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The Untold Truth Of Sigourney Weaver

Sigourney Weaver is one of Hollywood's greatest actors, and her illustrious career has spanned over five decades — with no slowing in sight. Weaver began her career in the theater before transitioning to the screen with tiny parts and then a career-defining turn as Ellen Ripley in the 1979 classic "Alien." She has since played Ripley numerous times, but Weaver is far from a one-trick pony. She has expertly taken on dramas, comedies, action films, thrillers, and just about every other genre that exists. From "Ghostbusters" to "The Village" to "Avatar," Weaver has consistently proven she has not just acting skills, but raw on-screen magnetism and movie star energy.

Over the course of her career, Weaver has been nominated for many awards, including three Oscars, four Primetime Emmy Awards, and a Tony Award. She has won two Golden Globes in the same year — for "Working Girl" and for "Gorillas in the Mist," where she played Dian Fossey — and has displayed great versatility. Weaver has proven that she can play villains, like Katherine Parker in "Working Girl" or Alexandra Reid in Marvel's "The Defenders," as well as action heroes like Ripley and kooky comedic characters like in "Baby Mama." She can carry a big studio film like "Aliens" or "Avatar" but is also at home in small character-driven movies like "The Ice Storm" and "My Salinger Year." Here is the untold truth of Sigourney Weaver, a fascinating actor with a wealth of experiences.

She was born into a show business family, but her parents were skeptical of her choice to act

Sigourney Weaver grew up in the hustle and flow of New York City, where aspiring creatives are a dime a dozen. Her own family was involved in the entertainment business, which meant a lot of early exposure to it. Weaver's father, Sylvester "Pat" Weaver, was an influential producer often credited with creating both the "Today" and "Tonight" program format at NBC (per The New York Times). He also created the program "Home," which aired for 891 episodes in the 1950s.

Weaver's mother, Elizabeth Inglis, was also in show business — an actor who trained at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts and got her start in London theater (per The Guardian). As a screen actor, her mother appeared in a handful of projects that included "The Letter" and "My Love Came Back." Despite both parents having industry roots, they were reportedly skeptical of Weaver's choice to go into acting. "They both thought that I might be eaten alive. I was tall and galumphing around, and I don't think they looked at me and thought, 'A star in the making,'" she said.

She was sent for medical testing due to her height

Sigourney Weaver is known for her statuesque height. Despite this, reports on her exact measurements are inconsistent — sometimes, it is reported she is 5 feet, 11 inches, sometimes 6 feet, and her IMDb has her listed at 6 feet, 1 inch. The most commonly cited height is 5 feet, 11 inches, and in any case, there is no doubt that Weaver is tall — which can be a barrier in an industry that has traditionally prized dainty women whose men tower over them. For comparison, Tom Cruise and Al Pacino are both 5 feet, 7 inches, Mark Wahlberg and Joaquin Phoenix are 5 feet, 8 inches, and James Bond himself, Daniel Craig, is 5 feet, 10 inches (via Men's Health).

Weaver has been able to excel in Hollywood despite her height, but that is not to say that being tall was easy for her. Weaver's height growing up was seen as so abnormal that her parents sent her for medical testing (via The New York Times). She said she hit 5 feet, 11 inches while she was still a kid, which caused grave concern for the people around her. "I was this tall when I was 11 [...] like a giant spider," she said. "I think [my parents] were afraid I'd just keep growing."

Her height has cost her roles

Weaver's height was at times a struggle in Hollywood, where many leading men appear far bigger on screen than they are in actuality, and she has said that this facet of her appearance cost her to lose out on some big parts. In particular, playing the "girlfriend" or love interest was a hard sell (per The Observer). "I've lost a lot of roles because of my height, I'm 6-foot-3 in heels," she told The Independent. "Producers are short and I was never their sexual fantasy. As for actors, if I enter a room and an actor stands up then immediately sits back down, I hear myself saying, 'This job isn't for me.'"

Though she has not been considered evenly for all types of roles, height did not stop Weaver from landing the iconic part of Ellen Ripley in "Alien." In fact, she said her height sometimes allowed her to be considered for roles that, like Ripley, were initially written for men. "That I didn't fit into the traditional mold, I think that's made my career much more interesting," she said.

She has repeatedly told the story of arriving at her "Alien" audition in self-described "hooker boots," playing up her height. "I went and met with her. She appeared — she had an afro, she had high heels on, [so] she was like, 7-foot-6. It felt like I was going out for dinner with Mummy," director Ridley Scott said (via People).

She changed her name at age 14

Chances are that you do not know many people with the name "Sigourney" besides actor Sigourney Weaver. And though Weaver's moniker has become well-known because of her, it is not her birth name. She was born Susan Weaver and only changed her name as a teenager, in the early 1960s. The name was taken from a minor character in "The Great Gatsby," and Weaver was only 14 when she began asking friends and teachers to use it to refer to her (per In Style). 

One reason Weaver reportedly changed her name was that she disliked the delicate nicknames associated with Susan, such as "Sue." "I didn't realize what a huge step it was to change my name, or what it probably said about me wanting to go my own way. I didn't see it in that context. I just didn't like being called Susie," she said. "And look, now some people call me Siggy, which is just like Susie. You can't escape your destiny." For proof that her friends call her Siggy, we need look no further than her conversation with her friend and former co-star Jamie Lee Curtis for Interview Magazine in 2015. "Well, you've been a part of it, Siggy," Curtis said in relation to Weaver's work in co-founding the Flea Theater.

She studied English at Stanford and originally wanted to be a writer

Sigourney Weaver's early upbringing ensured she went to only the best private and prep schools, which at one point included a boarding school in Connecticut (per The New York Times). After high school, she spent a brief time on a kibbutz in Israel before continuing her education as an undergraduate student at Sarah Lawrence College. She quickly transferred to Stanford University, where she was an English major (per The Observer). Weaver graduated in 1972 and, per The Stanford Daily, was initially set on being a journalist or a writer. "I was planning to get my Ph.D. in English," she told the newspaper. "I was taking all these honors courses my last year and we began to study criticism of criticism and it was getting pretty dry."

It was at Stanford that Weaver got into acting, but not through the traditional route of studying it in class. "At Stanford, they had a drama department, which I kind of assiduously avoided, because it did very square things," she said. "I joined this group called The Company, and we did outrageous new plays. We did commedia dell'arte in a covered wagon and wandered around the Bay Area. A lot of Shakespeare." Weaver was apparently so into living a nontraditional lifestyle while at Stanford that she at one point "dressed like an elf and lived in a tree house."

She had a terrible experience at Yale Drama School

Despite her reluctance about drama courses, Sigourney Weaver decided to formally study acting post-Stanford and enrolled at The David Geffen School of Drama at Yale University, where she studied alongside future star Meryl Streep. Weaver earned her Master of Fine Arts from the school in 1974 (per Yale's Alumni Spotlight). Though she graduated, she has consistently spoken about how negative an experience she had at Yale and how it almost stopped her from pursuing her dreams. "I actually had a difficult time [at Yale], because they took everything so seriously," Weaver told The Observer. "They gave you your own dressing room. It seemed so lonely to me. Everyone was so competitive. I thought, I really miss my friends, and having everyone do their makeup up in the same little piece of cracked mirror in the back of someone's truck."

Beyond that, Weaver's teachers were quick to tell her that she would not succeed in the field, which of course led to insecurities and self-doubt. In 2020, after more than four decades in the business, she said that her acting professors had told her she had no talent (per The New York Times). Even when they were supportive, they imposed limits. "They said, 'We take it back, but you can only do comedy — don't ever try to do any drama,'" Weaver explained in the interview. She has said it took her years to get over the negative critiques she received at the school, which she has referred to as "heartbreaking" (per In Style).

She started her professional career in theater

Though she is most associated with film, Sigourney Weaver's roots are in the stage, and she loves live performance so much that she even helped found the Flea Theater alongside her husband, Jim Simpson, in 1996 (per The New York Times). It is in the theater where Weaver began her professional career after her graduation from Yale and where she did the majority of her work before 1979's "Alien." She had only a few small screen roles, including a tiny part in "Annie Hall," before "Alien," but she was making a living through acting in live productions. "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 theater," she told CBC.

Weaver got her first professional job at age 27, by way of the Public Theater, and was acting in off-off-broadway plays before "Alien" (per Bustle). She enjoyed what she was doing so much that Weaver even turned down the opportunity to star as the lead in a sitcom around that same time. "I turned down that job, because I realized that I loved what I did, and I loved not knowing where it would take me," she told Bustle. "I didn't want to do the same thing possibly for five to seven years. I realized even though I was very worried about making a living, I didn't want to trade my freedom for financial security at some point."

She did not think Alien was going to be her big break

Not only was Sigourney Weaver focused on theater before making the movie "Alien," but there was one other big reason she was ho-hum about auditioning — she did not think the script was great. It seems almost comical now, given that the "Alien" films and her character, Ellen Ripley, have been career-defining for Weaver, but she recalls being underwhelmed by the prospect of the film. "[Ridley Scott] said, 'What do you think of the script?' And I went, 'Well, not much,'" Weaver admitted to CBC. "And I could see the casting person over in the corner, Mary Goldberg, kind of trying to shut me up." Scott appreciated the honesty.

Paramount for Weaver's buy-in was being about to visualize the film, which she was able to do once Scott showed her illustrations of what the creature and the sets would look like. "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," she said. "So it was a view of science fiction that I really preferred to the sort of fantasy thing." Weaver did her screen test on an actual set, and Scott made her act out seven separate scenes during that final audition (per Bustle). "Alien" grossed about $79 million domestically on its initial release, while the 1986 follow-up "Aliens" grossed $131 million. Weaver also played Ripley in "Alien 3" and "Alien: Resurrection."

She loves being in nature and is very outdoorsy

Sigourney Weaver loves nature, as she has discussed in various interviews. Canoeing and hiking are listed amongst Weaver's multitude of hobbies (per In Style). "She goes on long hikes and is never happier than when she's swimming in the lake, in spite of the snapping turtles," Weaver's friend Selina Cadell said (per The New York Times).

Weaver has a home in the Adirondack Mountains, which she purchased in 1986 and where we imagine much of her outdoor activities take place. But even when she is in a big city, she makes time to connect with the environment. "I'm going to go to the New York Botanical Garden, which I'm a trustee of, on Friday to see the cherry blossoms," she said in a 2021 interview (per Reader's Digest). "I feel like one of the things that happened during quarantine was that we all went outside and could watch each season unfold. The only safe place we could be was outdoors in nature, and that has created a wonderful connection."

She has one daughter with her husband, whom she met at a theater festival

As far as celebrities go, Sigourney Weaver keeps an extremely low profile. She has no problem discussing her private life, but she has never been one to attract cameras when not promoting her work. By all accounts, her home life seems rather idyllic and devoid of any turbulence. Weaver has been married to Jim Simpson since 1984, and Simpson is also in the business. Together they have one daughter, Charlotte, an aspiring writer, with whom Weaver has said she is incredibly close. Simpson worked in local theater and shifted to directing, but often he's the one at home with their daughter while Weaver is on set and traveling (per The Guardian).

In a conversation with Jamie Lee Curtis, Weaver divulged that she met her husband during the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1983, where she was doing a play and he was bartending and directing the nonequity groups (per Interview magazine). "He was so cute. I remember thinking, 'Well, he's going to be a bachelor for many years. I can see that.' So I didn't really think about him. And I had a boyfriend at the time," she said. "But within six months, I had invited him to a party, and he stayed late to help me put away the decorations, and then I asked him out to dinner, and three months later we decided to get married. That's how it happens."

She likes to make unexpected choices and has turned down some juicy roles

Sigourney Weaver has never wanted a conventional career, and the choices she has made reflect her desire to carve her own way. Early on, she even chose the excitement of the theater over the stability and predictability of television (per HuffPost). And though she has since appeared in over 100 screen projects, Weaver has said that she turns down many opportunities. These have included high-profile projects such as Holly Hunter's role in "The Piano" (per BBC Culture), and Jean Smart's part in HBO's "Watchmen" miniseries, for instance.

On numerous occasions, Weaver has noted that she is driven more by the overall story than her own role. "I really loved reading growing up, so to me, it's all about the script and whether the script is about something more than just the people in it," she said (per Entertainment Weekly). "If you don't have that larger context, the movie won't have the weight an audience deserves." She has also said that, while she cares about the director, she is less concerned about their resumes than their potential. "I like to be in mongrel, not pedigree films. Any time it's too blue chip, I get nervous," she told The Independent. "When it has the 'greatest' actors, the 'greatest' screenwriters, the 'greatest' directors, I turn off. I feel claustrophobic in something conventional."

She thinks A Map of the World is her most overlooked movie

When it comes to Sigourney Weaver's films, a fair number of them have received great attention. Films in which Weaver starred have grossed over $1.4 billion, while those in which she plays supporting roles have grossed close to $5 billion, and many of them have pierced the cultural zeitgeist in extreme ways. Think of the lasting legacy of "Alien," "Ghostbusters," and "Working Girl," for example. Whether we are speaking about "Dave" or "Galaxy Quest" or "Gorillas in the Mist," most of Weaver's good films have gotten their fair due.

But that is not to say that Weaver feels all of her films were given the credit they deserved. One movie in particular, "A Map of the World," seems to be the project she feels has been most overlooked. The 1999 drama earned Weaver Golden Globe and Satellite Award nominations but grossed only half a million dollars at the box office. "I watched the movie and it held up so well. The character was so interesting and I was so proud of it. It's one of the movies that I'm sorry people didn't see," she told Collider. "It was such an interesting movie and there were good actors in it, like Julianne Moore and David Strathairn. It's good stuff."

She has sung in multiple films

Gwyneth Paltrow, Kate Winslet, Anne Hathaway — there are many actors known for having strong singing voices and showing them off on screen. Though Sigourney Weaver has sung in films, her musicality is rarely noted as one of her strengths. At the same time, she has sung in five films, and her musical moments have proven to be extremely memorable parts of the movies in which they appear. She has sung in everything from "Snow Cake" to "Dave," but the two that stand out most are her singing scenes in "Alien" and in "Heartbreakers."

The "Alien" scene comes at the end of the film, where Weaver's character Ellen Ripley launches into "You Are My Lucky Star," a song from the 1930s. It was Weaver's idea for the character to sing, and the studio was originally unhappy due to the cost associated with getting the rights to the song. Weaver's musical scene in the comedy "Heartbreakers" was also quite memorable, albeit for different reasons. In the 2001 film, Weaver plays an American con artist who is posing as a Russian woman to run a grift on an older wealthy man. The singing scene saw Weaver tackle "Back in the U.S.S.R." in a full Russian accent. "For me, that was like my favorite day. I had worked really hard on the song," Weaver said in an interview. "And secretly, I had always wanted to go to Vegas, and have my own really bad act!"

She faced a number of unique acting challenges for the Avatar films

Sigourney Weaver has played real people, mastered a variety of accents, and has learned unique abilities, such as combat skills, but her work in the "Avatar" series has provided Weaver with a number of unique challenges she had not yet faced as an actor. For instance, as a woman in her 70s, she was been tasked with playing a teenager in "Avatar: The Way of Water" — something that only movie magic could facilitate. "I think we all pretty much remember what we were feeling as adolescents," Weaver told Empire. "I felt strongly that Kiri would feel awkward a lot of the time. She's searching for who she is. I was thrilled to be given that challenge by [James Cameron]."

Cameron wrote and directed 1986's "Aliens" too, in which Weaver starred, and the two appear to have a strong collaborative relationship. Cameron cast Weaver in the first "Avatar" film and then cast her again as a new character for its many sequels, as a new character. In addition to the challenge of playing a youngster, Weaver also trained with military divers to learn how to hold her breath underwater for a whopping 6 minutes (per Variety).