She made her name as an action star in the “Alien” films, even winning an Oscar nomination for it. That was only the beginning. Over the years, Sigourney Weaver has shown herself to be an actor of rare depth, sensitivity and versatility.
In her new film, “Prayers For Bobby,” which premieres on Lifetime Jan. 24, Weaver expands her range even further as she portrays real life mom Mary Griffith. In 1982, Griffith’s 20-year-old son Bobby committed suicide after years of living a tormented and conflicted life. Bobby Griffith was gay, something neither his church nor his fundamentalist family would accept.
Twenty-six years later, the church Griffith attended continues to preach intolerance toward gay and lesbian people, while she has become one of the leading advocates for LGBT youth through her work with Parents, Friends and Family of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG). It’s her way of making amends to her beloved, much missed son.
“I can forgive myself,” says Griffith, in a recent dual interview with Sigourney Weaver. “It’s not something I did out of malice. It’s hard to forgive the church.”
“But it’s important not to demonize religious people,” adds Weaver. “I’m hoping this film will open their eyes.”
In the film, Weaver recreates the woman Mary Griffith used to be. When Bobby came out at age 16, Mary attempted to lead him to salvation: she could not hear his cries of anguish.
Griffith’s own cries of anguish followed soon after Bobby’s brutal death when, in the film’s saddest and most powerful moment, she realizes that she may have inadvertently driven him to take his own life.
“There are universal things that bonds parents: we want our kids to be safe,” Weaver says. “While the family loved Bobby, they were not guided well by their church. They were driven by a desire to do what was best. I’m a parent, and sometimes we can’t see what’s in front of us.”
“Sigourney was excellent,” Griffith boasts. “She reached the depths of who I was at the time.”
Weaver says it wasn’t difficult to play a still-living person.
“It was not my intention to impersonate Mary,” Weaver continued. “I felt I had to take the essence of what happened and run with it. It never occurred to me that I couldn’t go certain places — Mary had given me permission to go where I could to tell the truth.”
Both women had strong words regarding Prop. 8, California’s recently passed ban on same-sex marriage.
“It’s unconstitutional to have a referendum like that,” Weaver says firmly. “Everyone has the same rights, no exceptions. I can’t believe they put it on the ballot.”
Griffith says she was surprised that it seemed people didn’t even know what they were voting for. “What shocked me is that people don’t realize that they’re messing with their own 14th amendment rights.”
“Marriage is a stabilizing force,” Weaver said. “Give it to all who want it — to deny it is the cruelest thing. I think it’s misinformation.”
These days, Mary Griffith is a very different person than she was all those years ago. She speaks proudly of her newly-out lesbian granddaughter. Though her PFLAG work continues, she admits that she’s had to cut back a bit due to age-related health problems.
Toward the end of the film, Mary is seen attending services at Metropolitan Community Church. “I still go to church,” she says. “I’m good no matter where I go.”
“Prayers for Bobby” is set to air on Lifetime on the following dates: Sat., Jan. 24, 9 p.m.; Sun., Jan. 25, 8 p.m.; and Tues., Jan. 27, 9 p.m. Check local listings for more information.
— David Alex Nahmod lives in San Francisco. Visit him at: www.DavidsOpenForum.Blogspot.com.