Sigourney Weaver admits playing Dian Fossey in 'Gorillas in the Mist' was a life-changing experience.

The 68-year-old actress portrayed real-life American primatologist in the 1988 movie adaptation of Fossey's autobiography of the same name, and her performance earned her the Golden Globe award for Best Actress.

Weaver has admitted the role had a ''massive impact on her life'' and changed her views on the environment and the animals that humans share the planet with.

Speaking to the Metro newspaper, Weaver said: ''Dian Fossey has had a massive impact on my life. I'd never spent time with wild animals but waking up with them, spending time with them day after day - I felt like a great gift had been given to me. It changed the way I see the planet.''

The film - which was helmed by Michael Apted - follows Fossey (Weaver) as she leaves America for Africa where she studies the gorillas of Rwanda and Uganda.

As Fossey develops a bond with the apes, she also becomes wary of the poachers who prey on them.

Fearing that the gorillas become extinct if humans continue to hunt the animals, she organises a defence league to protect the gorillas put her actions put her own life in danger.

Fossey - who was murdered in her cabin in Rwanda in 1985 - along with Jane Goodall and Birute Galdikas were known as the so-called Trimates as all three focused their research on primates, and Weaver described them as ''trailblazers''.

She said: ''Dian Fossey and Jane Goodall, these women were trailblazers. There needs to be more to take up the challenge.

''There are still big problems. There's an estimated 900 gorillas in Rwanda now. The Fossey Fund work has greatly enhanced the situation and the programme has been embraced by Rwandans.

''But against that we live in a world where we're in danger of losing 50 per cent of all our species. We need to respect the fact that animals have rights and can teach us so much.''