Sigourney Weaver had her screen debut in 1977 in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Her screen time is generally considered to be a mere six seconds. That work was worth 50 dollars. Two years later for Alien, where she stole the show, she received $30 000. We also know that for Alien: Resurrection in 1997, her paycheck was $11,000,000. Not too bad for a career plan, monetary-wise. Someone with time on his or her hands can probably deduce that it qualifies for a 200,000% pay increase in 20 years!
It’s not surprising to claim that Sigourney Weaver is a genuine Scream Queen or Cult Siren, considering her participation in the Alien franchise, playing the immortal role of Lt. Ellen Ripley (and don’t forget her presence in the short Ghostbusters series). But here is a Siren a bit different than some others (not that she’s unattractive, far from it): let’s admit that Ripley is an action character and not a mere decorative bimbo. There are not many American actresses who had the chance to get good main roles in adventure movies. Just only recently, the market has begun to accept such productions with female action players, like Elektra, Ultra Violet, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, etc.
Susan Alexandra Weaver was born in New York City on October 8, 1949, daughter of Sylvester Weaver and Elizabeth Inglis (a British actress that played in a handful of films in the thirties). Sylvester was at some point president of NBC Television and it’s common to credit him with the invention of the conventional talk-show, The Tonight Show in particular, still airing today. One of Sigourney’s uncles, Doodles Weaver, was a veteran actor with a flair for comedy (who actually committed suicide years later). So, the influence of an artistic family is not to be forgotten in Sigourney’ future career. Already very tall at age 13, the young girl got picked on and teased by her schoolmates. She retaliated by becoming a sort of class clown.
What is the origin of the Sigourney name? She decided to adopt it after reading The Great Gatsby at the age of 14, as it is one of the character’s name. In fact, her father wanted her at first to be named Flavia. At the famous Yale School of Drama, Sigourney shared some classes with Meryl Streep. At some point in the early seventies, she seemingly lived in a treehouse! She took part in some Greek tragedies, Japanese Noh plays and would be soon seen on television screens for the Somerset soap opera, while playing some experimental theater off Broadway. Soon came that screen debut and its easy $50 benefit. Her first main role: Madman, telling the story of a Jewish Russian soldier who goes AWOL.
Then came Alien, where she actually got the Ripley role from already cast fellow actress Veronica Cartwright (the only other female role). Let’s see, Sigourney is 5′ 11½”, with an aura of sexy intelligence and presence, so I still can’t really picture eternal victim Cartwright in the Ripley part. The character was saluted by critics and audience alike, even with a finale which found her wearing thin underwear while battling a cranky alien monster. In 1979, Alien’s power was its cast of unknown and/or character actors, which resulted in the unpredictability of its outcome. And there are those unforgettable Ridley Scott visuals. To think that it’s a remake of a 1958 B-movie, It! The Terror from Beyond Space…
Consequently, interesting and big-budget offers came Sigourney’s way, like Eyewitness and The Year of Living Dangerously. With Ghostbusters’ success in 1984, we could admire a possessed and malevolent Sigourney going all satanical in the fiery finale. A French movie with Gérard Depardieu, Une femme ou deux, probably looked original on paper but was not necessarily the best idea ever, even with tiny Dr. Ruth’s acting debut! Still, Sigourney spoke her own French dialogue. Around that time, she wed Jim Simpson, a stage director. They had a daughter, Charlotte, in 1990.