigourney played a woman who has a steamy affair with her bisexual analist.

Sigourney’s relationship with Durang, born out of the turmoil of Yale, is a true testimony to friendship and talent. Theirs is a strange, yet fruitful partnership; one might even call them the ‘odd couple’. But their writing collaborations are proof of how well matched they are. They share the same sense of the bizarre and love of black, offbeat comedy; both are endowed with an accentric wit and take a sideway view of the world they inhabit. Their wildest caper occurred in the year of Sigourney’s rise to tabloid fame, thanks to her role in Ghostbusters. Together they wrote and performed a fine parody of those awful, self-congratulatory celebrity interviews that appear in the glossy magazines. Entitled The Naked Lunch, the mock-interview took place at the palatial Russian Tea-Rooms. Sigourney and Durang smeared one another with caviare and printed the result, complete with photographs, in an edition of the Esquire. Part of the interview ran as follows:

C.D.: Tell me, how did you get the leading role in Alien?

S.W.: I slept with the director.

C.D.: And Eyewitness?

S.W.: I slept with the director and the writer and the crew.

C.D.: And The Year of Living Dangerously?

S.W.: I slept with the Australian consulate.

In the early years the two of them would spend long days together making each other laugh, cracking jokes, and writing. But as Sigourney grew in stature as a film actress the two old partners had difficulty finding the time for writing sessions. No longer were there spontaneous occasions; now they had to be carefully scheduled in order to fit in with their respective work commitments. Things just weren’t the same.

The most significant new arrival in Sigourney’s life in 1981 was a man by the name of James McClure, an actor/playwright whom she had first met during the production of New Jerusalem some years before. McClure was currently in the process of getting his play Lone Star made into a movie. He had been working for eighteen months on a project. Sigourney found the play interesting and felt strangely drawn to the central female character of Elizabeth. Weaver also founded herself captivated by McClure. He was after all a handsome, multi-talented man, and single, too, which helped. In turn he was struck by the actress’s beauty and intelligence. It was largely inevitable that the two would get together: they shared similar attributes and common interests, and the mutual love of the theatre led to many happy hours together. A serious love affair soon flourished. Sigourney’s past romantic liaisons had gone undocumented, except for her relationship with Aaron Latham, a journalist to whom she was apparantly engaged to in her late teens. (Despite Sigourney’s demure and refined façade she can sometimes be capable of the most colossal tantrums. One morning, at Latham’s New York apartment, the lovers began to argue in bed. Suddenly, Sigourney leaped out from under the covers and ran to the kitchen. She emerged seconds later carrying a carton of eggs which she then proceeded to throw at Latham. The first struck the wall, the second a nearby table lamp, but the third was a direct hit.)

Meanwhile McClure’s efforts to get Lone Star on film seemed closer to fruition when director Robert Altman (M*A*S*H, McCabe and Mrs Miller) became involved in the project and 20th Century Fox agreed to put up the budget. Altman wanted Sigourney in the lead, opposite Powers Boothe, who had been pencilled in as her co-star. For the lovers it all seemed like a dream come true. But fate was later to deal them a cruel hand. Just three weeks before shooting was due to begin, 20th Century Fox pulled out and the project withered, leaving Sigourney devastated and heartbroken. The collapse of Lone Star had placed a massive stain on the Weaver/McClure partnership and was a dominant factor in the couple’s eventual seperation. “It was a horrendous time which left a lot of wreckage, including our relationship.” But Sigourney managed to survive this particular professional and personal trauma intact, and emerged at the other end leaner and stronger than ever before. Perhaps too strong. Her father was worried that his daughter was becoming obsessive about her career. The fact that his daughter had not as yet found a stable partner and settled down was a matter of grave concern.

The Year of Living Dangerously was the first Australian film to be fully financed by a major American company, MGM. Peter Weir´s background impressed Sigourney Weaver; she admired the mystical and allegorical elements he instilled into his work. When the director offered Sigourney the part of Jill Byrant she accepted almost immediately, despite the fact that the character was ill-defined and not of central importance to the narrative. So great was her desire to work with Weir that she overlooked her hatred of peripheral roles and plunged in regardless. The point of history that Weir had set his tale fascinated the actress and as she once conceded, "I´d rather have a small part in a movie I love than a bigger part in one I don´t care about." Weir was the most demanding director with whom she had yet worked. He didn´t want to see acting on the screen, he wanted to see his actors become real people. Sadly, Sigourney only appears sporadically in the film and the character of Jill Byrant is a profoundly flimsy one. But the actress makes the most of what was her first truly romantic cinema role. She looks ravishing, especially in the scene where Jill and Guy are caught in torrentrial rain while on a date together. Sigourney also enjoyed the experience of working alongside heart-throb Mel Gibson, principally because of the torrid romantic clinches they often had to perform. Likewise, Gibson found Weaver a pleasant companion during filming. "We had fun together. Never a dull moment." Despite the two stars´ inexperience of love scenes (this was Gibson´s first fully fledged romantic role too; Weir had to teach the couple how to kiss for the screen by showing them clips of Gary Grant and Ingrid Bergman from Notorious), the dynamism and sexual heat  that Weaver and Gibson generated astonished Weir. The director had never anticipated that they would work so well together and had been quite prepared to cut out the romantic subplot if the star pairing had failed.

Many of those involved in the making of The Year of Living Dangerously agreed that it had all the right ingredients to be a massive worldwide hit: an acclaimed and popular director; two rising young stars; a tension-filled story with romantic overtones and exotic locations. In February 1983, MGM hosted a special screening of the movie which was followed by a successful gala reception with a star-studded guest list which included the likes of Charlton Heston and James Coburn. But all the eyes were on Mel Gibson and Sigourney Weaver when they arrived together, calm and composed under a storm of flopping flash-bulbs. Later in the evening the two stars happily submitted to the horde of photographers who had gathered for the occasion and, at one amusing moment, posed with huge Havana cigars in their mouths. In May both actors attended the Cannes Film Festival, where Dangerously was the official Australian entry for the coveted Palme d´Or, and where it received a standing ovation. The looked radiant and charming together, like an old movie star couple from the forties, as the swanned into a plush cocktail party with the crowd parting in awe and reverence to let them through. Cannes marked a dramatic return to the limelight for the normally publicity-shy Sigourney. The actress makes little contact with the press; she dislikes courting publicity, unless it is to draw attention to a film that she whole-heartedly believes in such as Gorillas in the Mist. Sigourney´s other promotional duties included a stint on the programme her father created, The Tonight Show. One of the producers told Weaver not to think of her appearance as just a plain, ordinary interview, but as a performance. Sigourney didn´t disappoint; she entertained the audience by singing ´Row, Row, Row Your Boat´ backwards, an old trick she had learned at Ethel Walker.

Forgetting the agonies of location filming and her rather subdued role, The Year of Living Dangerously is one of Sigourney´s favourite movies and one which brought her some of the best critiques of her career. In the space of just five years Sylvester and Elizabeth Weaver had seen their daughter evolve from an accomplished, but overlooked, stage actress into a cinema star of rare quality. She was a superstar in the making. Sigourney´s respect for her father is bottomless and to some extent she carries and shares the pain of his mistreatment at the hands of NBC. "It just galls me. Everyone bends over backwards to acknowledge my father," she told Première magazine in October 1988. "They´d rather acknowledge him than give him a job." And so it was with a great deal of pride, tinged with a modicum of resentment towards the business which had so cruelly spurned his services, that Sigourney attended the 1983 Emmy Awards. For the Weaver family this was to be a special night, Sylvester was to be honoured with an award for his great years of service with NBC. It was much appreciated, but some twenty-five years too late. His acceptance speech was a mocking one. He accused the industry of being adrift in a sea of mediocrity. His views found many favourable ears and he left the podium to deafening applause. As the television camera panned the audience it stopped briefly upon the face of an emotional Sigourney. "Thank you," the mouthed.

In 1982 Sigourney returned to the cinema and began to work on what at the time seemed a promising and worthwhile venture, Deal of the Century. The film was a black comedy which sought to take a harsh and satirical look at one of the most repellent of modern industries, the multi-billion dollar world of the arms dealer. But despite its admirable intentions the movie was a dud in every department. The critical and commercial failure of Deal of the Century proved especially puzzling when one considers the high-calibre film making personnel involved - director William Friedkin (The French Connection, The Exorcist), screenwriter Paul Brickman (director and author of Risky Business, the film that launched the career of Tom Cruise),a nd producer Bud Yorkin. To Sigourney her participation in Deal of the Century represents an important and progressive step in her career, because at last she was given the opportunity to play film comedy. And comedy, she and many of her working colleagues feel, is her greatest strength. After the serious The Year of Living Dangerously, and those tough weeks on location in the Far East, Sigourney hankered after lighter movie projects. She desperately wanted to make a screwball comedy, in much the same vein as those Katherine Hepburn, and actress she admires, had appeared in during the 1930s. From the beginning of her cinema career, Sigourney had been desperate to dispel the myth that she could only play serious people, or tough, independent modern heroines. "For some reason US audiences think I´m some kind of sophisticated rich bitch. I like being funny."

"I want jokes," declared Sigourney to Films and Filming in November 1981. "Also I´d like to sing and dance in movies." There is so much potential and talent in Sigourney that has, as yet, been untapped by Hollywood. Deal of the Century was released in America on November 1983 in the wake of the success of another Chevy Chase vehicle National Lampoons Vacation. Unfortunately Deal was greeted less tumultlously by the American people. Reviews were harsh. "It´s terrible", reported The New York Times. New York magazine complained vehemently: "Deal is of an appalling badness rarely encountered in a big budget film made by an experienced director."  Friedkin´s only solace lay with the views of The Motion Picture Product Digest: "Not since Kubrick made Dr Strangelove has a major film maker used satire on the screen in such a devastating and blistering way." Financially, the film was an embarrassing flop, a mere $4.5 million in takings to offset a $15-million budget. This was Sigourney´s third failure in a row. But in spite of its less than positive reception the actress admits to being fairly fond of the movie, mainly because everybody kicked it so brutally. Sigourney´s search for suitable film projects and characters reached a crisis point in mid 1983. Of all her films thus far only Alien had been a hit. The rest were miserable box-office failures, in spite of all her acclaimed performances. She desperately needed a hit to re-establish her box-office credibility. Little did she know that her very next project was destined to become one of the most popular movies in cinema history.

Conceived by Dan Aykroyd, Ghostbusters arose from the comedian´s interests in the supernatural, which dates back to his childhood. Aykroyd´s family has a history of close encounters with the paranormal; an old farmhouse in Canada, where he grew up, was the scene of many family seances and unexplained psychic disturbances. Czech-born Ivan Reitman was approached to direct the film and instantly recognized its potential. The pivotal role of Dana Barrett was the last major character to be cast. By the time Sigourney was considered, numerous actresses had already been rejected. From the outset Reitman wasn´t keen on Weaver taking on the role, he thought she was too serious a performer to want to play a character who becomes demonically possessed, turns into a red-hot siren and finally a terror dog. However, Sigourney was most enthusiastic. At her interview she joked to the director, "Ivan, multiple schizophrenics are my specialty." During her audition she performed the possession scene for Reitman. Midway through her recital she seemed to lose control and began jumping around the couch eating the pillows. Reitman was shocked, but her gave her the part. Weaver thoroughly enjoyed working with the comics and hoped one day to make another movie with them all (not necessarily Ghostbusters 2), with Reitman at the helm. "There was so much laughter on the set," Sigourney told Starlog magazine in the summer of 1984. "Working on Ghostbusters was glorious."

The film’s incredibly intricate and elaborate effects made quite an impression on Sigourney. The actress has always enjoyed the world of special effects and feels safe in the capable hands of filmdom’s technical wizards. Sigourney herself was involved in quite a few elaborate live-action effects scenes. In one gripping sequence she is attacked by three demonic hands that sprout from a chair. She proved to be an enthusiastic victim. At first the puppeteers who operated the arms were afraid of hurting the star and were too tame in their efforts to grab hold of her. In the end Sigourney had to forcibly encourage them to get tough and slap her around much harder.
What was profoundly more difficult was reacting to something, a ghost for example, that was to be added on to the film at a later stage by the special effects experts. In one scene Dana opens a fridge only to find an apocalyptic vision before her. On the day this sequence was shot Reitman had to scramble into the fridge, along with a camera, and when Sigourney opened the door he shouted at her to act scared. One wonders how she was able to keep a straight face.
One effect that was all too real was the levitation. While possessed, Dana Barrett levitates four feet above her bed, much to the nonchalant amusement of Venkman. To achieve this illusion Weaver was forced to wear a very tight fibreglass body shell which, by means of a concealed rod, moved the wearer up and down. It was an arduous but enjoyable experience. The most dangerous effect involving Sigourney was in the scene where Dana greets a multitude of spiritual forces and an entire wall of her apartment is blown out in front of her transfixed form. Although the wall was made out of harmless balsawood bricks and breakaway glass the actress was still a touch apprehensive and wisely made sure that everything was safe before the cameras rolled. Once reassured, Sigourney put in a couple of earplugs, and was told to stand seven feet away from the danger area and not move a muscle or even blink an eyelid. After the explosion she was covered in debris. “It was great. I’d love to do it again,” Sigourney told Cinefex magazine in the summer of 1984. “It was just like being behind a tidal wave or being the only person in the world inside an explosion.”

Ghostbusters opened on 8 June 1984, following a devastatingly successful four-month advertising campaign. In February a friendly looking white ghost peering through a red circle with a diagonal line through it appeared for the first time on one of those huge billboards that grace Sunset Boulevard. The title of the film was not mentioned; the copy read only: ‘Coming to save the world this summer’. This logo soon began to appear all over America: in subways, on prime-time television, in newspapers, and proved to be both eye-catching and memorable. It needed to be, for Ghostbusters was opening up against big competition in the form of Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, Star Trek III and Gremlins. Happily for all concerned the film surpassed even Columbia’s high expectations. By the end of 1984 Ghostbusters had entered the all-time box-office top ten. The most hyped movie of the mid-eighties, the film led to a huge boom in related products such as toys, games, clothes, and even a cartoon show. America had gone Ghostbusters crazy and the world soon happily followed suit.

Sigourney’s participation in the smash hit Ghostbusters helped revitalize her career; not since Alien had the actress amassed so much hype and publicity. Once again her face was staring out from periodicals on paper stands across the nation. This time she was not Ripley, staring blankly at the camera, her face clean of make-up, her body wrapped in a dirty, workmanlike boiler suit, and with a malevolent extraterrestrial breathing down her neck. This time she was…the glamorous Dana Barrett sporting an erotic red dress and striking a seductive pose, her face heavily made up. She looked like a technicolour Helmut Hewton  fantasy. Cinefantastique had only praise for her: “The epitome of class and delectability, Weaver smoulders across the screen in her best role since Alien.” And fashion-bible Harper’s Bazaar voted her one of America’s ten most beautiful women. But her reaction to the label of sex symbol following her Ghostbusters role was a mixed one. “I’m not really in touch with being a…er sex godess,” she admitted to the Sunday Express in December 1984. “I’ll have to work on that.” After Ghostbusters Sigourney was one of the most recognizable and popular stars in the cinema. But instead of strengthening her renewed box-office standing and looking for another movie project with wide audience appeal, she did her old Alien trick, immediately returning to the theatre. But this time things were different: Sigourney was finally to get her chance to perform on Broadway. The play, David Rabe’s Hurlyburly, was well worth the long wait and was a mighty success, greatly enhancing her career and reputation as an actor. Hurlyburly was directed by Mike Nichols, one of the few contemporary American directors able to inhabit the two very different worlds of theatre and film. Reviews were excellent; both the production and the script were highly commended. But it was the actors who received the most acclaim. “They are all superb,” raved Newsweek. In a play so uniquely strong in enseble-acting the task of picking out the best individual actor or performance was an impossibility. Yet when the 1984 Broadway Tony Award nominations were released Sigourney found herself among those vying for Best Actress. Her performance had been exemplary, despite the fact that she radiates too much intelligence and poise on stage to warrant playing a bimbo. But the nomination suggested that at last her peers were beginning to acknowledge her as an accomplished stage actress.

Midway through the triumphant run of Hurlyburly, Sigourney announced that she would be leaving the production in October. She had fallen in love with a man six years her junior, Jim Simpson, a theatre director, born and raised in Hawaii, and they planned to marry in the fall. The roots of their relationship go back to the early eighties when the two of them used to attend the summer theatre festivals at Williamstown, Massachusetts regularly. Sigourney was acquainted with the talented and upwardly mobile Jim Simpson, but their paths scarcely crossed. On the odd occasion they bumped into each other and indulged in innocent conversation, but nothing more. This went on until the summer of 1983, when Sigourney appeared in Harold Pinter’s Old Times. At last they found themselves involved in the same production. He was in charge of the non-Equity players. Working with him on a day-to-day basis Sigourney found herself growing quite fond of the young man. One night at a party Weaver went over to Jim and asked him for the next dance, a request that was refused. “Luckily, we had another chance,” said Sigourney. Destiny is difficult to shake off or escape. It does seem that they were fated to meet and be together: their lives had been running parallel courses, and there are some striking similarities in their backgrounds.  For example, both had grown up in a show business environment, although the circumstances were diferent.

Jim Simpson had been a child actor appearing in a succession of television shows and movies. He later regularly worked on one of the most popular TV cop shows of all time, Hawaii Five-O. While many of us would have been gladly content with such a life style, Jim hungered for other challenges. Most importantly of all he wanted to achieve a higher standard of education. So he swapped the idyllic Hawaiian world of palm trees and soft, warm breezes for Boston, where he attended the city’s university for four years. Like Sigourney he was a top student and went on to enrol at the Yale School of Drama. Jim’s stay at the academy was certainly less traumatic than his soul-mate’s. At an important crossroad in his life Simpson decided to abandon acting and instead channel his considerable talents into directing. His first real professional theatrical duties were at Williamstown in the early eighties. In October 1983 Sigourney was preparing a guest list for a Halloween party she was holding in her apartment (an appropriate theme given the nature of her role in Ghostbusters), when she remembered the gifted director and invited him to come along. At first Jim Simpson, a shy and very private person like Sigourney, wasn’t keen on the idea, but he agreed to attend after being seduced by the persuasive charms of some of Sigourney’s friends.

Amidst all the noise and excitement of the party Sigourney finally managed to corner him alone. Together they sat and talked for much of the night. Both were silently but consciously captivated by one another: she by his talent and wealth of knowledge about the theatre; and he by her extraordinary beauty, wit and intelligence. By the end of the party Sigourney, taking the lead once again, invited him around for a quiet dinner for two the following evening. From those first two tentative nights there developed a serious and passionate romance. Both were surprised to discover just how close they felt and how much they had in common. Soon they were seen everywhere together, always engrossed in conversation, always enjoying one another’s company. When Sigourney took Jim home to meet her parents she sneakily introduced him as a surfer, mindful of the fact that her father would approve more of a surfer dating his daughter than some theatre type. The couple enjoyed twelve long, happy months of courtship, which included camping (one of Sigourney’s favourite pursuits), in Simpson’s native Hawaii. The seriousness of the affair was apparent when the normally hyper-secretive Sigourney, cryptic and elusive about personal matters, began to open the floodgates of her heart to journalists. There was a time when the actress would either blankly refuse to discuss her love life in interview situations or sit back and gamely spoof it. (Sigourney had once told a gullible journalist that she and old love James McClure had been married for fifteen years and had five illegitimate children) Although Sigourney remained adamant that marriage was out of the question, in fact it was just a year away.

When Sigourney Weaver married Jim Simpson in mid-October 1984 the wildly unorthodox and irregular ceremony beautifully complemented the freakish and eccentric nature of the couple. Jim was another free spirit. “I mean, we’re talking about someone who didn’t wear shoes until he was ten.” The ceremony was held on the hallowed turf of the father’s Long Island yacht club, a traditional setting for what was the most untraditional wedding of the year. The musical accompaniment to the service was provided by bongo drums and bagpipes and two ministers, one male, the other female, were asked to perform the ceremony jointly. The most bizarre touch of all was that everyone was given a wash-off tattoo to wear. This wasn’t compulsory but most of the guests, including Bill Murray, entered into the spirit of the proceedings. “It was great fun,” recalled the comedian. “But then I’ve never seen Sigourney give a bad party.” Sigourney’s mother was one of those who were a little bemused by the strange goings-on. “Our wedding was sort of grazy,” Sigourney told Première magazine in 1988. “I know my mother is a little upset that she didn’t get more of a hand in the wedding. But it was utterly our wedding and, in that sense, a celebration.” Nevertheless, the Weavers were overjoyed at their daughter’s obvious happiness. They were glad, and a little relieved, that she had finally settled down into marriage: at thirty-five it was about time.

Marriage, far from settling Sigourney Weaver, sparked off the most productive phase of her career to date. During the course of 1985 the actress made three films in quick succession. Only the blockbusting Aliens turned out to be of any merit: the other two films were the worst of her career - Half Moon Street, a turgid thriller; and A Woman or Two, a French comedy that simply wasn’t funny. Half Moon Street teamed Sigourney up with one of cinema’s most enduring stars, Michael Caine. The film was based on the novella Dr Slaughter by Paul Theroux (published under the title Half Moon Street in America), a complex and highly erotic, some would say sordid, piece of literature. The men responsible for bringing Theroux’s story to the screen were British producer Geoffrey Reeve and Bob Swaim, the American director of the police thriller La Balance, which won the French equivalent of an Oscar. After the hard-boiled machismo of La Balance, Swain expressed a desire to make a ‘feminine’ picture, a portrait of a strong and self-confident woman of the eighties. Half Moon Street seemed the perfect vehicle.

Swaim’s major problem was the casting of the female protagonist. Many of the actresses who read for the part were put off by the sleazy material and the nudity involved. Sigourney, however, fell under the spell of Lauren Slaughter. Quite simply it was the best part Sigourney had ever read and she fought hard to win the role. During filming Swaim was under considerable pressure to tone down the sexual aspect of the story. When Sigourney read the revised screenplay she was angry and disappointed at how tame the whole thing had become. On location the actress was a lone voice pleading with Swaim not to make Half Moon Street as a “safe” picture. In her opinion the director had lost creative control of the production and failed to fight for the original concept. “He changed my character into this humourless looker with brains that had nothing to do with my idea of the character nor Paul Theroux’s novel,” Sigourney confessed to Time Out magazine in January 1989.

Artistically the only consolation lay in the experience of working with Michael Caine, whose approach to acting was completely different from her own. They have remained good friends ever since. But their relationship had unfortunate beginnings: due to poor planning the first scene they shot together was their big love scene. The two actors had barely met, but what could have been a difficult and embarrassing day of filming was made bearable by Caine’s considerable charm and good humour. Although Sigourney had never appeared naked on film before, the prospect of removing her clothes in front of a movie camera didn’t bother her that much. For Sigourney the decision to play a nude scene is just as important as the decision to appear in a scene of violence. There is nothing the least prim or prudish about Sigourney Weaver; she has no objection to nudity in film per se, as long as she feels that it is an important element of the film and not exploitative. In Weaver’s opinion the scenes of nakedness in Half Moon Street were perfectly justifiable and were not a crude attempt to garner publicity and draw people to the cinema. 

Yet one is left to ponder on the reason why Sigourney allowed herself to be talked into doing such pointless and cheaply voyeuristic scenes as those in Half Moon Street. She appears topless in a bath, on an exercise bike and in stockings and suspenders  with her bare buttocks to the camera. Sigourney’s long-awaited “bare all” scenes are tacky in the extreme, exploitative, and very unflattering. If a Hollywood actress is going to make the difficult decision to appear naked then she might as well do so in some style. Swaim is to blame here: he directs the random sex scenes in a very emotionless fashion. Sigourney was attacked in some quarters for appearing nude in such a futile and shabby way. Half Moon Street opened in America on 26 September 1986 in a re-edited and re-scored form due to a string of unenthusiastic preview screenings. The movie, a box-office disaster, was slain by the critics. Variety described it as “a half-baked excuse for a film”. In spite of the script’s implausibilities and ineptness Sigourney gives a commendable performance. Unfortunately, Swaim’s movie isn’t on a par with Sigourney’s acting. This is a shame because Lauren Slaughter is one of the most fascinating and complex roles Sigourney has played. From such original and bizarre material Swaim had managed to make a feeble and pedestrian motion picture. Rool on Aliens. In the seven years since its release Alien had achieved a degree of cult status among fantasy purists, many saw Scott’s work as the quintessential sci-fi horror movie, a stylish, spine-chilling thriller that spawned a mini plague of cheap spin-offs but amazingly defied legitimate attempts to generate a worthy sequel. In 1984 the planned Alien sequel was temporarily scrapped in preference for a fresh project, a science fiction version of Spartacus. James Cameron, the young director of the cult fantasy hit The Terminator, was invited to help on the script. What Cameron really wanted to do was direct the follow-up to Alien, which was one of his favourite movies. After he submitted a forty-five page treatment based on a screenplay called Mother, the story of which concerned an alien queen, which he had written soon after seeing Alien, the producers gave Cameron the green light.

Cameron immediately set to work on a screenplay, carefully plotting the entire emphasis of the story around the character of Ripley, even though Sigourney had not been contacted. (The actress was not contractually obliged to return.) After working solidly on the script for three and a half months Cameron was annoyed when he discovered that she had still not been informed about his project. In the end he telephoned Sigourney himself, but she wasn’t exactly keen on the idea of doing a sequel and was deeply sceptical of the whole thing. She thought that Cameron only wanted her in a scene-setting role and that Ripley would then be killed off and she had no intention of becoming involved in a film that was produced purely to make money for 20th Century Fox. Despite her strong early misgivings a meeting between the two was arranged. Sigourney found Cameron a genuinely talented and dedicated craftsman and recognized within him a sincere love of and commitment to the project. She also admired the way in which he wanted the Alien saga to progress and develop. This was a man who would be worth working with. Most of all, she was impressed by the way Cameron had treated Ripley. On reading the script Sigourney was surprised to find that her character dominated the narrative; Ripley was in virtually every scene. Sigourney also knew that Cameron wasn’t willing to make a sequel without her. “I was egotistical enough to be moved by that.”

Cameron’s original intention was to begin the film with a long sequence showing us how the alien horde invaded the colony. Newt’s parents come across the derelict ship from the first film, and Newt’s father is attacked and impregnated by an alien. These missing fifteen minutes were to have been inserted back into the movie on a “special edition” video in 1990, but it never materialized. The friendship between Ripley and Newt is at the core of the film and Ripley’s maternal instinct is Cameron’s strongest theme. In another important scene omitted from the final print Ripley is told that her daughter has grown old and died while she was lost in space. Sigourney used a picture of her own mother to react to when Ripley is shown a photograph of her silver-haired daughter. The loss of Ripley’s daughter explains why she is so attached to Newt. This was the aspect of the story that appealed to Sigourney the most. “And I got terribly upset when it was cut out,”she explained to Première magazine in October 1988, “That’s the whole reason I did the movie.”

The theme of motherhood permeates the entire work, from Ripley’s to the alien queen furiously protecting her offspring. The film makes clear that the queen is not inherently evil, she’s only doing what Ripley is trying to do: to survive and to protect children. “Everybody may think we’re making a monster film, but we’re really making a film about motherhood,” Sigourney told reporters.
Working with Carrie Henn, the child actress who portrayed Newt, gave Sigourney various insights into her future role as a mother. “You don’t nurture and protect children,” she told Film Comment in December 1986. “You just talk and are equals. Any attempt on my part to guide or instruct was met with amusement by her.”
By the time Aliens began filming on 30 September 1985 Sigourney had been working non-stop in Europe. She was exhausted. She had only finished her role on Half Moon Street a few days before she was needed on the Aliens set. Despite fears that she would be too tired Sigourney managed to find a reserve of energy and by the third day she was in top gear. Amongst the cast of relative newcomers like Michael Biehn and Paul Reiser, Sigourney was the veteran, the star. The actors and the crew all looked to her for guidance and inspiration. For the first time a major movie rested on her broad shoulders. She revelled in the responsibility of carrying the Alien sequel, of having the leading role. Almost every day she would be on the set, looking over the script, sorting out problems. The crew were crazy about her. Such dedication, far from tiring the actress out, was just the tonic she needed.

Sigourney had been so busy reading the script for human values that she had inadvertently skipped over all references to guns. Only later did she admit that she had totally underestimated the film’s reliance on violence and weapons. Almost daily the cast were subjected to gun and grenade practice. For an actress who is involved in a gun-control lobby in America it was an embarrassing dilemma to be acting in a film which promoted the use of weapons to such a high degree. The irony was not lost on Sigourney. Yet her experiences did serve a moral purpose. Handling those destructive weapons gave Sigourney a tremendous sensation of power, making her realize just how dangerous they can be. “They intoxicate because they make you feel so powerful,” Sigourney said to the Daily Express in August 1986. “Now I’m more against them than I was when I started the film” She also blamed Ripley’s reliance on nicotine as the reason for her renewed dependence on cigarettes. Sigourney never smokes at home because of the smell. She dislikes the stench of smoke on her fingers and on her hair and clothes. But on the Aliens set smoking was a way of taking a quick break, a moment of inner relaxation amidst all the pressure. Smoking was one of two bad habits that Sigourney picked up in Britain. The other was a craving for take-away hamburgers at those rather dubious street vendors that she wouldn’t go near back home in New York.

Aliens opened in America on 18 July 1986 and sold $42 million worth of movie tickets. The fifth highest earner of the year, Aliens went on to become a worldwide hit, especially in Japan and Britain, and met with a thunderously enthusiastic press response. “An authentic masterpiece”; “the scariest movie in the history of cinema”; “Aliens is the Citizen Kane of science fiction films”: these were just some of the mighty accolades Cameron received. Critics also agreed, unanimously, that Sigourney had created the toughest female screen character ever and that her performance was nothing short of sensational. In October 1986 at a gala diner hosted by America’s cinema owners Sigourney was voted Female Star of the Year. This turned out to be the prelude to a far greater honour, her first Oscar nomination. For the first time in cinema history the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences had nominated a woman appearing in a sci-fi/fantasy film in the category of Best Actress. But Sigourney was up against stiff opposition and she didn’t fancy her chances. There was Jane Fonda for The Morning After, Kathleen Turner for Peggy Sue Got Married, Marlee Matlin for Children of a Lesser God, and Sissy Spacek for Crimes of the Heart. Marlee Matlin was the eventual winner.

A few months after the American release of Aliens Sigourney and Jim headed back up to Williamstown for a summer season at a small playhouse, in Tennessee Williams’ Summer and Smoke. In addition to her valiant summer-stock voyage, Sigourney began to write again with old favourite Christopher Durang. In this new collaboration she played a character called Sigourney Weaver - “but I’m a truly horrible creature” - and Durang played a playwright named Christopher Durang. Whoopi Goldberg was also involved, but after her acclaimed performance in Spielberg’s The Colour Purple had made her an overnight star Sigourney was left wondering if she would want to be involved in their “stupid little film”. Perhaps the most realistic, and obvious, proposal that came her way in 1986 was the chance to be directed by her husband Jim.

The subject of the two of them working together had been raised on more than one occasion in the previous year. The idea sounded hopeful and promised to be fun, but Sigourney disagreed with those who claimed such a union would be a major theatrical event. If such a thing was to happen it was imperative that the couple find the right play. When they did, Sigourney soon discovered that both of them had perhaps bitten off more than they could chew. The Merchant of Venice remains William Shakespeare’s most controversial work due to its depiction of Shylock, considered by many to be anti-semitic, a gross caricature. Sigourney immediately rejected this view. For Sigourney the risk of outbursts would only be a trifling inconvenience in the face of her main objective: to prove herself that she could succeed in a classical role. Sigourney was tackling a difficult Shakespearean woman: Portia.

Show business couples working together can often spell disaster. Sometimes maratial and personal problems can creep into the rehearsal room, causing friction and a poor working atmosphere. The pressures inherent in putting on a show can add to the strain of married life, especially when both the husband and the wife are working and living together twenty-four hours a day. Luckily working on The Merchant of Venice wasn’t that much of a burden on the Simpsons’ fledging marriage. But there were problems, namely that Sigourney felt her husband was far tougher on her during rehearsals than on any other cast member. But the experience was an enjoyable one. “I think he is a wonderful director,” she told Cable Guide magazine in July 1987. “So I married well.” Thoughts of a re-match, however, were greeted less enthusiastically by Sigourney. “I’m not sure he wants to work with me again. I think he found me difficult.” Sadly the play was heavily panned. “We got killed,” Sigourney confessed to Première magazine in October 1988. “I didn’t even read the reviews, but I know we got killed.”

In 1985, at the time of Dian Fossey’s death, plans were already under way to make a film about her life, based on her own book. (Dian once told friends that she wanted Brooke Shields and Elizabeth Taylor to portray her at different ages.) On Boxing Day 1985 producer Arnold Glimcher arrived in Rwanda to visit Fossey, who had agreed to be a consultant on the movie. But Fossey was butchered, as Glimcher slept off the effects of his long plane journey at a hotel in Kigali, Rwanda’s capital. The following morning where Fossey’s research centre was located was sealed off as an investigation into the brutal killing began. Glimcher reluctantly forced to admit defeat. After the sudden death of Fossey there seemed no future for his project. But the producer remained in Rwanda for a week, interviewing Fossey’s friends and co-workers. He believed he had uncovered a mulit-layered complexity to the woman’s life that had scarcely been touched upon in her autobiography.
Meanwhile, back in Los Angeles, Warner Bros. were already planning to make their own version of the Fossey story and had hired Bob Rafelson to direct Heaven and Earth: The Tragic Life and Death of Dian Fossey, with Ann-Margaret in the lead. Blissfully unaware of the mounting competition, Glimcher had won the backing of Universal and the search for a suitable director for his project began in earnest. The two opposing studios first learnt of one another’s intentions when their representatives met quite by chance in a hotel lobby in Kigali. Both studios eventually agreed to share the costs and jointly produce Glimcher’s Gorillas in the Mist. Bob Rafelson was dropped because he wanted to portray Fossey as a raving lunatic. Finally, British director Michael Apted was selected. Like Glimcher, Apted was interested in making an uplifting picture, “not a film about a crank”. Apted’s familiarity with the documentary genre (Granada Television’s 28 Up and Sting’s Bring on the Night), and his feature work (Stardust, The Coalminer’s Daughter, Gorky Park), held him in good stead for a movie that merged fact and fiction in a quasi-documentary form.

The most troublesome pre-production chore was finding an appropriate actress to play Dian Fossey. Practically every major female star in Hollywood wanted the role. Sigourney Weaver quickly established herself as the leading contender after Jessica Lange, the producer’s first choice, became pregnant. Both studios agreed that Sigourney was perfect. In Apted’s estimation Sigourney was one of only six or seven actresses in the world who could have got a company to finance such an uncommercial property and had the strength and presence to succeed. Sigourney sensed that Dian Fossey could be her “great” role, her Hamlet. In the words of Apted, “She was born to play this part. She fell into it so naturally.”  But at first Weaver was hesitant about how the film-makers were going to treat Fossey’s life. Sigourney had read her book some years before and felt then that the story didn’t constitute good cinematic material.

The last thing the actress wanted to do was get involved in some glossy Hollywood fairy tale. Early talk about concentrating the film on Dian Fossey’s sad and lonely descent into madness also caused Sigourney distress. She didn’t see Dian’s single-mindedness about her “cause” as a sign of insanity. She and Apted were more interested in showing on screen a woman of courage and staggering achievements, to make her philosophy and passion available to a wider audience. They do not totally ignore the murky aspect of her life. Although the film is deeply prejudiced in Fossey’s favour, Apted often shows her in  an unflattering light. The final dark scenes are among the film’s finest as we see her fall into an abyss of despair of her own making and wonder if the bruised, fanatical woman, reprimanding politicans and wealthy poachers, and torturing her enemies, is not “going ape” herself. It is a tribute to Sigourney’s performance and Apted’s careful direction that they have the courage to de-glamorize their subject.

Sigourney took great pleasure in filling the parts of Fossey out with as much detail as she could. The actress studied hours of film footage of the woman, analysing her body movements and gestures in much the same way as Fossey herself had learned how to mimic her beloved gorillas. She read every news clipping and book she could lay her hands on in an effort to foster an understanding of Dian’s character and motivation. As the research continued apace Sigourney found herself completely entranced by Fossey and shocked by the harsh contrasts that existed in her life. She was a creature of opposites, seen by many as a great scientist and by others as a charlatan. Fossey was capable of caring and tender moments; while at other times, particularly towards the end of her life, she was a foul-mouthed, hard-drinking, chain-smoking bitch. The complexity of the woman was fascinating. During filming, Dian Fossey became a part of Sigourney’s life. She is prone to become obsessive about the characters she plays and once they are gone she can miss their company for months. The ghost of Dian Fossey took a lot longer to exorcize mainly because of her death and the cause for which she fought. Not only was Dian Fossey the most demanding role of Sigourney’s career to date but she was also quite unique: this woman had actually once lived, she was no fanciful creation conceived by some writer’s despot imagination. “She was a complex subject and I really wanted to play a real woman, something incredible to act.”  As with Aliens, Sigourney was once again burdened with the awesome responsibility of carrying a major movie single-handed. Although consistently upstaged by her primate co-stars, if Sigourney were to give a bad performance, irrespective of the film’s other sparkling merits, Gorillas in the Mist would have fallen flat on its face.

Principal photography on Gorillas in the Mist began on 2 July 1987, close to Fossey’s Karisoke Research Centre and her sad, lonely grave. Sigourney found working so close to where Fossey had actually lived an inspiration. On one occasion she thought it would be an interesting and beneficial exercise to visit Fossey’s small and unpretentious home. This was a serious mistake. The experience deeply upset the actress and left her devastated for days afterwards. Once inside, Sigourney had walked into the very room where Dian had met her death. All her personal belongings were still there and the mattress on which she was murdered still bore her bloodstains. “I’m not a great believer in psychic phenomena, but I felt something evil had happened there.”

Working with wild animals is highly dangerous and unpredictable, not least when one is dealing with so rare a creature as the mountain gorilla. Sigourney was naturally apprehensive about meeting the apes for the first time. Her fears were manifold: would the gorillas accept her, would she know what to do and, most worrying of all, would she panic? But the thrill of following in the footsteps of Dian Fossey bolstered her spirit. Trudging through vast vegetation they located a gorilla family close to Dian’s grave. Their presence, detected when they heard “pok, pok, pok, pok, pok”, the destinctive sound of the male beating his chest; and the tell-tale noise of the apes chewing on foliage. Suddenly, there in front of Sigourney was a mammoth silverback, staring down at her like a king before a humble subject. “I don’t think I ever looked back after that,” she told Interview magazine in July 1988. “It was like walking into a forest and seeing a unicorn.” Sigourney steadied herself and crouched down among the undergrowth. Suddenly a young female, Jozi, waddled up towards the actress and sat beside her. Sigourney’s heart began to beat hysterically as she battled to contain her excitement. Never before had she been so close to a wild animal. In that single moment all of Sigourney’s fears and anxieties melted away. The tiny gorilla next to her seemed so friendly and innocently curious as it reached over to study her camera. Jozi then leaned up against Sigourney and began to quiz her strange white face. Weaver had been taught basic gorilla etiquette by an African tracker and knew the importance of not looking directly into the eyes of an ape. But emotions were running high and the temptation was too great to resist meeting Jozi’s inquisitive gaze. Among those gorillas, many of which Fossey herself had studied, Sigourney felt at peace, almost at home. “There was nowhere in the world I wanted to be more than right there.”

Apted’s base camp was situated at the foot of Fossey’s mountain and each day Sigourney and the crew had to climb up the steep slopes in search of the gorillas living at extremely high altitudes at least two or three hours away. Once the team had to walk eight hours before finding them. Conditions were horrendous: the temperature was constantly shifting from hot to cold, and it invariably rained. Because of the strict rules imposed on the production by the local authorities only a maximum of six people were allowed near the gorillas at any one time. Such restrictions created formidable problems. The film unit had to be stripped to a bare minimum (even Apted had to occasionally double as assistant cameraman), and everyone had to carry their own equipment up the mountain. During the course of filming the astonishing rapport between Sigourney and the gorillas prospered. She grew more confident in their presence and would spend hours at a time crouching in the long grass with the apes, adopting their gestures, munching on some shrubs with them, as Dian had done, and even learning their special talk, a combination of body language and belching. To achieve some of the more intimate shots of Sigourney and the gorillas, a small transmitter was placed in her ear through which she was coached in a series of hair-raising situations. In this way some truly amazing scenes were achieved without putting the actress in any unnecessary danger. About midway through filming, Sigourney became adept at recognizing all the gorillas and identifying their individual personalities. She had her favourites, of course, like Maggie, a quaint female who was very friendly. Others were less hospitable. One huge gorilla called Pablo was known to have dragged women down the mountain. But Sigourney quickly learnt that if she sat next to Ziz, the huge silverback that the actress described as “a 450-pound version of Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’ with a head the size of a boulder”, then Pablo never bothered her. And there was Shinda, perhaps the most boistereous of the group, who seemed to flirt openly with Sigourney.

During those three months of location filming in Africa, Apted and his crew managed to capture on camera some truly unique shots of the gorillas interacting with Sigourney Weaver. These he would later call “the heartbeat of the movie”. A great deal of patience was required in order to achieve these shots. Often the crew had to wait for hours to see what the apes were going to do. The gorillas had a profound effect on everyone who worked on the film; no one left untouched by the experience. Watching the wild mountain gorillas living in their natural habitat, eating, playing with their young, and generally enjoying life, is something Sigourney will never forget. She especially loved playing with the young gorillas. They were sometimes so enthusiastic that they crawled all over her. One of the mothers would always be on hand just to make sure no harm came to them, although it was usually the other way around. The gorilla young had a nasty habit of swinging on Sigourney’s pigtails causing her excruciating pain. But these were joyous and cherished moments. “Roaming around with their babies all day made me realize how much I wanted a child of my own.”

When the time came to leave the jungle and the gorillas and fly to London and Shepperton Studios for interior work, Sigourney’s heart was in danger of breaking. She felt like she was leaving behind old friends. Her extraordinary rapport with the gorillas won her the admiration of everyone concerned with the picture. Unquestionably, the highest compliment came from Roz Carr, who was one of Fossey’s closests friends in Rwanda. After viewing the film she was in awe of Weaver’s performance. “Sigourney is perfect as Dian, and I’m so grateful for that.” Others who were close to Fossey all agreed that Sigourney had captured the woman’s essence memorably.

That October Sigourney returned to Rwanda to visit the gorilla group, eager to find out whether or not they still remembered her. Along with a group of guides and a trusty film crew Sigourney walked up the familiar path of Fossey’s mountain gallantly trying to keep a tight rein on her emotions. In a clearing they came across the gorillas who casually strolled past her without the merest hint of recognition. Perhaps it was wrong of Sigourney to have expected some kind of human response from the gorillas. Still, she couldn’t help but feel bitterly disappointed and hurt. Then Maggie came over and laid her warm hand on Sigourney’s shoulder and squeezed it gently. Sigourney burst into tears, they rolled down her cheeks, and she had to turn her face away from the camera in embarrassment. It was clear that Maggie, in her own way, had just said, “Hi.” “That’s why I don’t want to let too much time go by before I go back. I always want to go back.”

Filming Gorillas in the Mist and working so closely with the apes and animal conservationists changed Sigourney’s outlook on life dramatically. The actress became a champion for animal rights and began to call for the preservation of all endangered species. “I think now I see gorillas as our fellow creatures in the way Dian did,” Sigourney told Films and Filming in March 1989. “One of our great mistakes is that humans think of the world as their planet and take animals for granted.”  Sigourney has now adopted Maggie and sends regular donations to the Karisoke Centre, continuing in her own way the invaluable work started by Dian Fossey. Over the last few years Sigourney has been working with other charities. One of the few saving graces of her celebrity status is that she can call attention to certain political issues. In the latter half of 1986 she spoke at the Lawyers Committee for Human Rights benefit honouring Mrs Aquino. Sigourney was proud to be involved with the group which, like Amnesty International, was a non-partisan organization that investigated human rights violations by governments of all political persuasions. Perhaps due to the very nature of their work actors tend to be very sensitive about humanitarian issues. “We look into individual souls. We care about human beings.” Sigourney disclosed to Film Comment in December 1986. “If you don’t, you don’t become an actor.”

Gorillas in the Mist opened in America in September 1988. Sigourney’s performance was unanimously acclaimed wherever the movie played and she just deserved her second Oscar nomination. Coincidentally she was also nominated the same year for her supporting role in Working Girl. Sigourney was widely tipped to snatch the top award, but ended up losing both. She was naturally flattered that her work had been acknowledged by the academy, but was disappointed to lose out twice in the same evening. But a Golden Globe award for Best Actress proved ample compensation.

Gorillas in the Mist is Sigourney’s favourite film. Along with The Year of Living Dangerously, she feels the picture has something important and valid to express. Certainly the role of Dian Fossey is Sigourney’s most rewarding to date. The film even managed to do some global good - educating people about the gorillas. It also raised the rate of tourism to Rwanda. Provided this is carefully regulated, all that western money pouring in will help build a future for the mountain gorillas. Sigourney was also invited to the United Nations to accept a posthumous medal on behalf of Dian Fossey from the president of Rwanda. Even today she feels honoured and privileged to have been entrusted with the awesome obligation of playing Fossey on screen. “I feel like I’ve finally gone legit.”

An offer in the early months of 1988 to play a small role in Working Girl (a pleasantly enjoyable romantic comedy with a sound old-fashioned base), arrived at exactly the right time for Sigourney. Her previous two films had been real epics and her roles in them were monumentally tough and demanding. The idea of playing a supporting role for once and letting another actress take on the responsibility of carrying the movie was certainly appealing. The film’s New York location was a further enticement. “I accepted because I got to wear pretty clothes and sleep in my own bed at night.” Ever since her collaboration on Hurlyburly Sigourney had been anxious to work with Mike Nichols again. The part Nichols was offering her in Working Girl was a pure gem, a character quite unlike any she had yet personified on screen. Katharine Parker was hardly a crowd-pleasing role. Audiences in America were not above booing the heartless character. When Sigourney was told about the effect her portrayal was having on audiences she found it all quite amusing. “I think just about everybody in America now hates me," she joked.

Her upper class breeding often works against Sigourney career-wise. But in the case of Working Girl this was exactly what Nichols wanted and the director actively encouraged her to take on the part. Sigourney plays Parker with winning comic style. Her portrayal is a joy to watch, especially the scenes where she lies in a hospital bed with her leg in plaster after the accident, eternally on the phone and ordering the hospital staff around like slaves; or her delicious feigning of intimacy and office sisterhood with Tess. Unfortunately, in the latter stage of the movie Nichols turns Katharine into a figure of fun, a caricature. One’s sympathies tend to float towards her at the end when her ruse is uncovered and she is ridiculed by all and sundry and fired on the spot. Working Girl opened in America on 21 December 1988 and proved enormously popular with the public, amassing $60 million at the box-office. Sigourney’s performance won the Best Supporting Actress award at the Golden Globes in January 1989, a ceremony Sigourney seems always to do well at. She also received an Oscar nomination in the same category. The film itself fared surprisingly well with a bag of six nominations, including Best Film.  

Sigourney Weaver´s battleground is Hollywood. During the release of Working Girl she unwittingly stirred up a hornet´s nest when she publicly demanded equal pay with male stars. She used her prominence as one of America´s leading female celebrities to lend weight to the argument that male actors are paid proportionally too much for their services. Sigourney cited Working Girl as a prime example. Both she and Melanie Griffith were paid about half Harisson Ford´s fee. Sigourney eventually decided that, to garantuee her income, she would have to work for herself. Today, like Barbra Streisand, she owns her own production company, christened Goat Cay and based in New York, a potent indication of her increasing significance in American cinema. The actress hopes in the near future to begin nurturing and developing her own film projects. "I´m having a wonderful time producing," Sigourney disclosed to a journalist in 1990. "There are good producers and bad producers. I´ve learned the hard way what not to do. The ultimate aim is to produce things I´m not actually in. I´m not looking for vehicles for myself. It´s not a vanity company."

When the sequel to the hugely successfull Ghostbusters opened in America in the summer of 1989 no one was really surprised: such an eventuality was as inevitable as Christmas. Ghostbusters 2 isn´t so much a sequel as a complete re-make of the first film. Whereas Aliens enlarged on its predecessor to the point of familiarity, presenting the audience with a completely new movie experience at the same time, Murray and the others took the easy route of just rehearsing old ideas and situations, only less successfully. But the movie seems to work. Ghostbusters 2 is fairly enjoyable stuff. It has no pretentions about being anything else but huge, entertaining romp. But compared to the sparkling originality displayed in the earlier movie this is a tired and disappointing sequel.

During the weeks of outdoor location work in the streets of New York, Sigourney was privy to some incredible sights of fan adulation. All around the cordoned-off Manhattan areas, hundreds of New Yorkers would gather, chanting the Ghostbusters theme. Groups of kids would point out and shout with glee upon recognizing the actors. Midway through the shooting, the Oscar nominations were announced and Sigourney found herself nominated in two acting categories (for Gorillas in the Mist and Working Girl). This was an achievement that Bill Murray saw fit to ridicule for the rest of the filming. "They tortured me, those guys," recalled Sigourney in light jest. Whenever she seemed to be getting too serious in her acting for Murray´s taste he would announce every time she walked onto the set, "Here she comes, fellas, the two-time Oscar nominee herself." Once, during a break from filming, Murray inexplicably began spitting hair balls at Sigourney, just like a cat. Ivan Reitman had to cut in and tell him to stop it. "Bill thinks I´m too stiff and is continually freaking me out on the set," Sigourney complained in a Time Out interview at the beginning of 1989. "Hanging me upside down, tickling my nose."

Ghostbusters 2 was released in America at a time when Columbia Pictures was in dire financial straits. A string of box-office disasters had lowered the company´s credibility and they now badly needed a smash hit. A failure could spell the collapse of the studio. All hopes were pinned on Ghostbusters 2 to deliver the goods. Luckily, the movie was an unqualified success and Columbia claimed the biggest ever three-day opening in cinema history, with box-office receipts in excess of $29 million.

On a more personal level, as soon as she had heard that Dana Barrett was to be given a child she was immediately interested. For the past few years Sigourney and Jim Simpson had been trying desperately and without successs to have a child. In preparation for the maternal duties she would have to perform in front of the cameras, Sigourney practised bathing co-star Rick Moranis´s new baby. The experience paid off, for when it came time to meet the seven-month-old twins William and Henry Deutschendorf, who were to play Oscar, Sigourney was surging with confidence. "Holding a baby the right way up came much more naturally than I thought," she disclosed to You magazine in December 1989. "I guess instinct took over. In fact I found them very interesting little creatures." Sigourney´s on-screen role of mother turned out to be a dry run for the real thing. A few months after the June premiere of Ghostbusters 2 Sigourney, to her obvious delight, was told that she was pregnant. By a strange coincidence, Dan Aykroyd´s wife also had a baby, as did the wife of Harold Ramis. Perhaps working with the young Deutschendorf twins had an effect on them all.

Sigourney decided to put her career on hold and take a year off to have her first child, a luxury few other women can afford. Prior to her long sabbatical a heavily pregnant Sigourney still managed a few publicity rounds, drumming up business for Ghostbusters 2. For journalists this was a rare chance to catch the mood and emotions of the mother-to-be. Generally she was taking things easy, spending her days reading a multitude of different books about birth and motherhood, filling her mind with theories about babies, and shopping around for maternity wear, a chore which she found both time-consuming and unpleasant. "Maternity clothes are all so awful," Sigourney complained to You magazine in November 1989. "If I wear Laura Ashley stuff, being so tall, it makes me look like a kindergarten child in time warp." Sigourney seemed to be having fun with her pregnancy. After she had concluded her promotional duties for Ghostbusters 2 she withdrew from the spotlight and disappeared from view. Sigourney and Jim retired to their newly built home near the Canadian border ("I won´t tell anybody where we are. Real estate is becoming synonymous with peace and quiet...."), where they planned to spend the majority of their time in lush solitude and tranquility, at last beginning the family they had always dreamed of sharing.

In preparation of the birth of their child Sigourney and Jim Simpson acquired a luxurious new home on the outskirts of New York and waited. A few months into the new decade, April to be exact, Sigourney gave birth to a little girl, christened Charlotte, in a New York hospital. Her life was now complete. Sigourney had been a film star for ten years and now at the age of forty she was at last a mother. The daughter of showbiz parents herself, Sigourney often wonders how her own stardom will affect Charlotte. “I hope she won’t be too interested in what Mommy does for a living for a while.”  

As Sigourney Weaver continues to mature and flourish as a leading/character actress in the same vein as Katharine Hepburn and Jane Fonda, one gets the distinct impression that we haven’t seen the best of her yet. Sigourney, however, has her own private ambition. “Well, I’ve always admired Margaret Rutherford. Like her I’d like to play Miss Marple when I’m eighty.” Now wouldn’t that be a sight worth waiting for.

This biography is a extract of the book Sigourney Weaver by Robert Sellers (sadly out of print right now)
           [Robert Hale - London, first published in 1992 - ISBN 0 7090 4454 2]