The most important thing to know when interviewing Sigourney Weaver is that she's much, much smarter than you are. She knows what you're asking before you're even done asking it, and she has at the ready a completely spontaneous and yet polite and graceful answer. That she chalked up her unfamiliarity with yours truly to her stupidity only made her seem that much smarter, even as she demonstrated the disarming authority her character wields like a switchblade in her new film, 'You Again.' Thankfully, however, her kindness is sincere, which is why you find yourself hating to love her in the movie rather than the other way around, even when she's putting her on screen adversary (played by Jamie Lee Curtis) through her paces – and then some.
Cinematical spoke to Weaver via telephone during the recent Los Angeles press day for 'You Again.' In addition to talking about finding the real emotion behind her character's animosity for Jamie Lee Curtis, Weaver talked about the collaboration the two actresses shared during shooting, and reflected on the opportunities (and limitations) of being a performer who, simply by virtue of talent and timing, changed the notion of what was possible for actresses to play on screen. (Plus, she talks briefly about the long-gestating 'Ghostbusters 3,' and her eagerness to reunite with the first two films' unforgettable ensembles.
Cinematical: This sort of role is something we've seen you play occasionally in previous films-
Sigourney Weaver: The awful woman! (laughs)
Cinematical: I was thinking of 'Heartbreakers' in particular. But I was wondering if these sorts of roles come along more rarely, or how they fit into the kind of material you're normally looking for.
Weaver: I'm always looking for comedies, and often even in a good comedy, the older woman character is such a cliché – a real shrew or something. So it's actually rare to find real, interesting fun women to play; 'Heartbreakers' is certainly a great example, and even 'Working Girl,' where it's not just kind of a caricature, and they want a real, living, breathing person playing it. So I'm always looking for those roles, and I just don't come across them very often.
Cinematical: What's interesting in this movie is that both Kristen Bell and Jamie Lee Curtis' characters are sort of set up as the offended parties in these lifelong rivalries, but in the case of you and Jamie Lee, it turns out she's sort of the one who does the most damage. So for a while there has to be this ambiguity-
Weaver: Right, that maybe I was mean to her because I'm sort of worldly.
Cinematical: How hard was it to know how far you could go to make your character competitive and catty and yet still maintain a sense of justification that would eventually lead to you getting an overdue apology?
Weaver: I think for every comedy, I find that you really have to play it for real, so I wasn't really worried about that. I felt that for me, Ramona had to really be on her game when she arrived, look like she had conquered the world. Look like the biggest winner in the world, and then rub it in just enough to the little hausfrau that she could feel good about herself. So to me, it was all personal; to me it was all character-driven meanness, or if not meanness, then meanness with gloves on, because she does have this secret axe to grind. To me, that was all very real, and I could understand that.
Cinematical: Is it difficult to balance that sense of humanity and at the same time to be able to go over the top?
Weaver: Yeah. It has to make sense in your stomach, and once it makes sense in your stomach and you know where you are, you can really let the stops out. A lot of it is actually improvised, the stuff about Gestad, and all of that stuff, we just threw in. But again, it has to be based on "I want that woman over there who kept me from succeeding in high school to think that I am such a huge success and that I'm the woman with everything." So it's all emotionally based, even though it does end up being comic screwball what-have-you.
Cinematical: Have you ever had a time in your life, whether or not it was in high school, when you shared a sense of friendly competition or a "frenemies" relationship with anyone?
Weaver: I don't really think actors are in competition with each other, but I certainly have been in situations where the other actors haven't gotten that message (laughs). So I just try not to get plugged into that; to me, it's always much more about whatever they have going on than whatever I have going on, but in general, I think actors are so generous with each other. I did have kind of a tortured high school [experience] – I was this tall when I was 11, I got to high school feeling like a giant spider, and it took me a long time to grow into my height and feel kind of like I could pass for a normal person. I think all of those memories are incredibly useful and fruitful for someone who wants to be an artist, because I think it's universal. I think everyone has a kind of mixed bag in high school: if you were incredibly successful in high school, it was probably a very difficult thing to maintain, and I'd rather be a late bloomer, quite frankly, and make it when I'm 40.
Cinematical: You obviously have to share a long and vivid history with Jamie Lee in the film. Is there some process that you undergo in order to create that kind of familiarity, or does the script do most of that work for you?
Weaver: It's interesting, because I never talked to Jamie Lee about my high school experiences. Maybe I didn't feel that I wanted to share that much vulnerability, even though she's a sweetheart. But Jamie Lee is such an awesome person that she took care of all of us, and she's just so generous and warm and real. I admire her so much, and it was not a problem for us to be [on screen adversaries]. I mean, actually, when we email each other, we always email "Dear Frenemy." We love all of that, and I think we've always wanted to work together; we've both done some action, and we've both worked with Jim Cameron, and we've both done comedy, so we have a lot in common. Her showbiz family was much more famous than mine, but we have a lot in common, so it was just a joy to work with her. And you just kind of go for it; you don't sit around talking too much about it, I think.
Cinematical: You and Jamie Lee both set important standards in genres where women had previously been traditionally marginalized. Do you feel like that influence has continued to reverberate in positive ways in these genres?
Weaver: I would say that with a lot of roles that had been written for men, I actually prefer that, because I know that there's not going to be some stupid scene in it where I cry or something. I know that if you just write the character as the character, it's going to work, whether it's played by a man or a woman. The most interesting one I did recently was in 'The TV Set' where I play Lenny, who runs a studio. It was written for Ben Stiller, and I said, "I would love to play this part but I don't want you to change one word." I even have a scene where I talk about this girl's breasts, and it's funny if a guy is doing it, but it's really weird if a woman is doing it – and yet I know women executives would absolutely do that. They would absolutely objectify an actor in that way. So I love it when they do that; I don't find it to be a cop-out. It's much worse to get a kind of womanized version of a character where they're kind of hopeless and hapless, because women aren't like that. We're very capable.
Cinematical: Do you find that as a result of playing so many strong women, that you've maybe been offered characters who express less vulnerability or multi-dimensionality than you feel you'd like, or you feel is more interesting?
Weaver: You know, I'm offered such a huge range of things, and I assume that when they offer it to me, they want me to come in and do my work on it. So I assume that whatever they offer me, they want me to make it real, and I'm going to do that with whatever tools I have. I've never had a director go, "no – can you make it more of a cartoon character? Because that's what I wanted when I wrote the script." I've never had that happen. Actually, all of these different kinds of movies thrive when they're something real underneath.
Cinematical: There's been a lot of discussion about the possibility of 'Ghostbusters 3' happening, and I won't ask you about the status of that. But whether it's this film or a new installment in another franchise, how do you look at sequels differently than original projects? Are they a chance to further explore a character, or do you perhaps see them as a reward for the fans?
Weaver: I think that I loved working with those guys, I've continued to work with Bill Murray over the years at our little theater, The Flea, in New York, and I haven't thought about any aspect of it except wow, it would be great if we could create a great script and get to work with each other again. So I don't think we have any ulterior motives, but just to see what happens if we came back together. I was opening the door a lot at a friend's house last year for Halloween, and I had so many little Ghostbusters come to her door. I thought, what is this? It's just amazing. So if we want to bring in a new generation of Ghostbusters for a new generation of audiences, I think that would be fine.
Cinematical: Do you see sequels in general as something you enjoy, or is there a redundancy to playing a character multiple times?
Weaver: Well, I think when I started out with Ripley, they didn't do sequels. But I think that whole thing was so kind of unique - each time they did one, they chose such a brilliant, young director who wanted to sort of start things in a different way. So I don't think I really see them as sequels; I think in that case, I see them as an opportunity to continue the story. We've already talked about getting back together again for another 'You Again' because we had so much for working together – and I feel like the audience feels that when they watch the movie.