“There’s not much room for eccentricity in Hollywood, and eccentricity is what’s sexy in people.” – Rachel Weisz
Rachel Weisz is an uber-talented actor who can boast of varied roles to her name. With an innate ability to adapt to any role with great intensity and passion, Weisz has an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a SAG Award to her name, besides numerous other accolades. Emotive and realistic in her roles, Weisz has the gift of making her supporting roles often surpass the leads. As Weisz herself was quoted saying, “As an actor, I want to play all different kinds of women- independent women but also very vulnerable women.” Although she has had certain hiccups in the commencement of her career by facing minor commercial failures, by resilience and perseverance, she has cemented her position in the cinematic industry.
Weisz was born in London on March 7, 1970. Her parents had emigrated to the United Kingdom in the wake of World War II to escape the brutalities inflicted by the Nazis. Weisz, who belonged to a somewhat religious family, foreshadowed her character of Ronit in a later film Disobedience by being disobedient and nonchalant to her religion. Since a very young age, she has been very opinionated – as has her sister – and she was always encouraged by their parents to partake in family debates and opine on whatever they felt was correct.
Weisz was noticed for her distinguished and sharp features which were complemented by a beautiful smile and dark hair. She had received modelling consignments at the age of 14 and made national headlines when she turned down a film offer alongside Richard Gere in King David. She studied English at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, and discovered her love for theatre. She started a drama group called Cambridge Talking Tongues, a student dramatic productions, which produced various plays the most prominent achievement being them winning an award at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe.
While Weisz made her acting debut in 1992, it was not until 1994 that she starred alongside Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman in a film that later turned out to be a major box office failure. In Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, she played the role of Miranda Fox which earned her the title of an English Rose, an identity she would always be associated with. Weisz’s breakthrough role was as Evelyn Carnahan in The Mummy where she was criticised for overdoing the buffoonery and crazy antics which did not come naturally to her. However, following this role, she started receiving more layered and interesting characters as in films such as About a Boy, Runaway Jury, Envy and more.
It was her role as Tessa Quayle in Fernando Meirelles’s The Constant Gardener that won her the Academy Award as well as both the Golden Globe and the SAG where she stunned the audience with her brilliant portrayal of the character and earned a position in the highest rung of the hierarchy of British actors. Besides starring in various other films, Weisz quickly became a frequent collaborator of Yorgos Lanthimos, blending in with his perfectly idiosyncratic characters and breathing life and quirks into them. Her distinct signature in the roles she played earned her a second Academy Award nomination for her role as the envious and devoted Sarah Churchill in Lanthimos’ The Favourite. She also won a BAFTA for this role.
Weisz also enjoyed a distinguished career in theatre as well and had won the Laurence Oliver Award for her sophisticated and independent performance as Blanche DuBois in the 2009 revival of the play A Streetcar Named Desire. Weisz shall be seen next as Melina Vostokoff, AKA Iron Maiden in Black Widow, alongside Scarlet Johansson and Florence Pugh, that shall grace the theatres in May 2021.
Today, on her 51st birthday, let us take a look at this six-film-guide to Rachel Weisz that shall reflect the kind of multi-faceted talent this resplendent actress possesses.
A definitive six-film-guide to Rachel Weisz
About a Boy (Chris Weitz, Paul Weitz, 2002)
Adapted from Nick Hornby’s novel, the film sees a young, frivolous man named Will who attends single parent therapy sessions to find single women to date, as he believes that they have low standards in men. He befriends a woman’s intelligent and playful son named Marcus, whose mother is somewhat suicidal. He eventually falls for a woman named Rachel; Marcus and Will develop a beautiful bromance and exist as a support system for one another.
Although Rachel Weisz exists as a supporting character, she brings out various layers to her character which makes her intriguing. The overall humorous tone of the film has an underlying message of love and support which is beautiful to watch it does not fetishize relationships or resort to typical melodramatic sappy endings.
“Once you open your door to one person, anyone can come in.“
The Constant Gardener (Fernando Meirelles, 2005)
Adapted from John le Carre’s eponymous novel, this film features a gardening enthusiast and British diplomat Justin Quayle whose wife, Tessa, an Amnesty International activist, is found brutally murdered and dumped in the African grasslands while they are in Kenya. As he vows to avenge his wife’s death and get to the bottom of the gruesome murder, his relationship with Tessa is revealed in flashbacks.
This film won Weisz numerous awards including an Academy Award. Despite her limited on-screen time, she made every second count. Despite not inhabiting every frame, her lingering presence is palpable throughout the film. The overall suspenseful atmosphere is undercut by the flashbacks that document their love story via the memories of Justin. Tessa is perhaps one of the most intriguing characters Weisz has ever portrayed.
“But I don’t have a home, Tim. Tessa was my home.”
The Deep Blue Sea (Terence Davies, 2011)
Set in 1950, the film opens with a young wife named Hester Collyer who is trapped in a fulfilled marriage with Sir William Collyer, a High Court judge, but the union lacks sexual passion. She finds solace in the arms of a former RAF pilot Freddie who awakens the tumultuous passion and desire in her. After her affair is discovered, Hester has to abandon her life of comfort and affluence and move in with Freddie who gives her the fulfilment and pleasure she desires but is unable to accommodate her emotional needs.
Hester is in a major dilemma as she yearns for emotional fulfilment yet cannot bring herself to leave the man who awakened her sexuality.
The film sees Rachel Weisz as the young and melancholy Hester whose dilemma is best described in the title itself where she cannot make a choice between the Devil and the vast blue sea. While she attempts to take her life, in an almost dreamlike sequence, her entire life spreads out before our eyes in a series of flashbacks that document her supposed marital bliss and the same sexual bliss in her affair. The atmospheric devastation and depression are heightened by the extraordinary on-screen enactments as well as the portrayal of a post-war London and its inhabitants, recuperating from loss, repression, hunger and poignance.
“Lust isn’t the whole of life, but Freddie is, you see, for me. The whole of life. And death. So, put a label on that, if you can.”
The Lobster (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2015)
David is taken to the hotel where the manager gives him 45 days to find himself a partner lest he is turned into a lobster. The hotel is a near-prison with strict rules that forbid masturbation. All inmates have at least one similarity which would deem them to be partners. As he steers closer towards his due date, he elopes and falls in love with a short-sighted loner in the woods. That has consequences as well.
A great satire on love, relationships and breakups, it is one of Lanthimos’ finest. Set in a dystopian world of surrealism and black humour, the film is eccentric and heartwarming. The performances by Colin Farrel and Rachel Weisz are incredibly deadpan and appropriate for the moody setting. As they navigate through the upheavals of forbidden love, Lanthimos deliberately calls on our attention to focus on the relationship-centric shallowness of his world. The ending is perhaps a classic Lanthimos- unexpected, quirky and extremely disturbing.
“It is more difficult to pretend that you do have feelings when you don’t.”
Disobedience (Sebastian Lelio, 2017)
Once having denounced the Orthodox Jewish community she was a part of, New york-based photographer Ronit is compelled to return after her estranged father Rav Krushka’s sudden demise. She reconnects with old friends Dovid and Esti, a couple, and lives at their house. Esti reveals that she has always harboured feelings for Ronit and they kiss passionately. However, homosexuality is forbidden and results in uncountable problems for these two fateful lovers.
With incredibly stunning performances from the cast, especially Rachel Weisz and Rachel McAdams, the film explores various thought-inducing themes such as homosexuality and the limitations forced upon individuals as a response to religion. Weisz’s moving portrayal of a conflicted daughter who leaves the orthodox for a more cosmopolitan atmosphere yet is forced to return to this claustrophobic environment is worthy of high praise. The pervading melancholy in love and romance makes it an engrossing watch.
“You happened to me.”
The Favourite (Yorgos Lanthimos, 2018)
The sick Queen Anne is tired of her courtly responsibilities and depends solely on her advisor and lover Sarah. In comes Abigail, Sarah’s cousin, who pries for the Queen’s attention to gain her position. The cousins fight while Great Britain wages the war against France. Not just “another British costume drama”, the film is a classic Lanthimos with an intimate setting and a dash of zany humour and scathing sarcasm.
With as many Academy Award nominations as that of Roma, the film made Olivia Colman bring home the Best Actress award for her phenomenal performance. With powerful performances from Olivia Colman, Rachel Weisz and Emma Stone, the film focuses on an incredible female trio and the homoerotic bonding which ultimately results in problems and misunderstandings. Lanthimos intended to create characters that are complicated and layered and successfully did so by bringing out the declining relationship fuelled by jealousy, passion, betrayal and greed for power.
“There are limits to what one can give.”