'Hello, I'm Mrs Craig' ...

Harper's Bazaar (UK) - - At Work -

says Rachel Weisz, with mock for­mal­ity, shak­ing my hand, then burst­ing into a peal of laugh­ter.

And in­deed it is funny; for nat­u­rally I know – who doesn’t? – that she is mar­ried to the reign­ing James Bond, and thus one half of the act­ing A list’s most in­tox­i­cat­ing and glam­orous power cou­ples.

Yet there is more to the joke than this. First, of course, Weisz is no mere Mrs Any­body, let alone a Bond Girl, but an Os­car-win­ning ac­tress who is known for the in­tel­lect and in­ten­sity that she brings to her var­i­ous roles. And, then, too, she is neatly par­o­dy­ing the awk­ward­ness that one ex­pe­ri­ences upon re-en­coun­ter­ing a for­mer child­hood friend, 30 years af­ter the Leavers’ Disco. For, as teenagers, she and I both at­tended St Paul’s Girls’ School in Ham­mer­smith – she ar­rived from Be­nen­den to take her A lev­els – and be­came ca­sual friends; we went to the same par­ties, gos­siped dur­ing break­times, swapped books and cig­a­rettes, and some­times she gave me lifts home.

Even then, as I re­call, she seemed a swan among geese; not just clever, which was a given at St Paul’s, but also friendly, which wasn’t; beau­ti­ful – she was al­ready a model, al­mond-eyed and rosy as a wood nymph – and cool, too, a bit of a rebel, of­ten in trou­ble with the teach­ers, the first in the class to wear black jeans, the girl who had a pop star wait­ing for her at the school gate (for I seem to re­mem­ber Ben Volpe­liere-Pier­rot of Cu­rios­ity Killed the Cat was a friend of hers). She al­ways ap­peared to be fated for life in the lime­light.

In the in­ter­ven­ing years, I fol­lowed her ca­reer with in­ter­est and saw her plays when I could get a ticket – she was cap­ti­vat­ing in De­sign for Liv­ing, chill­ing in The Shape of Things, heart­break­ing as Blanche DuBois in the Don­mar’s re­vival of A Street­car Named De­sire . But I never ven­tured back­stage, be­cause I thought that would be pushy, em­bar­rass­ing and what would I say, af­ter all?

Too much has hap­pened now on the per­sonal front for us ever to catch up: too many re­la­tion­ships and mar­riages and di­vorces, and births and deaths; so what I know about her life has been gleaned from the gos­sip col­umns, and from in­ter­views – that is, si­mul­ta­ne­ously ev­ery­thing and noth­ing. The only time I have met her since school was in 2015, just af­ter she’d stepped off the red car­pet at the Lon­don Film Fes­ti­val, where she’d been pro­mot­ing The Lob­ster, Yor­gos Lan­thi­mos’ ab­sur­dist film. We talked briefly, but I was ner­vously con­scious of the hov­er­ing PR, poised to re­move me if it turned out I was an­noy­ing the tal­ent.

How much eas­ier it would be, I think, if she were just Mrs Craig, and I was Mrs Pendle­bury, and we could chat desul­to­rily about our jobs, and how she met her new hus­band – what does he do, then? – and swap sto­ries about cop­ing with step­moth­er­hood; but that’s all off lim­its and she never talks about her spouse, I’m warned.

When I ar­rive at the Soho Ho­tel, I find my­self in the mid­dle of a jun­ket for the dark drama My Cousin Rachel, in which Weisz takes the lead, from which she has to be ex­tri­cated to come and speak to me – a sce­nario that re­minds me a bit of the film Not­ting Hill, when Hugh Grant pre­tends to be a re­porter from Horse & Hound in or­der to speak to his friend Ju­lia Roberts.

Weisz seems gen­uinely de­lighted to see me again, and as she picks del­i­cately at her Dover sole, she rem­i­nisces en­thu­si­as­ti­cally about the an­cient Mini in which we used to hur­tle home to­gether to north Lon­don. ‘Wasn’t it fun? It was like a Flint­stone car, you could see the ground through the floor. Oh, it’s so lovely to see some­one who re­mem­bers that Mini! It’s an un­usual meet­ing, no? That we were at school to­gether? I love that. You meet peo­ple later in life, and it’s not as sig­nif­i­cant,’ she says.

And then she’s off on a nostalgia trip, re­call­ing our teach­ers: the head who was re­luc­tant to al­low Weisz to ap­ply to univer­sity at all – ‘I guess she felt I wasn’t go­ing to rep­re­sent the school in a good way’; our English teacher, to whom Weisz re­mains de­voted, who set her se­cret as­sign­ments and en­cour­aged her to try for Cam­bridge. ‘No one be­fore had ever said, “You’re clever.” She re­ally in­spired me.’ Oth­er­wise, she teases, ‘I’d have still been driv­ing around in that Mini. I’d have had a courier ser­vice!’

In­stead, at Trin­ity Hall, where she stud­ied English, Weisz co-founded an avant-garde drama group, Talk­ing Tongues, and im­me­di­ately af­ter grad­u­at­ing be­gan to win roles on tele­vi­sion: In­spec­tor Morse, Scar­let and Black, and sub­se­quently in films, no­tably Michael Win­ter­bot­tom’s I Want You. The part that brought her to main­stream at­ten­tion, how­ever, was play­ing a feisty li­brar­ian in the comic-hor­ror ac­tion ca­per The Mummy, which be­came an un­ex­pected in­ter­na­tional hit.

Since then, Weisz has de­fied all ef­forts to pi­geon­hole her into any genre: her CV runs the gamut from art­house (The Lob­ster), thrillers (Run­away Jury), fan­tasy (Oz the Great and Pow­er­ful) and crit­i­cal hits such as The Con­stant Gar­dener, for which she car­ried off her Best Sup­port­ing Ac­tress Os­car in 2006. To­day, we are dis­cussing two more, very dif­fer­ent films: The Mercy, a biopic about the am­a­teur yachts­man Don­ald Crowhurst’s dis­as­trous at­tempt to sail around the world in 1968; and the cos­tume drama based on Daphne du Mau­rier’s novel My Cousin Rachel. Weisz turns in a bril­liantly enig­matic per­for­mance as the beau­ti­ful but po­ten­tially mur­der­ous ti­tle char­ac­ter. ‘I hadn’t read the book be­fore,’ she ad­mits. ‘Too much plot. Vir­ginia Woolf is more my thing – I love a bit of stream of con­scious­ness. But it’s a great yarn, with this re­ally un­re­li­able nar­ra­tor.’

Al­though Rachel’s in­no­cence or guilt is left un­re­solved by both the book and the film, Weisz says she had to de­cide her­self in or­der

to play the char­ac­ter con­vinc­ingly. ‘But Roger [Michell, the direc­tor] didn’t want to know, so I still haven’t told any­one. I’ll take it to the grave,’ she says, laugh­ing. My guess would be that Weisz be­lieves Rachel sinned against, rather than sin­ning, for how­ever broad her choice of roles, they have hith­erto been united by a thread of fem­i­nism. ‘That’s where my in­ter­est lies,’ she ac­knowl­edges. ‘But ev­ery­one has been ask­ing me about play­ing “strong women” and I find it ab­surd. You’d never, ever say that to an ac­tor. Speak­ing as a strong woman? It’s like “speak­ing as a gi­raffe”, like some en­dan­gered species.’

It’s as if she’s de­ter­mined to defy even th­ese pos­i­tive pre­con­cep­tions of her agenda that she por­trays Clare Crowhurst in The Mercy as a sur­ren­dered wife, un­able to ask her hus­band not to aban­don her and their four chil­dren for a quixotic ad­ven­ture that ended in his own death and sub­se­quent un­mask­ing as a fraud and fan­ta­sist.

‘I was par­tic­u­larly in­ter­ested in it be­cause of that. I’m not an ide­o­logue when it comes to sto­ry­telling,’ ex­plains Weisz. ‘It’s quite a dif­fer­ent part for me in that she doesn’t have a pro­fes­sion. She’s a mum, and I think she’s a re­ally good mum; and a wife, and I think she’s a re­ally good wife. Her uni­verse was her hus­band and her chil­dren, and be­cause she loved her hus­band she had to let him go, and she had to for­give him for hav­ing gone…’ Her hazel eyes sud­denly fill up with tears. ‘I am not ca­pa­ble of that, but for me there’s an in­tense hero­ism and no­bil­ity, to for­give some­one who does that. So ac­tu­ally for me, she’s a very, very brave and strong per­son. She didn’t and couldn’t stop him and she had to go on liv­ing.’

It seems to me that what re­ally killed Crowhurst was not the sea but his own thirst for glory; hav­ing made the front pages with false re­ports of his roundthe-world progress (in fact, he never got be­yond the At­lantic), he is be­lieved to have com­mit­ted sui­cide when ex­po­sure be­came in­evitable. Is too much fame a dan­ger­ous thing? ‘I didn’t see it like that,’ says Weisz, ‘maybe be­cause I’m fa­mous? Maybe some level of fame has blinded me to that ele­ment?’

Ac­tu­ally, she seems fully aware of the po­ten­tial dan­ger of too much fame; any­way, she man­ages hers with ex­tra­or­di­nary skill, some­how re­main­ing be­low the radar even af­ter her mar­riage to Craig in 2011. The tone was set by the pri­vacy of the cer­e­mony, which took place in a friend’s home and was at­tended by just four peo­ple, two of them their re­spec­tive chil­dren. To­day, she dis­misses any il­lu­sions one might cher­ish about her mar­tini life as Mrs 007. Ap­par­ently, Craig even en­joys cook­ing, and one can’t imag­ine Bond in a pinny. ‘I did Lor­raine [the ITV break­fast show] this morn­ing, and she said, “So, you’re mar­ried to Bond!” And I said, “No, I’m mar­ried to some­one who pre­tends to be that char­ac­ter,”’ she says drily.

‘There must be ex­cep­tions to the rule, but on the whole, I think fame is a choice,’ she con­tin­ues. ‘You can dress up like a fa­mous per­son, with re­ally big sun­glasses and a blow-dry and high heels, but if I wash my hair and go out in a pair of jeans to pick my son up from school, peo­ple leave me com­pletely alone. So it doesn’t re­ally have a down­side.’

But what about the pres­sure the film in­dus­try puts on women not to age, to re­main per­pet­u­ally slen­der and al­lur­ing? ‘Well, it’s like be­ing an ath­lete, in a way. Your body is your tool,’ she says. So you whack in the Bo­tox? ‘Or you play women who are your age.’ The lat­ter is her choice, al­though she looks at least a decade younger than her 47 years. ‘I think women in mid­dle age look in­cred­i­bly beau­ti­ful,’ she says. ‘It’s a dif­fer­ent mo­ment.’ And pro­fes­sion­ally speak­ing, she says she has never been more ful­filled. ‘The roles are more in­ter­est­ing. I’ve just fin­ished The Favourite, play­ing the Duchess of Marl­bor­ough, and it’s like be­ing Bette Davis in All About Eve – one of the juici­est roles I’ve ever had. I couldn’t have played that at 30. I feel like I’m just get­ting go­ing. I’m bet­ter at my job and I’m be­gin­ning to fire on more cylin­ders.’ What’s more, she says, she minds less about oth­ers’ opin­ions. ‘Which is a huge re­lief.’

Of course, the in­creas­ing work­load comes at some cost to her home life; and the re­cent an­nounce­ment that Craig has signed up for a fifth ex­cur­sion as Bond won’t help with the jug­gle to par­ent Henry, Weisz’s 11-year-old son from her pre­vi­ous re­la­tion­ship with the direc­tor Dar­ren Aronof­sky. ‘I’ll just have to do more work in the school hol­i­days,’ she says.

The Craigs live in Man­hat­tan’s East Vil­lage, where Weisz none­the­less leads a fairly English life­style: she lis­tens ob­ses­sively to Ra­dio 4, adores Bri­tain’s Got Tal­ent and is hop­ing to start a trend for Sun­day-roast lunches.

Since 2011, she has been a nat­u­ralised Amer­i­can cit­i­zen, though she re­tains her Bri­tish pass­port. ‘I’m a cit­i­zen of both coun­tries, and part of the democ­racy in both coun­tries. Of course I voted for Trump – shit, I picked the wrong guy there!’ she jokes. But she’s more dis­mayed by the state of Bri­tish pol­i­tics. ‘Trump will serve his term; he might dam­age the Earth be­yond re­pair, and women’s rights and the Supreme Court – there will be scars, but there will be a new president. But Brexit is fi­nal, right? That’s a death, it’s over. I don’t think you can go back.’ As the daugh­ter of im­mi­grants – both her par­ents came to Bri­tain as child refugees be­fore World War II, her mother from Aus­tria, her fa­ther from Hun­gary – she finds the vote deeply dis­turb­ing.

‘They were in­tensely proud and grate­ful to be in Bri­tain, and both told sto­ries about how Bri­tain wel­comed them. My mum lived off char­ity: her dad had been a doc­tor and he was in­terned on the Isle of Man for two years and then would have had to go back to be­ing a stu­dent be­fore he could start prac­tis­ing again, so they didn’t have any money. The vil­lage looked af­ter them, and they be­came very Bri­tish – dif­fer­ent times…’

The fol­low­ing week, I en­counter Weisz again, on Bazaar ’s pho­to­shoot at Clive­den. We are an enor­mous team: hair, make-up, Weisz’s pub­li­cist, the pho­tog­ra­pher and as­sis­tants, the art direc­tor, the pro­ducer and sev­eral se­cu­rity guards keep­ing a close watch on the di­a­monds bor­rowed for the oc­ca­sion.

Clad in a float­ing scar­let Valentino gown, Weisz strides onto the ter­race, re­mote, beau­ti­ful, un­ap­proach­able. She has donned her fame for the cam­era. We are no longer those teenagers, speed­ing home in the Mini; she is a film star and I must ad­mire her, like ev­ery­body else, from afar…

‘The Mercy’ will be re­leased na­tion­wide on 9 Fe­bru­ary 2018.

‘Trump will serve his term, but there will be a new president. But Brexit is fi­nal. That’s a death, it’s over’

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