What does it take for women to get brilliant action-hero roles in Hollywood? Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Eliza Dushku and Elizabeth Mitchell talked about heroic archetypes, and what it takes to get to wear pants when jumping between tall buildings.
The four megastars met on stage as part of Entertainment Weekly's "Wonder Women" panel. Weaver, of course, starred in the Alien movies, plus Ghostbusters and countless other genre classics. Saldana is playing Uhura in the new Star Trek movies as well as an alien in Avatar. Dushku has co-starred in Buffy The Vampire Slayer and starred in Tru Calling and Dollhouse. And Mitchell is moving from Lost to V this year.
How Weaver got into playing Ripley:
Weaver explains, "I was the one who didn't want to do science fiction. It wasn't until Ridley Scott took me and showed me the pictures and the eggs had little [H.R.] Giger faces on them, and I realized I hadn't seen anything like this before."
What's next on Lost and Dollhouse:
Mitchell says she loves playing "complicated women" like Juliet, and she doesn't feel Juliet is slippery – she's just telling the truth as she sees it, but sometimes she takes wee shortcuts to get to the truth. So will she be back on Lost? "The best thing to say is it just depends if Jack's plan works or not. Which is amazing, because then it's not my fault."
Dushku says in Dollhouse season two, we'll be seeing more of Echo's glitches, but Echo will continue to emerge as a real person in her own right, distinct from her original personality, Caroline. "We'll see more of Echo as a composite. She's glitching and she's bring out all the characters."
Saldana on taking on Uhura:
Saldana says she wanted to convey the "normalcy" of being a woman of color in a respected position, among a bunch of men. "As a woman, an American woman, a woman of color, to be able to be granted an opportunity to play a character that symbolizes strength... a woman my mother wanted to be with when she was a little girl, is nothing but a humbling position to be in." And there are "very interesting" ideas for the second Trek movie, she says. "I couldn't be more excited."
So why aren't there more female action heroes?
The challenge that some writers take on very well, like Joss Whedon or James Cameron... They're not trying to create a woman action hero, they're creating a character who has a certain intelligence and drive and ferocity. That is the core. What they are trying to do, who they are trying to save, etc. Hollywood goes a little crazy, trying to figure out what you're supposed to wear. I feel grateful that I got to wear actual clothes. I never thought about being a woman, I was playing a person. I just think in writing, you just write it the way you write a man: they believe in things, they fight for things. There's a hero in each of us... and that's what Avatar is about.
In fact, Weaver mentions that the part of Ripley was originally written to be a man, but then she won the part instead. "Because she was better," Saldana adds.
So how do you get more awesome female roles and less drek? Allow Saldana to elaborate:
If we continue, as women, to see this as a battle, it will take so much energy away from what we are. What it takes is education. When i have to fight an army of men, and try to convince them that I shoudl wear pants for an action scene, where I'm running from one building to another, and jumping, and they are convinced that I shoudl do it in a short skirt and Gucci boots — fighting that small battle takes education. We are trying to teach how a women should be created, and how a woman should be treated. [When a male creator does get it right, the correct response is] a little pat on the head like "You did it." (She says this, like she's talking to a small child or a puppy.)
Later, Saldana added: "I do think if we continue to do it, one day we won't have to meet with our produciers and writers and directors and say, 'I don't have to understand why my character has to sleep with the lead guy just because she digs him.'"
Jim Cameron was saying earlier that science fiction is sort of an investigation into what it is to be human. There are no rules. It's sort of a reflection of real life. Anything goes. Happily in this case, they weren't trying to control what women did in science fiction. It wasn't an important enough genre, and it just slipped through.
So what's going on with Wonder Woman?
Everyone on the panel agreed that it just takes the right script and the right take on the character. "People are taking passes at it," says Dushku, who presumably knows about Joss Whedon's attempt. "I think the stakes are set high for Wonder Woman, and Lynda Carter is so memorable."
Says Saldana: "They need to find the right writer to bring out all the stuff rom the comics, all the beautiful layers, and add all of the Neo stuff from the Matrix, instead of just this beautiful girl with beautiful buns and a great rack and a big smile." (She does a big fake smile with one pinky as she says this.) Someone asks about Megan Fox playing Wonder Woman instead of a woman in her thirties who can bring more stature to the Amazon princess, and Saldana responds:
I happen to have a huge crush on Megan Fox. I'm not hatin on that possibility. Do you want the real answer? I think it's just 65 year old men just want to see 25 year old little girls, but those are the people cutting checks not only in Hollywood but in America. I have to question: why they won't share a decision like that with a younger crowd that's part of this generation? There aren't enough african American superheroes or women or even Asian American. Have you ever met a superhero named Juan Gonzales? I would kill for that.