Sigourney Weaver was in six films this year, including the indie hit Cedar Rapids, and we’re about to get a whole lot more of her with the release of Ghostbusters III and the next two Avatar installments. We caught up with her at the Marrakech International Film Festival, where she was a juror to talk about her counterintuitive take on 3D movies to how working with a group of gorillas is similar to working with a group of actors.
ELLE: We’re hearing lots of buzz surrounding Avatar’s next installment. How is that going?
Sigourney Weaver: We’ll be working on Avatar later this year, but right now Jim (Cameron) is diving into the Marianas Trench in a submarine he designed.
ELLE: That can’t be safe, can it?
SW: If I know Jim, I can tell you he’s designed it very carefully to withstand the highest levels of pressure that exist on the planet. He’s doing a series of dives.
ELLE: How has it been working with him and this whole 3D thing? This was your first time working in that way, correct?
SW: Jim really loves actors and he wanted to create a very different way of doing 3D. It is the exact opposite of what most people think…that it would be a strange process for actors, that it would be artificial, that we’d have to stand in front of blue screens or green screens. It’s actually a huge leap forward in terms of the technology—the cameras are all focused on what we do and without the concerns of lighting and special effects and all that.
ELLE: So there was no sense of limitation in terms of your acting?
SW: [The technology we're using] actually expands what an actor can do instead of restricting it. So I’m always telling my actor friends and the rest of the community that this is a good thing. If I hadn’t been involved in it so closely, I’d definitely be skeptical. You know, like “Oh great, we’re going to be replaced by robots or something.” But in fact, they need us now more than ever, because it’s all about the essence that only an actor can give. Another invention he came up with is this amazing camera that picks up so much information that all he needs to do is get one good master shot of a scene. From there, he has the information to do all the close ups without us going through it again. He can do it without us there. If that could work for regular films, it could transform the way we do movies forever. So, in fact, it was such a pro-actor project. Jim’s so patient, he loves working with actors. I’m really looking forward to the next two installments. I can’t get into details of course, but I can say it is very moving. It’s a what-the-planet-needs kind of story.
ELLE: Who would you love to work with that you haven’t worked with already?
SW: Marty Scorsese comes here a lot [Morocco] and I would love to work with him. I was on the jury with him at Cannes and he’s a fellow New Yorker so that would be really fun. You know, I’ve worked with so many people lately—have about four or five films coming out—and with so many young people, that now I’m sort of thinking like, “Well who’s around? Who’s one of the great masters that I can still work with?”
ELLE: What about your inspirations, was there a moment or a person that inspired you to become an actor?
SW: Well the truth is, I wanted to be a marine biologist or a war journalist. I wanted to be these dramatic things and then I thought, “Well, I’ll just go act these things.” I really couldn’t make up my mind what I wanted to do, so I thought “Well, I’ll be an actor for a while, and I figured one of them—like studying gorillas out in the jungle—would stick,” but in fact, the profession of acting is what stuck. I wasn’t one of these kids who at the age of seven said, “I want to be an actor.” I just sort of backed into it. I was interested in finding out. It’s kind of the same impulse a journalist has: you want to find out what’s going on; you go out and get in the middle of it, then come back and tell your story as if it could happen to your readership. That’s what I want to do for my audience.
ELLE: Could you reminisce for a minute on your experience on Gorillas in the Mist?
SW: The gorillas taught me how to be Dian [Fossey]. Actually it was very much like being with a group of actors: some like you right away; some don’t care; some wish you weren’t there. So you just sort of feel everybody out, you do your thing. I actually felt right at home, sort of like being part of an ensemble. And I had a very, very small part. They were the important ones, and I was just the observer. You should really go there, to Rwanda. In fact, Dian Fossey Gorilla Fund International is a great place to learn about it…we’re really at the forefront of modern conservation.
ELLE: What’s been your experience with the Marrakech International Film Festival?
SW: I visited the film school here and there are around 100 students from all over Africa. It’s a state of the art school, and it’s so powerful. For these countries all over this continent, to have their story tellers be able to come and hone their craft, it’s a beautiful thing. And the selection this year was a great cross section of films. I really loved being a part of it, it was so fun! And I loved coming over here to see what these young people wanted to tell us because of my work with the Flea Theater in New York City’s Tribeca neighborhood. We have a lot of young people coming through our theater. We have 90 young actors—the most diverse group in the city. We don’t have subscribers or a regular season. It’s all very impromptu, sort of turning on a dime and doing what is the most relevant thing right now. So I feel that energy is something that feeds our industry, the industry being kind of like a huge ocean liner that moves very slowly, but it’s all these currents that are all important to keeping it alive.