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Keeping us guessing

Sigourney Weaver, who made her starring film debut as the intrepid Ripley in Ridley Scott’s 1979 seminal sci-fi epic, “Alien,” is one of the most unpredictable actresses working today. Just when Hollywood has pegged her as a dramatic actress, she turns around and does a flat-out comedy. In fact, she was nominated for best actress of 1988 for her role as scientist Dian Fossey in “Gorillas in the Mist” and for supporting actress for her wickedly comedic turn in “Working Girl.” The statuesque actress, 55, has worked with such celebrated directors as Ang Lee (“The Ice Storm”), Roman Polanski (“Death and the Maiden”), James Cameron (“Aliens”) and Mike Nichols (“Working Girl”). Weaver’s latest movie, “Imaginary Heroes,” opens Feb. 18. The film had a one-week engagement in Los Angeles in mid-December for Oscar consideration. Weaver plays the matriarch of a supposedly happy middle-class family whose life is turned upside down when her eldest son, a champion swimmer, commits suicide. Written and directed by Dan Harris, “Imaginary Heroes” also stars Jeff Daniels and Emile Hirsch.

You glide effortlessly from dramas such as “Gorillas in the Mist” and sci-fi films such as “Alien” to comedies like “Working Girl” and “Galaxy Quest.” Do you enjoy mixing up genres?

I do. Sometimes when I do a serious thing I have to quickly go and do a comedy to sort of balance myself out. I think I prefer comedy, but I think comedy is harder to do -- certainly in film. Also, I like to do things that combine both, like this film. Oddly, you were able to have a lot of comedy though it is about something really sad in the beginning.

Dan Harris was born in 1979 -- the same year you starred in “Alien.” Do you find that young directors like Harris are intimidated working with veterans like you and Jeff Daniels?

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I hope not. I think a director who is going to be intimidated by an actor, it doesn’t matter what age they are.

The thing that joins it all together is our passion to do this story and I feel like with “Imaginary Heroes” and on any good film, [intimidation] falls away after the first day. Sometimes I feel a director will be holding back. I think actors love to be directed, and I think sometimes directors will assume that you think what you are doing is perfect and they don’t say anything to you. But that’s very rare.

Sometimes because I am very shy, when I meet a director and they are shy too, we just sort of sit there. I remember when I met Ang Lee and we were left alone -- we were supposed to have tea with each other -- I was so shy and he was so shy neither of us said anything to each other for about 20 minutes. Finally, we started talking about “The Ice Storm.”

How do you choose your projects? Is the script most important or the director?

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It is always : Is it a good script? Is it a good story?

Does it have a proper beginning, middle and end?

I am very interested in the structure of the story. What is it talking about? What is the theme? I was an English major, so I approach it quite coldbloodedly in a way -- is this a story I’d like to see?

I don’t even care what the role is, if it’s a good story and a director who I think will be fine, I will play anything. I am not interested in the size of the part, but I am interested in being part of telling a great story.

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Plus, I look at the director and it’s a gut thing -- is this [director] a fighter? You don’t want to work with someone who is going to run out of steam halfway through and let someone else do their movie. [Dan Harris] is an old soul. He is so huggable, but I tried not to hug him on the set because he is the authority figure. I don’t think he ever raised his voice, but everyone listened to every word he said.

You have a 14-year-daughter, Charlotte. Do you think being a mom in real life has given you insight into playing mothers like in “Imaginary Heroes”?

I really do. I think that because of Ripley, I was asked to play a lot [of those types of roles]. I am kind of not very Ripley-like and I am not very serious, so it’s taken me a while to be able to show what I can do.

I think it took me a long time to establish that I could do comedy and then the mother thing. I think I was so used to playing people studying gorillas and people in space and people who were serial killer experts ... but when they finally cast me as a normal woman on Earth I found my job is a lot easier. I know who that person is.

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One of your first jobs was being an understudy in a tour of “The Constant Wife” with Ingrid Bergman. That must have been an amazing experience.

Sir John Gielgud was the director. We toured and I was also the stage manager.

I actually still have my notes from “The Constant Wife.” I was very lucky because Miss Bergman was so down-to-earth, so gorgeous, so talented. I still have several little gifts she gave me and I was just one of the company. It was a great experience because what if I had worked with some monster? I felt really blessed and I got paid. And to get paid for something I would have done for nothing!


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