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Sigourney Weaver, a force of nature

This article is published in issue 49 of Vanity Fair on newsstands until 5 December 2023

«My mother Elizabeth was English, and was a great fan of gardening. I also learned to practice it, but at a much older age than her, and for some time I have also been working with the New York Botanical Garden, where I discovered that taking care of vegetation is not only useful, but is good for the soul. . Perhaps that’s why Paul Schrader wrote a story of redemption that revolves around the healing power of this noble art.”

I find myself talking to Sigourney Weaver of plants and flowers (“my favorites are peonies”, he confesses) because his latest film, The master gardener, premiered at the Venice Film Festival and arriving in theaters on December 14, takes place in a large garden, Gracewood Gardens. The actress plays Norma, a wealthy widow who has hired a man of few words but very efficient, Narvel (Joel Edgerton), to take care of her estate to give him a chance to escape a violent past. The relationship between the two (he is much younger than her) soon leads to a love affair with ambiguous contours, and when the woman asks him to take care of her niece Maya (Quintessa Swindell), training her in horticulture to keep her away from drugs, between the man and the girl strike up a fatal attraction that is difficult to hide from the jealous owner. «Norma is an aristocratic woman like many I have known. To best represent it, I asked a dear friend of mine who belongs to that world for advice”, explains Weaver. «She’s not evil, but she looks down on everyone: she even does it with Narvel, who however attracts her because she comes from a background very different from hers. When you look at her, she seems like a strong woman, but in reality she is very vulnerable, and when she loses her power over the relationship she becomes ruthless. When Paul proposed the role to me I immediately accepted because this character seemed extremely complex to me. He made me think of Virginia Woolf: her relationship derails and Pandora’s box opens.”

How would you characterize the relationship between Norma and Narvel?
«She offered him a chance to get out of a situation with no apparent escape route, she gave him a new life and a new vocation, while at the same time entrusting herself to him. They have built a relationship on a kind of mutual exchange that satisfies both. However, she makes the same mistake as King Lear, that is, she gives up total control of his kingdom. It’s something that when you fall in love exposes you totally to the other.”

There is a big age difference between Norma and Narvel. It’s not often in films that we see women in relationships with younger men.
«It certainly happens more often in life than in cinema, but I admit that in this sense the industry has changed: in recent years I have played older women with a full sexual life, and this type of representation didn’t even exist when I started my career in the seventies. Today there are more roles available for women of all ages, and I think the reason is that we no longer focus only on the desires of a white male audience, but fortunately films are created to satisfy a larger and more varied audience ».

This film is dark, with a romantic side. Why hasn’t she played many romcoms?
«Some happened to me and I think I’m also quite good at that kind of role, but I think I wasn’t often taken into consideration because of my height: I’m 1.80 meters tall and every time the opportunity arose and I arrived at the auditions, the protagonist was shorter than me. At first there was a moment of embarrassment, then he invited everyone to sit around a table, so that you wouldn’t notice the difference. Then I was discarded. In any case, I’m happy with the few opportunities I’ve had.”

This film is about second chances. Have you ever wished you had one?
«Fortunately my career hasn’t had any major ups and downs, so I had to give second chances to myself. I’m a perfectionist and I’ve often thought that I could have done better in a film. So, perhaps, after what I considered a minor interpretation, I would choose an even more difficult role to test myself. At times it was tiring, but today I am more relaxed than in the past and I judge myself more leniently.”

We’ve recently seen old male stars from the ’80s and ’90s like Arnold Schwarzenegger, Tom Cruise and Sylvester Stallone return to action films. Why doesn’t this happen to women? And have you ever thought about the role of Ripley in an Alien sequel?
«I don’t think that this return to hero roles has to do with a choice of genre, but with the personality of the actors. Today I’m no longer interested in playing Ripley, but there was a time, almost ten years ago, when I could have played her again in a film directed by Neill Blomkamp, ​​written by Walter Hill. Alien was an epochal film thanks to Walter’s writing, who together with Ridley Scott created a strong female character at a time when women at most were allowed to make beautiful statues alongside James Bond. Ripley did justice to women, who are courageous, are often the true cornerstone of families and never back down when there is real drama to face.”

You are thus disavowing what is said today: that a man cannot write a credible female character or direct a woman in the best possible way.
«These are generalizations that I don’t agree with. We must always judge individuals and not the gender of the director. Ridley Scott also directed Thelma & Louise, which was an extraordinary female portrait, and also James Cameron with Terminators, Aliens Final Clash or Avatars he portrayed women in an amazing way. And the same can also be said for Paul Schrader, who despite never having written female characters, in my opinion with Norma he created a small masterpiece: she is an extremely privileged woman and this explains why she can’t imagine that things don’t go exactly the way she wants she. The lunch scene, where the situation escalates and Norma transforms into Mr. Hyde, is a great piece of cinema writing.”

Her next film, Call Jane, is about a housewife who in the 1960s, unable to have a legal abortion, turns to a group of women who perform clandestine abortions. Was it important to play one of these activists?
«Very much, because it takes us back to a period in history, the 1960s and 1970s, when people in the United States were fighting for their rights. It is a film of fundamental importance for talking about this topic, especially after the 2022 Supreme Court decision that called into question the right to have an abortion. I know that in Europe things are very different, but in my country it was a very serious wound for the civil rights of millions of women. The only positive side is that this barbarism is awakening the conscience of many people who had been a little distracted by politics.” Returning to the film, gardening is linked to respect and care for nature.”

For her who is one of the pillars of the saga Avatarswhich tells the story of the destruction of an ecosystem by humans, how important are environmental issues?
«They are very important, and they should be for everyone, because this is the only planet we can live on and we should take care of it. I realize that not everyone is aware of this, because most people live in highly urbanized environments, where the space for vegetation is very limited. But gardening, in fact, is something that can reconnect you with nature, make you understand the interconnection that exists between plants, insects, animals, climate and phenomena such as drought or floods. In any case, it is no longer possible to pretend nothing has happened, and everyone must do everything possible on a personal level or in their community to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and stop climate change, including to protect those species that are slowly disappearing. Like the birds, which were once seen in the sky quite often in New York. And today they are almost no longer there.”

A scene from the film The master gardener

Source: Vanity Fair

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