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Sigourney Weaver on "The Ice Storm"

by Glenn Myrent

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Cannes, May 13, 1997

Question (Q): How much sleep did you get last night?

Sigourney Weaver (SW): Not enough ! You know in France they keep changing your drink. I rarely drink and if I drink, I drink one thing. So when I have to drink champagne, white wine, red wine, cognac, etcÉ I'm not used to it.

Q: Is this your first trip to Cannes?

SW: No, my second competition film in Cannes. The previous being "The Year of Living Dangerously" (1983) and that time I only came for a day or so. This year has been the most special visit being part of the 50th celebration. It's pretty inspiring.

Q: Since we weren't able to attend the special 50th anniversary soirée, could you describe it for us?

SW: I was sitting next to Bernardo Bertolucci and Sydney Pollack in front of Pedro Almadovar and Johnny Depp. I was thinking if these guys are in the audience, who are the 50 or so on the stage? I was frankly so moved by two things - first of all the range in age of the directors. To see Antonioni come out and Robert Altman - by then I was gone - To see Joel and Ethan Coen and finally Jane (Campion) I couldn't help thinking that the good thing was the internationality of the film community at that moment is one of the things I love about film - it's an international pastime - an international art form.

And having just finished working with a half French, half L.A. crew, it was just wonderful. I think the next 50 years will see some very different faces up there. So I felt like we were in a way saluting the past - we were ready to have that group up there on stage be a very different group.

Q: Would you say something about Ang Lee and how he's different than other directors you've worked with?

SW: About Ang? He is. I think the second week I said 'You know, I don't think I want to work with anybody else ever again.' First of all, he's so gentle. He's so clear sighted and the way he talks about things. I think it's very Buddhist because it's not about Western morality at all. It's about the limits of nature and what is appropriate and what isn't and how if you change this, something else will happen further down the line and there's a kind of balance and if you don't observe it, it will catch up with you. So there was a kind of sense of nature in this story, which I think with a western director would have been much more, "Don't fuck around or you'll get punished." That's always the way American films seem to go. This was like a Mid-Winter Night's Dream only it was more of things going wrong in terrible ways. There's magic about it which comes from Ang.

Q: The screenwriter, James Schamus said during the press conference that he wanted to go out of his way to make sure that your character, Janey, simply wasn't another bad girl and punished for being sexually competitive, and yet, there's a kind of hardness about your character that makes me curious as to what did you find to like about her?

SW: Actually, I really like Janey. I think she's completely no-nonsense about what's going on in her life. She's very up front about the fact that she's incredibly dissatisfied - but what is she going to do about it? She has no career, she has no other way of supporting herself - she's between picking up the groceries everyday and making sure the kids do the minimum of what they're supposed to do. She's like a Masha character in Chekhov. I admire Janey. I think she's funny first of all. I guess I found her remoteness very touching. Even when she's with Ben having an affair, she's very distant from him because she sort of wants the pleasure of the sex but without it really touching her. She's so turned down or turned off that if she, even with the sex, she lets it in too much, she'll really unravel. I think that's what she does in the last scene with Kevin when he comes up and confronts her, she's this whole other person. I like Janey and I like the kind of parent she was. I know parents who are like her. Direct. Treat them like they should know what they're doing and be responsible for themselves. To see her at the end sort of beginning to realize dimly that something terrible has happened, she's anesthetized somewhat. Maybe that gives her the appearance of being hard, but I think it just gives her this distance and objectivity.

Q: Do you have a picture of where she is now 25 years later?

SW: I have a very good picture of where she was when she started. I think she went to a junior college. She was very good at art and went to the Village for a year and took art courses, and then got knocked up and got married. But I know in the book or Rick Moody told me that these couples did get divorced. Let me see, how old would Janey be? 63? 65? I've never really thought about her future, because in my opinion, she did not get divorced because she, like Masha, wanted to take steps to alleviate her condition but really wasn't willing to take a big risk so, she would blow up her life in little tiny ways not realizing that over a period of time, she would actually damage her situation. You just think, oh, one more day of this, then I'll figure out what I'm really going to do. Then I think she takes a Valium or something. She's the only one who doesn't think there's going to be any solution except doing something in the present to amuse herself. I like that about her.

Q: You've made a couple of references to Chekhov. Most roles that come through Hollywood are not anything close to that; not that they should be, but they don't have that kind of depth. What do you do? Do you take a lesser role and try to flesh it out? or wait for the great roles to come along?

SW: I think in fact you can't wait for the great roles. Basically film scripts are a blue print. You take the character and you're often hired only because you come in and you say, well, actually, what might be going on with the person is thisÉ they want someone to come in and dig deeper. They hire you because they know you're going to really thoroughly explore this person and give them a whole person when there's just sort of a design for a person in the script and that's why they hire you in the first place. So I don't think there's anything wrong with that and in a way it gives you a lot of freedom, because you can make those choices instead of the writer or the director. They don't care how you come up with it, you can do all this mysterious stuff yourself that's interesting to you.

Q: Being a star is like being a 4 or 5 year old when your parents take you everywhere. You need people around you to take you from place to place.

SW: Only in this situation, at Cannes, not in real life. Thank God ! In this situation you do . No one in New York cares about anyone else. "You think you're important !?" In this situation you do and you also need a kind of buffer. You need to focus your energy on what you're actually supposed to do. Because there are so many other people wanting your time. So we're here to talk about the Ice Storm. So that's when you need people around to make sure what it's all about. Then you go home from Cannes. But here, it is a very specific situation. The film is scheduled to open in October - Alien 4 is coming out in November.

Q: You left New Canaan, CT. and went to space !?

SW: Yes I did actually - or I think she's in outer space already in New Canaan. There's more reality in space for her. In anticipation of making another Alien, I think it was particularly juicy to do Ice Storm and have the experience of a small intimate film with an ensemble, no special effects - no money, for the film and it was another Fox (Searchlight) film. So it was kind of nice to see the studio doing it.

Q: There's kind of a double standard though, just taking those two roles, where it's o.k. to be a strong woman as long as you inhabit a man's role and carry a gun, and get rid of a bunch of bad bugs, but as soon as you're a strong woman in a middle-class milieu, suddenly, everyone starts looking at you with a curious eye like, "what's she all about?"

SW: I don't know that I'd consider Janey as strong. I think all these people are in the middle of this crisis which they don't even see. So that everybody is presenting an image to the world which is in fact completely untrue and that is not as strong - It's a much more complex world than the world we show in "Alien," which is basically about survival. This is not survival. This is just making your way through each day, which is much harder to do than simply trying to live. Again, I don't see these women I play as strong or not strong. I think those adjectives for me are really confusing. I always think you play people who are doing the best they can whatever the situation is - the human response to a crisis. I don't think she's, I don't quite see it that way. I think all these people are terribly troubled.

Q: With "Alien" you've been given the chance to revisit a character, is that rewarding? Would you like to do "The Ice Storm 2"?

SW: Interesting. I'll have to mention it to Ang - The Ice Storm 25 years laterÉ I feel very fortunate as an actor that every few years I have been able to go back to the role of Ripley knowing more as an actor, knowing more as a person. Really, Alien was my first film and what an amazing gig. You know because I've gotten to work with these wonderful directors and good scripts. It's a very unusual situation for an actor. I really wanted to die after the third one and I did die. Because I felt that that was enough, that we were pushing it having done three and they were talking about Alien vs. the Predator and all kinds of nightmarish things I didn't want to hear about. But in fact what they ended up doing with 4 was something very original and very striking and I was frankly totally seduced by the script. Especially the character Ripley. So I don't need to go over past territory as her, which is again an amazing chance for me.

Q: Do you ever play characters that you think do things better than you do in real life?

SW: Yes, all the time. I'm not brave at all. In fact there's been a couple situations in my life where I was so at a disadvantage that I'd ask myself, so what would Ripley do? Once I was stuck in an elevator and I'm incredibly claustrophobic and I said to myself, if I were Ripley, I would just wait for people to come and save me. Which I was able to do. I'm about as far away from Ripley as one can get. Which is another reason why it's interesting to quarry into her and come back.

Q: What makes your experience on "Alien-Resurrection" so interesting?

SW: For one thing it's very interesting to have a relationship with Wynona's character. The relationships, except for the one with Newt, have been so truncated and purposefully since everyone dies right away, so that was really nice. Also

Jean-Pierre's (Jeunet) way of directing. First of all, he's very funny in a really sick way. Although there's a lot of action, a lot of incredible action and very original kinds of action, to me, it's as much of a psychological thriller as the first one was. It's what I wanted."

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