She started off as a fresh-faced newcomer, an acting unknown lighting up the New York stage with small but significant parts. She ended up becoming the ultimate post-modern cinematic symbol of feminist empowerment, a force with more estrogen than ego. From bit parts in Annie Hall to the signature role as Lt. Ellen Ripley, alien fighter, Sigourney Weaver has been at the center of the sci-fi realm since hooking up with Ridley Scott back in 1979. Over the years, she’s appeared in numerous genre efforts, earning Academy Award attention for her work (in James Cameron’s brilliant revisionist war film sequel, Aliens) and the hearts of many a speculative fiction geek.
So what is it about the statuesque actress that’s turned her from a respected serious thespian to an extraterrestrial butt-kicker? How do you go from Off-Broadway to off planet, romantic leading lady and dramatic lynchpin to a comic reinterpretation of a Gene Roddenberry’s vision of the future? The answer, oddly enough, can be found in her latest trip into orbit. As part of another Cameron epic, the mega-moneymaker Avatar (hitting home video on Earth Day, 22 April), Weaver turns what could have been a tired bit of pseudo-science grousing (she plays Dr. Grace Augustine, leader of the genetic “replacement” program on the distant Pandora) and reinvented it as the human heart of a very technologically complex tale.