Even if she’d done nothing else with her acting career, Sigourney Weaver would go down as one of the most important women in Hollywood due to her role as Ellen Ripley in the Alien series. Critics and fans agree that the role was a game changer for women in sci-fi. They’ve hailed Ripley has also been hailed as one of the most important female protagonists in modern film history. But Weaver is far more than just Ellen Ripley. She’s has appeared in a plethora of classic films that are fan favorites to this day. Here are some impressive facts about Sigourney Weaver.
1. A Star is Born
Susan Alexandra Weaver was born on October 8, 1949 in Manhattan. Her parents were Elizabeth Inglis and Sylvester Weaver. Weaver was just one of several members of her family to build a career for herself in the entertainment industry.
2. Steal from the Classics
Weaver ended up with the stage name “Sigourney”—but few know the story behind it. For the answer, we must turn to high American literature—specifically The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald. One of the supporting characters in that book is the protagonist’s aunt, Sigourney Howard. Weaver first used this as her stage name in 1963.
3. And Introducing…
Weaver’s first onscreen role in a feature film was none other than Woody Allen’s Annie Hall. Unfortunately for Weaver, she played a non-speaking role in the film, but it still wasn’t a bad debut for any actor.
4. Three Nominations
Sigourney Weaver is the recipients of a unique honor. She is one of only a few people who have been nominated by the Academy for two Oscars in the same year. In 1989, Weaver received a nomination for Lead Actress for her performance as Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist. She also got a Supporting Actress nomination for the film Working Girl.
Aside from those two nominations, they Academy also nominated Weaver for her performance in Aliens.
5. Someone Had to be First
Speaking of that Oscar nomination for Aliens, it was the first time in history of the awards that the Academy nominated an actress for a film in the action genre.
6. Thanks, Mom
Weaver’s mother, best known as Elizabeth Inglis, was an English actress who first appeared on the BBC before emigrating to Hollywood. Sadly, she did not achieve the success which her daughter later achieved, and she walked away from her acting career to focus on raising her two children.
7. At Least They Still Paid Her!
Despite having left acting behind, Weaver’s mother did make a return (of sorts) in 1986. Weaver’s film Aliens features a scene where Ellen Ripley looks at a picture of her elderly daughter, whom she has outlived due to having been in cryo-sleep. Weaver’s mother stood in to portray Ripley’s daughter for the scene. Sadly, they didn’t feature the scene in the theatrical cut of the film.
8. Studious Sigourney
Sigourney Weaver attended classes at Sarah Lawrence College, Stanford University (where she got her B.A. in English), and the Yale University School of Drama (where she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree).
9. Who Wants to Laugh?
Contrary to what you might think about Sigourney Weaver, given the dark film series which made her famous to begin with, Weaver spent much of her post-secondary education acting in frivolous comedies. One of her classmates was absurd comedy writer Christopher Durang. Weaver frequently appeared as a cast member in his plays.
This was, in fact, a significant reason why she pursued the Ghostbusters series. After starring in dark action films, she wanted to return to the world of comedy!
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In 2004, Weaver co-starred in M. Night Shyamalan’s psychological horror film The Village. When Weaver originally read the script, the effects were truly disturbing. She said that she spent two weeks dealing with nightmares afterward!
11. You’ve Got a Friend in Me
One of Weaver’s lifelong friends is none other than actress Jamie Lee Curtis. Like Weaver, Curtis has acted alongside Dan Aykroyd in a well-known comedy (Trading Places) and made a name for herself in the horror genre. In 2010, the two friends co-starred in the romantic comedy You Again.
12. Married for Life
On October 1, 1984, Weaver married stage director Jim Simpson. As of 2020, they are still together after more than 36 years!
13. Television Pioneer
Weaver’s father, best known as Pat Weaver, was the president of NBC-TV for two years in the 1950s. Interestingly, he was partly responsible for a whole trend in American television that continues to this day. This trend is the format within a talk show where the host sits behind a desk and the guest sits on a couch next to the desk. Many talk shows still use this format to this day.
14. Hear Me Roar
Rare for any action/horror series that began in the 1980s, the studios usually made Weaver the top-billed name in each film’s cast. The only film in the Alien franchise in which she appeared without getting top billing was the first film. It listed Tom Skerritt as the top name.
15. One Out Of Three
As of 2019, Sigourney Weaver has acted in three films that were nominated for Best Picture: Annie Hall, Avatar, and Working Girl. Of those three, only Annie Hall actually won the Best Picture Oscar.
16. Not For Me
Despite her reputation as a female action star in the 1980s, particularly where she had to defeat hordes of aliens in the Alien franchise, Weaver strongly dislikes guns in real life. In fact, when production for Aliens was underway, she’d tried to persuade James Cameron to allow Ripley not to use any weapons in the film. Obviously, she was unsuccessful in this endeavor.
17. Hey! That’s Mom!
In 2003, Sigourney Weaver was the primary antagonist in the film adaptation of Louis Sachar’s popular novel Holes. One of the book’s fans was Weaver’s own daughter, which led her to pursue a role in the film adaptation.
18. The Crying Clown
One of Weaver’s uncles was Winstead Weaver, who used the stage name “Doodles.” As you can probably imagine, Doodles was a comedian, as well as a prolific character actor and musician. For all his success, however, Doodles met a very tragic end. Despairing of his poor health, Doodles shot himself in the first month of 1983.
19. How it Began
If you’re wondering who gets the credit for connecting Sigourney Weaver to the production of Alien in the first place, look no further than Hollywood legend Warren Beatty. According to Ridley Scott, it was Beatty who saw Weaver on stage once. He proceeded to recommend her to David Giler, one of the people who produced Alien.
Weaver proceeded to win Scott over with her audition and received the role of a lifetime.
20. Money Where Her Mouth Is
Weaver’s respect and appreciation for gorilla researcher Dian Fossey didn’t end with Weaver portraying her in Gorillas in the Mist. She has continued to be a supporter of the Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund, which has named her as its honorary chairperson.
21. On the Nose
Sigourney Weaver also referenced her previous role as Dian Fossey in the film Working Girl, which she did right after acting in Gorillas in the Mist. One of her scenes in Working Girl features Weaver’s character holding a toy gorilla. We didn’t say it was going to be a subtle reference!
22. What a Coincidence!
Interestingly, Weaver has worked with three actors who have portrayed hobbits with the surname “Baggins” in the Lord of the Rings trilogy. Ian Holm (who played Bilbo Baggins) acted alongside Weaver in Alien. Nearly 20 years later, Weaver acted in The Ice Storm alongside Elijah Wood, who starred in said trilogy as Frodo Baggins.
Additionally, one of the stunt people in Weaver’s Aliens was Kiran Shah. Shah was Elijah Wood’s stunt double in the Lord of the Rings films.
23. Seems Familiar
In 2009, Weaver played a supporting role in the sci-fi film Avatar, which was the highest-grossing film of all time until the MCU era. Not only did Weaver reunite with her former Aliens director James Cameron, but she also ended up portraying a version of him in the film! In an interview, Weaver admitted that she was channeling Cameron during her performance in the film, as she saw so much of him in her character of Grace Augustine.
24. Bring Her Back!
James Cameron is currently developing four Avatar sequels. Although Weaver’s Avatar character dies in the original story, she is actually set to appear in the new films. According to Weaver, she won’t be playing the same character, but a different one. We’re just hoping that it doesn’t turn out to be Grace Augustine’s twin sister!
25. Was it on a Friday?
Weaver gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Charlotte, on April 13, 1990.
26. A New Star in the Sky
On December 16, 1999, the Hollywood Walk of Fame awarded Sigourney Weaver with her own Star. You can find it at 7021 Hollywood Boulevard.
27. What Might Have Been
As most of you know, two prequels to Alien came out in the 21st century, these films being Prometheus and Alien: Covenant. However, for a time, producers were planning a film that would have seen Weaver return to the role of Ellen Ripley for the fifth time. This project would have been a sequel to Aliens, ignoring the events of the third and fourth Alien films.
It would follow Ripley, Newt, and Hicks from the second film. They had got filmmaker Neill Blomkamp (District 9) to direct the film, and he had prepared some ideas and artwork for the project. However, Blomkamp said in 2017 that the studio hadn’t been interested in this project, and that they preferred to go with the prequels. Feel free to lament what a tragic missed opportunity that was.
28. Serenading Sigourney
It’s a rare thing when you inspire someone to write a song, but Weaver is one of the people to hold that distinction. American musician Mike Garrigan wrote a song that he named after Weaver, paying tribute to her career and her legacy.
29. Oddly Specific Trend
One recurring theme in Weaver’s filmography is the presence of a spaceship that is not only intelligent but is also sentient. These spaceships serve mostly as antagonists to Weaver’s character in the Alien film series. Later, in Galaxy Quest, Weaver’s character has to reluctantly obey the orders of another such ship. Finally, Weaver provided the voices of sentient spaceships in both WALL-E and Futurama.
30. Let’s Do it for Real!
In the film Alien, there is a scene where Lambert slaps Ellen Ripley. This is after she tries to prevent Lambert and two others from coming back on the ship when a face-hugger alien has infected one of them. The slap was actually genuine. Director Ridley Scott noticed that Weaver kept anticipating the fake slap, which made the scene look unrealistic.
31. Hate-Love Relationship
In 1999, Weaver appeared in the sci-fi parody film Galaxy Quest alongside Tim Allen and Alan Rickman. Portraying the blond-haired Gwen DeMarco, Weaver wore a wig for the role, joking that she felt her “I.Q. drop precipitously” whenever she put the wig on to portray DeMarco. It’s clear that Weaver felt an affinity for that character, though. After finishing the film, she kept the wig.
32. Costly Name
In a sign of how far her clout rose over the years of her career, the studio paid Weaver more money to appear in Alien Resurrection than the entire cost of Alien’s budget.
33. While We Have Down Time…
Speaking of Galaxy Quest, Weaver’s co-star Tim Allen was a huge fan of Weaver’s work, particularly Alien. In between takes, he persuaded Weaver to autograph some of the Alien memorabilia which he’d acquired!
34. Mark Your Calendars!
After starring in Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters II as Dana Barrett, Weaver made a cameo appearance in the 2016 Ghostbusters reboot. Weaver didn’t play Barrett in that film; her character was Dr. Rebecca Gorin. However, there’s good news for fans. In 2021, when Jason Reitman releases his sequel to Ghostbusters II, Weaver will be reprising her original role as Dana Barrett.
35. Sigourney As Sigourney
Sigourney Weaver has had such a prolific career that she’s even acted as herself in various films and television series. These include Eli Stone, Spongebob Squarepants, The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), and Finding Dory.
36. The Start Of A Beautiful Friendship
Before critics and fans hailed it as one of the best sequels ever made, Aliens was a very troubled production. This was due in part to the film’s crew taking issue with the largely unknown filmmaker James Cameron. Comprised mostly of Brits, the crew was loyal to Ridley Scott and the first Alien film, considering Cameron too young and an outsider to boot.
Weaver, however, had a much more positive relationship with him. Cameron was receptive to her ideas about how Ellen Ripley should be portrayed and how she should react to things happening in the film. While Cameron didn’t meet all of her requests, they each praised the other for their ability to listen, compromise, and communicate.
Weaver’s support for Cameron paid off, as anyone who has seen Aliens will testify.
37. Bringing People Together
One of Weaver’s biggest fans is none other than British actor and comedian Simon Pegg. When he was a young man, Pegg was infatuated with Weaver. He even wrote a poem for her while he was a student. Years later, he got the chance to work with Weaver. She appeared with him in the sci-fi/comedy flick Paul, which Pegg also co-wrote.
Weaver was attracted to the project because she saw it not only as a pastiche, but also a love letter to science fiction films.
While filming one scene during Alien, Weaver and the rest of the cast faced a gruesome surprise. Weaver has gone on record saying that she, along with the rest of the cast, wasn’t acting during the infamous “chest bursting” scene in Alien. None of them had been prepped for what was going to happen, and the scene took them all by surprise.
Weaver was convinced that her co-star, John Hurt, was actually dying!
39. A Miracle Take
As some of you might remember, there is an unforgettable scene in Alien Resurrection where Ellen Ripley walks away from a basketball net, tosses the ball over her shoulder, and it goes perfectly into the net. Sigourney Weaver was determined to perform that stunt all by herself. She spent dozens of takes trying to pull it off.
When the crew was ready to call it quits, Weaver managed to get one last try—and she nailed it. This is the take in the film. It’s somewhat shorts—editors had to cut it shortly after she sunk the ball because of her co-star, Ron Perlman. He broke character when the ball went into the net and shouted “Oh my God!”
40. Artistic Clout
In 1998, Weaver was one of the jury members at the highly prestigious Cannes Film Festival, deciding which films won awards. In case you’re wondering, that year the jury awarded the Palme d’Or that year to the Greek film Eternity and a Day.
41. R.I.P., John
Weaver nearly didn’t get the role of Ellen Ripley. What might surprise you is that her main competitor for the role was none other than Meryl Streep, her former college mate at Yale. According to Ridley Scott, Weaver managed to get the role from Streep all for a heartbreaking reason. At the time, Streep was in mourning for her fiancé, John Cazale. Fans may know Cazale best as Fredo in The Godfather.
After a long battle with cancer, Cazale had died, and Streep was too bereaved to accept the role in Alien. The rest is history.
42. Comic Genius
Fans of Ghostbusters might be interested to find out something about that moment when Dana Barrett (Weaver) turns into a dog. Like so many other parts of that film, it wasn’t originally in the script. Weaver herself came up with that idea while she was auditioning for the movie! She proved her point by going on all fours and pretending to be a dog so convincingly and humorously that she convinced director Ivan Reitman to put that scene in the film.
Weaver later stated that after the film came out, kids would approach her and asked her if she really had turned into a dog during production!