Thanks to her portrayal of Ellen Ripley in the Alien franchise, Sigourney Weaver ranks as one of the top female action stars of all time. She can truly kick ass and take names with the best of them and has proven it time and time again. While she sadly doesn’t get to do too much action in the new John Singleton film Abduction, she plays an important role in the birth of a possible new action star: Taylor Lautner.
Last weekend I had the pleasure of sitting down with Sigourney Weaver to not only talk about Abduction, but the new movie from director Oren Moverman called Rampart, as well as the long-rumored Ghostbusters III. Check out the interview below in which the actress talks about the challenges of playing a supporting role vs. a lead role, her preparation process, and how she watches her own films.
NOTE: There are some brief spoilers for Abduction in this article, but they are clearly marked.
What was it about this character that drew you in?
You know, I think I really liked the story. It’s a really interesting coming of age story and I love John Singleton’s work and I did know, I had seen the Twilight movies, so I knew who Taylor was. I didn’t know Lily, she’s amazing. So what appealed to me was that often I’m asked to carry a much bigger responsibility. In this case my responsibility was very specific and I wanted the challenge of doing what I called a “James Mason” part. You probably don’t know who that is!
Of course I do!
[laughs] These wonderful sort of British actors who come in and they have to do something for the movie very well and in a very streamlined way. And I felt like that was my job, was to sort of set something up and make you absolutely believe it and then absolutely turn it on its end and make you believe something else. I enjoyed the challenge of that. It’s exciting.
Do you find it more of a challenge then when you are in a lead role?
I think it is more challenging. I mean, the challenges in playing a lead role are just different. It’s more about stamina and letting yourself go. I think you have to be much more like a surgeon when you’re playing a pivotal supporting role.
What’s your process like when preparing for a role and a) does it change between large and small parts, b) has it changed over the course of your career and c) how did you prepare for this role specifically?
Well, every role is different. Every role sort of teaches you how to prepare for it. In this case, I’ve been in therapy for so many years [laughs] that I felt I could do that. And I thought that she was a real therapist. And then the other part, that sensation of suddenly having everything in jeopardy and having that training that training sort of re-establish itself was, I thought, an interesting thing and I haven’t really done an action picture in a while, so I thought that it was aligned with what Geri goes through. I enjoyed all of that and I got to sort of work in order, luckily. I was glad we got to do that first scene that sets everything up. Of course, I’m not a very good shrink because I’m telling him to repress the bad dream [laughs].
No, I think that in her case she’s being uniquely protective of Nathan because there’s no joy for him there of any sort and she needs to keep the genie in the bottle for as long as possible. But it means that there is a reckoning. They are all involved in a big lie and at some point it can’t be healthy for him. So I think that there are many different kind of layers of her peace with what they’re doing.
Spoiler AlertTo talk more about protecting Nathan, he has his biological mother and Mara, his adoptive mother played by Maria Bello, but do you see Geri as a third maternal figure in his life?
I think what will be interesting, if we do make another one, is that she is not a mother and is suddenly playing a mother. She has to become his mother. That’s why I like the little moment…I think for her not being a mother, when she says to the kids, “You can come home with me. You can come home. You can get clean, you can get fed, you can watch TV, you can be comfortable, you can be safe,” and they’re not interested in that at all! Wake up! And so there’s that little moment where she has to understand what it is to be a parent of grown children right away, and I like that. I like that.
Being a parent yourself, was that something that you could draw on?
Yes, and it’s such a humbling experience being a parent [laughs]. You know you’re always having to let go and it’s one thing they don’t tell you, because you spend so much time and energy hovering, and then you really have to back off. I don’t think anything can prepare you for it.
End Of SpoilersI find it kind of interesting when an actor plays a therapist, because in a way both professions try to find their way into the mind of someone else. Is that a connection you made?
No, you know my process is pretty organic and I’m not sure that I thought about it in that way. I think that I’m there to guide Nathan and it’s a very acceptable, modern way of doing it. If it were a different time he would be doing odd jobs for me and I’d be in the garden telling him what to do. It’s the convention of this particular time period. But it’s an uneasy secret but I feel at the beginning it’s a pretty safe secret. Of course I don’t realize he’s lying on top of cars going 75 miles per hour. Maybe I’d work a little harder to find out why he has a death wish. But I hope kids don’t copy that.
No, I’m not a therapist I’m a D.A.
But you’re working with Woody Harrelson’s character, right?
Yes, I have to deal with him, I have to negotiate with him.
Can you talk about that part a little bit?
Oh, yes. Well, I can talk about the experience. It was a wonderful experience because we never… we just improvised and Oren would put the cameras, we’d do a scene out there [points into the middle distance] and the camera would be like 300 feet away with a long lens. So we were always having this wonderful private experience, the two of us, and the camera was kind a weird voyeur. And I never worked with Woody before and I adored him. He’s just wonderful. He’s so talented and it was very interesting. It’s a fascinating movie, great director. I haven’t seen it, but I think it’s really interesting material.
When you’re performing like that without the camera how does it change the experience? Is it more like theater?
I really can’t compare it to anything I’ve done. We did another scene where Steve Buscemi, Woody and I are having a kind of heated discussion about what’s going to happen, and the camera was just swinging around like this [waves arms back and forth in the air]. And we weren’t supposed to wait until it got to us. I don’t know how he edited any of this stuff. I had a blast, I don’t know if I would have been able to do it 25 years ago, but at this point we’re such old dogs, we know what we’re doing and we’re delighted to be able to do it differently.
You mention that you haven’t seen the film. Are you interested to see how it came together?
I’d love to see it. I think it was at Toronto and I was performing our 9/11 play last week, so I didn’t get to go, but I heard it went very well.
Usually you’re invited to the opening, et cetera, and you go. Like last night was the first time I saw Abduction. So it was really fun. I’m not in so much of it, but I was really excited to see how all of the rest of it came together and it was really a wonderful vision of Pittsburgh even, which I think is a great city, and how they used the river and the stadium. I’m really glad we shot there. But I think I see everything once. There are a couple things I think I’ve done that weren’t released so I never saw them [laughs]. Just as well.
I do also want to ask about Ghostbusters III, as Dan Aykroyd recently said that the production could move forward as soon as spring of next year. Are you excited to play Dana Barrett again?
Well I guess Peter Venkman is dead! Dana without… I guess his spectre always was with her, whether she liked it or not. I don’t know. I hope it comes together. I haven’t read the script, I’ve talked to Ivan about it and I think it would be wonderful if it all came together and we’ll see. Fingers crossed.