Weaver tells women to break glass ceiling
By Kim Da-ye, Ra Je-gi
What would be the most significant virtue to become a scientific-fiction heroine like Sigourney Weaver, widely known for her roles as Ellen Ripley in the Alien film series as well as ones in Gorillas in the Mist and Avatar?
To defy such common sense approaches, Weaver said that the answer is to ``get a good education’’ in order for young aspirants to become actresses with the caliber of Weaver.
“I would say it is never a glamorous thing they want to hear... Get an education that teaches you really well how to read and write,” Weaver said in an exclusive telephone interview with The Korea Times and its sister publication, The Hankook Ilbo.
“You need to evaluate very quickly a script, the power of the script and the power of the story. I think if I had any relevance in a long career, it is because I know how to read.”
Weaver read English at Stanford University and earned a master’s degree from the Yale University School of Drama. She says she had “a gift of an amazing education” and is grateful to it every day because she often rewrites what she is going to act.
She is trying to return what she got from society. A prolific actress ― seven movies will be released and more to be shot next year ― the 61-year-old works as a mentor to tens of young actors and actresses.
Weaver and her director husband, Jim Simpson, together run a small theater in Tribeca, New York, called the Flea Theater, which took its name from the tiny insect for its size. The place, which Weaver says was once voted the best theater in New York, has one stage with 85 seats and another with 35.
The Flea Theater takes 50 young actors and actresses every year who are given free training and operate the facility together with Weaver and Simpson.
“They take care of the theater and do new plays and work together. I strongly believe that our profession particularly is all about working with younger generations as equals and inspiring each other to bring out the best in each other,” says Weaver, who herself was first mentored by Ingrid Bergman and helped by Hume Cronyn and Jessica Tandy.
Despite such a devotion to mentoring the next generations, it is still surprising to hear Weaver, who has performed in so many global hits like the Alien series and Ghostbusters, saying, “Probably, it is the proudest thing I have done in my life.”
Women’s causes are Weaver’s other interest. She will visit Seoul on Nov. 29 and 30 to participate in the Global Women’s Leadership Conference, which is hosted by The Hankook Ilbo and held at the Shilla Hotel, Seoul. It will be her first visit to Korea, in which she has been greatly interested because her Hawaiian husband’s close friend was from Korea.
Weaver, whose roles in many sci-fi movies engraved her tough image in movie fans’ memory, urged female actors to be proactive to get placed in movies and treated equally in the movie industry.
“Use your imagination and believe that what you have is what you want. They may not have a place for it, but I played so many roles that were written for men now,” Weaver says.
Playing a man’s part might not be so easy for Korean actresses who, at least in television dramas, typically play roles of Cinderellas, housewives who get cheated by their husbands and devoted mother. When informed that there is still so much prejudice against actresses, Weaver says, “I am so surprised to hear that because that’s not what we think of Korean films. They are daring.”
She adds that the already-exciting Korean movies will improve further when “using more of the country’s fabulous female acting talent.”
Her authority and confidence, however, weren’t granted from the beginning of her career. “You have to understand that that is a generational thing. I hit that when I was just starting out, there were producers who wanted everyone to be blond, blue-eyed and five feet two (inches),” says Weaver. “And I was six feet tall. I was not their image of a how a woman in a film should look like.”
But she met directors “just crazy enough” including Ridley Scott, Peter Weir and James Cameron who saw her energy rather than the appearance. Weaver was also open to “cool, crazy projects that are just out of minds” and to both small and big parts in all sorts of genres of acting rather than defining what she wanted to become.
Having moved back and forth between films and plays, it is no surprise Weaver considered directing a film. She never found a time for it, and isn’t sure if she will in the future. However, if she ever gets to, it will be a comedy with “great young women in it.”
“Women, still even in our country, people want them to be sympathetic and all this other xxxx, you know,” says Weaver. “I just want women to blossom on screen and show all that we can be. There is no one way to be a woman.”
As much as to women’s causes, Weaver has been drawn to environmental issues, which she plans to discuss at the women’s forum.
In 1987, Weaver traveled to Rwanda to film “Gorillas in the Mist,” based on Dian Fossey, an American zoologist known for her campaign to protect mountain gorillas. Weaver is now the chairperson of The Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund that is dedicated to the conservation and protection of gorillas and their habitats in Africa.
The actor also recently testified in April before the Subcommittee on Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries and Coast Guard of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee on the topic of ocean acidification.
When asked what her favorite movie she starred in is, she answers that it would be impossible to choose one but the most memorable experience was working with gorillas in Rwanda for six months for “Gorillas in the Mist” which got her interested in saving the apes from extinction.
Weaver also enjoyed working with James Cameron on Avatar which carries the message of environmentalism. She was so enthusiastic about the film that she voiced her wish for Cameron to win the Best Director award at the Academy Awards, which was somewhat misinterpreted by the media as criticism against the Oscars.
“I was sorry that you had to pick one film out of ten different films like Inglorious Bastards, District 9 and An Education. Why did you have to pick one winner?” says Weaver, a three-time Academy Award nominee. “But my favorite [is Avatar] because I also know how much work went into it ― 10 years of work. I felt that Jim should have been recognized, but, you know, the Academy is a lot of artists voting. And I totally respect their choice, but that wasn’t what I felt.”
Weaver accompanied Cameron to Brazil in April to protest against the construction of a hydroelectric dam in the Amazon which is said will destroy the rain forest and displace indigenous people. The director told The New York Times in April that the dam is a “quintessential example of the type of thing we are showing in ‘Avatar’ ― the collision of a technological civilization’s vision for progress at the expense of the natural world and the cultures of the indigenous people that live there.”
In Seoul, Weaver will be talking about things that are closer to women’s daily lives. “We have a closer bond with a lot of nature because we give birth to children, and we are responsible for so much,” she says. Weaver has a 20-year-old daughter who is currently in Madagascar, an island in the southeastern coast of Africa and whom she will meet right after her trip to Seoul.
Weaver says that women can start with small-scale initiatives such as feeding the family with good food, making sure they exercise to stay healthy, using green materials when renovating the home and buying hybrid cars. And Weaver is surely one who takes those initiatives serious. Apart from her serious environmental campaigns, she is devoted to vegetarian dishes and to exercise.
No wonder she looks like she is in her 40s at the age of 61. Her youthful look, she confides, is due to “a lot of exfoliating” of her skin and regular exercise. Weaver says, “You know, people who mentored me, they died in their nineties. They were acting up until they died. I aspired to be like that!”
‘여성들 눈에 보이지 않는 장벽을 허물어야’
영화 ‘에일리언’과 ‘아바타’에서의 열연으로 널리 알려진 시고니 위버 처럼 공상과학 영화의 영웅이 되기 위한 가장 특별한 덕목은 무엇일까?
위버는 젊은 지망자들이 견직 공의 재능을 지닌 여배우가 되기 위해서는 좋은 교육을 받아야 한다는 것이다라고 말했다.
‘그들이 듣기 원하는 것은 화려한 것이 결코 아니라고 말하고 싶다. 어떻게 읽고 쓰는가를 진정으로 잘 가르쳐주는 교육을 받으라는 것이다’라고 위버는 코리아타임스-한국일보와의 인터뷰에서 말했다.
‘여러분들은 대본, 대본의 힘 그리고 이야기의 힘을 아주 빨리 평가해야 할 필요가 있다. 나는 어떻게 읽느냐를 알고 있기 때문에 나의 긴 경력 속에서 관련된 것을 가졌었다고 생각한다’고 위버는 밝혔다.