PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Sigourney Weaver

PLAYBILL ON-LINE'S BRIEF ENCOUNTER with Sigourney Weaver Sigourney Weaver, currently starring as Mrs. Farnsworth in the world premiere play by A.R. Gurney, is not afraid of comedy, smaller venues or Republicans.
Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson
Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson Photo by Aubrey Reuben

The new play, set in a creative writing classroom, delves into the work-in-progress novel by the title character. Whether the work is fact or fiction and whether it involves the escapades of a young George W. Bush is up to the audience (or class) to decide. The star of stage (Hurlyburly) and screen (the "Alien" saga) spoke with Playbill On-Line about her latest work — again in the hands of husband, director Jim Simpson — which brings her back to her some of her favorite things: new work, Off-Broadway and comedy.

Playbill On-Line: Have you been stealing scripts off of your husband's desk?
Sigourney Weaver: No, I think [A.R.] "Pete" Gurney sent this to Jim hoping that I would be interested, which of course, is a huge honor for me because I've always wanted to be in one of his plays. He wrote it for The Flea [where Simpson is artistic director] and he did think of me as he wrote Mrs. Farnsworth, but I think she's a completely independent creation. I just lucked out.

PBOL: You've been doing more theatre as of late, is that Jim's influence?
SW: I try to do a play every year. I certainly think that when we read Pete's script that it was fantastic to have a theatre where we knew we could do it. And it is very meaningful to us to be running a theatre in New York. But I think that even if it weren't for The Flea, I'd still want to go back; especially to Off-Broadway where I feel like the work is really interesting and I miss it.

PBOL: The past two years we've seen you doing heavy dramas — The Guys and The Mercy Seat — both involving the Sept. 11 tragedy. It's good to see you in a comedy again...
SW: I agree, there's nothing I like better than doing a comedy; especially right now. Being able to distract people and also at the same time doing something I think is very relevant is a real joy.

PBOL: What about Mrs. Farnsworth drew you to the work?
SW: I think that there are a number of things. One, the play is a very interesting look at what is fair to bring up about a person's life and career when they run for office. And, I think what I loved about Mrs. Farnsworth herself is that she's so passionate and so dear in a way. There's no malice in her, just outrage and frustration — personal and political. I think she's a very personal character whose taking the politics of the world very personally, as a lot of people are. It's affected all of our lives so much. And it was just great to play a character who, without sort of becoming a strident political creature, expresses herself with such openness and passion and sincerity. I just felt the whole dialogue was very important to bring up in an election year. PBOL: The comedy, while obviously political, works on a relationship level as well.
SW: I definitely think it's a play that can be done whether it's an election year or not. There's much more, in an odd way, about self-expression and closure and all those things we bring up in the writing workshop [in the play].

PBOL: Does working in smaller, intimate spaces worry you or is it easier?
SW: I've just always been drawn to Off-Broadway. Maybe because that's where I worked most of the time when I first came to the city and worked with so many beginning playwrights. I have always been so grateful to have had three or four years Off-Broadway before I had to go and do anything that was more conventional because I feel like Off- and Off-Off-Broadway are where the really interesting stuff starts to bubble up. Also, I feel like the Off-Broadway audiences are very smart, very engaged, very sophisticated. Actually there's kind of a hunger for all art forms right now, I think. People are really looking to music, dance, painting, theatre, even movies for distraction, solace, inspiration, all kinds of things. And it's a very vital time because I feel like people really are drinking up art. We need it because they nourish us and keep up going.

PBOL: You've worked in science-fiction, comedy, drama, on stage and on screen. Do you try to find a balance?
SW: I think there's some sort of interior compass that's always trying to find comedy which I think — a good comedy — is a rare creature in any medium. I always try to find the humor in the serious things because I think that's more life-like. I really prefer to do new work. People ask me 'Do you want to do Hedda Gabler?' and I know I should, but the truth is what I really want to do is a new play. And I would run to a new play a hundred times faster than an old play.

PBOL: What's next on your plate? Movies? More stagework?
SW: I'm sort of hoping that maybe this will have another life; we can't continue at The Flea. But, it would be wonderful if we could play it more this year. I've talk to Republicans and Democrats who have seen the show; I even know a few Republicans who are coming back again. I hope that perhaps we'll be scooped up and put in a small theatre elsewhere, so that we can continue to do the play a while longer. Or in the fall. It's a very juicy, topical sparkling comedy... [and] I think everyone needs a good laugh about this.

Sigourney Weaver (right) with <i>Mrs. Farnsworth</i> co-star John Lithgow.
Sigourney Weaver (right) with Mrs. Farnsworth co-star John Lithgow. Photo by Fabrice Trombert