Sigourney Weaver and Jim Simpson Talk About Their 9/11 Drama “The Guys”
by Brandon Judell
After September 11, a little play opened about a quietly devastated fire captain who needed help writing memorial speeches for his men who had perished at the World Trade Center disaster. The woman who helps him cope and succeed in his quest to find the right words is a New York City journalist. Now that play, “The Guys,” is a film with Sigourney Weaver recreating her role as the writer and Anthony LaPaglia starring as the captain. (Bill Murray essayed the role on stage.) Jim Simpson, a respected theatrical director and Sigourney’s husband, helmed the film (in theaters now from Focus Features).
To promote their heartfelt joint venture, Mr. and Mrs. Simpson arrived at New York’s Regency Hotel. I took on Sigourney first. She was a little frazzled, she admitted, because indieWIRE turned out to be her first early morning interview of the day. I promised to be gentle.
indieWIRE: “The Guys” had a great emotional impact as a play because it was performed so close after the actual event. What impact do you think the film version will have now?
Sigourney Weaver: People who’ve seen the film feel that it’s very timely. In a way, a lot of us sort of pushed these feelings down after 9/11 and got on with our lives. A lot of our feelings of grief and anger weren’t really resolved. But it’s a very difficult time for people right now. And the idea that in a time of crisis, that these two total strangers can meet and reach out to each other and help each other…This fire captain comes in with so much on his shoulders, and this total stranger from another world aids him just by talking to him. Through the course of the day, they’re really able to help each other and change each other. And I think that’s the kind of thing that as a New Yorker was going on all the time after 9/11, and it’s still going on now just because people have no control or no feeling of control over the events that are happening. All we have is other human beings.
iW: If you listen to talk radio, people are using the events of 9/11 as an excuse for war. They’ve become blood thirsty. Yet back then, we didn’t have those sentiments. Potentially watching “The Guys” will help people reexamine what 9/11 really meant.
Weaver: I think that’s true. This is not a political film in any way. In that sense, it’s a kind of refuge from the noise that’s going on. It simply puts a human face on this loss and this grief. And I think it has a lot of resonance, too, for the fact that whatever your feelings are about the war, and I’m certainly against it, but we have 260,000 people over there, some of whom, many of whom, are doing their job just the way these guys did their job on 9/11. When I saw the film, although I was very moved, I also felt better for having seen it. As you said, it took me back to those basic feelings after 9/11 and gave me just a more positive sense that we were all there for each other.
iW: When “The Guys” first opened as a play, people needed it to come to terms with their anguish. Now over a year later, what are people going to use “The Guys,” the film version, for? For the same reason, or has time given it a different purpose?
Weaver: That remains to be seen. It’s still fundamentally about catastrophic grief and how a stranger can help you out, in particularly a writer, too. These are the gifts the intelligentsia actually bring to the table. But we’re looking at 260,000 of our people over there. Boys at war. “The Guys” is the story of the firefighter and how he’s lost his men who were also watching our backs on a daily and nightly basis, and about their extraordinary commitment to us. This was pretty much taken for granted. If that story has a new resonance based on where we are right now, it’s probably apt.
(Sigourney is taken away. Jim Simpson enters.)
iW: You’re dressed today in a suit and tie, looking smart. But I’m getting a sense that you’re a wilder sort of a hunk, to whom these articles of attire are a bit foreign.
Jim Simpson: (Laughs) I’m not a style-a-guy but I had to dress up for this because it’s all publicity. You dress up for this stuff because your picture’s getting taken.
iW: So, usually you’re more of a jeans person?
Simpson: Yeah, I’m not like a Prada guy.
iW: That comes across. So was working with your wife complex? Sigourney said, “Well, this was for 10 days.” She didn’t know how it would work for six months.
Simpson: (Laughs) It was a very short shoot, and we don’t usually work together so we can take turns with our daughter. We also like to complain about whom we’re working with when we get home, and you can’t do that when you’re working together because you’re looking at ’em.
iW: She was complaining that your future projects seem to be all male vehicles.
Simpson: No, I have a project for her, and she knows about it. Whether it’s actually going to happen or not, we’ll see. I’d love to work with her again. She’s fabulous.
iW: She mentioned there are no parts for her in that Chinese novel you’re considering.
Simpson: Yes. It’s a little like “Sweeney Todd.” It’s only one woman who chops people up and places them in buns and sells them on the road. (Laughs) No, in the Hawaii one, there is a part, but it’s not the major part.
iW: Well, Sigourney’s always said that she rather have a small part in a film she cares about.
Simpson: Yeah, she’s for real.
iW: You’ve worked with Karen Finley on stage who’s done weird things with chocolate and yams. Is there ever a chance of transferring an act like Karen’s to film? Or are outrageous theatrics like hers to be delegated to non-celluloid memories?
Simpson: That stuff, even the original, original of that, which she did at P.S. 122, was recorded. So there is archival footage of that. Her stuff…I heard that she was involved in making a movie. And I knew she spent time out in L.A. The thing about Karen is that she was this very important groundbreaking performance artist but she happens to be a really great writer. So the real fun thing with Karen would be to say, “What’s on your agenda now? What would you like to write about?” And run after that.
iW: What I’m getting at is that in the theater you can commit truly outrageous deeds that few would dare to put on film or be allowed to.
Simpson: That’s one of the beauties of the live theater. (Laughs)
iW: Can that sensibility ever be transferred to film except in a few minor cases?
Simpson: I love the theater. And one of the things that the theater can do is to be outrageous. I don’t think it’s outrageous enough. I think most of the time it’s pretty boring. It’s even more conservative than the movies actually. One of my things with the small theater down there [the Flea Theater] is to say, “Oh, no! We’re supposed to be doing stuff that actually is pushing the envelope.” Because there is no censorship, and there’s no real money involved, we have the freedom to do that. Can movies do that sort of work? Uh, yes and no. Yes, I think there’s that new movie that’s out right now that’s supposedly really disturbing.
Simpson: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. I think in the theater, you can’t be as blunt. Theater deals with actor and space and language and live audience. It’s difficult to be as blunt as a movie can be. And being outrageous for its own sake? Hopefully there’s more to it than that. But I like that stuff because it’s interesting. If it makes me nervous, I’m intrigued. (laughs)