On one of her first visits to Paris, The TV Set's Sigourney Weaver grew homesick for New York. Now she can't wait to get back to the City of Light.
She was born Susan Weaver but changed her name to Sigourney, a name she found in the F. Scott Fitzgerald novel The Great Gatsby, a name destined to go to Paris. Born in New York City to NBC president Sylvester "Pat" Weaver and actress Elizabeth Inglis, Sigourney Weaver first went to Paris as a student, hitchhiking through France; she later went there with her parents, on a trip that she still revels in the memory. After graduating with a master's degree from the Yale School of Drama, she became a star with the success of films like Alien, Gorillas in the Mist, Ghostbusters, and Working Girl. This month, Weaver is again on-screen, in the emotionally charged film Snow Cake, costarring Alan Rickman and Carrie-Anne Moss, and she'll be seen next month in The TV Set, a comedy that costars David Duchovny and is about the making of a TV pilot in the wild and woolly world of network television. But she'll undoubtedly be back in Paris soon. "I hope so, again and again, I hope," she says. Here's what she loves and where she goes in the City of Light.
So tell me how you became Sigourney.
You know, my name was Susan, which I thought was very boring. I was already six feet tall, and everyone called me Sue. That made me feel even more strongly that I needed a long name that people might not shorten. I thought Sigourney looked interesting, and I thought I would use it for a while until I figured out what to really use. I didn't really intend to change my name, and then I never went back. Of course, now I'm called Sig or Siggy, so you can't really escape your destiny. But my intention was to have a beautiful, mysterious name. It, the root, actually sort of means "gypsy," which I think is quite appropriate for my life.
What are some of your early memories of Paris?
I hitchhiked there when I was a student. I also went there with a group of students when I was 15 and then later went back and stayed in a hostel. It was on the Left Bank somewhere, and I only stayed a couple of nights. My first real introduction was … this tiny apartment in the south of France [that my parents had]. When Mitterrand came into office, my parents panicked and thought we better get rid of this apartment. … I guess they took the money from the apartment and we went to Paris. We stayed in a very, very simple hotel, and we basically slept on cots for a week.
Did your parents take you to any memorable restaurants?
We went to La Tour d'Argent, where they press the duck and serve it to you, and you have a footman behind your seat. It was just such a complete culinary experience. I had never seen anything like it, and it was Christmas Eve. I just remember sitting at this table and feeling a little self-conscious - because there was this guy always standing behind you who was your personal waiter. Before you could even put your fork down, one plate would disappear and another would arrive. It was like it was all done with mirrors; it was like a magic act. My parents had planned the whole thing. We were very sad about selling the apartment, which was not a great apartment or anything, but it had just given us a little foothold. So we were saying goodbye to all that. It was bittersweet, but ultimately it was a fun week; we just kind of ran around Paris and went to the Louvre and things like that, but with a different feeling because we were going to cease being French. This was 1974 or '75. We had lunch at a place called Le Soufflé, where you could have a soufflé for each course. I think we had some little weird fish soufflé for the first course and a cheese soufflé for the main course, and then we had chocolate or Grand Marnier.
Did your parents take you to see any of Paris's famous sights?
I think we kind of ran to the Mona Lisa because my mother wanted to. … I'm sure my parents had very different ideas of what they wanted to see. I just remember that [the Louvre] is a very exhausting museum. I kept saying, "How do we get out?" We went to the Musée Rodin. That was much better - it is on a much smaller scale. It's a very small, lovely museum devoted to Rodin. I think there was hardly anybody there when we went, so we were just stunned by the scale and the power of the figures. I've been back once with my own daughter, and it was really cool. [My parents and I] went to Les Folies Bergère that week, and that was extraordinary because it's a show that's part burlesque and part circus and part comedy. You are drinking Champagne and eating a lovely meal. It's touristy, but it's a chance to see a kind of show that isn't done very much anymore: the variety show. It has these extraordinary girls and these gorgeous feathery costumes - I was just blown away. It was a magical evening.
Okay, flash forward. When did you fall in love with Paris as an adult?
It took me a while to fall in love with it, actually. It wasn't until I really worked in France. I did a movie with Gérard Depardieu in French, and I was immersed in the culture for a number of months and made some great friends. The film I did with Gérard - I remember one of the first sets: We were in the Marais, in an apartment. I was playing a model who wore skimpy clothes, and it was the dead of winter. I think it was February. There was no heat in the apartment, and the only WC was on the roof. You had to go outside and open this rusty-hinged door. It was like, Man, here I am in Paris, and … But it was a great experience. We shot in Paris and in the south of France, and we were there for months.
Did you ever get homesick?
I was by myself, and I had just gotten married, like, three months before, and my husband, who was a theater director, was doing two plays at once - one in downtown [New York] and one in Harlem. He was going back and forth, and really he did that for at least two months while I was there. So there I was in Paris - the city of romance, the city of love - and I was so homesick. My friend Catherine Leterrier was the costume designer for the film One Woman or Two. I think she took pity on me because I was so homesick; she invited me to Le Marché aux Puces for the first time. We still laugh because I sort of sleepwalked through the Puces. I saw one of those huge, heavy sets of everyday cutlery in which the forks are so big, and she said I picked it up and said through my tears, "Oh, but this is so beautiful." I was there with not only Catherine but also another friend of hers, and I'm sure that they both thought I was kind of silly. They didn't judge me at all. They just took care of me, and by the end of the day, I was feeling much better. I didn't stop being homesick, but I felt a little more at home in Paris, and it was really because of these two lovely French women taking me under their wing and taking me into a very French experience, which was the Puces.
Did you buy anything memorable that day?
You know what I did buy that day that I still have and still love? I bought a small vase made of silver. It wasn't expensive at all. I am sure it was less than $80. It is just a beautiful, very simple modern design - but warm, not cold. I'm using it as we speak, in my front hallway. When you walk in, you see Valentine-red-and-white tulips in this silver vase.
I'm sure you've gotten to stay in some great places. What are a few of your favorites?
I just stayed at the Ritz for the first time, which was like going back in time. It was just so luxurious, and the staff was so attentive. But my favorite hotel in the world is the Bristol on rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, and I say that because, for maybe two or three films, I stayed in a small mouse room somewhere in the Bristol attic for, like, three months at a time. I felt like I finally went from being Eloise at an advanced age to sort of feeling like a member of the staff because I knew everybody. They were so kind and welcoming, and I think they knew that I had a tough schedule, and they could not have been more courtly to me. I ended up taking my daughter there over the years, and they would always give her a doll or something. They just made it feel like our second home.
Okay, you're on the rue du Faubourg Saint-Honoré, one of the world's most famous shopping streets. Where do you like to go?
There used to be a wonderful shoe store where a man made shoes that were shaped like cats and mice and things like that. I have a couple of pairs of those. He was a Japanese shoe designer. I'm not sure if he still makes shoes. Then Christian Lacroix took over that place, and a couple of years ago, I went to him to get a gown for the Oscars. That was fun, to go across the street and backstage into the world of haute couture.
Tell us some of your favorite shops around the city.
There is a wonderful store called CSAO. It is a store that sells only African [goods]. Wonderful plastic rugs, recycled lamps, and trays and other items made from industrial tin - brightly colored stuff from Africa, from Senegal, lots of rubber bracelets. All the money goes back into the villages where they make this rather mad stuff for people. They have beautiful glass paintings of very beautiful African women in traditional dress. The store's on the Left Bank. You know, I kind of do a lot of that thing the French call faire du lèche-vitrine, or "lick the windows." If I am a serious shopper, I will run to Le Bon Marché, which is one of the most beautiful stores in the world and built like a glass conservatory. We were just there for the sales, and it was amazing. I bought stupid things like a bath mat for my daughter's bathroom and some linen place mats. It's just a store that is light and airy and beautiful and a pleasure to shop in. I don't really go into the little stores. I really stand outside and gaze through the window. I always prefer to buy old things that have been used hundreds of times, you know, like old dish towels and things like that. They just have a kind of spirit about them that I find very homey.
Where do you like to take your daughter?
The whole area near Le Jardin du Luxembourg. That was a great haunt for me and my family whenever we spent time in France. We would just live there. You spend 14 euros for your child, and they disappear into the playground, which has everything. They have the old-fashioned merry-go-round where you hold out your baton and try to get the ring to stay on the baton. The person with the most rings at the end of the ride gets another ride free. I mean, my daughter spent years on that thing, accumulating rings. Then there is the Guignol puppet show, which I recommend no matter what age you are. There are shows usually on the weekend - two or three a day - and they have these beautiful puppets. It's a tiny theater. The children will sit in front, and the adults sit in the back - they have these very brusque women who will kind of push you into the theater and show you where to sit, and they are very no-nonsense. Then you watch The Three Little Pigs or Cinderella. The shows themselves are fantastic. You have these frogs dancing on the Paris roofs, and they are just wonderful. There is nothing they can't do. They don't need special effects. The kids just love it, and your child is there with mostly French children. It does not make any difference. They are all speaking the international language of shrieks and laughter.
What are your favorite landmarks in the city?
I'm still learning my way around the city because usually I meet friends and we ride on the bus to the Grand Palais or wherever. I went with my friend Catherine to the haute couture show for Chanel, and we took the bus over there. We were getting on the bus to go home, and they said, "No, no, you must not get on the bus!" I think they were afraid the paparazzi would follow us to where I was staying. So they are very protective. I think all the different places are beautiful. What I love is just to stroll on the Left Bank and get lost. I go to the Puces and stroll around.
What else do you like to do for fun in Paris?
We just went to the new MK2 theater complex in the Bibliothèque section, on the Left Bank, which is a beautiful complex of theaters and restaurants. Going to see a movie there is such a comfortable and elegant experience. I think there are many different movie houses; one of them has 300 seats, and another has 200 seats. [The French] think film is an art form. You are not going to some grubby place where you'll end up sitting on melted candy. They create a world in which you can really enjoy the film.
No popcorn, right?
The French don't eat to keep themselves company. Eating is something that takes their full attention. They don't just eat mindlessly, which is what I think movie eating is. You chomp your way through Jurassic Park or something like that. I love the whole American system as well. I'll get my popcorn and my water, usually, but I appreciate that the French have a loftier idea of the theater experience.
What are some of your favorite restaurants?
I like La Coupole. It's great fun to have a birthday party there. The waiters come and sing to you, and it's a mad, mad place where the food, I think, is excellent, and you just get to observe all of the Parisian life. I love the bar at the Bristol - to have a Kir Royale and listen to the piano player. They have a winter restaurant and a summer restaurant, and they are both extraordinary experiences - completely different. [In] one, you are surrounded by medieval tapestries and eating truffles and mâche, and then the summer one is a beautiful sort of conservatory-garden restaurant. You get spoiled in Paris. You can't get a bad meal. It's fun to try different places. We used to go to Le Duc a lot for the fish. We used to see Mitterrand come in with his mistress - he must have eaten there every night, honestly. The raw-fish appetizers and everything are just so beautiful to look at, and they taste so wonderful and fresh. You know, you leave not full, which is something I recommend. One of my favorite places is Le Languedoc. It has amazing duck confit, and it is run by a family. It's just an all-French restaurant. I hate to even tell you what it is, so it won't be ruined, but it's delicious food. Simple food and great service. And then Closerie des Lilas, for the oysters.
That's the famous Hemingway place, right?
Yes, and they are wonderful there. Same neighborhood. I have eaten in the bar as well as in the restaurant, and they are both wonderful. I think the bar is sort of fun to eat in, and you walk by the guy husking the oysters right outside, and they are the most delicious oysters I've ever had anywhere. It's just like eating the Atlantic Ocean.
Where else do you go on the Left Bank?
In that area, they have a French open market on Tuesdays and Thursdays and Saturdays, and everything is so clean, so beautiful, like a hallucination of food. If you want cheese, the woman will ask, "Well, what day are you planning to eat the cheese?" And you say, "Well, I don't know. I guess Tuesday." She asks, "Lunch or dinner?" And you go, "Probably lunch." She will give you the one that you are supposed to eat at that very moment. They are so particular about their food. They don't eat very much. Everyone I know, it's not that they are dieting, they just taste their food instead of consuming it. As soon as they sit down to one meal, they are already talking about the next meal, but in a very aesthetic way - what would not balance the day, what other experience should we give ourselves at home.
Tell me about Le Marché aux Puces.
There are a series of stalls, some inside and some outside. I kind of enjoy the ones that are outside, even when it is freezing. The different owners obviously have a passion for one particular kind of furniture or a particular kind of collector's item like stuff for the kitchen or the bathroom, or linens. Lately, there has been a lot of interesting sorts of modern furniture. They have mad, mad things, and you just wend your way through all the other tourists and French people, and you do it until you are cross-eyed. There is a small restaurant there in the Marché Serpette - very busy, very hectic - where you can very quickly order and get a good meal and a cup of tea to strengthen yourself for the next group of stalls. I would say get there early, like at 11, because by two, it gets very crowded. No matter how arcane your interests might be, you will find something at the Puces. African carvings, medieval tapestries, lawn furniture, strange things that have been somehow rescued from oblivion and which sometimes are sold for not a lot of money, doorways and trellises. It's just a fascinating experience. My favorite is when you see an actual staircase for sale - these exquisite wooden round staircases that you can buy. I have been known to go directly from the plane to the Puces. It is very energizing.