When Sigourney Weaver was 11, she was already 5-foot-10-and-a-half. “I felt like a giant spider,” she says. “I never had the confidence to think I could act.”

Fifty-eight years later, Sigourney stands 6-foot-3 in heels — and nobody doubts she can act. She’s starred in some of the biggest film franchises of all time, including Ghostbusters and Avatar, for which she’ll reprise her roles in upcoming sequels.

“I’m getting wonderful parts,” she says. “I was never the babe or the beautiful ingenue or the love interest, because I was too tall. I’ve always played interesting people, and that’s continued. It’s not like I suddenly have to figure out who I am.”

Sigourney has been aiming high from the start. The daughter of Today and Tonight Show creator Sylvester “Pat” Weaver and actress Elizabeth Inglis, she made her movie debut in Woody Allen’s Oscar-winning Annie Hall. Two years later, she landed the lead role of Ripley in the original Alien. Director Ridley Scott “fought hard for me because the studio didn’t want an unknown in the part,” says Sigourney, who quickly became a household name. “The story was originally all men, but the writers thought it would be very timely to have a woman be the sole survivor. Nobody saw her coming.”

Sigourney Weaver in 'Aliens'
Mondadori Portfolio via Getty Images

She refused to stick to one genre, crossing over to comedy with the 1984 classic Ghostbusters. “I knew it would be big,” she says. “Ghostbusters changed my life.”

Still, she kept pushing her limits. In 1988, she starred in both the harrowing real-life drama Gorillas in the Mist (as doomed primatologist Dian Fossey) and the frothy romantic comedy Working Girl (as a steely corporate boss) — and earned Oscar nominations for both. “It’s rare when you have everything going perfectly all at the same time,” Sigourney says.

The hits kept coming, from cult comedies (Galaxy Quest) and thrillers (Copycat) to indie dramas (The Ice Storm) and political satire (Dave). Then, in 2009, she re-teamed with James Cameron, who’d directed her to her first Oscar nomination in 1986’s Aliens, for the record-shattering epic Avatar. “It’s a great adventure movie about so many things, including the health of the environment,” says Sigourney, who’s long been involved with ecological causes.

All the while, Sigourney has maintained a happy home life. She’s been wed to Jim Simpson, who directed her in the post-9/11 drama The Guys, since 1984. The couple divide their time between NYC and Jim’s native Hawaii. “We do a lot of snorkeling,” she says. “It’s so nice to be a normal human and to be able to hang my laundry. As a born-and-bred New Yorker, I never get to do that.”

Sigourney Weaver in 'Ghostbusters'
Columbia Pictures/Getty Images

They have one daughter, Charlotte, 29. “She’s not in the industry, bless her heart,” says Sigourney of Charlotte, who’s getting a master’s degree in writing and interactive media. “It’s a nightmare for parents in the business when their child says, ‘I want to be in show business,’ because we know what it entails.”

That didn’t stop Sigourney from following her parents into the industry, however. “I worked hard and made my own way, just as my father had,” she says. “And just, I’m sure, as he hoped I would. I learned, from observing him, the satisfaction that comes from striving and seeing a dream fulfilled.”

She learned valuable lessons from her mom as well. “My mother always said that I might not enjoy my height now, but someday I’ll be glad,” says Sigourney, with a laugh. “She was right.

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