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Marvel's The Defenders: Sigourney Weaver says her character is an 'adversary,' not a 'villain'

‘I try to avoid terms like ‘ice queen’ that are often thrown at women who aren’t completely sympathetic,’ she says

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Marvel has kept details on Sigourney Weaver’s Alexandra, the antagonist on The Defenders, almost completely under wraps. But Weaver offers this tidbit: “I’m not a villain,” she says. “I’m an adversary.”

An adversary who, as the head of an ancient organization, has faced worthy opponents before, though none quite like this super-team, says showrunner Marco Ramirez. “In her career, she’s come up against a lot of different people — armies, mercenaries, devoted religious fanatics and all kinds of different groups — who have tried to take her down, but she’s never met four people who are seemingly just interested in taking care of this one little part of New York,” Ramirez says. “I think she’s actually really charmed by it, and weirdly, because they’re unlike anybody she’s ever faced off against before, it’s intimidating to her.”

So what should you call Alexandra, if not a villain? A “survivor,” Ramirez says, who’s more interested in protecting the world — and her vision of it — than in destroying it. “Above all else, she cares about living,” he teases. “She’s about self-preservation, and self-preservation at all costs… She has the long game in mind, and she isn’t thinking about this chess game, she’s thinking about six chess games in the future. As such, I think she’s seen a lot of beauty in humanity and in the world, but there are certain things that to her are expendable, and that’s a really dangerous worldview.”

Jessica Miglio/Netflix

As for Weaver, choosing the word “adversary” isn’t just the Oscar-nominated actress quibbling about semantics. Calling Alexandra a villain implies heartlessness and cruelty — traits that, the actress says, are lazy labels too often applied to female foes, and not applicable to her latest role. “With my work in general, I try to avoid terms like ‘ice queen’ that are often thrown at women who aren’t completely sympathetic,” she says, adding that when she took the part, she worked with writers to make sure Alexandra avoided the trope. “I encouraged [them] to not think in those terms, because I find them completely meaningless, and to help me understand who I was from a really un-cliché-ed point of view. I think we succeeded in that.”

Besides, the writers had dreamed of crafting a character that would fit an actress like Weaver. “It was crazy to talk about a character for four months as ‘She’s a Sigourney Weaver type!’ and then to have Jeph Loeb of Marvel TV be like, ‘Oh, she’s on the phone,'” Ramirez remembers, laughing. And Weaver, after a career of battling extraterrestrial monsters and supernatural entities, was also drawn to the part’s street-level scope. “These characters are regular people who have a couple of very important gifts, but they’re not superheroes, and they don’t jump around in boots and capes,” she says. “It’s not apocalyptic. It’s all about the city, and as a New Yorker, I cared about that instantly. Making that block that much better for the people who live on it, that really spoke to me.”

In other words, a good way to describe Alexandra would be to simply call her passionate. “There are things she cares about deeply, but she probably doesn’t care about the same things the Defenders care about, so that puts them on a collision course,” Weaver teases. “In many ways, she’s an admirable person.” Admirable? Sounds like she’ll make one hell of an adversary.

The Defenders arrives on Netflix August 18.