The ‘Alien’ star battles her greatest enemy — homophobia — in ‘Bobby’
Sigourney Weaver certainly doesn’t need to prove her gay cred to anybody. She’s been best friends with queer playwright Christopher Durang since before either was famous, starring in many of his early plays. She brought star power to the film version of Paul Rudnick’s "Jeffrey," played Truman Capote’s patron in "Infamous" and was an object of lesbian lust long before Linda Hamilton for her butch performances in the "Alien" films.
Still, it’s not just the projects she picks, but the way gay audiences respond to her, that have made her constantly fascinating for 30 years. She not mimicable like Carol Channing, Judy Garland or even Kate Hepburn— no one performs Drag Sigourney — so what is it about her?
Maybe it’s her famous height, or her no-nonsense toughness softened by deep emotion. Weaver has almost never been sentimental on screen, which means all her feelings are hard-won. She’s not just a survivor, she makes us believe in our ability to survive, too.
So her decision to portray PFLAG icon Mary Griffith — whose gay son committed suicide in part because of his mother’s stern, Bible-based refusal to accept him — make sense even though, until she finds redemption late in the TV movie "Prayers for Bobby" (airing this weekend on Lifetime), she’s basically the villain of the piece.
Only Weaver doesn’t quite see it that way.
"For me, Mary was driven by a desire to do what’s best for him," Weaver says. "I think the universal thing that binds all parents together is that they want them to be safe. So I related immediately with Mary."
In the film, after Bobby (Ryan Kelley) is outed by his brother, his family quickly sets about to "repair" him: Mary posts Bible verses throughout the house and send Bobby to an anti-gay shrink. When Bobby finds happiness with another man, his mother all but disowns him, leading to his suicide. But even after his death, Mary still struggles with her decision to hate the sin, not the sinner.
"Being a parent myself, sometimes we are blind to the things that are right in front of us when it comes to our children," Weaver explains. "We want to put their welfare first, and that’s what Mary thought she was doing. The Bible verses and all of it were to rescue Bobby from what took hold of him. I felt that the whole family loved Bobby so much, there was so much love in this family, but that they were not guided well by their church and by their own instincts."
Part of Weaver’s process in portraying Mary was to understand her own arc: How she progressed from homophobe to advocate.
"My biggest question when I met Mary was, she’s such a warm person and has such a droll sense of humor; but the person in the beginning of this story does not. So I asked her, ‘What were you like then?’ She just said to me, ‘I was very serious,’ and I got it in a kind of heartbreaking way. The Mary I met was not the Mary who started this whole process with this Bobby."
For her part, the real Mary Griffith thinks Weaver nailed it.
"Sigourney did an excellent job," Griffith says. "She reached to the depths of where I was. I was thrilled after I saw the movie, because they really had gotten to the heart of it so quickly. It was very intense, but I think it’s going to help a lot of kids and some adults as well. It may bring hope and education to people."
Griffith unblinkingly owns up to her how her beliefs were destructive to the child she loved.
"I was so entrenched [in the church], I was cornered no matter which way. There was a Bible verse to detract from any lesson Bobby wanted to teach me," she says.
"There is misinformation in the world that homosexuality is a choice and a possession that you can fight against," Weaver adds. "If we can save one family from what they went through, it would be worth it."
Q Cinema presents a free advance screening of "Prayers for Bobby" on Jan. 24 at 8 p.m. At Texas Christian University, Moudy Bldg,
2800 S. University Dr, FW.
On Saturday, "Prayers for Bobby" airs on Lifetime
Jan. 24 at 8 p.m.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition January 23, 2009.