Ken Tucker
December 26, 1997 AT 05:00 AM EST

Perhaps, when you think of Sigourney Weaver this year, you picture her in outer space, yanking the tongue out of a slimy creature’s mouth in Alien Resurrection. Or you picture her in bed, pulling away from slimy adulterer Kevin Kline in The Ice Storm. But Weaver’s third fab performance of 1997 was the less- widely seen Snow White: A Tale of Terror. This livid fairy-turned-horror tale, which premiered in August on Showtime and shortly after on video, is worth renting to see Our Sig portray the wickedest of stepmother witches. At one poignant point, Snow White cries out, ”You have no heart!” and Weaver responds — quietly, firmly — ”That’s too simple.”

Exactly. Nothing about the aggressive yet vulnerable, intelligent yet often heartless women Weaver has offered us over the past 12 months is simple. ”That was my line,” says Weaver proudly — she improvised it during filming and now says that inhabiting Snow White’s chortlingly mean stepmother was ”the most fun” role of her three this year, ”even if the movie itself ended up being some investor’s very large tax deduction.”

As for the other characters, Weaver feels protective of Alien‘s Ripley — ”Sure, I give her all those muscles and my firm jaw, but she’s really a poor duck totally abandoned in the universe, you know.” And describing Ice Storm as ”a haiku, compared with the epic of Alien Resurrection,” she wishes more viewers had sympathy for Janey Carver, the film’s brittle suburban swizzle stick. ”When people who first saw the movie told [director] Ang [Lee] and me that Janey was ‘such a bitch,’ we looked at each other: Didn’t they see how fragile and unhappy she was?”

Take all this as evidence that Weaver, 48, is a more interesting actress than ever. The severe gravity that characterized much of her early movie work hasn’t softened so much as deepened, like the precisely etched lines around her mouth. Her long-standing, long-outgrown image is that of the stinging WASP, Yale-trained taskmistress, but ”increasingly, my approach to performing is to be as totally abandoned, as unprepared and unintellectualized, as possible.” And darned if you can’t see just that: There’s now a controlled recklessness in Weaver’s acting — an often humorous skepticism in her on-screen gaze — that lends her alert intensity a wry, sexy glow. ”I loved all these roles for the way each of them revved me up. Once I get that engine going, I can work for an eternity.”

Weaver may have picked up a reported $11 million paycheck for Resurrection but notes without a trace of rancor, ”It’s rare that I’m sent a big project from the major studios.” She mentions she’d like to teach an acting class. (Asked with mock severity for her qualifications, she replies playfully: ”Well, I do know how to apply makeup.”) Next year, she’ll star in a film of Rafael Yglesias’ deep-thought potboiler Dr. Neruda’s Cure for Evil. And beyond that — ridiculous as it sounds — she’s available. ”Please write,” she says, ”that I’m looking for a job in the spring.”

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