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Sigourney Weaver on Playing a Homophobic Mom Turned LGBTQ+ Activist

Weaver

Sigourney Weaver has starred in some of the most iconic films of all time, critically lauded blockbusters like Alien, Ghostbusters, Gorillas in the Mist, Working Girl, The Ice Storm, and Avatar. But there's a television movie Weaver made over a decade ago that remains very dear to her: Prayers for Bobby.

The 2009 Lifetime movie, directed by Russell Mulcahy and based on Leroy F. Aarons's book, centers on Mary Griffith, a devout Christian mother who loses her gay son, the sweet, sensitive Bobby, to suicide. Overcome by grief and guilt over her attempts to alter his homosexuality, Mary Griffith discovers PFLAG as well as a new calling with LGBTQ+ activism. 

Over a decade after Prayers for Bobby first aired and the film and Weaver were nominated for Emmys, the movie is being re-aired by Lifetime, tonight at 8 Eastern/Pacific. Weaver, recently speaking to The Advocate, expressed relief that the movie is once again accessible and says "the story is more important than ever now."

It's surprising to hear the Golden Globe-winning, Oscar-nominated Weaver say how scared she was to play Mary.

"The story just broke my heart and terrified me," Weaver says. "And I thought, This story has to be shared. Of course, I’ve had the great blessing of working and knowing well so many gay playwrights and directors, and they made my life what it is. The idea that a family could be resistant, just so ignorant, about [gay people made me] terrified to play Mary, frankly. In the beginning, her coldness and her closeness to Bobby was so disturbing to me, and I thought, I have to go there."

Weaver said meeting Mary Griffith, who passed away this year, helped her understand the character and the decisions she made.

"I think she thought [Bobby being gay] was a choice Bobby was making and she was determined to save his eternal soul," Weaver said. "And I think [portraying that] would have been a very difficult place to get to without Mary’s help and support."

Weaver expresses admiration for Mary's transformation and her ability to learn from what can only be described as a parent's worst nightmare.

"So many other parents would not have done what Mary did; would not have spent the rest of her life trying to make sure other families didn’t make this mistake," she says. "They may have just given up and hidden from the world and their grief and in their shame or in their righteousness. But if you look at Mary’s face, it was so illuminated with what she understood now about love and unconditional love and her love for Bobby and the searing pain that his death brought her and how she behaved."

Weaver says she couldn't have imagined all that has transpired since Prayers aired, with marriage equality legalized nationwide and anti-LGBTQ+ employment discrimination banned by the Supreme Court. The actress is quick to acknowledge that legislation and court rulings are different than lived experiences and that Mary and Bobby's story is still urgently needed.

"Yes, there have been huge breakthroughs," Weaver says. "But the fact of the matter that so many people in this country having strange, wrong ideas about things; about being human, I just feel like it’s more important than ever to share this. Young people, wherever they are, can start that conversation no matter who their family or what their beliefs are."

She does see the positive changes as part of a slow evolution in this country: "These ripples of recognition and awareness that’s happening with Black Lives Matter, it’s sort of like people suddenly go I’ve been in support of the wrong tide; I didn’t mean to be."

Weaver is absolutely laudatory when it comes to the LGBTQ+ community's determination in fighting for their rights and dignity.

"You never gave up," Weaver says. "I applaud your determination and your courage and your belief that people could change. I think that’s a very important belief to have these days."

Prayers for Bobby airs tonight on Lifetime at 8 Eastern/Pacific, then at midnight, as well as at noon July 5.

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