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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
Where else do you go on the Left Bank?
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.
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