Free Spirit In­side the in­tel­li­gent mind of Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz has never set­tled for the easy op­tion, nor re­lied on her un­de­ni­able beauty, choos­ing in­stead to take on more chal­leng­ing films. In do­ing so, she side­steps Hol­ly­wood sex­ism, while also ris­ing above the stereo­typ­ing that might oth­er­wise ac­compa

Harper’s Bazaar (Malaysia) - - News - By So­phie Elmhirst. Pho­tographed by Tom Craig. Styled by Leith Clark.

“She’s un­con­trol­lable, fear­less, and not com­posed, but in the best sense.” – Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos

There is a cir­cus in Chiswick, says Rachel Weisz, to beat all cir­cuses. It’s not your av­er­age big-tent af­fair – mo­rose an­i­mals, sparkly leo­tards – but a won­der­land. There are Mid­dle East­ern funk bands and African ac­ro­bats, clowns (proper clowns, not the dis­turb­ing, flower-squirt­ing im­i­ta­tions). It’s the best live show she’s ever seen, she says. Weisz is ut­terly se­duced. Sit­ting in a com­i­cally over­size chair in a Camden pub near her Lon­don home, drink­ing milky break­fast tea, she is mo­men­tar­ily seized by a de­sire to jug­gle. “I’d love to join the cir­cus,” she says.

It’s hard to imag­ine Weisz as a clown. In per­son, she is hushed, oc­ca­sion­ally sweary, but even then, some­how in­still­ing her swear­words with a sort of high-class grace. She’s dressed ca­su­ally – in tight blue jeans and a sweater, dark hair loose around her face, plus a mul­ti­coloured Swatch watch which, thanks to its berserk design, she can’t ac­tu­ally use to tell the time. But she moves with a del­i­cacy that sug­gests a dancer (her se­cret dream, she says, is to per­form in a Pina Bausch show, even though, much to her re­gret, she can’t dance). She talks with a lightly worn in­tel­lec­tual heft, weav­ing into con­ver­sa­tion ref­er­ences rang­ing from the Nor­we­gian nov­el­ist Karl Ove Knaus­gard to Amer­i­can co­me­dian Jill Soloway. Not that she’s overly se­ri­ous: Weisz is more than ready to find her­self ridicu­lous, and is un­com­fort­able talk­ing about act­ing – about how she acts – be­cause, she says, “you tend to sound like a bit of a jerk.”

She doesn’t sound like a jerk – she’s too self-aware for that – but Weisz does take her work se­ri­ously. Over the years, her choices have tended to­wards the earnest and dif­fi­cult. There have been ex­cep­tions, of course – The Mummy and The Mummy Re­turns – but some­how Weisz al­ways seemed a lit­tle out of place in an Egyp­tian-themed ar­chae­o­log­i­cal romp. Her Os­car, for Best Per­for­mance by an Ac­tress in a Sup­port­ing Role, was picked up in 2006 for her por­trayal of Tessa Quayle, a mur­dered hu­man­i­tar­ian ac­tivist, in The Con­stant

Gar­dener. In The Deep Blue Sea (2011), she played Hester Col­lyer, a woman tor­tured by an im­pos­si­ble pas­sion for a das­tardly pi­lot, played by Tom Hid­dle­ston (the per­for­mance won her a Golden Globe nom­i­na­tion). In her most re­cent film, The Lob­ster, di­rected by the young Sur­re­al­ist Greek di­rec­tor Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos, she plays the part of an anony­mous woman liv­ing deep in a for­est, ban­ished by a dystopian so­ci­ety that re­jects, and hunts, sin­gle peo­ple who refuse or fail to have a re­la­tion­ship. Weisz spends most of the film in lay­ers of black wa­ter­proof gear, make-up free in a film shot en­tirely in nat­u­ral light, strag­gly-haired, with a con­stant look of for­lorn hope on her face. She falls in love with David, played with al­most un­recog­nis­able gen­tle­ness by a portly and be­spec­ta­cled Colin Far­rell. “I saw him in Cannes,” says Weisz. “He’d lost all the weight. But he’ll al­ways be that lovely, pudgy, ten­der sweet­heart to me.” In the film, Weisz is al­lowed brief mo­ments of joy and ab­sur­dity, but this is typ­i­cal ter­ri­tory for her: way off-cen­tre, in­tense, ro­man­tic, tragic. If she’s a clown, then she’s the qui­etly weep­ing one.

Weisz likes to take risks. At this stage in her ca­reer, aged 45, crit­i­cally ac­claimed, a long scroll of films to her name, the chal­lenge is to find them. She wants the un­usual parts, thorny women, com­plex­ity. The

Lob­ster came about be­cause she’d watched an ear­lier Lan­thi­mos film, called Dog­tooth, and was smit­ten by his weird, orig­i­nal vi­sion. She in­vited him to tea – here, in the same Camden pub – and sug­gested he make a love story with her in it. To her delight, he agreed. For one rea­son or another, it never came to pass, but he sent her his next script. For Lan­thi­mos, the chance to work with Weisz was a boost. “I knew she was a very good ac­tress be­fore­hand,” Lan­thi­mos told me on the phone. “But to work with her, I re­alised how much more po­ten­tial she has, and how un­con­trol­lable she can be, how she can go into these dif­fer­ent di­rec­tions if you al­low her to. She’s kind of fear­less, and not com­posed, but in the best sense. She can re­ally go for stuff.”

Act­ing, for Weisz, is about switch­ing off the an­a­lyt­i­cal side of the brain, the side that was fine-tuned at Cam­bridge, where she stud­ied English Lit­er­a­ture. She works on im­pulse. “If I start think­ing about things, I won’t be able to act,” she says. Ac­cord­ing to Hid­dle­ston, her former co-star: “She works in a purely in­stinc­tive way, which is hon­est and lack­ing in van­ity.” He con­tin­ues, in an e-mail: “I get the feel­ing she’d hate to be de­fined by la­bels and so­cial par­a­digms. She’s a free spirit.” These are all char­ac­ter­is­tics that made The Lob­ster an ideal project for Weisz – unglam­orous and strange, with a di­rec­tor play­ing by his own ec­cen­tric rules. There was no out­line for her part, no name even, so Weisz was free to cre­ate – per­fect for some­one like her, who has a low opin­ion of the kind of char­ac­ter de­scrip­tions you’re usu­ally given in scripts. “I mean, I read them for a lark,” she says. “You know, ‘with a far­away look in her eyes’, or, ‘sexy with­out try­ing to be’. They’re just to help the reader along, I sup­pose, but they are re­ally, re­ally silly.”

She never went to drama school, but she had ex­per­i­men­tal train­ing of sorts at Cam­bridge, where much of her time was spent de­vis­ing plays with her friends. Her the­atre com­pany was called Talk­ing Tongues, and they took shows up to the Ed­in­burgh Fes­ti­val, where they’d plas­ter the town with fly­ers, try­ing to con­vince un­en­thu­si­as­tic mem­bers of the pub­lic to go and see an avant-garde piece of the­atre at 10 in the morn­ing. “It was im­mensely, im­mensely fun,” she says, and then turns com­i­cally grand. “Ac­tu­ally, I be­lieve some of my finest work was there.” She means it: an ex­per­i­men­tal show of her creation al­lowed Weisz to do all sorts of things that Hol­ly­wood doesn’t of­ten per­mit. She and her friends came up with a name for their the­atri­cal style: “fraught naturalism”. “We’d have ges­tures that would be very nat­u­ral­is­tic, like, I shouldn’t have done that,” she ex­plains. At this point, she hits her­self in the face. “Oh, I shouldn’t have done that.” She hits her­self again. “And then the ges­ture would get stuck, and it would be­come weirdly ro­botic or dance-like.” It’s ob­vi­ous she finds the mem­ory amus­ing, but she’s nos­tal­gic for it, too – the free­dom and weird­ness, the pos­si­bil­ity.

Lan­thi­mos was a joy to work with, says Weisz, not just be­cause of his un­fet­tered imag­i­na­tion, but also his at­ti­tude. “He’s im­mensely gen­tle and very re­spect­ful,” she says. “He’s just re­ally com­fort­able around women, and that isn’t al­ways true of di­rec­tors.” Many, she says, can be oddly shy, per­haps not fully abreast of the idea that

“Ja­nine Bond ... it would be great to have a woman who’s a spy with a sex­ual ap­petite.” – Rachel Weisz

women can be just as brave and free-think­ing as their male coun­ter­parts. “I think women are, you know, quite rad­i­cal,” she says. Weisz, like many of her fel­low lead­ing fe­male ac­tors, is in­creas­ingly vo­cal on the sub­ject of sex­ism in film and the nar­row imag­i­na­tion of an in­dus­try that still – in its most main­stream form – can­not eas­ily con­ceive of a woman be­ing much, other than a side­kick or love in­ter­est. The parts are of­ten lim­ited in scope. “What I see is a lack of women with ap­petite,” says Weisz. Re­cently, by way of ex­am­ple, she showed her nine-year-old son Henry the film Na­tional

Vel­vet, in which El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor – as a young girl – wins the Grand Na­tional. “Watch­ing El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor at 12, or how­ever old she was, that crea­ture burn­ing up with pas­sion ... I thought, ‘God, you just don’t see that, you don’t see that ap­petite.’” Weisz is vis­i­bly frus­trated. “It could be ap­petite for any­thing, it could be for be­com­ing a jockey, or swim­ming the Chan­nel, it could be for be­com­ing an al­co­holic. It could be any­thing, but ap­petite, ap­petite, ap­petite!”

In­stead, Weisz says, parts for women have be­come ever more sac­cha­rine. “I’ve no­ticed in my ca­reer this ten­dency to­wards want­ing women to be like­able in a way that’s not asked of men. I don’t un­der­stand how that’s hap­pened. You know, if you look back at Bar­bara Stan­wyck, Bette Davis – they were dif­fi­cult, dif­fi­cult women, and they were iconic and wor­shipped.” There are mo­ments of re­prieve amid the bland­ness – Lena Dun­ham’s Girls, for ex­am­ple, which of­fers up an ar­ray of gnarly, un­pre­dictable fe­male parts, like Dun­ham’s own char­ac­ter, Han­nah. “She’s im­pos­si­ble,” says Weisz, “but it’s such heaven to see some­thing like that.”

Henry, in all hon­esty, was bored wit­less by Na­tional Vel­vet (though, to his credit, he did ask what other live-ac­tion films had a girl as the lead). He is also, says Weisz, “com­pletely, fab­u­lously, un­in­ter­ested” in what she does for a liv­ing, even though the in­dus­try shaped his child­hood, to some de­gree. “When he was lit­tle, he could come with me ev­ery­where. It’s like the cir­cus,” she says. “Chil­dren and an­i­mals wel­come.” Once he was at school, though, the trav­el­ling had to stop, and from then on Weisz has en­dured the in­evitable sen­sa­tion of all work­ing moth­ers – “the tug”, as she de­scribes it. “It’s a huge, huge strug­gle.” Es­pe­cially as she’s sud­denly acutely aware how fast he’s grow­ing up. “Time is just gone,” she says. “Twice this, and he’ll be an adult.”

Henry’s fa­ther is Weisz’s former part­ner, the di­rec­tor Dar­ren Aronofsky, from whom she split in 2010. In 2011, she mar­ried fel­low ac­tor Daniel Craig. Mar­riage was never the in­ten­tion, she says now. “I couldn’t imag­ine do­ing it, like pick­ing out the dress,” she says, be­mused at the thought. “I didn’t re­late to it as a rite of pas­sage as a woman. I saw all those ro­man­tic come­dies and I’d just sit and go, ‘Huh?!’” There was no pro­found rea­son why, no prin­ci­pled ob­jec­tion to the so­cial in­sti­tu­tion. “Maybe it hadn’t been ide­alised to me by my par­ents,” she says. Weisz’s par­ents di­vorced when she was 16 – her fa­ther is a Hun­gar­ian in­ven­tor turned documentary-maker, her mother a teacher turned psy­chother­a­pist. From a young age, then, mar­riage seemed vul­ner­a­ble and flawed. She and Aronofsky got en­gaged, but that was as far as it went. Craig, it seems, con­vinced her, and they held a small cer­e­mony in New York, at­tended by their chil­dren. “It, just at that mo­ment, be­came the right thing,” is how she ex­plains her change of heart.

Craig and Weisz have worked to­gether a few times – most re­cently in a Broad­way pro­duc­tion of Harold Pinter’s Be­trayal, a de­struc­tive tale of in­fi­delity told in re­verse. Be­fore that, there was

Dream House, in which Craig played the de­ranged and griev­ing hus­band to Weisz’s mur­dered ghost-wife. Their taste is, per­haps, equally in­tense. More light-hearted was their first project, 20 years ago. A pro­duc­tion of Les Grandes Hor­i­zon­tales at the Na­tional The­atre Stu­dio in Lon­don in­volved Weisz play­ing a 19th-cen­tury French cour­te­san, one of an ex­tra­or­di­nary cast of women – Frances Tomelty, Janet McTeer, the late Ka­trin Cartlidge – to Craig’s amorous in­tel­lec­tual. “I re­mem­ber this im­pro­vi­sa­tion where we all had to try and se­duce Daniel,” says Weisz, “and me and Frances and Janet were heav­ing our bo­soms around, and we were re­ally flirt­ing, and Ka­trin just watched us all, I’ll never for­get this, and she picked up this big bot­tle of min­eral wa­ter that she had – she was wear­ing this lit­tle vest and no bra – and went to sit in front of him and poured it all over her head, so that she was drip­ping with wa­ter and her nip­ples were stick­ing through.” Weisz is still deeply im­pressed. “We were like, ‘OK, you win.’”

Be­ing mar­ried to a fel­low ac­tor must have its pres­sures, a la­tent sense of com­pe­ti­tion, per­haps. They don’t talk shop at home, she in­sists, and there are no notes given af­ter a screen­ing. “No. God, no. By then, it’s too late, so def­i­nitely not.” She finds watch­ing his work ex­cit­ing. “You have an un­der­stand­ing of what must have gone into it to make it thus.” As for any com­pet­i­tive spirit, well, they don’t fight over the same parts, ob­vi­ously, though a fe­male James Bond, I sug­gest, would be no bad thing. “I think you’d have to cre­ate a new fran­chise,” says Weisz, dead­pan. “Ja­nine Bond.” And then, the idea works its way into her imag­i­na­tion and she runs with it. “It would be great to have a woman who’s a spy with a sex­ual ap­petite – you know, un­able to marry, im­pris­oned by this glam­orous life. Yeah! Please write it. Please!”

If she wanted, Weisz could make the film her­self. Lat­terly, she has started pro­duc­ing – find­ing nov­els to adapt, de­vel­op­ing scripts. It’s a way of en­gag­ing the other side of the brain, the in­tel­lect, and she’s ex­cited by the prospect of be­ing “pas­sion­ately in­volved in some­thing from start to fin­ish”, rather than the dip-in, dip-out life of an ac­tor. It re­minds her of those Ed­in­burgh days, when you did ev­ery­thing from in­vent­ing the show to sell­ing its tick­ets. Although, the bud­gets this time round will prob­a­bly be big­ger.

But pro­duc­ing is also about tak­ing con­trol – find­ing and mak­ing the kind of films she wants to ex­ist, with the kinds of parts she wants to play. To­wards the end of our con­ver­sa­tion, she rec­om­mends a re­cent Chilean film called Glo­ria, about the amorous ad­ven­tures of a 58-year-old di­vorcee in San­ti­ago. This is the kind of story she’d like to tell: a full-length por­trait of a mid­dle-aged woman fall­ing in love – the kind of char­ac­ter who would usu­ally be a bit-part, a sideshow. She wants to make films where “women are do­ing the de­sir­ing”. She wants to play that woman, com­mu­ni­cate that de­sire, show how it burns, how­ever old you are, what­ever you do. “Fe­male sex­u­al­ity,” Weisz re­flects. “There’s not enough of it on-screen. Just not nearly enough.”

Jac­quardSilkchif­fon­dress,dress,Balenciaga. Gucci.

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