Wednesday, May 4, 2011



Smart, sexy, tall, hard working – Sigourney Weaver is one of the best under-appreciated actors ever. You can feel her dissecting her roles like a really dedicated archaeologist. Digging around, carefully dusting off her choices until one feels absolutely perfect. I was going to talk about ALIENS first but the one that I watch with silent awe is her turn as Katherine Parker in WORKING GIRL. I love the character's name even, Katherine Parker, it just sounds like a lil pampered brat who was dropped off to kindergarten in a limo. Great writing. Great Director. Great Actress. A thankless role that could have easily gone caricature, but in Weaver's perfect stylized acting hands – it’s a zealous experience. Something about her combination of steeliness and joy that makes me both happy and pissed. Pissed, in a good way. I have issues with those blue blooded types that have had everything handed to them and can’t discern ‘want’ from ‘need’. They need everything and usually get it. Her entitled, pampered, corporate beast is the perfect antagonist in this irresistible fairy tale romantic comedy. It’s not a laugh out loud comedy like ARTHUR, the Dudley Moore ‘Arthur’, it’s a smile all the way through comedy like TOOTSIE.

She's condescending and patronizing but she believes her own propaganda so thoroughly and sweetly that you can’t help but buy into her bumper sticker slogans, “Watch me, learn from me Tess”. Her notes are direct, but softly always cushions the helpful blow, "I'd re-think the jewelry". Under Katharine's tutelage, Tess comes up with new ideas, like a suggestion that dim sum be served at a business reception. ''I'd love to help you,'' Katharine whispers smoothly to the perspiring Tess, ''but we can't busy the quarterback with passing out the Gatorade, Artie.!.”

Comedy is difficult and as film continues to aim for younger and younger (and dumber) crowds, these kinds of witty / smart comedies are becoming more and more a thing of the past. ‘The Style’ (level / tone) of the comedy has to have been an agreed upon by all departments and actors early on in the process. The level / tone has to be dialed in just right. Any actor that breaks from the style and plays the joke or goes for the cheap laugh…the entire structure could break. Joan did it a couple of times, (“Let’s give her a shout, shall we”, "You decent?" “Coffee, Tea, ME” ) but that’s OK, she brought it back. She was able to do a little shtick and bring the reality of the scene back. All of this has to be monitored by the director, and no better a maestro for this creative orchestra than Mike Nichols. This comedy has a very specific style and tone to it. It’s not just a standard Romantic Comedy. It’s a reality, but a fairy tale reality. Big hair, big colors, big music, almost an expressionistic style. But it has to be played for real, but it can be dialed up big but not overdone big. Sigourney Weaver plays it perfectly. In the right pocket of the films tone. The comedy comes from her manner, not because she thinks she’s being funny or has a funny line. It comes out of her characters truth, her characters limitations / flaws. Her frustrations, and exile is what gets us. That comes from understanding the script, knowing drama and styles of comedies past, and working closely with the director. It’s hard talking to new actors about 'style'.  They think I’m talking about fashion. A current sample of playing the right style / tone of a comedy is Gwyneth Paltrow on GLEE. Now I don't love love love that show, but she matched the style of the show perfectly, the fast, rat-tit-tat-tat line delivery, the quick cuts. She understood the piece as a whole – not just her part. She kept her eye on the prize, the entire entity.  Actors, mediocre actors, sometimes lose that perspective – because well - they’re selfish - and don't like to read.

Sigourney Weaver is a brilliant actress. What she did in this role was hysterical and embarrassing. Playing ‘the fool’ isn’t easy. It’s often like playing someone of lesser intelligence, you end of commenting on the character – rather than relishing the part. The physical stuff at the end was the entire movie. She puts perfume on, throws a shawl over her cast and then Harrison pulls it off and she leans forward still pursuing him, swallowing a slight humiliation but never giving in. Much like the ending when she really has to swallow her male like pride. She excuses herself, the way she walks away in her crutches, and she still holds her chin up as she moves away – GENIUS - a temporary loss. Wicked beasts like Katherine Parker don’t stay down long. They’ll go home and quickly rationalize the entire experience as ‘a difficult work week’ and be back in the game somewhere else Monday, making some other secretaries' life a living hell.

Nominated twice that year. Supporting here for WORKING GIRL and lead in GORILLAS IN THE MIST. I really felt she should have won the OSCAR  that year. Not just cause it was a big year for her, but because she truly deserved it.

No comments:

Post a Comment