Sigourney Weaver first worked with James Cameron in 1985 when she reprised her role as Ellen Ripley in Aliens. She now portrays Grace Augustine, in the writer/director/producer/editor’s eagerly awaited science fiction saga Avatar.
Grace is a scientist who runs the Avatar Program on the planet Pandora. A trained botanist, she has lived there for 15 years, where she moves back and forth between her scientific work on the human base, Hell’s Gate, and her fieldwork as an avatar in the Pandoran rainforest. These avatars are genetically engineered hybrids of human DNA mixed with DNA from the natives of Pandora, the Na’vi.
At the press conference for the movie, Weaver spoke about this technically innovative movie and her longtime relationship with James Cameron.
Do you see Grace as a heroic character?
I think Grace is a very complicated character because I think she’s leading this double life. She’s on Pandora doing this very important research that is supported by people who don’t share her love for the planet, and who in fact are destroying the planet.
I think it was fascinating for me to play someone who is so armored at work and who covers her heart because she doesn’t feel she can trust them with the truth about Pandora. And then she actually reveals who she really is in her true heart and soul when she’s in her real home, Pandora.
That was very challenging and yes, I think Grace is awesome, it was great fun to do the physical part of the role, that’s what we started with and it was a fantastic experience.
Did you treat your character when she’s human and when she’s an avatar as two separate roles?
I think that it’s not two separate roles. I did try to make Grace the human look very different than Sigourney, she’s a chain smoker, neurotic red-headed scientist, and Grace on the planet is much more of a free spirit, probably a little closer to me.
I thought it was sort of funny that Jim made her look so much more like me only 20 years younger, thank you very much, but it was fascinating because I do think that it’s not uncommon for people to have different identities at work and in their real lives and it seemed like a very modern thing to play.
You appear to be tough, fearless, smart but with a heart, just like in this movie. How do you see yourself?
I aspire to some of those things and I’m glad I’ve been convincing in some of these roles. Grace was a wonderful combination of qualities, she’s full of authority and wit, but she’s also very conflicted personally and it was wonderful to play someone who ends up finding her true happiness and her true home in an alien life, especially after my history with aliens! It’s ironic.
I think Jim is so brilliant at casting, and I was so thrilled that he thought of me for Grace. I admire women who have devoted themselves to the study of certain things or certain causes, and I felt like with what he gave me we were able to construct a very believable scientist, but also someone who flowers in this alien world and this alien culture in a way that I found really exciting for me personally.
So it was a great privilege for me to be doing this particular film at this particular point in my life.
Can you talk a little about working with James Cameron?
He’s always been such an inspiring and visionary director; this time I think he finally had developed the technology to make this story come to life, a story he’s been dreaming about since he was a kid.
It was very exciting to work with him, he operated the cameras; he created all the creatures, all the weapons, as Sam Worthington (who plays Jake) says, ‘It’s The Land of Jim.’
He always had a twinkle in his eye because he was having so much fun.
When you first saw the finished film what did you think?
I saw it last week, and again last night for the first time with a huge audience, and I think what really impressed me is that there are a lot of big movies that involve special effects, Jim Cameron is the only one I know who understands that special effects are not for effect, he uses them to enhance the emotional story and to make even sharper in this case through 3D the sensory experience of the audience experiencing the story.
To sublimate this incredible revolutionary breakthrough in special effects to the actual work of the actors and to the story of the characters’ relationships, I think is the true accomplishment of the movie, and I really felt it last night.