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Sigourney Weaver on acting in Paul Schrader's latest film 'Master Gardener'


Gracewood Gardens is gorgeous, historic and a heritage. In Paul Schrader's new film "Master Gardener," Joel Edgerton plays Narvel, the meticulous master gardener at the fictional Southern estate who has a grim past. Sigourney Weaver is Norma, the matriarch who inherited Gracewood Gardens and wants to preserve it, and wants to see if some of the harmony that Narvel has found in the garden might help Maya, a troubled grandniece she barely knows.


SIGOURNEY WEAVER: (As Norma Haverhill) I gave your mother everything I could. She couldn't weed her garden. Listen to me. I came here for a pleasant lunch. And here we are in the muck of the past.

QUINTESSA SWINDELL: (As Maya) That is a muck farm. And I'm sorry if I offended you, but I'm not inadequate.

WEAVER: (As Norma Haverhill) No, of course you're not. You're impertinent.

SIMON: Ooh - that's Quintessa Swindell...

WEAVER: Ooh (laughter).

SIMON: ...As Maya. Sigourney Weaver is her grand-aunt. And Sigourney Weaver, the multi-time Oscar nominee - Ripley in "Alien," Gwen in "Galaxy Quest," Dana in "Ghostbusters," Dian Fossey in "Gorillas In The Mist," we could go on - joins us from NPR's New York bureau. Thank you so much for being with us.

WEAVER: Oh, it's such a pleasure. I'm such a fan of the show.

SIMON: Well, thank you. But I got to ask, because we both kind of blanched at that clip, what drew you to play a character who can be so imperious?

WEAVER: Well, she has her imperious moments. It's true. But she's also - like really all of Paul Schrader's characters, she's quite a complex person. I've actually tried to avoid playing this kind of character. They can easily be a caricature of some sort of rich [expletive] type.

And what Paul Schrader, whose work I admire so much - he's, you know, the author of "Taxi Driver" and "Raging Bull" and the - you know, a master filmmaker in America. And he's taking on subjects about America that no one else, I think, is taking on. In this movie, he takes on white supremacy. And there's so much going on.

And I couldn't resist it, frankly. It was the kind of part where you get to chew the scenery a little bit, and I've always avoided those too. But in this one I sort of - I felt it was delicious and awful and irresistible.

SIMON: May I ask, is Narvel her lover or master gardener with benefits?

WEAVER: I think they're both sexual people, and it was a great joy to play a woman in her 70s who has a sex life. Let's put it that way. And frankly, Narvel can't exactly go down the road to a bar. You know, he's in a situation where he has to stay hidden. And Norma, I don't think, finds her own class very interesting. It's a kind of relationship of convenience that suits them both.

SIMON: Did you learn something about plants?

WEAVER: Well, you know, I'm a very enthusiastic gardener. And the one comment I made to Paul when I met him - I said, you know, people who have gardens garden, so why don't we see Norma reaching down and deadheading as she walks through the garden and see her, just without even paying any attention, repot something because it's almost like you can't help yourself. And I don't think Paul is a gardener, even though I think he's very eloquent about the art of gardening and the metaphor of gardening, the rebirth, but also destruction. But I said, you know, I can't keep my hands off the garden. And he wanted her to be removed from that as if that was the kind of work that was beneath her. And I found that the one thing that I felt was not true of gardeners.

SIMON: Like, gardeners like to get their hands soiled, right?

WEAVER: Yeah, absolutely.

SIMON: I did not know until seeing this film that some seeds can last 800 years. Did I get that right?

WEAVER: Oh, yes, it's true. And probably longer than that, in fact. I don't think we know. I work with the New York Botanical Garden, and they have a whole seed universe. And they're always adding to it, helping us, you know, learn more about the survival of seeds. And we're still discovering species that we haven't heard of before.

SIMON: What do you think people are talking about when they say, you know, like a Sigourney Weaver?

WEAVER: I don't know. I mean, I've done so many different roles, and people think of me for so many different things that probably people would be thinking about Ripley or something - you know, a sort of strong woman. And I've always felt that I may play women who are strong, but it's because that's how I perceive women. I don't perceive certain women as strong. I really perceive women as strong.

And often the characters I play are isolated for whatever reason because of some physical situation they're in or where they are in life. And no one is going to come to their rescue, just as you know, no one's going to come to the rescue of many women. You know, if you look around the world, it's women who are on the frontlines of climate change, who have to look after the families and the old people. And it's women who I think find the strength to hold everything else together. So to me, I am reflecting what I see. I'm not trying to make a hero out of a normal woman, but I do find women heroic in what they do every day.

SIMON: All these years on stage and screen - is there something you're still trying to nail?

WEAVER: (Laughter) You know, I'm so fortunate because I am offered so many opportunities to do things I haven't done. I'm about to go and play a hitman's agent, and she's a very sexy, somewhat sinister, but also charming person. I've never played anyone like Laverne (ph) and...

SIMON: OK, that's Sigourney Weaver. That's what I mean.


SIMON: That's a Sigourney Weaver role.

WEAVER: But it isn't. I don't think there is such a thing. Because why is Gwen in "Galaxy Quest" less of a Sigourney Weaver than Ripley? You have to understand, actors hate to be pigeonholed. So the idea that there's a Sigourney Weaver type of role is something I just don't embrace.

SIMON: The garden has put something into the lives of people in the film. Now, without entirely giving away the message - oh, I shouldn't say, you know. What's that old - you want to send a message, call Western Union.

WEAVER: Oh, well, I'd be very curious to know what you think the message is.

SIMON: Plants rejuvenate like us or we rejuvenate like plants. That's better.

WEAVER: Yes, one can - I think that Paul would say that the redeeming power of love rejuvenates you and that the care of another human being is like tending a garden with tenderness. So we are like plants, but they will only thrive if you pay attention to them.

SIMON: Sigourney Weaver, now in "Master Gardener." Thank you so much for being with us.

WEAVER: Well, thank you, Scott. It was a pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.