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Sigorney Weaver on her Imaginary Heroes

Elegant and professional, that's how I would describe Sigourney Weaver. She had a classy demeanor and quite possibly the best posture of anyone I've interviewed. Imaginary Heroes is the dramatically overboard directorial debut of Dan Harris, famously known for penning the new Superman film. Sigourney stars alongside Jeff Daniels and Emile Hirsch as Sandy Travis, the matriarch of a family dysfunctional enough to be quarantined. It's a long way from her ass kicking days in Alien, but she brings her best to every role she plays. We'll just have to be content with the smaller films until she decides to strap on the flame-thrower once more.

In the film, you and Emile Hirsch have a wonderful mother-son relationship. What did you do to bring that closeness to the screen?

Sigourney Weaver: We both wanted to meet a little before we started. So we had dinner with Dan [Harris] maybe the night before rehearsals started. My impression - and I don't know Emile that well - is that he's very close to his parents, and I hope I'm kind of close to my daughter. And it's in the script as well. So I think a lot of that was there, but it was really easy to find that with Emile. He's very available. It's a really special relationship, this sort of weird situation which may be common, where one child ends up kind of belonging to one parent and another child ends up belonging to another parent. It was really interesting to me, psychologically, that that would happen and that the parents would allow that to happen in such an obvious way, with pretty devastating results.

Did you research this problem with other parents or therapists?

Sigourney Weaver: I guess I think of films as like a little surprise box. I think I talked to my husband about it. I wouldn't have known how to present the Travis's to other parents because I think they'd go, "What? The oldest son commits suicide and then they realize they're doing something wrong?" If you couldn't read the script and (realize) how compassionately the script approaches all these people and their spiraling out of control; I think it would be very hard to find a map through it. I think I'm always very leery of mentioning what I'm doing to other people because I feel like part of the power comes from the secrecy, in a way, of this world.

Emile Hirsch is proving to be one of the best actors of his generation. What was he like to work with?

Sigourney Weaver: I think he's wonderful as Tim, and Emile himself is very entertaining. He's very smart. He's very fast on his feet. I think that he's got a lot of presence. He works very hard. He's very devoted and he's very nice. I think he can do comedy. I think he can do drama. Because it was an independent film - we shot it in 35 days - you're almost always working with someone. There's no time, really, to get to know them outside the film. But I really felt he gave it his all, as we all did.

You've done small movies before and they weren't widely seen. How much do you worry as they go into the marketplace about people seeing them?

Sigourney Weaver: I always worry. I've managed to be in these films that open for a week right at the end of the year (for Oscar consideration) and then have to reopen once you've lost some of the momentum. So I'm very aware, for instance, on a day like today of trying to get the word out, especially in this case, to the younger generation, because I think this is a young person's film. It would be great if it could play long enough for a lot of college kids to get to see this, because it's really worth seeing. It was hard on Death and the Maiden. It got harder on A Map of the World. It was weird on The Guys. By this time I try to keep my expectations very minimal. The work is there. If it doesn't reach its audience it will be on DVD. I'm confident that this film is so good that eventually it's going to find its audience and be acknowledged. But the rest of it, it's just a total crapshoot, which is too bad. But I'd rather do the work and suffer all that than not get those films.

Given your long career, at this point, do you find yourself making suggestions when you're doing a film like this, which is being made by people with far less experience than you?

Sigourney Weaver: Actually, I did open my big mouth on this film a couple of times. Because when you have no money and you have no time, often people want to hurry you, hurry the lighting, hurry some of the other aspects of filmmaking. So, in the beginning, the one thing I did do was I had a little chat with the A.D. [assistant director], who was always screaming at us. And it just wasn't working. People weren't being lit and everyone was really tense. You may not have much money, but you don't have to have a lot of money to make a good film. I just wanted to say that from my point of view, having been on lots of high-pressure pictures, this was not going to solve the problem. It was going to make it harder for us to do what we needed to do. And I got that message through. In the old days I don't think I would have had the confidence to speak out like that.

Imaginary Heroes deals with rarely discussed issues and goes to an emotional depth not usually seen in film. Is American cinema ready to delve into such controversial material?

Sigourney Weaver: That's a good question. I don't know what the next four years are going to bring, frankly. All I know is, having done some theater in the last year; people are very, very in need of the arts. Things are so confusing now that you really are looking for some kind of illumination and some kind of bonding experience with other people. I do think that the audience is going to make more demands on movies because we need to be helped through this. You can tell I'm a Democrat. I just think that we need to be useful to people. I can't think of many good things that are happening now, but I think that one of the good things that might happen is that the work is going to change. How it's going to change I don't know how to predict. But I do think something's going to happen.

The Oscars are right around the corner. Were you a fan of any best picture candidates?

Sigourney Weaver: Well, the films that I enjoyed this year were Hotel Rwanda, Kinsey, and Collateral. I liked Sideways. I thought there were some really interesting films.

What do you have coming up next?

Sigourney Weaver: The next film I'm doing is a film with Alan Rickman called Snow Flake, in which I play a woman on the autism spectrum. I've spent the last nine months spending time with people on the spectrum. We're all on the spectrum. It may be more obvious in certain people. Its things like that that you end up discovering when you're researching a film. You don't really know when you start how it's going to impact on you, but it's really profound.

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