Sigourney Weaver again establishes herself as one of our most dependable allies by continuing to get the word out about Prayers for Bobby, the acclaimed 2009 television film based on the true story of a young gay man who killed himself due to his mother’s intolerance. When the actress initially promoted the film before its premiere, she told The Advocate, “I’m horrified by how hard Americans are making it for my gay friends to live.” Now, nearly two years later and with teenagers still committing suicide due to antigay bullying, the film has finally been released on DVD. The actress, who received numerous award nominations for her searing performance as Mary Griffith, Bobby’s confused, conservative mother, again volunteered to promote the film due to its special meaning for her and its potential to aid troubled gay teenagers and their families.
The wide-ranging career of the three-time Academy Award–nominated Weaver encompasses kick-ass action heroines in the Alien films and inspired comic turns in hits like Working Girl, which have endeared her to LGBT audiences. Yet her role in Prayers for Bobby is one the actress holds in a unique place apart from the rest. Weaver speaks to The Advocate about Prayers’ continued relevance, offers words of advice for bullied gay youth, and expresses her hope that someone offers her a gay role.
The Advocate: It’s been nearly two years since Prayers for Bobby premiered, yet when you consider recent headlines about gay teenagers committing suicide, the film is perhaps even more relevant now than when you made it.
Sigourney Weaver: That’s why I’m so excited by the DVD release. I think unlike a movie in a theater that you have to take someone to, this can start a conversation with people who are not interested and wary and combative. I hope this movie will help open the door to dialogue.
What are your thoughts on the recent suicides due to antigay bullying?
Bullying is something that is just so tragic, certainly, for the victims and their families but also for the people perpetrating this hatred. There’s so much pressure in high school and college and the pressure to conform — our country was built by people who wanted to be different! We just have to work harder to educate each other.
Do you have any words of encouragement for young kids who are still going through it?
I encourage all these young people to reach out to PFLAG and the Trevor Project and I know there are other very good organizations, too. Just get on the phone and start a conversation with someone, even if it’s with a stranger who has been through this, so they feel less alone. I really send a hug to them and say make that call, go to that meeting, and find out how many people love you. They’ll help bring your family around. You have to trust that sooner or later the people who love you will come to understand what it is, and part of your job is to be the person who takes them there. It’s your job to be yourself and all you can be, and your family has to catch up with you.
What impact has Prayers for Bobby had on you personally?
For me, the great realization is there but for the grace of God go I. I have the great advantage of living in New York and knowing, working, and loving many gay people. I don’t have the same ignorance and prejudice that Mary did, but I have the same desire to protect my children. And so now it’s even more heartbreaking to read about these kids who are so isolated and ostracized that they can’t turn to their parents or a family friend and say, “I don’t feel my life is worth living.” We have to let people know about PFLAG and the Trevor Project and all these other ways for young people to find that it’s completely natural the way they’re feeling and they have every reason to feel that way and their parents or friends will come around.
As a mother, how difficult was it for you to play someone as narrow-minded as Mary?
I have to say that when I first read the script I think the last person I thought I could play was Mary. I couldn’t understand her actions or her attitude. I think for me it was a real journey of discovery of how close we were as mothers. The terrible irony of what Mary did was that she tried to protect her son. She would be the first person to say that it was her ignorance and prejudice that made her not listen to him and not recognize the legitimacy of his choice. It was an eye-opener to me to see the genesis of where her rejection of him came from. It didn’t really come from faith; it came from fear.
What response have you had from parents of gay children?
I’ve had a number of people come to me and say, “My daughter is gay. Thanks for the movie.” People from Italy have asked when the movie is coming to Italy. I’ve gotten very moving e-mail from kids, who say, “My mother wasn’t speaking to me. She took away my cell phone and I was grounded, but she saw the movie and we’re close again.” It’s a true story, unfortunately.
You’ve played a lot of obviously strong characters throughout your career, but many of them also seem to be outsiders or somewhat marginalized. Did that help you relate to this project?
Yes, but I have to say that Prayers for Bobby is completely unique in my experience. I’ve played people who were marginalized and were loners, but Mary was so different. She’s such a strong person now, but at the time she was so fearful — not only of what would happen to Bobby but what would happen to her and her family, and not just in this life but in the next life. Her conversion to a God of unconditional love is one of the most profound things I’ve ever come across. She’s really extraordinary, so I keep her in a whole separate category. Also, she’s still alive, so I got to sit down with her and go through her Bible underlined in all these crazy colors [laughs]. I got to really talk about this other Mary with her, which is something I never got to do with Dian Fossey [the late primatologist Weaver portrayed in 1988’s Gorillas in the Mist].
Besides Prayers, which other films of yours most resonate with gay audiences? The Advocate’s news editor told me he wakes up each morning wishing he were Katharine Parker.
[Laughs] Wow! Well, certainly Working Girl. Katharine was a delicious character. I also think Heartbreakers is a lot of fun. I have a wonderful film coming out in the spring called Paul, which is a love letter to comic-con geeks. The lead characters are played by Simon Pegg and Nick Frost and they pick up a little alien. Even though they’re not gay per se, for some reason it’s a movie devoted to people who are different and it’s certainly not about the conventional male hero. I play a Katharine Parker–like person in that. Jeffrey was a wonderful movie written by the very talented Paul Rudnick.
Have you ever been asked to play a gay character?
You know I haven’t. We were watching The Kids Are All Right and they did a very good job. I hope someone does ask me to play a gay character or a part of a couple one of these days. I would welcome the opportunity.
There’s a project you’ve been attached to for a while that has potential appeal for gay audiences. What’s the status of your film about Gypsy Rose Lee?
We were at HBO, and when Colin Callender [the president of HBO’s films division] left, they threw out everything that was period because it’s expensive. But I’ve been so busy — I have seven movies coming out next year — so I fear I’ve dropped the ball a little bit on Gypsy, but it’s a wonderful project and I have to get back to it.
There's a resemblance between you two. You’re the ideal actress to play her.
Oh, you’re very kind. She was an extraordinary woman. She was so filled with love and class and strength. Everybody needs a little Gypsy in their lives because she was such a tonic. She really was about being proactive.
You've had an incredibly illustrious career. Do you ever just stop and look back at what you've accomplished?
I never do that. I always think, Where am I going to get my next job? Maybe one day I’ll have the ability to look back like that. I just feel so incredibly fortunate that I’ve been able to work with so many great directors on such great material with wonderful actors and work all over the world. I’ve really been able to do this by ignoring what Hollywood is looking for, which is never someone who is six feet tall and athletic-looking. I’ve been able to carve my own career and make choices that have meant a lot to me. I also have wonderful agents who found this project for me. I’d never done television, and I was apprehensive because I’d heard you have to work so fast. But it was no faster than an independent film.
The film was obviously a labor of love, and here you are still being asked about it two years later.
It was really exhilarating because everyone working on the film had a family member or a close friend or someone in their community who they wanted to dedicate their work to in this movie. I’ve been incredibly fortunate, and I love what I do. For me to meet Mary Griffith and talk to her about her story and do this work with our wonderful producers and our cast and tell Mary’s story — it was a kind of journey that a normal person doesn’t get to go on. We got to inhabit that world, as scary as it was. They trusted us with such a great story, and it was an honor to do it. I’m so pleased it’s finally coming out on DVD because I think it can speak to a lot of people.
To purchase the Prayers for Bobby DVD, click here.
Watch the trailer for the film below.