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Sigourney Weaver’s Early Career — From ‘Alien’ to ‘Galaxy Quest’

This starlet can do it all!

It was 1979 when Sigourney Weaver portrayed Ellen Ripley as a young actress in the acclaimed sci-fi film Alien, a role she would reprise three more times in the franchise. With a career spanning over 50 years, Weaver has captivated audiences and won acclaim as one of the most gifted and versatile actresses on stage and screen.

Best known for her roles in films such as Ghostbusters, Working Girl, Gorillas in the Mist and of course, Alien, the statuesque actress, who stands 6’3” in bare feet, began her career as an understudy in Sir John Gielgud’s production of The Constant Wife starring Ingrid Bergman.

Sigourney Weaver, Alien, 1979
Sigourney Weaver, Alien, 1979Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

An origin story

Born Susan Alexandra Weaver on October 8, 1949 in New York City, she began calling herself Sigourney at a young age after discovering the name in The Great Gatsby novel.

I changed my name because I didn’t like being called Sue or Suzie. I felt I needed a longer name because I was so tall. So what happened? Now everyone calls me Sig or Siggy,” she told Esquire.

Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist, 1988
Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist, 1988Photo by Universal/Getty Images

Weaver’s father was the former NBC president Sylvester “Pat” Weaver, guaranteeing his daughter grew up fully immersed in the entertainment business. But despite a privileged childhood, Weaver says she lacked confidence in her own beauty due to her height and her mom telling her at age 8 that she was simply “plain” looking.

Sigourney Weaver’s journey as a young actress

It was at Stanford University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in literature that Weaver realized her dream was to become an actress. Moving back to the east coast, she attended Yale Drama School and finished the program in 1974.

Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist, 1988
Sigourney Weaver, Gorillas in the Mist, 1988Murray Close/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images

Though self-conscious about her height and looks, the budding thespian found steady work in many off-Broadway shows before landing a part on the short-lived daytime drama Somerset, then a walk-on role in Woody Allen’s Annie Hall (1977).

Often playing women of strength and stature, here is a look at some movies starring Sigourney Weaver as a young actress.

Alien (1979)

As Warrant Officer Ellen Ripley in the original blockbuster Alien movie, Weaver went on to reprise the role in 1986’s Aliens, for which she earned Oscar and Golden Globe nominations for Best Actress.

In 1992, Ripley came back to life in Alien 3, which she co-produced and starred, and again for the final time in 1997’s Alien: Resurrection.  

Sigourney Weaver, Alien, 1979
Sigourney Weaver, Alien, 1979Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Ripley and her crew on the commercial spaceship “Nostromo” are on their way home when strange transmission from a distant moon is heard. Investigating the origins of the distress call, they discover after landing on a small planet that the distress call was actually a warning. Too late!

Anyone who has seen the original Alien movie and its sequels know what happens next — as the tag line says, “No one in space can hear you scream.”

Eyewitness (1981)

A murder occurs at the building janitor Daryll Deever (William Hurt) works at, and he discovers the body. Assigned the story, reporter Tony Sokolow (Weaver) becomes intrigued with Deever and thinks he might know more than he’s willing to divulge.

Their lives become intertwined as they both try to solve the murder, but with each step, they are putting themselves in danger.

The Year of Living Dangerously (1983)

Set against political turmoil in Indonesia, Guy Hamilton (Mel Gibson), on his first job as a foreign correspondent, becomes embroiled in foreign powers during the overthrow of President Sukarno.

However, the story is really about a love affair between Hamilton and British Embassy officer Jill Bryant (Weaver). Due to the political nature of the film, it was banned from being shown in Indonesia until 2000.  

Ghostbusters (1984)

Who ya gonna call? Alongside Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd, Weaver had dual roles — as Dana Barrett and her possessed counterpart, Zuul.

Three parapsychologists have lost their Columbia University funding, so they set up shop doing what they know best: exploiting their understanding of the paranormal world. They form a unique ghost removal service in New York City called Ghostbusters and live in an old firehouse building.

The “sanitation” service offer attracts a rather diverse range of customers, including the mayor of NYC who hopes they can help him save the city.

Half Moon Street (1986)

Weaver plays Dr. Lauren Slaughter, a brilliant researcher in London, but finds she can’t make ends meet so she moonlights as a high-class hooker.

Reveling in the fact that she’s supplementing her income — plus having control over men and money — she becomes an unwitting pawn in a dirty political game. Could one of her client’s fantasies become a deadly nightmare?

Gorillas in the Mist (1988)

This biographical drama tells the story of naturalist and primatologist Dian Fossey, who came to Africa to study the vanishing mountain gorillas and later fought to protect them.

Fossey left everything she knew and entered a world few had seen before in order to save the mountain gorillas from man’s cruelty. Weaver received an Oscar nomination and was awarded a Golden Globe.  

Working Girl (1988)

Along with Weaver, the romantic comedy-drama also stars Harrison Ford and Melanie Griffith, who plays ambitious secretary Tess McGill from Staten Island, aiming to make it in Manhattan’s business world.

Weaver is Tess’ nasty boss, Katharine Parker, who at first seems supportive of her assistant’s lofty goals. In the end, she steals her idea for a proposed merger and tries to pass it off as her own.

The cast of Working Girl, 1988
Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford and Sigourney Weaver, Working Girl, 1988Sunset Boulevard/Corbis via Getty Images

Weaver is absolutely villainous as an employee’s worst nightmare. The film was a major box office success and garnered Weaver another Academy Award nomination and a Golden Globe win. 

1492: Conquest of Paradise (1992)

Weaver gets to play royalty as Queen Isabella in this epic tale of Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the Americas. Beyond that, the film also shows the disastrous effects the Europeans had on the original inhabitants and Columbus’ struggle to civilize the New World.

While not totally historically accurate, the film comes close to capturing true events.

Dave (1993)Sigourney Weaver young

Proving she has a funny side, Weaver took on a lighter role, turning to politics as the beautiful First Lady opposite Kevin Kline as a President stand-in for the real deal. It turns out that Dave, a sweet-natured and caring Temp Agency operator, looks exactly like the President.

Nobody counted on Dave enjoying himself in the oval office and making the country a better place. He also falls in love with Weaver’s First Lady.

Death and the Maiden (1994) Sigourney Weaver young

This mystery drama directed by Roman Polanski was based on the 1990 play of the same name. Weaver plays Paulina Escobar, a housewife married to a prominent lawyer in a South American country. When a storm hits and knocks out their neighbors’ power, her husband invites him over. Seeing him, she becomes convinced he’s the same man who kidnapped, tortured and raped her years earlier.

Holding him at gunpoint, she attacks him several times and then decides they’re to hold a mock trial she presides over, with her husband serving as the man’s lawyer. It sounds bizarre, but it’s truly suspenseful.

The Ice Storm (1997) Sigourney Weaver young

Weaver’s previous Dave co-star Kevin Kline showed her the script for The Ice Storm, and she very badly wanted the part of Janey. So much so, that she personally lobbied for the role.

The novel, which the movie is based upon, was described as funny, acerbic and moving in a dazed and confused era of American life. Set during the 1973 Thanksgiving weekend, the Hood family comes home for the holidays when a dangerous ice storm hits.

The movie centers around an affluent Connecticut suburb and two neighboring families — The Hoods and the Williamses. Lies, sexual liaisons, alcoholism and drug use make the ice storm inconsequential in comparison.

A Map of the World (1999) Sigourney Weaver young

Based on a novel that was Oprah’s Book Club selection, this movie focuses a turning point in Alice Goodwin’s (Sigourney Weaver) life. She and her husband, along with two daughters, live on a dairy farm in a small Wisconsin community, but an accident on her property involves the drowning of a child. As a result, the town turns against Alice, who finds herself fighting charges of child abuse. Consumed with guilt, Alice’s whole world falls apart.

Galaxy Quest (1999) Sigourney Weaver young

The sci-fi comedy is a parody of and homage to series such as Star Trek and its cult like following. The film depicts the cast of a fictional cult TV series, Galaxy Quest, who are drawn into a real conflict by aliens who think the series is an accurate documentary. Confused yet?

MUST-SEE: The Original ‘Star Trek’ Cast: Where They’ve Boldly Gone, Then and Now

Once again, Weaver turns her sights to comedy in this film as Gwen DeMarco, who played Lieutenant Tawny Madison, the sexy communications officer on the fictional TV series and the only officer on board who can give orders to the ship’s computer.

The cast of Galaxy Quest, 1999
Tim Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Alan Rickman, Sam Rockwell, Tony Shalhoub and Daryl Mitchell, Galaxy Quest, 1999Getty Images

It’s 18 years since the series last aired and its stars have not been able to find meaningful acting work since. Their main paychecks come from promotional appearance and conventions.

It’s at one of these conventions that an alien race, the Thermians, take the “crew” (actually the ensemble of actors) to the actual Galaxy Quest, a starship from the show that they’ve recreated right down to the last detail . Weaver delighted audiences with her comedy timing and the film was a 1999 holiday season hit.

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