Rachel Weisz: The Thinking Man's Beauty
Many young moviegoers know gorgeous raven-haired Rachel Weisz as the spunky archeologist/librarian in the "Mummy" films or as the unlucky woman visiting Hell in Constantine. The British actress formed her own theater company while attending Cambridge University and goes back to stage work whenever her busy film career allows. Now, Rachel takes on a role in an important film that could garner her an Oscar nod. She plays Tessa Quayle, a dedicated human rights activist who puts it all on the line for what she believes. Excellent actor Ralph Fiennes plays her diplomat husband in the thinking man's thriller The Constant Gardener based upon a novel by spy master writer John le Carre.
For our talk in L.A., Rachel wore a delicate sheer, off-white blouse with tiny daisies, delicate gold necklaces and jeans. We asked the actress what causes she is passionate about, filming in Africa, working with Ralph Fiennes and her new project The Fountain, a tale of the fountain of youth co-starring hot Hugh Jackman.
TeenHollywood: The character of Tessa is a great role for any actress. Was it just offered to you or did you have to fight for it?
Rachel: No. I definitely had to go after it. Fernando [Meirelles, the Brazilian director] wasn't familiar with any British actresses' work. So I was working here in L.A. Fernando was in London seeing British actresses and I was like, 'Oh my God, I've got to see him.' So I got on a plane and I managed to get to London and back in twenty-four hours. I don't know quite how you do it, but you kind of skip through the time zones. So I had an hour meeting with him and I was the first person he met. He met a whole bunch of people after that and I was back in L.A. dying. I wrote him a very impassioned letter and then finally I got the role.
TeenHollywood: What was it about Tessa that made you fight so hard?
Rachel: Well, I've always been fascinated by people who devoted their life to helping other people. I was sitting in a fancy hotel in L.A. and there are people in India, in Africa who were devoting their lives to help people and they're putting their lives in danger in order to do that. I've always been fascinated by what it is that drives these people. Look at us, I'm a storyteller and you're a journalist. We've got very different drives to our lives and so that was my responsibility, trying to get into the skin of someone who has that drive. I have a drive, but my drive is as a storyteller. I'm an entertainer. I've never saved a life. So I wouldn't dare compare myself to my character, but I would say that I have a tremendous respect for her and the people in reality who do that job.
TeenHollywood: The "bad guy" is the big pharmaceutical companies using poor Africans as guinea pigs for research. Did you know about that before?
Rachel: I think that it's a debate that's been raging in newspapers and in the media for a while now. The fact that we can take a pill here that costs us twenty dollars and that's a month's salary to someone in Africa. So it was a subject that I was a bit familiar with just because you watch TV and you learn something about it. So yeah, it was interesting, but it's been a very hot, contemporary issue and I hope that the film will carry on the debate that's already there.
TeenHollywood: Tessa uses everything she's got to get what she needs for the people she is trying to help including some intimate promises to guys that she doesn't intend to keep. Do you think that's okay for women?
Rachel: Tessa was modeled on a real aid worker, a French woman. I didn't go deep into research about her, but learned that she was someone that she would stop at nothing to do what she believed was right to get justice done. I think it depends on what the woman's ambition is. If it's to be on the cover of a magazine, I can't compare that to potentially saving thousands of innocent people's lives. So obviously it depends on the context.
TeenHollywood: How was working in Africa?
Rachel: Amazing. It was incredible. I mean, it was an adventure, everyday was an adventure. For instance, the lake where Justin [Ralph Fiennes] goes at the end, we were living in the middle of nowhere. There's nothing there. There's a lake. There's hundreds of thousands of pink flamingos and the bush, Africa. So they had to fly in tents and tanks of water and they had put up a tent city and everyone was zipped into a tent. So it was very adventurous. The toilet was a hole dug in the ground at the back of the tent and I'd never been camping. So I was really excited. I'm definitely adventurous.
TeenHollywood: What kinds of causes are you passionate about?
Rachel: Definitely the environment. That's what keeps me awake at night. I think that human beings are pretty rapidly destroying the planet. There's that and the elderly. There's a charity in England called Helping The Aged. It's something that really breaks my heart in our culture that the old aren't really honored and valued and are cast out of their homes. The environment and elderly people are two of my big things.
TeenHollywood: You have a pregnancy in the film and your tummy looks so real. You weren't, were you?
Rachel: I take my job very seriously. No. It was a prosthetic. It was done by Christine Blundell. She's the English makeup artist who got an Academy Award for Topsy Turvy. She does all my movies. She's good at making things look very real. She stuck it on and then painted my flesh color and that was it.
TeenHollywood: You began modeling at 14. How did you get into acting?
Rachel: I used to do some modeling as a teenager during the summer holidays and after I went to college, I had a job that they call in England a hat check girl, and not that anyone has any hats to check, but it was a cloak room. It was a bar in SoHo in London. That was a job that I had when I first started acting and wasn't earning money from acting. Those first few years that I was doing fringe theater in London and you didn't actually get paid for that. So I needed to do odd jobs to pay rent. It's an incredible job, but it's nerve racking when you're starting out. Definitely.
TeenHollywood: What made you want to act?
Rachel: I didn't really always want to do it, not since Shirley Temple age or anything. I was at university and I started in an acting company there and we used to write plays through improvisation. It was called Talking Tongue Theater. It was through the duration of being an undergraduate and a year afterwards, and it was myself and another actress, just the two of us. We wrote six plays and we won the Guardian Award at the Edinburgh film festival. We got transferred to London and put the show on at the Gate Theater at London. We could perform it anywhere. It was a very low tech play. So for me it was really lovely to work with Fernando because it was kind of going back to my roots in improvisation which I really love doing. It's just very freeing
TeenHollywood: Was this the first time you worked with Ralph Fiennes?
Rachel: I had a supporting role in a film that he made called Sunshine. So we met in Hungary and had done that. We played lovers, but we were having an affair and it was a very sort of dark situation that we were in. But I'd love to work with him a third, fourth, fifth time. He's the most tremendous acting partner. He's really astonishing.
TeenHollywood: There are so many young, poor African kids in the film. What was it like working with them.
Rachel: They were curious about this white woman coming into their city, where they lived. My skin is different. My hair is different. Everything. They wanted to touch us and touch our hair and the scene in the movie where they say, 'How are you?' That's what happened. That wasn't directed, they weren't extras and it wasn't in the script. Their first language is Swahili, but they learn 'How are you?' And they go, 'How are you? Fine. How are you?' They're incredibly hospitable and open and generous and they have nothing. There's no running water, no sanitation, no electricity. I mean, if you can imagine living without running water, there are no toilets and yet they all look kind of clean. They walk two miles to buy water and they bring it back and they're just an amazing people. The kids make toys, they make footballs from plastic bags bunched together and they wrap string around it and they kick it around. They make toys from trash basically, and yet they have nothing in a material sense, but they have this great spiritual wealth.
TeenHollywood: We could all learn a lesson from them. They even seemed quite happy.
Rachel: There is tremendous happiness, a lot more happiness than I feel there is in the West, in so called civilized, rich places. It's food for thought.
TeenHollywood: Where are you living now?
Rachel: I live between London and New York. I've been in New York since '01 and I go back to England to see my family in London.
TeenHollywood: Your character and Ralph's are so different. You wonder what holds them together.
Rachel: I think that they love each other very, very deeply. I think that it's a case of opposites attracting. I think that his life was without passion before he met her, and her life was without stability before she met him. Like a lot of couples they have their ups and downs.
TeenHollywood: We've heard some Oscar buzz for this film. Does that excite you?
Rachel: Right now I'm just really excited that the movie is coming out. I'm so deeply proud of the work and the movie and all aspects of it. There's the fact that it's a really exciting thriller, very original, a very unusual love story and the fact that it has a conscience. So it has brains and heart and soul. I hope that people come to see it because I think that it's really special and moving, and should it be honored in any way by the Academy would obviously be a glorious things. But one cannot think about those things.
TeenHollywood: Totally different kinds of movies but is there any talk of a "Mummy" sequel?
Rachel: I don't know. There's been no talk about it. I think that there might have been a 'Mummy III' written, but I don't know if that's a rumor or true. But I'd do it. It would be fun to get the family back together again. Why not?
TeenHollywood: How was working on The Fountain?
Rachel: It was emotionally challenging because it's very, very raw. Darren [Aronofsky, the director] gets his actors to be very exposed emotionally. So, yeah, I played someone who is dying of cancer and it was definitely a movie that was emotionally challenging and a role that you had to dig deep for. It's completely in your consciousness day and night for the whole filming. I mean, you carry on with your life, but it's in you, around you, with you all of the time. That's not a bad thing. It's just what happens.
TeenHollywood: What kinds of research did you do for a role like that?
Rachel: I went to many hospices. I read a lot. My character had a brain tumor and so I worked very closely with some neuro-brain surgeons in Montreal who introduced me to patients who had brain tumors and who were dying. I read a gazillion books about death and dying. There was a lot of research and a lot of talking to people and a lot of thinking about it. I mean, you don't think about death a lot. But it is a love story. It sounds really depressing, but it is very beautiful. It's a romantic love story about love and loss and life and death and all of that. It comes out next year.
Lynn Barker is a Hollywood-based entertainemnt journalist and produced screenwriter.