Given that she has only been acting in film for a little over a decade, the wide range of talent shown by Rachel Weisz may in fact make her Hollywood’s best kept secret. Equally adept in big budgeted studio films (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns, Enemy at the Gates, Runaway Jury, “Chain Reaction”, Constantine, Confidence) as she is in more intellectual fare (Sunshine, “The Shape of Things”) Rachel Weisz is able to bring the same level of intensity and integrity to her roles regardless of the type of production.
While she may not be a household name yet, her spitfire performance as the iron willed Tessa in Fernando Meirelles’ The Constant Gardener makes the case that she will not remain a secret much longer.
What did you see in the role of Tessa that appealed to you? Did you identify with her? ^ I read the book and reread it many, many times, in fact Fernando, Ralph and myself had a very battered copy each that we had on the set. What can I identify with Tessa? I’m extremely different from her. What do I do for a living? I’m a storyteller, I’m an entertainer, I’ve never saved anybody’s life. I think there’s a place in the world in for storytelling, it’s important and we need it but she’s somebody who’s devoted and really sacrificed her life to helping other people and seeing that justice is done. There are people who are like her right now in India and Africa who are devoting their lives to saving people, to doing charity work. I’ve always been fascinated by those people, what is it that drives them to do that. They’re extraordinary people, they should be role models to us all. I’m very different to her but I admire her immensely.
How do you think of Tessa as a character seeing how she can be so tender one moment and then so outspoken the next? ^ She’s no angel, she can be infuriating and I think that was deliberate on Fernando’s part. She’s a flawed human being just like the rest of us but she is someone who is willing to stand up and say what she believes to be right and does not mind making enemies on the way. That’s a very hard thing because people want to be liked on the whole. It’s very hard to feel like you can make a difference, I think most people see the injustices going on in the world and think “What can I do? It’s too big, it’s too complex. You’ll just be a drop in the ocean”. The lesson I learned from her is lots of drops make up an ocean and if people would stand up and say what they believed in maybe we could make a difference. To even help one person is better than nothing and mostly we do nothing, myself included. We’re all more like Justin, Ralph Fiennes’ character, we’re good people, we do our life day by day but we don’t really want to make trouble. She’s willing to make trouble. I admire her.
Has working on a film such as this changed your world view? ^ Certainly filming in the slum, there’s a million people living there in a very small space, in a shanty town with no running water. It’s pretty unimaginable thinking about living without running water. There’s not electricity, there’s no sanitation, there’s a very high level of disease. I mean it’s poverty on a level I’ve never seen and yet these people’s spirit is so incredible that they are so warm and hospitable and generous. The scene in the movie where the children come running up to me and say “How are you? How are you?” that’s what happened. That wasn’t in the script, it wasn’t directed, they weren’t extras. Their parents said to me, “Where you live do the children welcome strangers?” and I said “No where I live the children are told not to speak to strangers” and they couldn’t understand this. The way its changed my perception of things is that here was some seriously tragic material but such spiritual wealth at the same time. In my culture we go shopping to feel better, something’s a little crazy, isn’t it? We have running water and handbags and God knows what else but I wonder what we lose as a result?
Did the crew do anything to contribute to the area? ^ Everybody was deeply moved by what they saw. The children of the slum have no toys, they make footballs from plastic bags wrapped together with string or they take a piece of string with a button and pull it as if it’s a dog. They’re making toys from garbage. We were deeply moved by the people but being moved, our emotions don’t really help anybody. We can sit and be moved all we like, so Simon Channing-Williams, the producer, did something practical where we could all channel our feelings and help them, give something back and say thank you. A school was built in the slum and a bridge was built connecting two separate parts of the slum. It’s going to be an ongoing charity called “The Constant Gardener Charitable Trust,” so we’re continuing to fund raise. It’s a very small amount of money that needs to be raised in our terms that can make a huge difference for them.
Given that film is illusion, what was the benefit of such a location? ^ All the places that you see in the film, the maternity hospital that’s a real maternity hospital where mothers work in giving birth, the slum is a real slum. I think the problem would be if a white man goes to Kenya and builds a set that’s supposed to be the slum you start to interpret it in various different ways. It’s from your point of view. These places, that’s what they were. The children spoke for themselves and the slum spoke for itself. It’s documentary in a sense.
How did working with Ralph previously on the film “Sunshine” effect your performances in this picture? ^ I love working with Ralph. He’s a fantastic acting partner and I hope I get a third chance, a fourth chance and a fifth chance. I think you’re only as good as the person you’re opposite. He’s just completely committed, passionate, and open, there’s nothing jaded about his approach to acting. He’s a tremendous acting partner.
Given the nudity in the film which requires you to wear heavy prosthetics to show that Tessa is pregnant, how comfortable were you in those scenes? ^ A lot of people assume that I actually was pregnant. I tell them I have to take my job very seriously. I think pregnant women are beautiful, it’s nature isn’t it? It’s very unusual, I don’t personally recall ever seeing a very intimate scene between a husband and wife where the wife is naked and heavily pregnant. I think it’s beautiful.
Can you talk a little about your next film, Darren Aronofsky’s “The Fountain”? ^ It’s set in three time zones, it’s set in sixteenth century Spain (where) I play Queen Isabella and it’s set in present day America and I play a woman called Izzi who’s dying of cancer and it’s set in the future in deep space on a spaceship and I’m the same character as the present. Hugh Jackman plays opposite me in each time zone and the three time zones weave like a braid in and out of each other. “The Fountain” refers to the search for the fountain of youth.
Given your background in both film and theater, what appeals to you about acting? ^ I just love storytelling. I think it’s an incredible, incredible thing to go and watch a movie and have a story told to you and be moved by it. I felt if I could be involved in any way in that, I just wanted to tell stories.