David Mermelstein is an AwardsLine contributor. This story appeared in the Nov. 14 issue of AwardsLine.
London-born actress Rachel Weisz first gained prominence as Brendan Fraser’s love interest in Universal’s big-budget reboot The Mummy (1999), a part she reprised in The Mummy Returns (2001). But it was her role as a meek diplomat’s fearless wife in The Constant Gardener (2005), adapted from John le Carré’s novel, that netted her an Oscar for best supporting actress. Though she has devoted much of her career to smaller films, she continues to appear in Hollywood blockbusters, most recently in The Bourne Legacy this summer. Next year, she stars in Sam Raimi’s highly anticipated Oz: The Great and Powerful, opposite Mila Kunis, James Franco, and Michelle Williams. She recently sat down with AwardsLine to talk about her current role in Terence Davies highly personal adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s The Deep Blue Sea, which had a limited American release this spring.
AWARDSLINE: What attracted you to the role of Hester in The Deep Blue Sea?
RACHEL WEISZ: I suppose it’s the way she falls in love. I believe she had no choice. I found something so fascinating about it when I read it in the script. That falling apart, I was drawn to it. As women, we’re told, “He’s just not that into you,” so you’re not supposed to behave like that. You pull yourself together. But that wasn’t possible for Hester. It’s hopeless love. She’s no dummy, and I think she could see the situation for what it was, but you don’t choose who you fall in love with. It was her loss of control that interested me.
AWARDSLINE: Hester is complicated, not entirely likable or sympa-thetic. Are those qualities you overlook or do they enrich your portrayal of a character?
WEISZ: When I play a part, I never think about likability. I think if you ask the audience to like you, it’s all over. The most interesting characters are those you’re drawn to, then repelled by, and then come to understand. All that tension—I live that. But I don’t plan the tension. It’s just something that should happen. I don’t judge the character at all. It’s a bit like being someone’s defense lawyer—you have to believe in their innocence in order to defend them. Did I know that Hester was a pain in the ass? Yeah.
AWARDSLINE: What was it like to work with Terence Davies?
WEISZ: He’s very exacting, very particular about his framing. Things have to be absolutely in the center. I was used to more handheld camerawork, more like reportage. He created this kind of sculptural stillness. That’s the beauty of his films. I felt very restricted, but that was good because so was the character. She was hemmed in by the times. Terence is an extremely emotional person. He would be in floods of tears in one moment. I think he was Hester. I’m immensely fond of him. He’s deep.
AWARDSLINE: It’s been seven years since The Constant Gardener, for which you won an Oscar. What impact has that honor had on your career?
WEISZ: Immediately afterward, I was offered jobs by interesting directors, including Alejandro Amenábar. Peter Jackson offered me a role. I didn’t have to meet people. They just offered me jobs, these big fancy directors. People believe in you more after you’ve won an Oscar, but it’s up to you what choices you make and how that goes.
AWARDSLINE: Has it allowed you to be more choosy regarding roles?
WEISZ: I was offered more work after the Oscar. When I was younger, I would take whatever I was offered because it was money and work and experience. In a way, choosing is the hard part. I know that’s a luxury problem, but it’s true. I try to go where passion takes me. You never know how things will turn out. And you can’t really say it turned out wrong. Whatever happens, happens. The important thing is that you followed your gut.
AWARDSLINE: You seem to favor smaller, more independent films over bigger-budget projects. Why?
WEISZ: Probably, I just have weird taste. But I think that in big-budget movies there’s a lot of other stuff going on besides acting, like special effects. And there’s something about working on a film like The Deep Blue Sea, with no rehearsal and a concentrated shooting schedule. That’s what I like to do. Working with a green screen is easy. It’s just like being a kid. But it’s not nearly as satisfying. I prefer smaller movies because they tend to be more about character than about story.
AWARDSLINE: But obviously big Hollywood pictures are not anathema to you. What’s their attraction, and would you like to do more?
WEISZ: Just as you couldn’t watch a movie like The Deep Blue Sea every day, it’s the same with performance. You can’t plumb the depths all the time.
AWARDSLINE: Tell us about Oz: The Great and Powerful.
WEISZ: It’s the prequel to The Wizard of Oz, the genesis of how he became the Wizard and got to Emerald City. There are huge, fantastical special effects—and I can fly. I’d never done anything like that. I play Evanora the Wicked Witch of the East. She’s so bad, so it’s a total departure.