When Sigourney Weaver joins me on Zoom, it’s my third time in 12 months speaking to her? Coincidence? Or maybe it’s that this iconic American actor is enjoying a late-career bloom, with film roles ranging from socially conscious (Call Jane) and politically charged (Master Gardener) to technically groundbreaking (Avatar: The Way of Water).
The 73-year-old is understandably delighted by the diversity. “In the old days,” she says, “if you played an older woman you were probably the stupid mother-in-law or something.”
Her latest project, the hotly-anticipated The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, a new seven-part television miniseries for Prime Video is an equally complex undertaking for the Hollywood icon. Adapted from the debut novel by Australian author Holly Ringland, it’s an absorbing familial odyssey that confronts issues of control and abuse.
For Weaver, her return to Australia to film was a long time coming. She was last here shooting the 1982 drama The Year of Living Dangerously with Mel Gibson.
“I loved the experience of working in Australia, working with Australian crews. And I’ve always wanted to go back,” she admits. This time she was able to take her husband, Jim Simpson. “When he heard the word ‘Australia’ he just lit up. And one of the great draws was that we’d go together and he’d be able to go surfing. I had no idea that we were going to be in the upper Hunter Valley, which is about as far away as you can get from the surf if you’re in New South Wales. But he made it work. And we had a glorious time.”
On set she forged a strong bond with Wentworth star Leah Purcell, who plays June’s partner, Twig. “Such an amazing actress,” says Weaver, clearly missing her new mate. The thoughtful Purcell felt the same way, even getting her a gift when they wrapped. Aware that Weaver is “obsessed with kangaroos”, Purcell donated to a nearby refuge for orphaned joeys.
The owner then brought a baby wombat and a five- month-old joey to the set, and Purcell unveiled them to Weaver with the inimitable phrase: “Welcome to Australia.” “She couldn’t believe it!” chuckles Purcell. “She said, ‘Leah, I’ve been given gold, I’ve been given diamonds, I’ve made some big money over the years … but this is the best gift in the world.’ ”
Weaver also took a behind-the- camera credit on The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, a rarity for her. “I’m very proud to be an executive producer, because Made Up Stories does very powerful women-driven stories,” she says, referring to the show’s Australian production company. “I feel like we all produced it together because it was just a small group of people. And we had to work very quickly and make a lot of decisions. I’m not usually a producer but I have a producer’s point of view because I usually can see the whole story, rather than my part.”
In the series Weaver plays June Hart, the owner of a flower farm that also acts as a refuge for women escaping domestic violence. But as kind-hearted as she is, June’s over-protective nature has led her to shelter her granddaughter Alice, keeping her away from family secrets.
“Her whole being is behind these choices that she makes,” says Weaver. “It’s her way of protecting her flower family and her true family … I feel like there was a great urgency in June, to continue to block things she thought would make trouble. And unfortunately, most of it is actually the truth. But I don’t think she sees it that way.”
Speaking to marie claire, Jodi Matterson, executive producer at Made Up Stories, says, “Sigourney was the first and only person we considered for the role of June. We were lucky that she took the leap of faith and came to the other side of the world. The entire cast of this show is incredible and Sigourney is the anchor to everyone.”
Watching Alice Hart reminded me of Weaver’s turn in last year’s Call Jane, where she played a woman who helped organise safe but illegal abortions for women in 1960s Chicago. “It’s true that I’m very drawn to stories that celebrate the way women … look after women – that kind of sisterhood that you see in Call Jane,” she says. While that film “reminds everybody how vulnerable the woman is”, Weaver feels the same about Alice Hart, which depicts those who have been forced to flee violent partners. “I’m hoping it will start a dialogue in families and communities about how to support women who are in a situation like this.”
Weaver made her mark in Hollywood carving out a space for complex female characters. In 1979 she helped set the template for the modern action-movie heroine as Ripley in the classic sci-fi film Alien. The second in the franchise, 1986’s Aliens, saw her nominated for her first Academy Award.
In 1989 she was Oscar-nominated twice in the same year, for her real-life primatologist Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist and her sharp-tongued business-woman in Working Girl. Forget playing the sex symbol or the femme fatale, she became known for courageous, combative, complex women.
Like her characters, Weaver is engaged and forthright. Named Susan, she was born in New York and raised an only child by her mother, Elizabeth, an English actress, and her father, Sylvester, a high-flying US TV executive and president of the NBC network in the 1950s. At 14, she started using the name Sigourney, taken from a minor character in The Great Gatsby. But her family – even she – didn’t think she was destined for stardom.
“I don’t think my parents thought I had a future in show business because you kind of have to be out there glad-handing and I was a very shy, introverted creature,” she recalls. “But I could make people laugh. So maybe that was the part of me that needed to flower.”
For all the doubts, her mother did want Weaver to forge her own path. “Because she had given up her career – she always regretted that,” she says. But even attending Stanford University to study English and then Yale’s School of Drama was no guarantee.
“It’s so difficult, I think, to achieve any kind of success in this industry. It takes so much luck and perseverance. And I don’t think you know your children that well; you don’t know what kind of adults they are. And I think I had more fortitude than my mother suspected. She was amazed by my success her entire life.”
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