Q

Sigourney Weaver on My Salinger Year and why she didn't think much of Alien at first

Actress Sigourney Weaver joined Q's Tom Power to discuss her new film, My Salinger Year, and how her own career journey mirrored the experiences of the film's protagonist.

Weaver discusses her new film, early career journey and why landing Alien wasn't initially a dream come true

Sigourney Weaver stars as J.D. Salinger's literary agent, Margaret, in the new film My Salinger Year, based on the memoir of the same name by Joanna Rakoff. (Philippe Bossé/Mongrel Media)

In Sigourney Weaver's latest film, My Salinger Year, a young, aspiring writer lands a coveted job in New York working as an assistant for the literary agent who represents J.D. Salinger.

Weaver was drawn to the film by the story of her character — the rigid and formidable agency boss, Margaret — but it was the young protagonist's journey that she related to most on a personal level.

"I actually had a dream of being a writer — don't laugh," the actress told host Tom Power in an interview on CBC Radio's Q.  "I think there's a lot of comparison between the idea of being a journalist and the idea of being an actor. They both go inside the experience and try to convey that [experience] to you the reader, or you the audience."

WATCH | Official trailer for My Salinger Year:

'Zero expectations for a career'

Weaver developed a serious interest in acting in 1972, which led to her enrolling in Yale University's School of Drama. After graduating in 1974, she said she had "zero expectations for a career" because the faculty had convinced her that she had no talent.

On top of that, as a New York native born into a show business family, she said her ambition was tempered by a realistic appreciation for the challenges she would face while pursuing an acting career.

"My parents called the business 'the racket' because it's not very fair. It's not always very kind. And so I had that sort of instilled in me at a very early age because my father was in television, which is a crazy racket," Weaver told Power.

After making a living from acting for several years, she realized her dream of being an actress wasn't so far-fetched after all. Then she was offered the lead role in the 1979 sci-fi horror film Alien.

Sigourney Weaver as Ripley in Alien. (20th Century Fox/Everett Collection)

Alien wasn't a dream come true

When Weaver landed her iconic breakthrough role as Ripley in Alien, it wasn't the dream role she was hoping for.

"I don't want to disappoint people, but I was quite a snob when I was just out of drama school. I only wanted to do theatre," she said.

[Ridley Scott] said, 'What do you think of the script?' And I went, 'Well, not much.'- Sigourney Weaver

Looking back, the actress credits her "lack of desperation" as one of the reasons why Fox actually considered her for the part. She also added that her criticism of the film's script may have impressed director Ridley Scott.

"[Scott] said, 'What do you think of the script? And I went, 'Well, not much,'" recalled Weaver. "And I could see the casting person over in the corner, Mary Goldberg, kind of trying to shut me up."

WATCH | Weaver in a scene from Alien:

Initially, Weaver said she was turned off by the "non-stop suspense" in the script, but when she saw illustrations of the creature, the planet and the spaceship, she was blown away.

"I thought, 'I've never seen anything like this.' [The spaceship] wasn't beautiful like 2001: A Space Odyssey, it was like an old truck that was barely going and everything was breaking. … So it was a view of science fiction that I really preferred to the sort of fantasy thing," she explained.

The actress said she now feels very lucky to have played Ripley in Alien, which gave her the opportunity to take on many other strong female roles throughout her career.

"I always feel honoured to be around certain characters and to be with a character like Ripley who never gave up."


Hear Tom Power's full conversation with Sigourney Weaver near the top of this page.

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Ty Callender.

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