Sigourney Weaver is the OG when it comes to badass females in films. She skyrocketed into fame when she first played Ellen Ripley in the 1979 Ridley Scott film Alien, captivating audiences with her bravado and fearlessness. After that, Weaver was a bona fide celebrity, as well as a heroine that women and girls everywhere could look to for inspiration.
Decades later, Weaver is still landing high-profile acting gigs, as she continually breaks barriers as an older woman in Hollywood who’s just as in-demand as ever. Whether it’s joining the Naʼvi in Avatar or reprising her role in Ghostbusters, Weaver is enjoying a level of fame that few of her fellow actors are able to enjoy.
But believe it or not, Weaver wasn’t always a glamorous Hollywood actor with a resume stretching on for decades. And she wasn’t always named Sigourney, either, which might sound crazy, but it’s true! Read on to learn all about the stunning transformation of Sigourney Weaver.
Sigourney Weaver felt gawky from the beginning
Despite the fact that Sigourney Weaver radiates confidence in all of her roles, that wasn’t something that came naturally to her from the start. Rather, she was quite the gawky child, and, according to The Telegraph, her mother never made her feel good about her appearance and didn’t encourage her to pursue acting. "I was a very shy child and I sort of backed into the profession," she confessed in an interview with the Daily Mail. "My parents thought I’d be eaten up by it because I was so very shy and so very nice."
It’s not surprising, then, that she didn’t see herself becoming a successful celebrity when she was younger. "I wasn’t sure I could succeed at this," she continued. "I was never one of those people who said, ‘I’m going to be an actor’ at the age of seven.’"
None of that hesitation ended up stopping Weaver from becoming an actor in the end, obviously. But it certainly wasn’t easy for her to come by, or something that was destined from the start.
When Sigourney Weaver was a teenager, she changed her name
It seems impossible that Sigourney Weaver wasn’t gifted with her unique and trademark first name when she was born. But she was actually named Susan Weaver by her parents, English actress Elizabeth Inglis and NBC television bigwig Pat Weaver. With a mom and dad like that, it’s no wonder she wanted to go into the entertainment business, despite her mother’s cautions.
Weaver went from Susan to Sigourney when she was a teenager, perhaps the first indicator that she was coming into her own. "At 14, I changed my name from Susan to Sigourney — a minor character in The Great Gatsby," she revealed in an interview with The Guardian. "It was an act of desperation, because I didn’t like being called Susie. Now I’m ‘Siggy,’ so it doesn’t matter."
That wasn’t the only reason that Weaver changed her name, either, as she thought the longer name fit her better. "It was long because I was long," she shared in an interview with Parade magazine. "I was too tall for ‘Sue.’"
Sigourney Weaver didn’t enjoy drama school at Yale
It doesn’t take long while viewing Sigourney Weaver’s celebrated body of work to see what a multi-faceted and talented actor she is. But when she was attending the Yale School of Drama in the early ’70s, she didn’t enjoy herself at all, as the faculty there made her feel less than adequate. "I didn’t leave, because they convinced me I had no talent," she recalled in an interview with Interview magazine, adding, "They cast me mostly as prostitutes and old women, and I stayed because I loved the writers."
Fortunately for Weaver, the errors of her faculty were recognized by former dean Robert Brustein and later rectified. "It’s my fault that I believed them, but I stayed," she continued. "I actually have a long apology letter from Robert Brustein, saying, ‘I’m so sorry this happened to you. I didn’t realize the people who were running the acting department at the drama school hated actors.’ They did. And they were fired when I graduated." Can you imagine being the professor who overlooked a talent like that?
Sigourney Weaver said working off-Broadway healed her
Once Sigourney Weaver was finished with drama school, she was free to pursue acting full-time in New York City — and have a blast in the process. "After I left Yale, we were all doing these mad plays off-off Broadway," she shared with Interview magazine. "And I got back to that feeling I had from college, of everyone making up in front of one cracked mirror, which is what I loved — the scrappy theater idea."
Working in these off-beat plays wasn’t just a job for Weaver, either, as she was able to reclaim her identity as an actor in each of the productions she worked on. "I think off-off Broadway healed me, made me an actor again, and I was in so many different crazy shows," she continued. "I played a woman who kept a hedgehog in her vagina in one play; I was schizophrenic in another. It was just so much fun." Sounds like an amazing experience!
Alien made Sigourney Weaver a household name
In 1979, the world was introduced to Sigourney Weaver in a big way when she starred in the very first Alien film, which was a huge success by every measure. After that, Weaver was an unstoppable superstar, and the movie spawned multiple sequels over the years. And while it’s hard to imagine anyone other than Weaver in the role of Ripley, it almost didn’t turn out like that. "The story was originally all men," she revealed in an interview with Parade. "But the writers thought it would be very timely to have a woman be the sole survivor. Nobody saw her coming."
Weaver seamlessly inhabits the role of Ripley, in spite of the fact that she says the two are very different. "I’m very proud of [Ripley] because she couldn’t be any less like me," she continued. "When something bad happens, Ripley says, ‘OK, here’s what I need to do.’ She does her duty and never gives up. I’d be the person cracking jokes to deflect the terror."
In 1983, Sigourney Weaver met her husband
Four years after Sigourney Weaver starred in Alien, love came into her life, as that’s the year she first met actor and director Jim Simpson. "I met my husband during the Williamstown Theatre Festival in 1983," she recalled in an interview with Interview magazine, adding, "He was so cute. I remember thinking, ‘Well, he’s going to be a bachelor for many years.’"
At the time, Weaver had a boyfriend, so nothing else happened that night. But Simpson must have made an impression because Weaver never forgot him, and, down the road, she decided to get in touch. "But within six months, I had invited him to a party, and he stayed late to help me put away the decorations," she continued. "Then I asked him out to dinner, and three months later we decided to get married. That’s how it happens."
Weaver and Simpson have been together ever since, showing that it’s possible to have a successful, long-term marriage in Hollywood.
Sigourney Weaver said Ghostbusters changed her life
The year after Sigourney Weaver met her husband, she delighted audiences with her portrayal of Dana Barrett in the now-iconic 1984 film Ghostbusters. Out of the gate, Weaver was a fan of the film, and she was absolutely delighted to be a part of it. "I knew it would be big," she confessed in an interview with Parade. "The script was so funny and full of heart." She noted, "Ghostbusters changed my life."
It wasn’t just the script that made Weaver want to be in the film, either, as there was another reason that she wanted to be a part of the project. "It was really the chance to be possessed by a dog. I thought that would be fun," she admitted in an interview with Harper’s Bazaar. "I love the idea that a cellist would turn into this crazy ghoul."
Weaver reprised the role of Dana Barrett in Ghostbusters II, and she played Rebecca Gorin in the all-female 2016 reboot of Ghostbusters. She also signed on to return once again as Dana in Ghostbusters 2020.
Sigourney Weaver knew her character in Working Girl was strong
After playing Dian Fossey in Gorillas in the Mist in 1988, Sigourney Weaver starred as Katharine Parker in the dramatic rom-com Working Girl, alongside Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith, that same year. She received Oscar nominations for both roles, making her a double nominee at the 1989 Academy Awards. Impressive!
While Katharine isn’t supposed to be the more likable of the two leading ladies, Weaver said that fans have really identified with her. "She’s a very strong character," she shared in an interview with The Guardian. "I also had a lot of women coming up to me at airports and saying ‘She [Griffith’s character] borrowed your clothes and took your boyfriend!’ They were very pro-Katharine."
However, by the end of the film, Katharine has been fired by her job, dumped by her partner, and hung out to dry in a manner that was surprising to Weaver. "I remember that last scene when Katharine loses and I think, until I played it, I hadn’t dealt with the idea she could lose," she continued. "Aren’t I going to get the guy?"
Sigourney Weaver is very attached to her daughter
In the midst of a very busy acting career that spanned the ’90s, including films like Dave, Galaxy Quest, and several Alien sequels, Sigourney Weaver and her husband decided to start a family. In 1990, Weaver and Simpson welcomed Charlotte Simpson into the world, their first and only child. Congratulations, mom and dad!
Even though Weaver has always been a working mother, she admits that she’s super attached to her daughter. "I’m kind of a gooey… I don’t know why I don’t drive my daughter absolutely crazy, but she couldn’t be sweeter," she confessed in an interview with The Guardian. "She seems very nice about the fact that I’m very attached to her. We never went through that period of not getting along. I kept expecting it."
It was especially difficult when it came time for Weaver to travel to New Zealand to film Avatar, as she wasn’t able to see her daughter for a long stretch. "I always have to discipline myself," she continued. "Because you’ve got to let them go."
Sigourney Weaver said she wouldn’t be where she is today without her husband’s support
When it comes to parenting, both Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson wanted to make sure that someone was always there for their daughter. And because Weaver’s profession requires some pretty extensive time and travel, that meant it was Simpson who was usually holding down the fort, which flies in the face of traditional gender roles. Fortunately, Simpson was never bothered that his wife had a higher-profile career. As Weaver tells it, he was just happy "that one of us could make a living."
"And in terms of what he’s given me, it’s priceless," she gushed in an interview with The Guardian. "If I didn’t have such a supportive husband, I couldn’t have done it."
With Simpson able to frequently work out of the home, Weaver was able to maintain a regular acting career. "As it was, I did about one project a year," she continued. "But I wouldn’t have been able to do that." Talk about teamwork!
Sigourney Weaver understands the legacy of Ripley years later
Even though the first Alien movie was released decades ago, the character of Ripley continues to hold up as relevant and empowering, something Sigourney Weaver is proud of. "I think that’s great, I think that’s a reflection…of our society," she mused in a 2017 interview with Entertainment Weekly. "Ripley [came at a time when] we were moving into these new [male-dominated] fields, of being policemen, firemen. It was a very new idea. I was really lucky." Well, lucky and insanely talented!
Additionally, Ripley has been an inspiration to actors like Jennifer Lawrence for The Hunger Games and Charlize Theron for Atomic Blonde. Again, Weaver is pleased. "I’m very flattered when actresses talk about Ripley, that she’s been important to them," she continued. "I think, again, it was a really fresh idea at the time to have the woman be the hero, and I think the character holds up."
Sigourney Weaver supports the Me Too movement and wants to see change
Given that Sigourney Weaver has worked in Hollywood for decades, she’s seen firsthand the impacts that the #MeToo movement has had — and is happy about the changes. "What has been accomplished with #MeToo is such an important step in the battle for equality in the workplace," she shared in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "I think actually nowadays, women, in my opinion, do try to help each other. There’s a greater sense of sisterhood." Amen to that!
Still, Weaver would like to see more effort put forth to make Hollywood more inclusive. "Even if all the crews wanted to bring in a more diverse crew, more women, minorities, that hasn’t been prioritized," she continued. "I think the answer is the unions and the studios need to actively start embracing that now. Everyone that I work with agrees that it would be so much better if, when you looked around the stage, it reflected what life is like in America, which is a diverse community."
The story of Avatar isn’t done yet, according to Sigourney Weaver
When the first Avatar film debuted in 2009, it made quite the splash for its cutting edge visual effects, according to Wired. And although Sigourney Weaver’s character, Dr. Grace Augustine, is killed in the first film, she’s returning for the next four installments of the franchise. "We just finished shooting two and three," she revealed in a 2018 interview with The Hollywood Reporter. "We shot it in L.A. and James [Cameron] has announced publicly that there’s a lot of underwater work, so we learned how to free dive and we did many scenes underwater, which was challenging and kind of cool." Sounds like it!
Additionally, Weaver is excited about how the films will pick up where the last one left off. "The scripts are amazing, and in the first one, which I love, I think [Cameron] hadn’t set up a lot of things. In this one he got to tell this very personal story," she continued. "They’re amazing. There’s a message to not sacrifice everything for greed and conquest." She added that it will take all four films for the full message to become apparent.
Sigourney Weaver is embracing her age… and her future
Many Hollywood actors will do whatever it takes to stop aging, going to great lengths to maintain their youth. But Sigourney Weaver doesn’t mind the process one bit, and she’s said she enjoys getting older. "I love it," she revealed in an interview with Parade magazine. "I enjoy working with younger people because I learn so much from them. And I like to bring in my own ways of doing things… and I’m getting wonderful parts." That’s great news for women in the industry!
Part of the reason Weaver is especially enjoying the latter part of her career is because of how she’s been cast in the past. "I was never the babe or the beautiful ingénue or the love interest, because I was too tall," she continued. "So I’ve always played interesting people, and that’s continued. It’s not like I suddenly have to figure out who I am now."