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Sigourney Weaver Reflects on the Legacy of 'Prayers for Bobby' 10 Years Later (Exclusive)

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If you asked a dozen queer people what movie made Sigourney Weaver a gay icon, they might have a dozen different answers: There's Alien and its sequels, playing interplanetary commando Ellen Ripley, or Working Girl, as an unscrupulous corporate bigwig, not to mention Ghostbusters, Heartbreakers and countless more. If you ask Weaver, though, she is most proud of the 2009 Lifetime TV movie, Prayers for Bobby.

"This one is the one I'm most grateful I got to do, because I hope that it will be such a support to these young kids," she told ET by phone. "My heart goes out to all of them. I think there probably is nothing more difficult than not being able to express who you are and all the questions you have about that in a safe space."

Weaver stars as Mary Griffith in Prayers for Bobby, which tells the poignant true story of God-fearing Mary's attempt to "save" her son, Bobby, after his coming out, then her pursuit of LGBTQ activism following his suicide. The drama won a GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Movie or Mini-Series, alongside Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for Weaver.

To close out Pride Month, Lifetime is re-airing Prayers for Bobby on Monday. And ahead of its broadcast, Weaver called from upstate New York (where she's riding out the remainder of the pandemic) to discuss the film's legacy and why this year, more than ever, it's important to be proud.

I'm thrilled Lifetime is re-airing this. When was the last time you'd watched it?

Sigourney Weaver: It's been a while. But I also didn't realize it wasn't really in circulation until recently when the producers got in touch with me. Because of all the movies I've ever done, I want this one out in the world more than any other. When I go and do publicity -- whatever -- in other cities around the planet, there are always young people who come up to me about this movie in particular. We made it in hopes that it would be useful to the LGBT community and an important lesson, just a way of opening the door to having more conversations within your family. So, I'm really thrilled that it's airing again, and I hope we can keep it out there in the world where it can do what Mary wanted it to.

It was, in many ways, a different time when this was made. In the industry, it was still seen as "brave" for actors to play gay characters. Did you experience any conflicted feelings from people around you or any sort of pushback as you set out to get this made?

No, I have to say not at all. I mean, living in New York City and knowing so many gay actors and writers and directors, it didn't even occur to me. To me, Mary's story needed to be shared for all families and against the basic ignorance about what it is to be human and what it is to love other human beings. [But] I think the producers probably had such a hard time getting it made.

As I recall, they said to me, "We've talked to so many heads of studios and networks where they say, 'This is my favorite script. We're not going to do it.'" I think they were feeling there was tremendous pressure not to make this movie, because it was considered controversial. This was way before anyone was thinking that the Supreme Court would ever legalize same-sex marriage. So, it was a totally different time. I know my producers experienced what you're describing. I did not. I think I was probably working too hard to field any of those vibes anyway. Everyone on the project was so committed.

When you look back, do you have one memory from making the movie that's come to encapsulate your Prayers for Bobby experience?

I spent a day with Mary Griffith, who we sadly lost this year in February. Mary was an extraordinary woman who unlike, I'm sure, other people who would have lost their son and then spent the rest of their lives maybe feeling sorry for themselves and holding on to their religious beliefs, Mary was brave enough and loved Bobby enough to change her whole life, her whole way of living and to go to PFLAG and announce to the whole world with her book, "Look what terrible things I did to my son to protect him. Please, none of you make the same mistakes."

She came to believe in a God who was about unconditional love. And when I think of the fact that in this country, they're still doing conversion therapy -- I'm just so astonished by anything that sounds like it's from the Dark Ages, in terms of point of view, let alone physical cruelty on so many levels -- that is the church that I hope we will come to share more and more, not one that says this is an abomination. My heart breaks for those communities.

Prayers for Bobby
Lifetime

What do you see as the film's legacy, 10 years later? Or what do you think it means to watch this in the year 2020?

There's some statistic that says that if you're coming out in a family that's against it and unaccepting of your announcement, that you're eight times more likely to commit suicide. So, I think, unfortunately, there are families like that all over America, and we must try to reach all of them and give young people this tool. The film is a tool to share with their family and open that door to a proper conversation about it. I don't know how you could watch this film and not at least have a conversation. That's why Mary wrote that book, and that's what her whole life was about.

You mentioned the SCOTUS decision on same sex marriage. What have you seen as the progress we've made as a society when it comes to LGBTQ rights in the years since this movie made, and what would you like to see still to come?

I think it's been great progress to define more individually L-G-B-T-Q, because as we now know, the transgender community needed to come out and make their point of view clear, that they have their own set of problems and issues. All these fights are still being fought, but it was amazing to see the Supreme Court support the rights of LGBTQ members in terms of keeping their jobs and keeping their places to live. Basic rights. But of course, there's much more work to be done state-by-state, community-by-community in terms of acceptance and the right to use the bathroom that makes sense for you and have the general public understand that this is so valid.

There's so much more growth to be made, but I have great confidence in the community. This is the struggle that the community is making for all of our sakes. Because this is what it is to be human, all these different feelings and expressions of that individuality. So, I'm grateful to them for not getting discouraged and for continuing to fight for these things, even when they're passed and overturned, like, a year later. This is just where we are politically, and I'm hopeful that a more enlightened time is ahead of us. But I think it's still going to be a lot of work to do on everybody's part.

As we celebrate Pride Month, as an actor and an activist and just a person, what is your relationship to the LGBTQ community these days?

Well, my daughter is marching in the Pride parade this weekend in New York and I'm up here, and I was thinking, I wish I could be marching with her. It's so important this year to come together and celebrate the achievements that have been made, the decisions that have come down and celebrate who this community is and all of their allies. It's always an amazing event in New York, but I think it's more important than ever right now for so many different reasons. I hope in spite of COVID that it will be one of the biggest Prides yet and will be really inclusive of all communities. And now it's a whole month! [Laughs] That's so great.

You can lead your one-woman Pride parade upstate in the meantime.

Yes! Yes, I will. I mean, I think this is sort of my chance to participate, talking to you and thanking you for helping us get this project back on the airwaves and back in circulation, so that more young people and their families can watch it and not make Mary's mistakes. That's what she devoted the rest of her life to. That's what her whole family is devoted to, because they'll miss Bobby forever.


Prayers for Bobby airs on Monday, June 29 at 8:00 p.m. ET/PT and Sunday, July 5 at 12 p.m. on Lifetime.

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