SDCC: 'Ripley,' sci-fi women on Hollywood's new age

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Dec 14, 2012, 3:54 PM EST

SCI FI Wire on Thursday checked out the Wonder Women: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture panel at the San Diego Comic-Con, featuring Sigourney Weaver, Zoe Saldana, Eliza Dushku and Elizabeth Mitchell.

One fan asked Weaver about taking her iconic role in Aliens. She was asked whether she was encouraged to pass up the role, since science fiction as a genre wasn't a popular place for an actress back then. "I was the one who didn't want to do science fiction," she said. "I didn't know much about science fiction." She explained that it wasn't until she met with director Ridley Scott and saw the props that she decided to do the role. "I'd never seen anything remotely like this in a movie, and I was dying to be part of it," she said, calling it a "radical little science fiction film." She talked about her theater background and said that being part of an ensemble was really important to her. And she got an amazing one to work with in Aliens: "I just got really lucky." When the fact that Ellen Ripley was voted the second greatest action figure of all time, beating out Clint Eastwood, she said, "I think she could take him."

The next question was for Lost's Elizabeth Mitchell, whose character Juliette was described as "morally slippery." About how she justifies that, she said, "I think I've always said that liars are always the best when they think they're telling the truth." She stressed that she couldn't play the character effectively if she thought she was doing something wrong. "I think that usually we think we're going towards the best thing. No one thinks they're a bad person." About her character, she said, "I ... really like complicated women. They're enticing to me." Of course, she was asked whether Juliette, who came to a bit of a messy end at the close of last season, would be back. She didn't say much, telling us, "It really depends. It depends if Jack's plan works or not. ... They told me to say it's a cliffhanger."

Saldana, who plays Uhura in the new Star Trek, was asked about playing not only an iconic and beloved character, but also one who, in the original series, broke the color barrier. Saldana said that the experience was interesting because, in the Star Trek universe, there is "no such thing as discrimination." She explained that she was allowed to be who she was without regard to sex. "To be given an opportunity to play a strong character" and "to not have to compromise your humor, your femininity" was " a humbling position for me to be in," she said. As far as the sequel, Saldana said, "The writers are germinating a very interesting idea. I couldn't be more excited. We all know how secret-y [director] J.J. [Abrams] can be. ... I know it's going to be great."

Dushku, who plays the memory-wiped character Echo on Fox's Dollhouse was teased about taking up all the good female roles in Hollywood (she plays a different character each week). She said that great female roles are all about the writers. "Ask and ye shall receive," she said. She asked creator Joss Whedon for great characters, and he gave them to her. She also said that the whole multiple-personality thing wasn't really a stretch for her.

The discussion turned to female archetypes and why it seemed to be difficult for Hollywood to create female archetypes that were as varied and distinct as the ones created for men. Weaver said that it was really about the writers not trying to create female action figures. "They are creating characters. It's really to me, about character." She continued, "Hollywood goes kind of crazy figuring out what to wear. I'm grateful that I got to wear actual clothes when I did this," referring to Aliens.

Dushku agreed, saying, "I try to play people." Still, she had no problem with using sexuality as one of the aspects of her characters. "I also think that my womanly wiles are sometimes helpful for the people I'm playing. Sexuality is something that ... can be manipulated or very disgustingly portrayed, or it can be beautiful. ... Sex is part of our society. It's a big deal. ... It's something that I embrace."

Saldana talked about not seeing it as a battle anymore, and instead focusing on creating better roles. "If we continue to see this as a battle, it will take so much energy from who we are." She said she didn't want to spend time fighting against a room full of men, convincing them that "I should wear pants to do an action scene, when they think I can do it in a skirt and hoochie boots." She added: "I think, as women, we are uniting more. We are fighing to be writers and fighting to be producers, ... to teach how a woman should be treated." Nodding to Weaver, she said, "Ellen Ripley could have been a man. ... Objectives would have been the same. ... but it happened to be a woman, thank God."

Mitchell told the audience that, "as a kid, I was always a huge sci-fi fan. That's what I loved. ... The great thing is that I loved what sci-fi could do for women. That women could be strong and vibrant." Weaver agreed, "Science fiction is sort of an investigation into what it is to be human. As you say, there are no rules. It's very much a reflection of real life." She added: "Happily in a sense, they weren't trying to control what women did in sci-fi," saying that women in the genre had sort of flown under the radar.

Of course, the Wonder Woman film, or lack thereof, was brought up. Dushku joked, "I don't think anyone wants to mess it up. ... I think there have been a few people taking passes at it," referring to Whedon's abandoned script. Saldana didn't seem to be aware of that, saying, "I think maybe they just need to find the best writer to capture what's in the comic, ... to capture the conception of who the character is."

An audience member asked about why the focus was on casting a 25-year-old and why they were thinking about Megan Fox. Saldana admitted, "I happen to have a huge crush on Megan Fox. I'm not hating on that idea. ... Sixty-year-old men want to see 25-year-old girls. Unfortunately, those are the people cutting checks. Not just in Hollywood."