Sigourney Weaver on The TV Set


THINKFilm’s new comedy The TV Set tells the story of how a pilot goes through the Network TV process of production, casting and making it on the air. Sigourney Weaver plays a hard-ass TV exec who likes the idea of writer/producer Mike Klein’s (David Duchovny) series “The Wexler Chronicles,” but hates the title and wants to change it. Mike, who wants to remain true to his artistic vision, is apprehensive, but does want to get his pilot on the air. She also persuades him to go with another actor, who he doesn’t want, for the lead role and he begins to see just how difficult getting a show on the air really is. talked to Sigourney Weaver about her new character. Did you base your character on anyone?
Sigourney Weaver: I’ll tell ya, I couldn’t base her on my father who ran NBC in the ’50s because he believed that television could uplift people and expand our horizons, so he was really the polar opposite, but ironically enough because I don’t really know many executives in the business, I based her on someone I adore, a woman who runs a non-profit who’s so energetic and believes so strongly in what she’s doing, and you just can’t say no to her, you know. So I just kept channeling this friend of mine because I thought even though it’s so well-written, I didn’t want to make Lenny someone you could dismiss. I wanted her to be smart enough and real enough, so you went, “Hmm, this person’s in charge for better or worse.” So that’s what I was after.

CS: So would you pick up the TV show in the film, “Call Me Crazy?”
Weaver: Can you imagine? Now when I watch a show, I go is, “That’s the one?” It’s amazing that anything good survives that process. It’s really scary. I had no idea.

CS: Since “Alien” launched you into the whole movie career, you haven’t done TV. Is it ever something you considered?
Weaver: Yeah, I never felt I was good enough to do TV. You have to work so quickly and be so sort of facile. I did some stuff for PBS, but also I live in New York, so I always thought it would be fun — I have many friends who were like on “Frasier” or whatever, and I think it would be a wonderful thing to do but no one ever really approached me with something I wanted to do, and if they did approach me it was always for something terribly serious, and I did think if you’re going to do something on TV, please let it be funny.

CS: Are you in Los Angeles shooting James Cameron’s “Avatar” by any chance?
Weaver: I’m shooting it this week. There’s not much I can tell you. [laughs].

CS: Is your character live or animated?
Weaver: I’m both.

CS: It’s been 20 years since “Alien.” How is it working with James now?
Weaver: Well it isn’t that different, I suppose. It’s wonderful to work with old friends again and he hasn’t made a movie for 10 years, and he’s so excited about doing this one. He’s shooting every shot himself and he’s surrounded himself with the most brilliant young technicians, pushing the edge of the performance capture envelope and by the time we finish this movie, the technology will be unrecognizable I’m sure, and the actors that we’re with are wonderful people. It’s funny — it’s a huge movie [but] it’s actually a very small family kind of experience.

CS: Way different than the stuff he was doing in the old days with the puppets.
Weaver: You know I kind of miss the puppets. Tom Woodruff, who’s the special effects genius who was in the suit for a lot of “Alien” and “Alien 3” for me playing Ripley, there was a mind in that suit. It wasn’t a computer graphic image and I do think that makes a big difference in the scene so I think computer graphic imaging will get better, it will get more intelligent, but actually, “Ghostbusters 2” we had a lot of puppeteers and they were awesome, and they funneled all their passion into these puppets, and they were real to us so it was cool. It wasn’t like primitive or anything.

CS: Is it challenging?
Weaver: Coming from the theatre I’m at home on an empty stage using my imagination and he’s really given us so many images of what these worlds really look like, so I think he’s doing everything he can to make it work for us and I think it’s going to be okay. It’s not like he put a potted plant next to me, and said, “Alright react to that.” He’s trying to make it work for us, too. He knows that that has to happen.

CS: What was your first reaction when you heard your character in this movie was pushing a show called “Slut Wars?”
Weaver: [teasing] I was captivated. You know actually the part was written for a man and the wonderful actor who was playing it had to drop out and we have the same agent so it was my agent who said, “What about Sigourney?” and I loved the script and I just said to Jake, “Please just don’t change one word of it because it’s such a good part as written.” And thinking of it as a male executive who’s obsessed with women’s breasts — are they real or not? — is funny; I think having a woman executive who probably has fake breasts being obsessed with whether women’s breasts are real or not and talking about it, I think that’s funnier. Whatever women have done to the workplace, it has certainly not humanized it. The expectation — it’s not quite happened that way.

CS: This isn’t the first time you’ve taken on a role written for a male.
Weaver: I know! I know, it’s funny. You know if a role is well-written it will work for either sex I think, unless it’s a love story or something, and I actually think there’s so many women in these positions now that it really shouldn’t make a difference. I did it in “Vantage Point” too which is coming out later.

CS: What’s been one of the craziest pitches you’ve received?
Weaver: I don’t think people do that with me. I have had some strange situations where people bring me scripts, they just appear, you know, when you’re with your family or in a dentist’s office or something like that. [They say] “I’ve written a script, and I’m filling your tank, but here’s my script!” But usually people don’t pitch things. I think a lot of actors are protected by agents and what have you. There is a kind of thing you have to go through because actually you couldn’t stop someone from pitching you something but a pitch by its nature if it happens in the wrong place makes you want to run away. It’s kind of got to be an aggressive, focused thing.

CS: Did a manager or agent ever bring you a crazy idea and think you should do it?
Weaver: I don’t think that’s ever happened. I mean I’ve pitched myself things. Like I really wanted to do Gypsy Rose Lee after she stopped stripping so we’re going to do that for HBO, but someone did bring me the book but no one had to pitch it to me because it was obvious from the material that it would be a wonderful project. I mean, if Jim Cameron was not Jim Cameron and came to me in the parking lot somewhere and said, “I have this great idea about a foreign planet, and it’s a rainforest,” I’d be like, “Mm, he’s crazy!”

CS: What happened to Gypsy Rose after she stopped stripping?
Weaver: She wrote Gypsy and she was really one of the earliest sort of single women that kept reinventing herself. She ended up living in California with a talk show in which she was so incredibly charming, but she did films, she wrote novels, she never really took her clothes off. She just made the audience think that she did, and it was all tricks and wit and she used to talk about Lady Windermere’s Fan as she was taking off one thing and the audience really never saw anything, and I think that whole idea of burlesque – she took care of the audience and I think that’s what they wanted. Larry Mark, who’s producing it, his mother was a nightclub singer in the Catskills and he used to play for her sometimes when he was a little boy, so we have stories to tell about that whole age of show business that I think are going to be interesting.

CS: When you first got the script, you sounded surprised by the process of TV. So you were really surprised?
Weaver: I had no idea. I didn’t even know about the upfronts. Of course I had to watch everyone’s upfront from the year before and I knew nothing about this; I really didn’t. I don’t think they had that when my father was running the network. He’d just recently wrenched the creative control from the toothpaste people to creating a programmer so all of this has evolved in the last few years and it’s like a big kind of pep rally for your shows and of course the big joke on our set was some of the shows sounded ludicrous, like “Prison Break.” It’s like, “What’s that?” But it’s a huge hit!

CS: Were you a part of the cast that teased David Duchovny about that song “David Duchovny Why Don’t You Love Me?”
Weaver: Oh no, no, no, no. That’s so funny.

CS: What was it like to work with David?
Weaver: He was wonderful. The part, I guess it’s supposed to be like Judd Apatow, you have to have someone who’s very smart, and very warm and very funny, so I thought it was a wonderful performance. My favorite scene to watch was the audition scene which was hair-raising as an actor and we had some executives in the room who were real executives. Cold as ice. They kept saying, “You’re being too warm,” and so many of the actors had actually done auditions like this and been in a series of pilots and I just thought, “They’re so courageous.” The way they kind of pick you apart, and I’m sure that goes on, it’s just you don’t want to sit around as an actor and think about what they’re saying about you, but that was wonderful, and he had to be our host for that whole afternoon and it was really a wonderful scene to watch.

CS: Have you had any bad auditions?
Weaver: You know I used to like auditioning because I used to think they don’t really know what they want, so I can just go in and play the hell out of the role for 10 minutes. I didn’t really care if I got it or not. If you’re an unemployed actor who gets so few chances to actually work, and I certainly had to play opposite casting people like that, especially if it’s a love scene. [In emotionless New York accent] “I love you too.” It’s usually a woman. Why are they hiring someone who’s not trying at all? What does that tell them about your talent? If you’re reacting to what you get, and you’re getting nothing and you’re pretending you’re getting something, what does that tell them? That tells them you’re phony I think. I was actually just in on the casting process because I’m dong a wonderful play by AR Gurney at Playwright Horizon this spring and we were looking for my son, and we had all these wonderful young actors coming in, and I got to read with them, and I was a little nervous myself because it’s not like I’d rehearsed the part but it was interesting. Everyone had a different point of view and we certainly appreciated all of them for coming and they were all theatre actors but clearly one guy really stood out and got the job, so maybe hopefully it works most of the time.

CS: Is there more pressure to step up when you don’t have to audition?
Weaver: With every job you’re doing something you usually haven’t done before and you always think, “I don’t know what I’m doing.” That’s sort of part of the process, but I haven’t had to audition or even have to have a resume for many, many years and just perusing these young men’s resumes I was like, “My god, what would I put on my resume?” I think the key is probably not to take it seriously. Whatever juncture you’re at just try to ride with it.

CS: At what point in your career did you no longer have to audition?
Weaver: Really I think it was after “Aliens.” I can’t remember a resume picture after that, so I was very fortunate, but I have a nice resume, I like my resume. I worked with Mr. John Gielgud, I’d gone to drama school for what that’s worth, so now I couldn’t even tell you what was on my resume. I’ve probably forgotten half the things I’ve done.

CS: How have you managed to have a successful career and family?
Weaver: Well I don’t live out here. I have a lovely husband, he has a lot of aloha because he’s from Hawaii, and the family comes first. We’ve tried to always work it out. I don’t think I get that many opportunities, and the ones that I get that I want to do he really tries hard to try to be free and vice versa. Our daughter for better or worse has always been plagued by having one parent there all the time. We don’t travel together. We’re sort of looking forward to her going away to college so we can actually see each other!

CS: Your poor daughter can’t get away with anything!
Weaver: I know, poor thing! Only child is like [Mimes getting her claws out] but I think I picked the right person, someone who understands. He understands how hard it is. I feel very lucky.

CS: Will it still be a strong heroine in the new Cameron film?
Weaver: I think she is. It’s a wonderful part. It really is.

The The TV Set will open in Los Angeles and New York on April 6.