Weaver feels lucky that when she made her debut in sci-fi, “I didn’t have to be a superwoman in a tiny outfit doing bizarre things.” Indeed, her Ripley look consisted mostly of khaki jumpsuits and an expression of sweaty apprehension. “My impression is that [today’s young actresses] want to be more glamorous, like, ‘Why can’t I be smart and powerful and sexy?’ Well, to me what was sexy about Ripley was that she was who she was.”
In between the first two Alien installments, she played the poised British embassy official who has a fiery affair with Mel Gibson’s dashing journalist in The Year of Living Dangerously. “It was an odd situation to be the girl in a romantic story when the man is so much more attractive,” she muses. “When I first saw Mel, I felt like a little brown mouse.”
Then came two movies that yielded Oscar nominations for Weaver in the same year. In Working Girl, she gave a delicious performance as a backstabbing boss who steals her assistant’s ideas—“sort of the humorless character in a comedy,” she says, “which is the basis of a good comedy.” And in Gorillas in the Mist, she had “a huge, eye-opening experience” playing primatologist Dian Fossey. “It was the first time I understood what a small part of the big plan man is,” she says.
The acclaim she received was especially resonant because Weaver was famously told by her professors at the Yale School of Drama that she had no talent. “I wanted to prove them wrong,” she says. “It activated in me some sort of spite.” She has often talked about how bone-deep hurtful this evaluation was, and now she reveals that despite decades of success she carried the grudge until very recently: “I’d say within the last two or three years,” she says. “A friend of mine said to me, ‘You know you have to forgive them,’ and I said, ‘Really? But I don’t want to.’ He said, ‘No, you really have to forgive them.’ And, in a way, forgive myself for being so vulnerable and letting it get to me.”
Today she’s simply focused on what’s ahead. “I have wonderful agents who think I can do anything and know that I want to try,” Weaver says. “I feel very blessed that I get to read a lot of scripts.” A recent high point for her was improvising dialogue with Tina Fey and Amy Poehler in the surrogacy comedy Baby Mama. Her schedule is now studded with projects, including two movies in the can (the comedies Paul and Crazy on the Outside); You Again, which she’s shooting; and an HBO biopic about Gypsy Rose Lee toward the end of her burlesque career, which she’s prepping to star in. “I don’t care what the genre is, and I don’t really care how big my part is,” she says. “If it’s a story worth telling, I just want to be a part of telling it.”
When Weaver isn’t working, she can usually be found in her hometown of New York City, trying to pass herself off as just another denizen of Manhattan’s Upper East Side. “I wear dark colors a lot because I don’t want to be noticed,” says the actress, who, asked how her personal style has evolved over time, adds, “I have a real horror of trying to not be my age—although I do think that women of many ages can wear many different styles.” So paparazzi won’t be snapping photos of her strolling around in those navel-revealing, skintight jeans that practically beg their wearer to be called a cougar? “My jeans might not be the same ones I wore 30 years ago, which were pretty funky,” she says. “I like things that fit well, so now they’re more elegant. But if someone were going to take away my jeans, I’d have to strangle them.”