In the biz, it is known as ‘ugging up’. It may not ring a bell, but you’ll know it when you see it. We are referring to that point in an actress’s career when she is justifiably tired of being judged as much for her ethereal looks as her talent. And so, in the services of character, she strips away all vestiges of glamour.
Nicole Kidman did it in 2002’s The Hours, as Virginia Woolf, with a prosthetic nose that was as riveting as her Oscar-winning performance. Two years later, Charlize — do we really have to note her last name? — followed suit as the serial killer Aileen Wuornos (Monster). There was also Anne Hathaway’s dramatic weight loss and cropped ’do in 2012’s Les Misérables. Again, a gold statuette were among the accolades. But you have to go back to 1992 to reveal the original no-fucks-given bad-ass heroine. The movie was Alien 3, the actor Sigourney Weaver.
Unlike the majority of women celebrated in this column, Susan Alexandra Weaver is still very much with us. What’s more, we defy you to name another living actress who has been such an integral part of so many successful franchises. We’re talking Avatar, Ghostbusters and Alien. And that’s not counting the movies and T.V. series — see Galaxy Quest and Futurama— in which she poked sly fun at the very genre in which she’d scored some of her greatest hits.
Her determination and sense of individualism were at play early. At the age of 12 she decided to change her name to Sigourney, after Sigourney Howard in The Great Gatsby. Don’t know about you, but when we were 12, we were focused on trying to keep the bathroom door closed with one foot as dad pounded on it yelling, “How long are you going to be in there?”
Weaver’s road to stardom did not involve being plucked from the catwalk and into high-visibility roles. For a start, she qualified to study English lit at Stanford, then applied to the Yale School of Drama. She got in but was viewed as a gangly interloper by professors who routinely shuffled her into roles as hookers, crones or hookery crones. “I’ve lost a lot of roles because of my height,” she has said. “I’m six feet, three inches in heels. Producers are short, and I was never their sexual fantasy. As for actors, if I enter a room and an actor stands up then immediately gets self-conscious and sits back down, I hear myself saying, ‘This job isn’t for me’. I once offered to paint my shoes on my bare feet to get one part because it made me appear shorter.”