Even by acclaimed actress standards, Sigourney Weaver isn’t particularly normal. She chooses her words with unusual precision. Her skin creases too authentically. Her eyes focus on yours in an oddly insistent, laser-lock way that reminds you of being heavily cruised: It has a penetrating curiosity, a “cut the shit” frankness, as if to say I know that you know that we’re --
Until she glances away, that is, to eat a perversely small lamb burger or a crème brûlée she’s ordered “without the brûlée.” In a disappointing nod to celebrity convention, she’s asked to be interviewed in a generic Manhattan patisserie where she passes, largely unnoticed, among the establishment ladies. Weaver understands, though, what it’s like to be different, even marginalized: “Growing up, I was always very vulnerable. I wasn’t cool,” she says. “And almost every character I’ve played has been a woman who doesn’t fit in.” Her résumé is, indeed, full of loners with a deviant passion for gorillas, high-risk space travel, or—in her latest project—God in his least appealing, gay-bashing guise.
Prayers for Bobby, which airs January 24 on Lifetime Television, is based on the true story of Mary Griffith, a homophobic devout Christian who drove her gay son to kill himself at age 20 in 1983 -- then renounced homophobia and transformed herself into a renowned pro-gay activist. Weaver, who’ll return to the big screen later this year in James Cameron’s sci-fi blockbuster Avatar, agreed to star in Bobby, a cautionary tale that’s carefully calculated to play in Peoria, partly because she knew it would be seen. “I’ve done some really good independent movies that didn’t find an audience in this country,” she says, citing the barely seen dramas Snow Cake (2006) and The Girl in the Park (2007). She also hoped Bobby will chisel away at bigotry: “I’m horrified by how hard Americans are making it for my gay friends to live. To me, that’s un-Christian.”
Watching the movie, it’s strange to see Weaver -- a worldly Ivy Leaguer who briskly deploys words over lunch like “diffident,” “apocryphal,” and “fuck” -- embody such a narrow-minded character. Mary Griffith believed she was raising a perfect brood of fresh-scrubbed zealots in her San Francisco–area commuter town until Satan inconveniently seduced her second-eldest son. “What got me was her sincerity,” Weaver says. “She truly felt she couldn’t accept Bobby as gay because that meant he was going to hell.”