With updates on the Alien Prequel, Ghostbusters 3 and Vamps
More than three decades after Ridley Scott’s original redefined sci-fi terror, the Alien franchise is arguably stronger than ever. While Scott has plans to return to the series in a two-film prequel, Alien and its three direct sequels have been completely remastered in high definition for a Blu-ray release, featuring over 60 hours of special features.
In celebration of the release, STYD sat down to talk with the astonishingly youthful Sigourney Weaver who, in addition to appearing in all four Alien films, continues to find iconic genre roles in films like Avatar and will hopefully do the same in her upcoming vampire comedy, Amy Heckerling’s Vamps.
Interview highlights include brief updates on the status of Scott’s prequels, Ghostbusters 3 and thoughts on both fighting and becoming cinematic monsters.
Q: There was an interesting end to “Alien: Resurrection” with the clone Ripley and finally getting back to Earth. What are your thoughts on the fourth film and where it could have gone?
Sigourney Weaver: I really enjoyed a lot of “Alien: Resurrection.” I thought that the scientists were really wonderful and the company was more detestable than ever. As we become more and more of a corporate planet, I think that the lessons from “Alien” have not really been paid attention to. But I loved the evolution of the character of Ripley. I wasn’t too keen to come to Earth. I always feel that science fiction, when it comes to Earth, is a little [off]. I wanted to go back to the original planet that the space jockey brought the eggs from and go back into the alien world rather than have the alien arrive in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower. So I think I was part of what put the kibosh on that. I think after four different interpretations, I wanted to take more time to take stock of what the opportunities were. I think it’s great that Ridley [Scott] is the person who is going to make the prequel because I think there are other opportunities there. It’s wonderful to reinvigorate that world with a fresh perspective.
Q: Do you get to be involved with that at all?
Weaver: I don’t think so, because it’s a prequel. Certainly not as an actor, but if they needed help with the story, I could probably help them because I probably have a good sense of what people appreciate in the series and what they don’t care about. So I hope they’ll ask me.
Q: There have been a lot of names tossed around for casting with rumors including Natalie Portman, Carey Mulligan, and Noomi Rapace. Have you heard any of these names and do you have any thoughts?
Weaver: I don’t know. I think it’s a trick thing because you want to get a good, young actress in there. But she should be very different from Ripley. But I would trust Ridley. He found me! It’s an important decision. But, as with all of these “Alien” films, it’s an ensemble film. It’s very important who you pick for all the parts.
Q: Do you think it’s important that he fight to keep it an R-rated “Alien”? There’s talk of trying to keep it a PG-13 one.
Weaver: I think, unfortunately, because movies have changed so much and gotten so much gorier, probably “Alien” would be PG-13. Because there wasn’t much blood in it. Except for the swearing. It’s tricky.
Q: There’s an enormous volume of material for the new Blu-ray set, including your original screen tests. Have you had a chance to check those out?
Weaver: How embarrassing! I had to okay it. You know, I work with a lot of young actors at our theater in New York, The Flea, and it’s good for them to see these embarrassing screen tests. I guess I can sort of see what Ridley maybe liked in it. It’s hard to let it go because, obviously, the film is a much more finished performance. But it’s good for people to see that we actually got better in the movie.
Q: What’s your personal favorite of the four films?
Weaver: That would be really hard for me. Because each one had, at the helm, such an original visionary. Ridley transformed the idea of space from this sterile, cerebral place to a place where people actually got up and had breakfast and swore and griped and carried on like regular people. Then Jim [Cameron] took it to a whole other scale of story and emotional resonance. Each director has put his own emotional stamp on it and I think they’re all legit. It was kind of dizzying to go from one to another, even though there were some years between. But I think it was fun for me to come back every few years knowing a little more about what I do and having more confidence and more experience in life. So I felt that that was an extraordinary opportunity for me.
Q: We do tend to focus on the first two, though. What are your thoughts on that stamp of David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet?
Weaver: I think that, with “The Social Network,” everyone now is going to be able to recognize Fincher for being one of the great directors of our day. Certainly that was true after “Fight Club” as well. What I love about each of these directors is that they’re really unsentimental. I think it got harder for Jean-Pierre because the story is much more about the science and the corporations. It’s difficult for us to watch the fourth one because it seems like yesterday or tomorrow. It’s not happening far away. It seems like something we read about in the papers. Cloning and BP and all this stuff. I think it makes people more uncomfortable. But I think they all really stand up. I’ve heard people arguing over their favorites, though, and three and four have a lot of fans.
Q: I know there’s a documentary on the set where Fincher is interviewed for the third film and that it was a very contentious experience for him as a director on that set. Were you aware of all the madness surrounding his creative control?
Weaver: Oh, yes. Every day we’d shoot all day and, at midnight, David would have to get on the phone and defend shooting the next day’s work. You shouldn’t hire someone like Fincher unless you’re going to let them go. So I think it was very difficult for him. Really, it was difficult for everybody. I think the film is really good, though, what he did. It was a very specific vision that Fox wanted him to do. It was not his take on it, which I think made it more complicated for him. It made a difficult film that much more difficult. I thought Fincher was amazing. It’s one of the main reasons that we shot the fourth one in California. Certainly whatever issues were there were complicated by the distance and the time change. It was hard to have a coherent conversation in those circumstances.
Q: Can you talk a little about what you’re working on now? I know you’ve been shooting “Vamps” and we just heard about the announcement on “Red Lights.”
Weaver: In “Vamps”, I play this rather awful vampire in this Amy Heckerling comedy. She’s kind of this delicious throwback to the old-fashioned vampire who really does enjoy doing what she does. I’m doing a movie in Spain right now with Bruce Willis and a young cast where I play a CIA person. Then I’m going to be working with Woody Harrelson on a movie called “Rampart” in Los Angeles. Then, next year, I’ll be doing “Red Lights” with De Niro. I think we shoot that in Barcelona. I play a paranormal expert.
Q: A lot of Spain for you.
Weaver: I know! I’ll have to learn the language.
Q: You’ll be back in action mode again, it sounds like.
Weaver: Yeah. I think action is very interesting because it’s all about doing. Good acting is all about doing and not about being. Or acting.
Q: Ridley Scott has said that he was never asked to do the second “Alien” and might have liked to be. Did you have any sense that there might have been some friction between films?
Weaver: What happened is that they never set out to make a sequel. Jim Cameron wrote “Aliens” on spec. He was being interviewed by our producers for something else. He said, “I’ve written this script for ‘Aliens.’ Would you read it?” They hadn’t even thought about doing it. So it was his baby from the beginning. He did such an amazing job. It would have been fun to go back to Ridley for another one, but in those days you just didn’t do sequels. He was busy doing whatever he was doing.
Q: Would you collaborate with Ridley Scott on something non-“Alien” related?
Weaver: Well, I did do “1492” with him. I’d love to work with Ridley again. I have such affection for him and I don’t know, I have such confidence in him as a filmmaker. I would have loved to do more work with him.
Q: Would you be interested in doing another “Alien” film?
Weaver: You know, it would be interesting for me to go back now and revisit the character, an older Ripley. But I can’t really see how to do that. I think it’s probably a better idea to do the prequel and start fresh with only whatever the “Alien” community might be. In terms of the character, it would be awesome to be able to play a woman like Ripley at my age. I certainly think the audience would be fine with it. To show how capable an older person is in something difficult, in a situation that’s difficult. So I don’t know, life is a strange thing. Maybe something will pop up where I can maybe combine some of the elements that made Ripley so special.
Q: A Ripley who’s already died, was’ât happy to be back and probably had to make peace with it.
Weaver: Yeah, I know. Because we were thinking about doing this fifth one and I didn’t really want to go ahead and do it and do it on earth, so we kind of left the sentence unfinished. There’s something slightly unfinished to me about it. Again, it’s not something I really sit around… I would have liked to see Ripley try to have a normal life, try to find happiness, at least for a little while. I feel we owe her that.
Q: Are you a fan of Blu-ray?
Weaver: I don’t have a machine, but I have seen “Avatar” on Blu-ray and it was so beautiful. I’m glad that we have the ability to take something where Derek Vanlint, the cinematographer, worked so hard to make every shot like a little masterpiece, like a little Vermeer painting. I’m glad that we have the technology to make that as high fidelity as we can, because for the people who love these movies, it’s going to be a work of art. So I think that’s cool that we now can create something that’s good for all the fidelity you can imagine even for the next 100 years.
Q: This is already the 3rd version of “Avatar” in less than a year. What do you feel each version adds to the film?
Weaver: Well, Jim has shown me everything in the DVD and one of the things I think is so exciting is that he shows about 45 minutes of what we did with the performance capture and how it ends up. I think what will astonish the audience, particularly the actors. For instance, if you take Zoe [Saldana]’s performance, everything, every nuance that’s in Neytiriâs existence, comes from what Zoe did in that volume. Nothing was added. When she takes her bow and arrow, this huge monster bow that this little creature had to pull and actually shoot an arrow and everything. So I think it’ll just show certainly the acting community and audiences around the world how much performance capture champions the actor’s work and puts them first ahead of all the technology. It’s a very organic process. Everything we had to climb or fly or fight, we had something that was real to work with. We didn’t have a potted palm or something. It’s much easier on the actor than green screen or blue screen where you have to imagine everything. That means you’re not acting, you’re imagining. There’s a big difference.
Q: How did you relationship with James Cameron change from Aliens to “Avatar”?
Weaver: Well, you know, he’s so awesome as a person and I think that he’s actually really funny and really kind and really he’s an amazing person. We’ve become good friends in this sort of second installation of our lives. I love how passionate he is about our planet and about filmmaking and storytelling. So I guess if anything, that just being thrown together with him more has enhanced my life. The bar is always so high with Jim, in every aspect of his life and it really makes you go, “Gosh, am I bringing everything I can to this? Should I step it up?” It’s great to have someone like that to inspire you.
Q: Has he shared with you any ideas for how Grace might be in an “Avatar” sequel?
Weaver: He has a little bit, but I’m not at liberty to tell anything. He just said, “You know, in science fiction, death is not really death.”
Q: Well, thatâs good news.
Weaver: Yeah, so we’ll see.
Q: Has there been any talk of your involvement in “Ghostbusters 3”?
Weaver: Yes, I got a call from Ivan Reitman. I think everyone who’s involved would love to get together again. I think everyone’s working on really trying to create a wonderful original story. I just said, “That would be fun and please make sure my little son Oscar grows up to be a Ghostbuster.” And he said, “Absolutely.” Then I think he directed this other film and is busy editing it, so it kind of got put on hold. But I would be surprised if we didn’t do it.
Q: Have you consciously taken in these iconic genre roles, or is it just coincidence?
Weaver: I think I’m just lucky. I mean, I was an English major in college, so I think I know how to read a good story and that’s really what was the focus for me. It was never the role. It was always, “Is this a story I’d like to see? Is this story something bigger than just the people in it?” The third thing would always be, “What kind of a filmmaker is this person?” Because, unlike the theater, you really needed someone who’s a fighter with a very strong vision. Because things can go wrong in shooting. Everything is out of chronology. There are a lot of things that can undermine a production, but if you have sort of a force of nature leading you, as all the directors of the “Alien” movies were, then you have a really good chance of making something distinctive.
Q: Whether it’s Frankenstein or Freddy and Jason or the alien, why do we love these monsters?
Weaver: Yes, the good creatures always have something in them that’s human. I don’t know about Freddy, but Frankenstein of course is such a great example. I guess it’s probably part of our genetic makeup sitting around in the cave hoping our light won’t be seen by something bigger than all of us. In Japan, in the summer, they always show ghost stories because, in the old days, they didn’t have air conditioning and it would send a shiver down everyone’s spine and keep them cool. So I think we’ve integrated these monsters into our culture and they’re endlessly fascinating, especially the human ones because what is it that makes someone act monstrous? When I was shooting the vampire movie, they were doing “Hostel III” on the floor below us in this Masonic temple. You could hear the screams of the actors. That’s not the kind of movie I’m interested in seeing. [I prefer] a good monster movie with real depth. Which maybe they are. I haven’t seen them. But I’m not really interested in gore. I am interested in a good yarn with a great monster.
Q: In “Alien: Resurrection” as well as in “Vamps,” it seems like there’s a sense of becoming the monster. Even in “Avatar,” to an extent. Is that something that interests you?
Weaver: I think that’s something that’s very interesting to me. At what point would Ripley’s genes go over to the other side? Is it 49/51? What is it? What is the ratio by which the thing that’s not very human will start to dominate? I think that’s something we all struggle with. We’re all trying to bring out the best version of ourselves with our kids in our communities, not the worst… Jeykll and Hyde has always fascinated us.