LOS ANGELES -- There are a half-dozen actors who might be crowned the "King of Sci-Fi Films," but a few of them, like Harrison Ford of "Star Wars" and "Blade Runner" fame, might run screaming from the genre's throne room. There is only one rightful queen, however: Sigourney Weaver.
"I do love science fiction and the roles it presents for women," Weaver said not long before walking out on a stage -- guarded by fire-breathing gargoyles -- at the Scream 2010 Awards.
No one got a bigger reception at the recent event than Weaver, who starred in four "Alien" films, "Avatar," two "Ghostbusters" movies and "Galaxy Quest" (and lent her voice to "Wall-E" as the ship computer). "Avatar" is a history-making monster with $2.8 billion at theaters worldwide, but Weaver is best known as Ripley, the wildly resilient human heart of the "Alien" films and a character she has brought to the screen in three separate decades.
The original 1979 film, directed by Ridley Scott, was her first starring role, and the 1986 sequel, directed by James Cameron, earned Weaver the first of her three career Oscar nominations.
"Everything began for me with Ripley," the 61-year-old said at
her hotel a few hours before the awards show. "When people talk about her, a lot of them say, 'It must be odd for you to have done so much work and have people always talk to you about Ripley.' But she made it possible for me to do all of these other genres and yet I always got to come home to her. So, no, I never get tired of her."
Hollywood hopes that fans feel the same way. Fox Home Video has been intensely promoting the new $140 "Alien" anthology Blu-ray boxed set, and director Scott is now working on a prequel to his first film that delves into the back story of the so-called Space Jockey, the mysterious dead giant that is shown in the original 1979 movie.
The project has hit some turbulence and its fate is uncertain, but Weaver is hopeful it will get made -- even if by all appearances it will be the first "Alien" installment without her.
"I'm excited that they're doing this," Weaver said. "What we have with 'Alien' are so many of these exciting elements, but they need to be reinvigorated in a very original way. Otherwise, why bother? I wish Ridley all the best with it."
Weaver may miss out on the new iteration of "Alien," but she's not exactly hurting for work. The New York resident came to town early to spend time at the Los Angeles County district attorney's office to prepare for her upcoming role in "Rampart" with Woody Harrelson, and she's just finished a vampire role in a new Amy Heckerling film.
There's also the intrigue of the "Avatar" sequel (the circumstances of her character's death scene in the first film don't rule out some sort of screen life in the second), and she has some work lined up in Spain, for a film about CIA operatives.
Told that she seems to be on a roll, Weaver smiled, leaned back, put her palms at the nape of her neck and pushed her hair up. "You know, a lot is going on. I feel like it's a great business and there's so much to be excited about."
Onstage at the awards, Cameron gave a stirring tribute to Weaver as a model of class and talent that helped science fiction and fantasy entertainments overcome the vintage view of women as victims and alien sex-objects and move into the era of Sarah Connor, Sookie Stackhouse, Hermione Granger, Buffy Summers, Dana Scully, Neytiri, Lara Croft and, of course, Ripley.
If Cameron thinks Weaver brings out the best of women in sci-fi, the feeling is mutual. Weaver said that "Aliens," "T2: Judgment Day," "The Abyss" and "Avatar" show the filmmaker's affinity for presenting strong and nuanced female personas in fantastic settings. She said she suspects that can be traced back to the egg.
"During the rollout of 'Avatar,' I got to meet Jim's mother and there's something about her, she has the beautiful blue eyes and she's very calm and she raised these three sons, all extraordinary and all very much who they are, and there is great strength that emanates from his mother," Weaver said.
"He's told me that he first drew (the 'Avatar' alien princess) Neytiri when he was 14, and he drew this picture of a blue princess for his mother as a gift. There's something about her that has inspired Jim. Jim is very impatient with people who underestimate women. There's a reason."