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Archive for Saturday, March 24, 2001

Weaver ready for career’s next risk

Two of her new movies, both comedies, hit the big screen

March 24, 2001

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— As Warrant Officer Lt. Ellen Ripley in the "Alien" films, Sigourney Weaver has stared down slime monsters, corporate backstabbers and a planetful of lechers.

But as a mere mortal wife, mother, upper East Sider, career woman she is subject to the same terrors as everyone else. Cannibals. Elevators. Eclairs.

More about them later.

Weaver is in two new movies this month, both comedies. In "Company Man," which opened earlier this month, she has a supporting role as the ambitious wife of a grammar teacher (Doug McGrath) who, to please her, gets involved with the CIA. And in "Heartbreakers," which opened this week, she and Jennifer Love Hewitt play mother-daughter con artists who bilk a string of marriageable men, including a wheezing Gene Hackman. Mom marries them, daughter seduces them, and they split the proceeds of the ensuing quickie divorce.

And, yes, a fifth "Alien" is gestating in screenwriter Joss Whelan's computer, though its tentacles are not yet fully formed.

Weaver strides into the French restaurant Payard in something you'd expect a movie star to wear a clingy sleeveless black evening gown. She has just come from a magazine photo shoot, but on her slim, karate-toned, almost-6-foot frame, such a show-stopper doesn't look out of place, even when taking afternoon tea.

At 51, she looks like a million bucks. Maybe even $22 million, the amount she was falsely said to be getting to play Ripley in the next "Alien" installment. She said she laughed out loud when she heard this: "It was so ridiculous. Unfortunately. If only it were true, it would be such a great victory."

Ever well-mannered, Weaver means victory not just for herself, as someone who was once discouraged from acting by her teachers, but in the sense of pay parity between male and female stars.

Not that she is unhappy with her lot. She describes a new sense of peace with her body, career and family that $22 million wouldn't come close to touching.

"The acting coach Jack Walzer says it takes 20 years to make a good actor, and that's how long it took me," Weaver said.

Walzer taught Weaver the method while she was making Roman Polanski's "Death and the Maiden" in 1994, and helped rid her of the intellectual tics instilled years ago by the Yale Drama School.

"I finally had enough confidence in my abilities to just wing it," she said. "To prepare, but not agonize over it. I started to fall in love with acting. I became a very instinctive actor after that, and I certainly think my work has been better since."

Her acting wasn't exactly chopped liver before. After plentiful stage work during the '70s, notably with playwright pal Christopher Durang, Weaver made her film debut with a walk-on as Woody Allen's date in "Annie Hall" in 1977. Her first substantial film role was in the Israeli drama "Madman" (1978).

It was only a year later that she catapulted to stardom in Ridley Scott's "Alien." If Weaver had any reservations about going from "serious" theater to wearing a tank top and panties in space, she was and is too polite to dwell on them.

"Getting the 'Alien' movie started the whole thing," she recalled, good-naturedly demonstrating some helmet-breathing effects. In 1986, she was nominated for an Oscar for reprising Ripley in "Aliens," a rare honor for actors appearing in sci-fi movies.

She said working on "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1982) was the first time she "embraced film." She played a diplomat in Indonesia who helps Mel Gibson's journalist in any number of ways.

"The other two movies I did before" "Alien" and "Eyewitness" "I was struggling with the difference between theater and film, never having rehearsal, no audience," she said.

Playing Bill Murray's demonically possessed girlfriend in 1984's "Ghostbusters" gave Weaver the chance to shine in a comedy, her first love. In 1988, she was Oscar-nominated both as best actress, for her portrayal of conservationist Dian Fossey in "Gorillas in the Mist," and as supporting actress for her condescending executive in "Working Girl."

She has continued to crisscross between comedies ("Dave," "Galaxy Quest") and dramas ("The Ice Storm," "A Map of the World"), with the occasional "Alien" pit stop. But now she reckons it's time to set new goals.

"Each job I've gotten has felt like a career pinnacle, because actors think they'll never work again," she said. "But I've actually accomplished many of the things I wanted to do."

She said she wants to try her hand at directing one day.

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