Film Rachel Weisz talks about life, love and The Lob­ster

Rachel Weisz is all clas­si­cal beauty and f-words. And with six projects on the boil, she has never been more in de­mand, writes Tom Shone

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Contents -

Wear­ing a flo­ral-print dress in the mid­dle of New York’s East Vil­lage, Rachel Weisz ex­udes the same English­ness as al­ways — with her float­ing posh-com­mon Gold­ers Green ac­cent, self-deprecating hu­mour and crafty, cam­ou­flag­ing man­ner. I’ve in­ter­viewed her four times over 14 years and I’ve grown fond of our hud­dled tete-a-tetes and the time-lapse im­age they have of­fered me of her life and ca­reer.

The first time we met, The Mummy had just laid siege to the box of­fice; some­one sent a note from another ta­ble in the place where we were hav­ing lunch, telling her she de­served “all the glory” com­ing her way. Five years later, she won an Os­car for The Con­stant Gar­dener.

The sec­ond time we met, in 2010, she’d just got back from Malta, shoot­ing Agora, in which she played a Greek as­tronomer pro­tect­ing the Li­brary of Alexandria; also on the trip were her fiance, the di­rec­tor Dar­ren Aronof­sky, then edit­ing The Wrestler, and their son Henry. She was ex­cited about an up­com­ing film with Daniel Craig.

The third time, in 2012, was the tens­est. She was in the mid­dle of the tabloid scrum sur­round­ing her af­ter she left Aronof­sky for Craig, with whom she had fallen in love while shoot­ing Dream House. Se­questered at the back of the Mo­gador, we prowled around the edges of the con­ver­sa­tion cau­tiously, like Cold War spies. “You can’t choose who you fall in love with,” she said. “It isn’t a choice. Love hap­pens.”

The fourth time, it turns out, is the charm. With the tabloid heat on her some­what dis­si­pated, we sit up-front, chatty as box­ers who have gone a few rounds with one another and grown fa­mil­iar with, even fond of, each other’s jabs. Weisz is 45 and her beauty, af­ter loi­ter­ing in its dewy nymphet phase for longer than seemed de­cent, has bed­ded down into the kind of full-bore sul­tri­ness en­joyed only by true marathon run­ners such as Liz Tay­lor and Char­lotte Ram­pling.

“Yeah, still mar­ried,” she says with a laugh when I ask af­ter Mr Bond. This week­end, she’s go­ing to their farm­house in up­state New York — “Go out, cook din­ner for friends, have friends over for din­ner par­ties” is how she de­scribes their rou­tine. “I’ve been watch­ing a lot of old movies re­cently. Have you ever seen All That Jazz? F..k me. It’s, like, one of the great­est things I’ve ever seen. Un­be­liev­able. Net­work, I had never seen Net­work. Ter­ri­fy­ing, ter­ri­fy­ing.”

That’s Weisz — all clas­si­cal beauty and fwords. That dis­so­nance has never been bet­ter rep­re­sented on screen than in her new movie, The Lob­ster, a won­der­fully dizzy and sur­real satire on nu­clear cou­ple­dom by the Greek wri­ter­di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos. Colin Far­rell plays a sad, mild-man­nered man whose wife has just left him for some­one bet­ter at maths. Like ev­ery other sin­gle­ton in this dystopian fu­ture, he is shep­herded into a damp, ag­gres­sively beige sea­side ho­tel where he must find a mate or, at the end of 45 days, be turned into an an­i­mal of his choos­ing and re­leased into the wild.

Out in the woods, re­bel­lious sin­gle­tons live like anar­chist lon­ers, chastely lis­ten­ing to elec­tronic mu­sic on their iPods, for­bid­den to kiss. Far­rell even­tu­ally es­capes to meet one of these beau­ti­ful lon­ers, played by Weisz. “I saw it as very ro­man­tic, ac­tu­ally,” she says. “I’ve heard, like, a thou­sand in­ter­pre­ta­tions, which is re­ally in­ter­est­ing, be­cause it’s very open, but I do think it’s about how you have lib­erty of thought. How do you have an orig­i­nal thought, or an orig­i­nal start, or an orig­i­nal point of view? There’s some­thing about that sheep­like qual­ity we all have in our lives. I saw it as a kind of rule-bound world that made true love dif­fi­cult, so I thought it was kind of ro­man­tic, be­cause ob­sta­cles to ro­mance are what make sto­ries ro­man­tic.”

The story of how she got the part tells you a lot about the proac­tive energy with which she seeks out roles these days. She got in touch with Lan­thi­mos af­ter see­ing his 2009 film Dog­tooth. It turned out that they shared an agent, and that Lan­thi­mos lived in north Lon­don. Weisz was in Cam­den at the time, so they met in a pub to talk. “He said, ‘I’m writ­ing some­thing. Can I have your email?’ I said yes, and he said, ‘I’ll send it to you when it’s writ­ten.’ So he sent it to me at the end of 2013, and I read it, and how did it read? It was a proper page-turner. I couldn’t put it down, be­cause it was just so ...”

She pauses. “It was just un­like any­thing any­one had ever writ­ten, but I didn’t ac­tu­ally think I would know how to play the char­ac­ter. I wrote back and I just said, ‘I love it as a thing. I want to see the film, and I love you, and all I want to do is work with you, but I don’t know who she is.’ Yor­gos ab­so­lutely did not try to per­suade me to do it. He just went, ‘OK’, then I went on Christ­mas hol­i­day. But while I was on hol­i­day, I kept think­ing about the story, and I wrote him an email say­ing, ‘I’m dream­ing about rab­bits, be­cause the char­ac­ter likes rab­bits to eat, and is it still avail­able?’ And he went ‘Yeah’, and that was how it hap­pened.

“I still didn’t re­ally know how to play it, but I sud­denly thought, ‘All I re­ally want to do is work with him, and it doesn’t mat­ter.’ Work­ing with him and en­ter­ing into his uni­verse be­came more im­por­tant than my fear of the un­known.

“It’s like find­ing a groove in a record, and you do it again and again un­til you’ve sort of found the groove with­out — I don’t know how he did it. It’s eerie and un­canny how a di­rec­tor can find a tone. It’s weird … No wires, no dis­cus­sion, no anal­y­sis, no talk­ing in ad­vance. He came to look at the cos­tumes, but there was no dis­cus­sion. Noth­ing, zero. Just show up. We showed up and just did it, so it was very raw and very scary.”

The film plays to the gnomic side of Weisz — the smarty-pants, in love with the high-con­cept and avant-garde — but also to her ro­man­tic as­pect, the keeper of se­crets and mid­wife of for­bid­den pas­sion in The Con­stant Gar­dener and Ter­ence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea, which won her best ac­tress from the New York Film Crit­ics Cir­cle in 2012. “It was im­por­tant to me,” she says of the film now. “I think Ter­ence is re­ally bril­liant, very spe­cial. All that Bri­tish re­pres­sion is lovely to play. Amer­i­cans tend to say what they re­ally mean, and we have a lot more po­litesse and sub­text, I think. Do you agree?”

I tell her it’s one of the rea­sons Bri­tish ac­tors do so well in Hol­ly­wood: the nat­u­ral con­so­nance be­tween the un­showi­ness of the Bri­tish tem­per­a­ment and the min­i­mal­ism favoured by the screen. “I wouldn’t say I have my niche, but I agree with you,” she says.

She points me to­wards her other big film of the sea­son, Paolo Sor­rentino’s Youth, a likely Os­car player star­ring Michael Caine as a re­tired con­duc­tor sub­mit­ting to the Prous­tian rav­ish­ments of time’s march at a Swiss spa re­sort. Weisz plays his es­tranged daugh­ter who drops by, wor­ried about her fa­ther. In one re­mark­able scene she de­liv­ers a three-page mono­logue while ly­ing next to him, cov­ered in mud, “ba­si­cally go­ing off at my dad for ev­ery sin­gle thing that he’s done wrong dur­ing my life, and to my dead mother. There were con­straints. I couldn’t move, so it’s one take.”

What’s im­pres­sive about her slate of films is that it comes at an age when most ac­tresses are find­ing them­selves cast into the ocean, cer­tainly in Hol­ly­wood. Weisz’s in­tel­lec­tual cu­rios­ity has served her well.

Last year she started col­lab­o­rat­ing with a cou­ple of pro­duc­ers, one in New York and another in Lon­don, to de­velop ma­te­rial from a va­ri­ety of sources and now has six projects on the boil, at var­i­ous stages of readi­ness. They in­clude an as yet un­ti­tled movie about the yachts­man Don­ald Crowhurst’s tragic at­tempt to win a roundthe-world race in 1968, with James Marsh di­rect­ing and Colin Firth as Crowhurst, as well as Derek Cian­france’s The Light Be­tween Oceans, a “big, pas­sion­ate epic” set in Aus­tralia just af­ter World War I, with Alicia Vikan­der and Michael Fass­ben­der. “It’s pe­riod, but very Derek in that it’s real, not cho­co­late-boxy.”

Fi­nally, there is a David Hare script De­nial, a court­room drama about Deb­o­rah Lip­stadt, a pro­fes­sor of mod­ern Jewish and Holo­caust stud­ies who was sued for li­bel un­der English law by Holo­caust de­nier David Irv­ing. “Ba­si­cally, what hap­pened was the Holo­caust was on trial — did it hap­pen or didn’t it hap­pen?” says Weisz, whose Hun­gar­ian-Aus­trian par­ents both found refuge in Lon­don at the out­break of the Sec­ond World War. “I haven’t met her yet. I think she’s re­ally from Queens, lis­ten­ing to her ac­cent. She’s a ballsy lass, a toughie. It’s got big im­pli­ca­tions. She says at the end, ‘Look, I be­lieve in free­dom of speech. Peo­ple can say what­ever they want, but I will not de­bate facts, and there are some facts. The Holo­caust hap­pened. Slav­ery hap­pened.’”

As Weisz says this, her voice rises, her tone ac­quir­ing res­o­nance, force, moral clar­ity. I can al­most see her in the dock. The per­for­mance has be­gun.

The Lob­ster opens on Oc­to­ber 22.

Rachel Weisz at the New York Film Fes­ti­val and, far left, with Colin Far­rell

in The Lob­ster

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