FEATURE SIGOURNEY WEAVER
urning the tables
tylishly dressed in a brick-red and white check suit and wearing three- inch heels. Sigottrney Weaver was everything I expected and more. Since she stands 6ft in her stockinged feet. I was taken slightly aback. but was immediately put at my ease by her friendly greeting, gentle voice and impeccable manners. She reminded me of the Van Doren family in
Quiz Show — well-bred. intelligent and comfortable with their privilege. Her own
family. though. was a showbiz one. her father a television executive. her mother an actress.
Weaver later refers back to her height. saying that it has been as much of a help as a hindrance. deterring some conventional directors but never proving a problem for the more imaginative ones - which is how she catne to be cast in A lien. Glu)stl)usters, Working Girl and Gorillas In The Mist. Her latest role. as a South American torture victim in Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ariel Dorfman‘s play Death And The Maiden. is her most challenging to date.
Several years after his wife Paulina was horribly tortured. Gerardo (Stuart Wilson). whose car has broken down. is driven back to his remote beach house by Dr Roberto Miranda (Ben Kingsley). Paulina is immediately
convinced that this Good Samaritan is the same doctor who. fifteen years before. repeatedly
8 The List 21 Apr-4 May 1995
Never an easy actress for Hollywood to pigeon-hole. SIGOURNEY
WEAVER now ventures where few of her peers could follow — Roman Polanski’s adaptation of Ariel Dorfman‘s play. Death And The Maiden. She tells Nigel Floyd about the demands of her role as a torture victim.
raped her to the strains ofSchubert's ‘Dcath And The Maiden‘.
Weaver‘s portrayal of the haunted Paulina is a logical extension of her work with the lawyers‘ Committee for Human Rights. with which she and her husband have been involved for some time. ‘Because of the Committee. I have met a lot of people who‘ve been through experiences like the one that Pauline has had. and l always wanted to tell that story. ()ur benefit in New York was for the Lawyers‘ Committee. and the response to the film in the human rights community has been good. We had a number of people from Latin America there too. and they found the filtn not only a very entertaining thriller. which surprised them. but also very accurate. in that it‘s not a black-and-white picture of the very complicated and strange relationships between these three people.‘
One ofthe most unsettling aspects of Paulina‘s relationship with her alleged torturer. whom she subsequently knocks unconscious. binds to a
chair and then interrogates. is a hint of perverse '
intimacy. llow had Weaver dealt with this disturbing psychological undercurrent'.’
‘I met with several women who‘ve been in prison and had relationships like these — I think it‘s fair to call them “relationships” because they‘re very complicated. And even though this man was brutal to Paulina. the only moments of
tenderness she had in prison were also with this man. So. for better or worse. the primary relationship in her life has been her relationship with this doctor. this rapist.
‘So. as an actress. all sorts of strange things seem appropriate. What happened was. in the early scenes especially. you notice this odd intimacy between them. After all the preparation and research that Ben and I had done. we just
played those scenes and it just happened. lt’s
disturbing and contradictory. bttt because of that I think it‘s more truthful than an intense. non- stop hatred — she has extremely mixed feelings.‘
'l'hroughout the ensuing war of nerves. Paulina insists that what she wants is not revenge. not ‘an eye for an eye‘. bttt a
confession. liven here. though. there is room for doubt. Was Weaver convinced that Paulina
would be content with that? Was her character
being honest with herself"?
"l‘hat was my main question when I interviewed some of these women. and each of them said what interested them was not to perform the same kind of hideous acts on their torturer. not to swap places and exchange pain for pain. What they wanted was to look this person in the eye and ask. “How could you do
‘For better or worse, the primary relationship in her life has been her relationship with this doctor, this rapist.’
this to me frotn nine to five every day and then go home and be with your wife and kids and pretend that you were a normal person? What were you thinking of when you were doing these things to me?" They just wanted that dialogue. So when 1 finally came to do that speech. which we did as one long ten-minute take. I felt that Paulina meant it absolutely. that the one thing that would allow her to continue with her life was just to finally hear the doctor talk about it. face to face.‘
()ne of Polanski‘s more controversial innovations is. in order to provide the audience with an emotional release. the film features a more conclusive ending than Dorfman’s play. About his original ending. Dorfman has written: ‘I wrote the play very consciously so we would not know the answer to that question . . . I also want them [the audience] to focus on the ambiguity of the ending. where one must co- exist with the trauma of the past without being able to get rid of it.‘ So bad this re-writing ofthe ending affected Weaver’s performance in any way'.’
‘I think part of me was probably relieved. for
the sake of my character‘s marriage and for the sake of her sanity. I knew that Rafael lnglesias [the scriptwriter] had written that speech. but I had never seen the play. When I read the script and I got to that speech. I found it so shocking. so terrifying. that it’s hard for me to say what I would have done if the ending had been left more ambiguous. It would have been a more tormented performance. perhaps. because at least this way there was a light at the end of the tunnel. But to have to listen to that final speech of Ben‘s five times. [‘11 never forget it. It makes my skin crawl just thinking about it.’ L] Death And The Maiden opens at the Glasgow Film Theatre and Edinburgh Film/louse on Friday [2 May. See competition next issue for tickets. soundtracks and screenplays.