Avatar’s Sigourney Weaver Remembers the Days When James Cameron’s Crews Didn't Live in Fear

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Photo: Patrick McMullan

While most of the world (including your friendly Vulture editors) is currently caught up in New Moon mania, we urge you to remain cognizant that there are less than 30 days until James Cameron's magnum opus, Avatar, opens in three glorious dimensions in mutiplexes nationwide. To that end, we were able to catch up with Sigourney Weaver for a few minutes last night at the National Arts Club, where Ang Lee and James Schamus were getting the Medal of Honor in Film. We spoke to her about her thoughts on independent cinema, the favorite movie she's made that went straight to DVD, and, of course, her experience working with James Cameron on Avatar.

Is a movie's status as mainstream or independent important to you?
Well, I think those things really aren't that interesting or important. What you respond to is the script, and then you find out how it's being made and hope they have enough money to make it properly. So, it's really much more, to me, about story. And, you know, these days distribution is so precarious it's important to just fall in love with the script, the director, and the cast, tell the story, and pray.

Pray that it gets out there somehow?
Yes, because I've made some wonderful movies that haven't gotten out there. And I'm glad I made them. I certainly learned a lot making them. But it is sort of frustrating because you feel like your job isn't really finished until people are seeing the movie. It's like you're offering something and they haven't received it. And I'm glad James went into distribution as well, because I think that you have to be in control of what you make.

Is there one movie in particular you're upset isn't out there?
Well, Girl in the Park, which I did with Kate Bosworth — and she's really brilliant in it — is being released by Harvey Weinstein on DVD. And it never got a theatrical distribution, and I'm very surprised of that. It's written and directed by David Auburn, who won the Pulitzer Prize. We opened it at Toronto and it was such a huge hit there, and then I don't know what happened. So there are things that happen like that. Again, you're glad the work will exist and people will find it on DVD, but it's too bad, because it could have been a real contender, I think.

Speaking of contenders, you've got Avatar on the horizon, which is reportedly one of the most expensive movies ever produced. Could you actually see and feel where all that money was going?
No, actually. I think they counted every penny. It was a very responsible production, and I think the money is all in what will, frankly, be the most seamless 3-D experience anyone's ever had, because the story is actually a wonderful, old-fashioned, epic adventure.

What do you like about your character?
Well, I liked her because she's a very surly character. She doesn't really like a lot of people, and she comes to love Sam Worthington's character very much. She actually is leading a double life. One is sort of a very compromised professional in the human world, and another is this very free spirit in the world on her planet as her avatar, and that dichotomy was something that was really fun to play.

Was working with James Cameron again something you'd been thinking about for a while?
You know, I hadn't really thought about it. We'd kept in touch. He wasn't, really. [Laughs] He wasn't working. But he called me, and he sent me the script, and I had to read it, like, three times, which I've never done before.

Do you think that there's pressure to make all the money back?
I'm sure it will make the money back. I'm sure it'll make so many more times the money back, because I'll tell you, a lot of people — I don't know how old you are — but there's a certain huge group of people who, you have to see it once; you're going to see it again because you won't believe what you saw the first time; the third time, you're gonna go again because you want to experience the pleasure of actually being there and really feeling that, and then you're going to go again just because it's fun. So I don't see any problem with them making the money back.

Has Jim's directing style changed a lot over the years?
Well, he was always so sweet to me during Aliens. And that was a tough picture for him, because the crew had this big Ridley Scott obsession, and it took him a while to get their attention as a filmmaker. But with me and the other actors, I always felt, he cast so well; he's so devoted to his actors. He does get impatient with filmmaking in a way, but he always pushes himself harder than anybody else, so even though he can be a little growl-y, it's over in a second when you move on. He operated on every single shot in this movie.

Weirdly, the movie's been so under wraps that I'm not sure anyone knows what it's about, exactly.
And I think he was so smart to do that, because it is a gift. And in a way, it's a kind of corny gift, because Jim said this is the movie he wanted to see when he was 14. I think all of us have that desire to see this movie. It's such a kind of big, hard-core wonderful story about people and worlds and species and so many things, and it's going to take you on a ride like you won't believe. So I hope families from people, like, 85 to 5 see it, because otherwise, you'd have to explain it to the person at home, and you wouldn't be able to do that. It would sound like you had smoked, like, so many things, but it's just so cool to go to this other place.