Actress and Activist
Growing up on New York’s Upper East Side as the daughter of British actress Elizabeth Inglis and NBC president Sylvester (Pat) Weaver, Weaver was never a stranger to the illustrious lifestyle of a New Yorker in the limelight. After attending private schools in Manhattan and Connecticut, Weaver graduated from Stanford University with an English degree in 1971. She spent some time living in Israel on a kibbutz before enrolling at the Yale School of Drama, where she appeared in stage productions with Meryl Streep and befriended playwright Christopher Durang. She would later make her Off-Broadway debut in Durang’s play,The Nature and Purpose of the Universe in 1974.
In the mid-1970s, she appeared on the television soap opera Somerset. Weaver’s major film debut came in 1977, when she appeared as Woody Allen’s movie date in Annie Hall, for a total of six seconds. Just two years later, her career took off with her portrayal of the extraterrestrial-slaying heroine, Ellen Ripley (a role originally slated for a man), in Ridley Scott’s chilling sci-fi thriller, Alien. Weaver brought to the role an intelligence unusual for action films, thus broadening the film’s appeal and making it an instant classic of the genre. She reprised the role of Ripley in 1986 with Aliens, the sequel, for which she earned an Academy Award nomination, and went on to make Alien3 in 1992, and Alien Resurrection in 1997.
With the high salaries she commanded from the popular Alien series as well as her leading roles in the hit Ghostbuster films, opposite Bill Murray and Dan Ackroyd, Weaver was free to explore roles in smaller, low-budget productions. She appeared in independent films like Jeffrey and Death and the Maiden, and on the stage in Hurly Burly (1984), and Durang’s Sex and Longing (1996). In 1988, she earned twin Oscar nominations for two very different performances—for her supporting role in the comedy Working Girl, co-starring Melanie Griffith and Harrison Ford, and as scientist Diane Fossey in the Fossey biopic Gorillas in the Mist. In the 1993 comedy Dave, Weaver played the first lady to Kevin Kline's U.S. president/presidential imposter. She again starred with Kline in 1997's The Ice Storm (directed by Ang Lee) in a memorable performance as a disillusioned, adulterous suburban wife and mother in 1970s Connecticut.
Called 'The Sci-Fi Queen' on account of her many science fiction and fantasy films, her recent work includes the role of Dr. Grace Augustine in James Cameron's mega-hit Avatar as well as playing opposite Jamie Lee Curtis in the romantic comedy, You Again. Weaver is also active in environmentalism, narrating for the Discovery presentation Planet Earth and speaking out against harmful fishing methods in front of the United Nations in 2006.