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Sigourney Weaver to teach, speak at Saint Mary’s

Caitlin Housley | Friday, September 23, 2011

Academy Award nominated actress Sigourney Weaver’s film, “Abduction,” comes out Friday, and she was recently in California working on a new movie role. Come Monday, however, she’ll stop at Saint Mary’s College to teach a class and speak with students.

At the start of her visit, Weaver will teach a master class to a select group of theatre majors.

“We’re going to work on the process of what the audition is, [and] what’s important at an audition,” Weaver told The Observer. “We’re [also] going to work on some very rudimentary things — breathing, confidence, how to come into a room — basic stuff, but I think very useful.”

Weaver said she has collected acting advice throughout her career.

“I went to drama school and didn’t learn very much,” she said. “In the 30 years since, I’ve now put together little bags of what I think is important.”

Weaver’s husband, off-Broadway director Jim Simpson, will also help teach the class.

Although she and her husband are not teachers, Weaver said getting feedback from people immersed in the field can be helpful.

“We’re not teachers, but we’re in the game,” she said. “So, I think it will be useful for the students to talk to us about this stuff.”

One key to success in any field, Weaver said, is having confidence even when you truly don’t.

“People aren’t concerned with whether you are confident or not, but they want you to look [it],” she said. “Not arrogant, but just [comfortable] in your skin.”

The key to achieving this confidence is imagining yourself in the situation before it happens, she said.

“Pretend to be confident … Visualize what [an] interview [would] be like if [you] were really confident, and … imagine it going a certain way,” Weaver said. “You’re at ease, you’re smiling, you’re generous, you’re just yourself. Picture it going that way, and there’s probably a bigger likelihood of it going that way because you’ve actually — with the neurons in your brain — tried to map out how you would love it to go. Everyone needs a rehearsal.”

Weaver said she is not the only well-known actor to use this method of preparation.

“I worked with Gene Hackman,” she said. “[In “Heartbreakers”], he was to play … this guy who is falling all over himself chain-smoking.

“He fake-smoked so well. I said, ‘Man, you must have been a smoker for half your life,’ and he said, ‘Never smoked.’ I said, ‘But you’re just so good at it,’ and he said, ‘You know, the first day, I just come in and I pretend to be confident.'”

Another key to success in any field, Weaver said, is to love the job you have.

“You only want to get a job at a place where you’re going to have a good time and feel like yourself,” she said.

Weaver said it’s difficult for her to choose her favorite film she has acted in because she often chooses projects based on how much fun they will be. However, she narrowed down her favorites to “Ghostbusters” and “Galaxy Quest.”

Weaver said there are very few roles she regrets turning down, but the roles she has taken — especially her roles in “Prayers for Bobby,” “Gorillas in the Mist” and “The Year of Living Dangerously” — were very rewarding.

“I’ve been lucky because I’ve been blessed with such a wonderful career, so it’s hard to pick just one [project that’s the most rewarding],” she said.

But rewards often bring challenges.

“The business is always changing, and the biggest challenge for all of us in the business — whether we are actors or not –— is to continue to work to provide very good stories for the audience, whether they’re at Pixar or in 3-D, on television or in the theater,” Weaver said. “It’s just getting a little harder to make sure the story is as strong as it needs to be to captivate the audience.”

Yet Weaver continues to work on captivating the audience.

“I’m about to play a professor of queer theory in a movie out in California. She’s a lesbian professor, runs the department … quite fierce and also very funny.”

In the midst of a busy schedule, Weaver said she is excited for her visit to Saint Mary’s.

“I’m looking forward to working with the students, meeting them and just having a few hours to play around with them,” she said. “I think it will be fun.”