Sigourney Weaver has played an eclectic assortment of characters in her time. While she’s seldom offered conventional ‘love interest’ roles, this hasn’t necessarily been a bad thing: her most famous character is undoubtedly the self-sufficient feminist icon Ellen Ripley, the lead in Ridley Scott’s sci-fi classic Alien, often considered one of the most important female protagonists in the history of cinema.
But there’s more to Weaver than Ripley. Here are some fascinating facts about this award-winning actress.
20. She took her stage name from The Great Gatsby
Sigourney Weaver hasn’t always been Sigourney Weaver: she was actually born as “Susan Alexandra Weaver.”
However, she never felt that a name as short as ‘Sue’ matched her tall stature.
And so, at the age of 13, she began going by Sigourney – a name she plucked from one of the ‘Great American Novels.’
She stumbled across the unique name one night while reading F Scott Fitzgerald’s classic novel The Great Gatsby.
At one point in the novel, flapper girl Jordan Baker refers to her aunt, Mrs Sigourney Howard.
Although Mrs Howard herself never makes an appearance in the novel, the name resonated with Weaver and she adopted it as her own.
19. She attended Yale alongside Meryl Streep
Weaver is a proud Stanford alumna, but after she was awarded her BA she moved on to Yale to get her MFA (Master of Fine Arts).
It was here that Weaver met Meryl Streep, who was also attending Yale at the time and studying for an MFA.
Unfortunately, while performing in Yale’s Repertory Theatre, Streep often landed bigger roles while Weaver was given smaller, less rounded parts to play.
This didn’t deter Weaver, however, and she thankfully persevered with her acting career despite being snubbed by the drama department.
Her dedication and commitment paid off – just four years after graduating from Yale she was cast as Ellen Ripley.
Nowadays, both Streep and Weaver have successful careers in their own right and remain two of the biggest names in Hollywood.
18. While studying at Stanford, she lived in a treehouse with her boyfriend
Moving in with a partner at university isn’t unprecedented by any means – but moving into a treehouse with your boyfriend is a touch more unorthodox.
While studying at Stanford University, Weaver and her then-boyfriend did just that, and also spent their time playing flute duets and wearing homemade elf outfits.
Asked to explain this period of her life by the Guardian in 2006, Weaver said simply: “It was the 70s, you know – flower power!”
She elaborated a bit more in 2007 when she spoke to Stanford Magazine about her time at university there.
“People were experimenting, living in tents and domes, up in La Honda. It was a different time,” she said.
While this behaviour may seem strange to outsiders, perhaps Weaver’s non-conformity is what makes her such a dazzling actress.
17. She has a fear of elevators
Weaver’s career has seen her fight off terrifying, parasitic aliens and even grapple with demonic, supernatural spirits.
None of this seems to faze her, but there is one thing she’s scared of: elevators.
Weaver has apparently been trapped alone in faulty elevators quite a few times throughout her life and now harbours an aversion to them.
When she has no other option but to use an elevator, she double checks when it was last inspected before stepping foot inside.
Speaking to the Daily Express in 2009, Weaver said: “I’m very different from my image. I have faced aliens, ghosts and gorillas on film but in real life many things frighten me. Like taking elevators. I’ve been trapped in one a couple of times.”
“If I’m alone in an elevator I’m scared to death,” she added. “And I could never live in Los Angeles for the fear of earthquakes.”
16. She was “such a loser” at school
Weaver herself hasn’t always been as headstrong as some of the feisty female characters she’s played.
In fact, when she was growing up her mother believed she was too sensitive to even consider an acting career.
Weaver herself has remarked on her own meek nature, and speaking to the Daily Mail in 2010 confessed that she was “such a loser” at school.
“What I would do was make fun of myself before anybody else could – and that was my way of surviving.”
“We all have things from school that we have to come to grips with,” she went on to say.
As Weaver has featured in some of the most iconic films to come out of the 20th century, it’s safe to say that she was right to ignore her mother’s warnings and persevere with her acting career.
15. Her role in Annie Hall only earned her $50
Weaver’s salary for Aliens was a whopping $1 million – plus a share of the film’s profits.
This was largely down to James Cameron’s determination to get Weaver to reprise her role as Ripley.
But Weaver hasn’t always earned a seven-figure fee. In fact, her first paycheck comprised of only two figures.
Her first role was in Woody Allen’s 1977 film Annie Hall, where she briefly appears towards the end as the unnamed date of Allen’s character Alvy.
For the role, Weaver (who’s shot from such a distance she’s barely recognisable) was paid just $50 – a far cry from the huge figures she reaches nowadays.
Despite the measly pay, to this day Weaver says she’s “proud” of her involvement in the film, which won several Oscars including Best Picture.
14. She suffered nightmares for two weeks after reading the screenplay for The Village
Weaver may have had to witness an alien busting its way out of John Hurt’s stomach, but it wasn’t Alien which gave her sleepless nights.
Instead, it was the script for writer-director M. Night Shyamalan’s 2004 film The Village which gave Weaver the creeps.
After reading the screenplay for the first time, Weaver experienced disturbing nightmares for the following two weeks.
Speaking to The Times in 2004, Weaver acknowledged that it was strange how The Village had had such a profound impact on her psyche.
“It was very unusual, considering I have been imbued with a lot of these ideas over my career… my subconscious just couldn’t process it,” she revealed in the interview.
The Village went on to achieve impressive financial success, with Weaver delivering a stellar performance in her role as Alice Hunt.
13. A silverback gorilla attacked her while she was filming Gorillas in the Mist
While shooting Gorillas In The Mist in Rwanda, a foul-tempered silverback gorilla ran up to Weaver and shoved her onto her back.
The actress recalled the incident in an interview with the Mail on Sunday in 2010. “Suddenly [this gorilla] got up, roared up the hill and knocked me down flat.”
She was terrified, but wisely remained calm and waited for the gorilla to leave her alone.
“I felt like jelly, my heart stopped and all I could hear was the blood rushing through my veins.”
Eventually the silverback backed off. “He didn’t bite me or tear my arm, but after about five minutes I heard him going back up the hill terrorising some female.”
A member of the Dian Fossey Institute who was assisting with the film then joked that Weaver had now joined the “very exclusive club” of people who’ve been hit by a silverback gorilla.
12. Ridley Scott made Weaver do her own stunts in Alien
Alien’s director Ridley Scott insisted that Weaver should do all her own stunts in the film, and the indefatigable actress gladly rose to the challenge.
Weaver was faced with harsh filming conditions and reported being “freezing” while filming in a flimsy T-shirt in the middle of winter.
However, the steely actress was determined to get on with the task at hand. She managed to satisfy Scott and succeeded in pulling off all her own stunts.
New behind-the-scenes photos from the upcoming Avatar film show Weaver filming underwater, so it doesn’t seem like she will ever shy away from stunts – even in her seventies.
Speaking to The New York Times in 2020, Weaver revealed she wanted to prove to people that she wasn’t ‘too old’ to do stunts.
“I really wanted to do it. I didn’t want anyone to think, ‘Oh, she’s old, she can’t do this,'” she said.
11. She was bullied for her height growing up
Weaver was the unfortunate target of some mean-spirited comments and bullying while at high school.
It seems that she was largely singled out by her classmates due to her height – something she was hugely self-conscious of as a teenager.
At the young age of 11, Weaver stood at over 5’10”. Now she stands at 6’3″ in heels.
Looking back at her childhood, the actress says she remembers feeling awkward, gangly, and self-conscious of her height.
In a 2009 interview with Parade, she went as far as saying that she felt like “a giant spider” in her formative years.
“I never had the confidence to ever think I could act,” she revealed in the personal interview.
10. Her father was an NBC president who pioneered the talk show
By no means was Weaver the first in her family to break into the entertainment industry.
Her father, Sylvester L Weaver Jr, was an American broadcasting executive and was even NBC president between 1953 and 1955.
Mr Weaver has been credited with contributing to the rise of television as American’s primary source of home entertainment.
- Credit: Alan Light/NBC/Michael Ochs Archives
He also pioneered the desk-and-couch talk show format on Today and The Tonight Show. The format remains popular to this day.
Her father aside, Weaver’s uncle was the famous comedian Doodles Weaver, who hosted his own NBC show in the late 1950s.
Weaver’s mother Elizabeth Inglis was an actress too, best known for her role in 1940 crime film The Letter.
9. She did the backwards basketball shot in Alien Resurrection in one take
One particularly memorable scene in Alien Resurrection sees Ripley successfully sink a backwards basketball shot.
Incredibly, Weaver managed to sink the shot perfectly in just one take, much to everyone’s amazement.
This wasn’t pure luck – Weaver had actually been diligently practicing shooting hoops for two weeks before filming the scene.
Ron Perlman was so astounded at Weaver’s new skills that he actually almost ruined the shot.
“Two beats after the balls goes in,” Weaver wrote in Premiere magazine in 1997, “Ron Perlman flashes a huge smile and yells ‘oh f**k’ right into the camera.”
But camera operator Connie Hall examined the footage and assured all present that she would be able to edit out Perlman’s out-of-character reaction.
8. She lived above a pub while filming Alien
Back in 1978, Weaver lived in New York in a flatshare with a friend. The budding actress earned just enough to get by and pay rent through small acting roles.
However, later that year Weaver signed up for Alien and was on the precipice of superstardom when she moved to England to shoot the film.
“I ended up renting, by mistake, an apartment on a square with a pub on each corner,” she said in the Guardian in 2016. “So they were all yelling goodnight to each other all night.”
Alone in a foreign country, Weaver called her parents for help. “I said, ‘I’m already shooting and I don’t know what to do, I can’t live here.’”
“And they flew over and found me a very quiet apartment off Sloane Square. I was so grateful.”
“I wasn’t a kid, but I was grateful. Sometimes you need your parents,” Weaver said.
7. She’s on Richard Branson’s spaceship passenger list
Weaver has gone to space pretty often on screen – most notably in the Alien franchise – but she’s never actually gone in real life.
That said, she’d love to fo for real one day. Speaking to the Mail on Sunday in 2010, Weaver revealed her interest in space exploration.
“I’d love to go into space,” the Alien star said. “But I’d put other people off.”
“Anyone on that flight is going to look around, see me and go, ‘Ripley’s here – that must mean there’s an alien in the overhead compartment.’”
“I’m apparently on Richard Branson’s spaceship passenger list. It would be fun and I’m always up for going to another planet – outer space has been good to me.”
I’d be very disappointed if it turned out we’re all there is. But I think our challenge is to think about this planet,” she said.
6. She spent time with an autistic woman to research her role in Snow Cake
Weaver stars alongside Alan Rickman in the 2006 film Snow Cake, sensitively portraying an autistic woman named Linda.
Weaver spent copious amounts of time with a British autistic woman named Ros to prepare for the role.
Weaver was reportedly delighted to have been offered such an unusual role and was determined to get her portrayal of autism right.
Weaver even brought Ros along to an interview she conducted with the Guardian back in 2006.
“I’d been doing my own research but the spectrum of autism is so huge,” Weaver said.
“I can’t imagine what I would have done if Ros hadn’t coached me – the walk, the playing, everything really. I just felt this huge responsibility to get things right.”
5. At her audition for Alien, Weaver told Ridley Scott the script was too bleak
Without a doubt Weaver’s breakthrough role came in 1978 when she was cast in Alien.
But back then Weaver wasn’t to know just how important the role would be in defining her career.
Perhaps if she’d known, she wouldn’t have been so blasé in her audition and told Ridley Scott upfront that the script was “too bleak.”
“I didn’t want to do the movie,” she said, speaking to Parade magazine in 2019.
She was late to the audition and then boldly told Ridley Scott that she didn’t like the script because it was too bleak.
“[The] casting director was in the corner making a face like, ‘Shut up! Shut up!’” she recalled.
4. Her salary for Alien Resurrection was equal to the entire budget of the original Alien
While Weaver only earned a measly $50 for her first role in Annie Hall, nowadays, she makes a lot more.
Since she starred in Alien, Weaver’s pay has been gradually increasing. Her salary for Alien was $35,000.
When it came to Aliens, she was paid significantly more – a staggering $1 million and a share of the profits.
This huge increase was largely due to James Cameron’s insistence that Weaver should star in the movie.
Finally, when it came to 1997’s fourth instalment Alien: Resurrection, Weaver said “they basically drove a dump truck full of money to my house.”
In order to convince her to take part in the film, Weaver was paid $11 million – the exact budget spent on the original Alien back in 1979.
3. She’s proud of her English roots
A little-known fact about Weaver is that she’s actually half-English. Her mother, Elizabeth Inglis, was born in Colchester, Essex.
Weaver has always been proud of her English heritage and spoke about her roots in a 2010 interview with the Mail on Sunday.
“To me England means great courage, great standards and great wit,” she said. “I could move to England in a second.”
“I love being half English. I’m so at home in London and everywhere in the British countryside.”
“The scale is different than in America – it’s the most beautiful place. I love going to the theatre, walking around.
“I still have to have my English tea every day. I love digestive biscuits – all the traditional foods,” she said.
2. She thinks Avatar should have won the Oscar for Best Picture
Weaver is close friends with director James Cameron, so it’s no surprise she was gutted when his space epic film Avatar lost out on the Oscar for Best Picture in 2010.
“James Cameron should have won the Best Picture Oscar for Avatar,” she said in a Mail on Sunday interview in 2010.
“I loved The Hurt Locker and I don’t want to take anything away from Kathryn Bigelow,” she stressed.
“Jim himself was rooting for Kathryn – but that man gave us an experience in which the special effects enhance the whole emotional underpinning of the story.”
“He transformed the movie-going experience for people all over the world,” Weaver said of Cameron and his film Avatar.
Despite missing out on an Oscar, the film received glowing reviews, and with box office takings of $2.84 billion it is the highest earning film in history.
1. She initially thought she was allergic to Jonesy the cat
Alien just wouldn’t have been the same without Jonesy, Ellen Ripley’s feline friend and resident rat-catcher on board the Nostromo.
But early on in production, Weaver feared that she and the cat just weren’t going to get along.
Weaver began to notice that her skin was breaking out in an unexplained rash while shooting for the film.
The actress feared that she might be allergic to poor Jonesy and worried that she would lose the role if that turned out to be the case.
But things worked out in the end – it turned out that Weaver’s skin was actually reacting to the glycerin producers had used to make her skin appear sweaty.
The crew simply stopped using the glycerin and the problem was solved, much to Weaver’s relief.