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Why Sigourney Weaver Didn’t Want Her Defenders Villain to Be a ‘Cold Ice Queen’

5 minute read

Sigourney Weaver birthed the modern action heroine with Ripley in 1979’s Alien. But now she’s playing a more morally ambiguous character in Marvel’s The Defenders, out Friday on Netflix

The Defenders — a team of street-level superheroes made up of the stars of Daredevil (Charlie Cox), Jessica Jones (Krysten Ritter), Luke Cage (Mike Colter) and Iron Fist (Finn Jones) — believe Alexandra (Weaver) to be a super-villain. She leads an ancient organization whose members will stop at nothing to achieve immortality. But to Weaver, Alexandra is just a savvy (if unsavory) businesswoman and the hero of her own story.

Weaver spoke to TIME at San Diego Comic-Con about why there aren’t enough multi-dimensional female villains and how the female action hero has evolved from Alien to this summer’s movies, Wonder Woman and Atomic Blonde.

Why did you decide to star in The Defenders?

I always find it commendable when a producer wants to create a powerful, interesting, compelling female heroine — whether on the side of good or bad.

They sent me Daredevil and Jessica Jones. I thought the world — which was Hell’s Kitchen in the case of those two shows — was the Hell’s Kitchen that I remember very well racing through fearful for my life in the 70s. The more I found out about the series and what they were doing with the Marvel hero with a small “h,” I liked that very much. I feel it’s more interesting to see heroes who work in the community and aren’t dealing with the apocalypse. I was delighted to be part of it for a season.

You referred to Alexandra as a heroine. Would you say she’s a hero or a villain?

I think Alexandra would prefer to see herself as a heroine of her story. I don’t think she’s a villain. I think she’s a business woman who has a lot of interests in New York that these four young people encroach upon, and she has to take care of it as she would any problem. You could say some of her business interests are a bit unsavory, but that’s plenty of people I’ve met in New York.

I don’t think we see enough female villains who are multi-dimensional — more than just “bitchy.” How did you avoid those tired tropes?

I was very lucky to be working with Jeff Loeb and Marco Ramirez, our showrunner. At first our conversations were about Alexandra the cold ice queen. And I said, “You know that’s not how I recognize powerful people.” Those words are so overused whenever you have a female character. Let’s just toss those words out and talk about what she does and what’s going on in her life.

And there’s a lot personally going on in her life, so we put it together that way instead of putting it together with these adjectives. I think one of the surprising and interesting things for me was from the beginning I liked my four adversaries. Any good business person would have tried to get them onboard at her company. I can think all kinds of ways to approach each of the four heroes to get them on my side.

You once said in an interview with Roger Ebert that people didn’t really consider you an action hero because you were a woman. Do you think that’s changing at all — where people are willing to let women fill that role?

It’s changed in so many ways. There are so many amazing actresses who take on action roles and do them in such a powerful way. There’s such a difference between the characters you used to see onscreen and the multifaceted women you see now. They’re not just running around with a gun. They have real depth.

What do you think of the current state of the female action hero?

There isn’t that thing that used to drive me crazy whenever I read the part which is having to have those female scenes where they stop being an effective whatever they are and have a little breakdown scene to show you they’re still a female entity. Now, they just get on with it just as women have always done and will continue to do.

I think it’s finally taken for granted that women are capable now — everywhere except for Congress and the Oval Office. But that will change. And I couldn’t be more thrilled to see the dynamic work of women like Scarlett Johansson and Charlize Theron and Gal Gadot in these genres. Even going to Comic-Con, it used to be so male dominated, but now I see just as many women as men. We’ve taken over fandom and I think that means they’ll be thinking of boys and girls when they write these movies and shows.

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Write to Eliana Dockterman at eliana.dockterman@time.com