Category: Interview

‘Working Girl’ Turns 30: On-Set Romances and Secrets of the Staten Island Ferry Revealed in Juicy Oral History

Melanie Griffith, Harrison Ford, Sigourney Weaver and more insiders tell the never-told tales behind an era-defining hit: who was almost cast, a creepy Kevin Spacey cameo and the talent of the “world-class therapist” Mike Nichols.
Before the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements — before Third Wave feminism in the 1990s and Girl Power in the 2000s — there was Tess McGill, a big-haired, hoops-wearing secretary from Staten Island who masqueraded as her unscrupulous boss Katharine Parker (Sigourney Weaver) in order to reclaim a stolen idea and package an innovative acquisition, all with the help of dashing executive Jack Trainer (Harrison Ford).

McGill vacuumed topless and had “a bod for sin,” and the character, played by Melanie Griffith in Mike Nichols’ 1988 romantic comedy Working Girl, was also a breakthrough in how women were portrayed on film, particularly in the workplace.

To celebrate this classic’s 30th anniversary, THR talked to Griffith about how she fought for the part (“The studio didn’t want me”) as well as to co-stars Ford and Weaver, writer Kevin Wade, producer Doug Wick and a slew of others who helped bring Tess to the big screen for an oral history that reveals all — from the lasting legacy of its late director (Nichols passed away in 2014 at age 83) to the on-set romances that never were (Griffith admits she failed in her attempts to lure Baldwin into bed).

KEVIN WADE, screenwriter I had been working as a bartender in New York City — places like The Other End, The Bitter End, Spring Street Bar and eventually Spring Street Natural Restaurant — and then I had some success as a playwright with my first play, Key Exchange, which debuted in New York in 1981 with [actress] Brooke Adams. It ran off-Broadway for a couple of years, then in Los Angeles for a year and a half. They made a movie about it in 1985, so I was no longer bartending and could actually afford a subway token.

DOUG WICK, producer I worked for producer Alan Pakula for four years. Off that, I got a producing deal at United Artists. I had seen Key Exchange and thought Kevin was incredibly talented. I was living in Manhattan at the time, and so Kevin and I started working together on a project, a thriller.

WADE It never got made.

WICK Then, one day in 1985 or early ’86, while walking in lower Manhattan, I saw a woman who from the ankles up was very chic, but she was wearing tennis shoes. In those days, that wasn’t fashionable. I talked to Kevin about doing a story about those girls — the outsider with a face pressed against the glass longing for all of those shiny things inside the jewel of Manhattan.

WADE Back then, I spent a lot of time on a bicycle riding around New York. There was an abandoned roadway I would get on in the Village and take down to Battery Park. I would see the Staten Island Ferry coming over and those women in sneakers getting off and then stopping to change into [dress] shoes. That’s how I discovered this story — a modern-day immigrant story of a person who comes here not really speaking the language, not with the right clothes, not knowing the customs, but with smarts. It’s the Horatio Alger story. I knew right away it was about a young woman.

WICK Kevin and I worked out a story. I pitched it to several places, and they all passed. A lot of directors said it was a TV movie.

WADE I had an agent who I am not going to name. I showed him the first draft and he was extremely critical. He said, “You know, this is fantasyland. This is never going to get made.” I parted ways with this agent shortly thereafter.

WICK But I went to Los Angeles and pitched it to Marcia Nasatir and Carol Baum at Fox, which bought it. So then Kevin and I went to work on it. In the early days, we were concerned about Tess’ likability. So in an early draft, she used to have a dying mother. I sent it to director Jim Bridges (The China Syndrome, Urban Cowboy), and he signed on. Jim knew a lot about craft, so he was helpful with development and eventually we got Demi Moore. She had done some good work, Jim liked her and we liked her. In the first draft, the Katharine Parker character was a man. I got a call from Kevin, and he said, “I’ve got a great idea.” He says, “[Tess] should be working for a woman.”

WADE I remember very distinctly writing [Tess] exactly as I would write a guy. I didn’t change a thing. I thought to myself, “Maybe the secret to this is don’t make her a woman. Just make her a character.”

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Sigourney Weaver on Her Alien Audition: ‘I Wasn’t Sure I Even Wanted to Be in a Movie’

It took some convincing for Sigourney Weaver to tackle the role that would change her career.

Looking back on her audition for the role of fierce ET-battling Ripley in 1979’s Alien, Weaver says she wasn’t exactly gunning for the job.

I remember that [director] Ridley [Scott] built an entire set for me just for the audition,” she told PEOPLE on Wednesday at the grand opening of Pandora – The World of Avatar at Walt Disney World, which is based on the 2009 blockbuster Avatar film. “I was from the theater. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to be in a movie! I think I was the only person they tested. What was so helpful to me is that we did a run-through of several scenes. Ridley went out of his way to make sure that I had a very real world in which to be.

Scott recently told Entertainment Weekly that actor Warren Beatty had recommended Weaver for the role.

I went and met with her. She appeared — she had an afro, she had high heels on, [so] she was like, 7-foot-6. It felt like I was going out for dinner with Mummy.

The star joined her Avatar castmates Zoe Saldana and Sam Worthington, along with director James Cameron, at the grand opening of the new Disney “land,” which allows visitors to explore the lush alien world of Pandora, a “physical, tactile, olfactory, full-sensory experience,” as Cameron describes it.

The extraordinary beauty of this place, I think people will come away with a lot of information about how fragile an ecosystem is,” Weaver says. “It’s just in time. I think President Trump should come down. I think it’s something we all need. The rest of the world is so ahead with all of this. Other countries are not climate deniers. I think it’s a fantastic experience where people can understand these issues from a new perspective.

Although Weaver’s scientist character died at the end of the first Avatar film, she is signed on for the sequels — but remains tight-lipped about exactly how she is resurrected.

Can’t tell you!” she said with a laugh. “But it’s awesome.


Sigourney Weaver Turns Tables, Lands Her Agent a Role in Netflix Film

In Noah Baumbach’s The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) — an upcoming Netflix release that had its world premiere at the Cannes Film Festival — UTA partner Jeremy Barber has a surprise cameo in the film during a scene at MOMA for the art opening for an artist played by Judd Hirsch.

Though he doesn’t speak, he shares the screen with a slew of legends — Hirsch, Dustin Hoffman and and Sigourney Weaver, playing herself. THR has learned that Barber’s role in the scene goes a bit deeper than his non-speaking cameo. According to a source, Weaver only agreed to appear in the film if her longtime rep Barber joined her onscreen. He clearly said “yes,” which helped out his other longtime client, Baumbach.

And it wasn’t his first time: Barber also appears in the director’s 2010 release Greenberg as “Musso and Frank’s patron.” That’s more credit than he gets in Meyerowitz, which is no credit. Nobody really needed to see their names flash up on the screen inside the Palais when the film premiered on May 21.

Baumbach’s dramedy, about a fractious clan of New York intellectuals, stars Hoffman as an emotionally withholding pater familias, a sculptor who’s never quite achieved the success he feels he deserves. Emma Thompson plays his latest wife and Adam Sandler and Ben Stiller play his two sons, who are half-brothers and rivals. They reunite when the patriarch is hospitalized.

The film received a more than four-minute standing ovation, and Barber was right there in line with the rest of the cast in prime VIP seating, front and center inside the famed Cannes theater.


The Defenders first look: Meet Sigourney Weaver’s villain — and learn her name

Come as you are, Defenders. There’s a new enemy in town.

Meet Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, the villain of Marvel’s The Defenders impressive enough to draw the attention of Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter), and Iron Fist (Finn Jones). She’s an “utter badass,” showrunner Marco Ramirez says of the character, who is the perfect fit for the Sigourney Weaver, of Alien and Avatar fame. “Sigourney is the kind of person you can buy as the smartest person in the room, who you can also buy as a person holding a flamethrower. Her character is a very powerful force in New York City. She’s everything Sigourney is: sophisticated, intellectual, dangerous.” He pauses. “I’m sorry. I can only say a bunch of adjectives right now.

A flurry of adjectives sounds about right for Alexandra, and not just because Marvel’s keeping further details about her character under tight wraps, so much so that probing Ramirez for more on Weaver’s character is like trying to stick a needle through Luke Cage’s unbreakable skin. After all, she (or whatever she’s fighting for) has to walk a very difficult, spoiler-ific line when it comes to the team-up series. “We knew it would take something massive to pull these four characters from their individual worlds to work together,” Ramirez says, “but also small enough that it felt like it existed in our world.

For now, EW has the exclusive first look at Alexandra sitting high above the New York skyline, dressed in angelic, rabbit-in-a-snowstorm white and looking up at… someone?… Or something? She has no code name and no comic-book history, but Ramirez teases that she brings an “intellectual sophistication” that matches former big bads like Daredevil‘s Wilson Fisk (Vincent D’Onofrio). In that case, may we suggest Queenpin as a moniker?


The Badass: Sigourney Weaver Still Larger Than Life


If you’ve ever been to the McKittrick Hotel, the site of Punchdrunk’s immersive theater (and mandatory stop for visiting relatives) Sleep No More, you know it can get creepy at night. But even on an afternoon this summer—empty of all Eyes Wide Shut masks, bellhops lip-syncing to Peggy Lee’s “Is That All There Is?” or impromptu nude dance sequence in blood baths—the McKittrick still has a looming, menacing presence. Or maybe I was just nervous. After all, I was there to meet Sigourney Weaver, and a dark, semi-abandoned haunted house might have been the wrong call. Why couldn’t I have picked a well-lit coffee shop to interview the star of all the Aliens and Ghostbusters?

If I was skittish, Weaver, already posing for photos when I tentatively tiptoed into an empty bar area, seemed entirely at ease. “Don’t let me forget, they have my meat in the freezer,” Weaver reminded no one in particular between poses. “I really can’t forget to take the meat with me when I go.” Directly following our interview, Weaver would be driving back to the Adirondacks, and the possibility of leaving the meat (never clarified as to how much there was of it, or what kind) was causing her more anxiety than a Hitchcockian faux-tel. Weaver—68 years old and 6 feet tall without heels—can make herself at home in even the most inhospitable of environments.

The notion that Sigourney Weaver is the embodiment of the “DIY and take no shit” authority figure for a generation of young women might sound, in retrospect, like a backhanded compliment. But for those of us who grew up as tomboys in the 80s, Weaver stood as shining beacon of some other way to be. While other girls wanted to be Princess Leia or Jasmine, there were always a few of us who wanted to be Ripley. Or later on, Katharine Parker in Working Girl, a woman so ahead of her time in office politicking that she managed to mash-up Claire Underwood from House of Cards and Miranda Priestly from The Devil Wears Prada, a solid two decades before either existed.

I think it’s a perfect time to be different,” Weaver tells me on the topic of beauty standards, as we slide into a dark and quiet booth in the red-curtained bar room. “I think it’s our time.” She notes her obsession with watching the Olympics. “You see the glorious range of what women look like, how strong they are. I think this is all changing on screen, as people want to see themselves reflected a little bit more. They don’t want to see some little stick figure up there all the time.

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