Hail Mary: Sigourney Weaver's Starring Role in Prayers for Bobby-The True Story of Mary Griffith, a Religious Mother Who Drives Her Gay Son to Suicide-Is a Far Cry from Her More Notorious Turn as the Panty-Clad, Flame-Throwing Lieutenant Ripley, but This Is One Actress Who Still Knows What It Means to Feel like an Alien

By Hrabi, Dale | The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine), February 2009 | Go to article overview

Hail Mary: Sigourney Weaver's Starring Role in Prayers for Bobby-The True Story of Mary Griffith, a Religious Mother Who Drives Her Gay Son to Suicide-Is a Far Cry from Her More Notorious Turn as the Panty-Clad, Flame-Throwing Lieutenant Ripley, but This Is One Actress Who Still Knows What It Means to Feel like an Alien


Hrabi, Dale, The Advocate (The national gay & lesbian newsmagazine)


[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

EVEN BY ACCLAIMED ACTRESS STANDARDS, Sigourney Weaver isn't particularly normal. She chooses her words with unusual precision. Her skin creases too authentically. Her eyes focus on yours in an oddly insistent, laser-lock way that reminds you of being heavily cruised: It has a penetrating curiosity, a "cut the shit" frankness, as if to say I know that you know that we're--

Until she glances away, that is, to eat a perversely small lamb burger or a creme brulee she's ordered "without the brulee." In a disappointing nod to celebrity convention, she's asked to be interviewed in a generic Manhattan patisserie where she passes, largely unnoticed, among the establishment ladies. Weaver understands, though, what it's like to be different, even marginalized: "Growing up, I was always very vulnerable. I wasn't cool," she says. "And almost every character I've played has been a woman who doesn't fit in." Her resume is, indeed, full of loners with a deviant passion for gorillas, high-risk space travel, or--in her latest project--God in his least appealing, gay-bashing guise.

Prayers for Bobby, which airs January 24 on Lifetime Television, is based on the true story of Mary Griffith, a homophobic devout Christian who drove her gay son to kill himself at age 20 in 1983--then renounced homophobia and transformed herself into a renowned pro-gay activist. Weaver, who'll return to the big screen later this year in James Cameron's sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, agreed to star in Bobby, a cautionary tale that's carefully calculated to play in Peoria, partly because she knew it would be seen. "I've done some really good independent movies that didn't find an audience in this country," she says, citing the barely seen dramas Snow Cake (2006) and The Girl in the Park (2007). She also hoped Bobby will chisel away at bigotry: "I'm horrified by how hard Americans are making it for my gay friends to live. To me, that's un-Christian."

Watching the movie, it's strange to see Weaver--a worldly Ivy Leaguer who briskly deploys words over lunch like "diffident," "apocryphal," and "fuck"--embody such a narrow-minded character. Mary Griffith believed she was raising a perfect brood of fresh-scrubbed zealots in her San Francisco-area commuter town until Satan inconveniently seduced her second-eldest son. "What got me was her sincerity," Weaver says. "She truly felt she couldn't accept Bobby as gay because that meant he was going to hell."

Ignoring Bobby's protests that he hadn't chosen damnation ("Why would I choose to have my whole family hate me?"), Mary taped scraps of healing scripture to his bathroom mirror, beseeched God to forgive Bobby for standing with one hand perched girlishly on his hip, and piously shred his self-esteem until he was writing in his diary, "I want to take a fuckin' ice pick to my face and stab it 'til there's nothing left."

"As a mother," says Weaver, whose only child, Charlotte, is 18, "I was shocked by Mary's inability to listen to her son. Her heart wasn't open. She was just convinced that he could stop and be her Bobby again."

Weaver knows what it's like to fall short of blind expectations. After her first appearance as Alien's Lt. Ellen Ripley turned her into an international "dykon" (one website praises her "general studliness" and "femme bitch top persona"), she's encountered gay fans who seem convinced that she herself walks around New York in tiny panties wielding a flamethrower. "It's flattering," Weaver says, "but they're in love with [Ripley], not me. I feel incapable of helping them understand that I'm not this strong, wily creature. I mean, I run from spiders."

She also knows what it's like to be rejected. Neither she nor her upper-class family (her dad was legendary TV exec and Today show creator Pat Weaver) was prepared when she shot up to the undainty height of 5 feet 11 inches at age 11 and was forced to come out--as a giraffe. …

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Hail Mary: Sigourney Weaver's Starring Role in Prayers for Bobby-The True Story of Mary Griffith, a Religious Mother Who Drives Her Gay Son to Suicide-Is a Far Cry from Her More Notorious Turn as the Panty-Clad, Flame-Throwing Lieutenant Ripley, but This Is One Actress Who Still Knows What It Means to Feel like an Alien
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