BY Dale Hrabi
January 05 2009 1:00 AM ET
“For a long time,” Weaver adds, “I was obsessed with proving my professors wrong.” Her first real ally was the gay absurdist playwright Christopher Durang, who cast her in his off-Broadway productions, allowing her to approximate a theatrical career until she became an instant brand name with 1979’s Alien, a movie she initially resisted as too trashy to impress her New Haven tormenters. (Cringing, she convinced herself she was playing “Henry V on Mars.”)
The Yale rejection haunted her for years, the three-time Oscar nominee says: “The only way you can get rid of that sort of obsession is by forgiving the awful people who hurt you. I forgave my professors for being so stupid.” Not entirely graciously -- Weaver was still joking to Time magazine in 2004, “I hope they’re all sitting watching my movies late at night, eating cat food out of a can.”
Forgiving his mother wasn’t an option for Bobby Griffith; he didn’t live long enough to stop blaming himself: “I am evil and wicked. I am dirt,” he wrote, some time before he jumped from a bridge into the path of an 18-wheeler truck. “My voice is small and unheard, unnoticed, damned.” The film, however, depicts Bobby as rather boringly unwicked, a pretty normal late-’70s gay kid. He overidentifies with Marilyn Monroe and covets a Members Only jacket. He crafts apple-head dolls. In an early version of the script, he and a few predictably outcast friends can’t wait to see Alien.
To research the role, Weaver read the same books Bobby’s mom consulted, from the Bible to Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Sex* (*But Were Afraid to Ask), whose notoriously nasty chapter on homosexuality assured ’70s parents that “fags” like to spice up their pointless, solitary lives by inserting light bulbs up their rectums. “A vicious, vicious book,” Weaver says. “It even scarred me.”
She also spent time with Mary Griffith and her family. “We met in the living room, the same house where it all happened,” she says. “They showed me Bobby’s attic bedroom. The grandkids watch TV up there now.” Weaver was taken aback by Mary’s ability to take responsibility for Bobby’s death without rationalizing her actions. “Her candor shocked me,” she says. “Mary’s view of religion was a mythical kingdom full of cartoonish extremes. And she’s the first to admit that.”