With Master Gardener, the American star adds an unprecedented character to her very rich gallery: an "evil goddess," the director–Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement at the 2022 Venice Film Festival–calls her during the press conference, making her jerk a little…
Not that she has always been a saint on screen, but with Paul Schrader's Master Gardener – out of competition at the 2022 Venice Film Festival – Sigourney Weaver presents one of the most ruthless characters of her nearly half-century career: Norma Haverhill, a wealthy widow who hires as a gardener–and as a dispenser of sexual services–a man with a terrible past (actor Joel Edgerton). But the extravagant balance of their relationship is thrown into crisis when she has the idea of entrusting him with her more than restless 20-year-old niece (Quintessa Swindle)…
Sigourney Weaver: "Believing in love"
"An evil goddess," Schrader (recipient of The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement award at Venice 79) called her at the press conference, making her jerk a bit. But then, why did she accept? "I admire Paul's work but I never hoped to be asked to take part in it: Paul always starts with "one man in a room," here instead the co-star is a lusty woman in a whole house," jokes Sigourney (pseudonym "fished out" in The Great Gatsby, her birth name is Susan Alexandra), wearing her incredible 73 years on a fiery red suit.
"I read the script a couple of days before I met him and it was a revelation; it was different from all the ones I had read before: simple on the surface, but profound." What struck her so much was the use of gardening as a metaphor. "There are a couple of phrases spoken in the film by Joel that were an epiphany for me. As in nature, in life it is necessary to destroy to see regrowth, first of all. And then the other concept: to engage in gardening is to believe in the future. I thought that ultimately, to believe in the future would be to believe in love." .
"The idea of redemption."
The same conclusion reached, precisely, by Schrader, who for the first time since the screenplay of Taxi Driver included two women in one of his stories ("I wondered what would happen if Betsy, the character played by Cybill Shepherd, had coffee with Iris, the one played by Jodie Foster") and "softened up."
"I'm part of a generation that wrote very violent films, but my idea of redemption has evolved, it's not like the Christian idea whereby salvation has to come through blood." Forget First Reformed with Ethan Hawke or The Card Collector with Oscar Isaac (which also had only been screened in Venice last year).
Men & Plants
"Men regenerate like plants," has Edgerton say in the film, which hides a past (don't worry, no spoilers: you get that in the first flashback) as an assassin for the white supremacist cause. And he quotes the words of a song that struck him, "I don't want to die without saying, 'I love you.'"
Sigourney still among the flowers
But another garden now awaits Sigourney Weaver, whom we will see in Avatar: The Waterway in the fall (and Avatar 3 is already in post-production): she will be the grandmother of an orphaned nine-year-old girl in The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, a new Amazon series based on Holly Ringland's best seller.
Postscript for lovers of historic gardens: Gracewood, the Master Gardener's estate, was recreated by combining images of two former plantations in Louisiana, Greenwood and Rosedown, while the garden where Joel and Quintessa dream of going is Great Dixter in Sussex.