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« Open Letter to the Academy -xo | Main | 10 Days til Oscar... The Past 10 Years of Stats »
Thursday
Feb142019

Interview: Rachel Weisz on "The Favourite" and why she hasn't peaked yet.

by Nathaniel R

Rachel with her BAFTAWhen we sat down with Rachel Weisz to discuss The Favourite, she was as intimidating as the Lady Sarah Marlborough. Not, we think, on purpose. Sometimes an actor so slays a role that, if you've never met them before and have a tendency to live for the movies, it's like looking straight into the character's eyes. Weisz, cool and measured, impeccably dressed, offered tea. Remembering Lady Sarah's own downfall, I chose water.

We'd both seen The Favourite just once at the time but were eager for round two. "I'm so glad you liked it," she cooed, if somewhat cooly. All business, and why not, ready for questions but not any question. Taking the hint I steered clear of the past though I couldn't resist a brief question about one early role (The Shape of Things), since it had been a rare chance and my first to ever see an actor do a role on stage and then watch them repeat it on film. She found it, "a bit hard, that particular one" citing the need for freshness and spontanity in filmmaking and "...we'd said the words so many times before."  But we were there to discuss The Favourite, and spontaneity and freshness are in no short supply in that electric movie. She even shared how they managed to get them.

She hadn't yet been nominated when we spoke but the honors would soon, quite obviously, pile up including a BAFTA win for Best Supporting Actress and the Oscar nomination. Our interview, edited for length, follows:

NATHANIEL R: You've had such a strong handful of years now: The Deep Blue Sea, The Lobster, Disobedience, The Favourite. But you won an Oscar 14 years back or so and I wonder if at that point, before these recent peaks, you thought 'well, what now?' 

RACHEL WEISZ: I mean, it’s a thing [The Oscar] that you never think will happen to you. I don’t really feel like I can rest on my laurels and it’s all over now. I just don’t feel like that. There’s so much to explore. Hopefully I get better at my job. I think the more work you do… well, for me, the more I've done, the more I’ve figured out what kind of work I want to do...

When did you know that The Favourite would be a such a success?

I mean, it’s impossible to know as an actor what a movie’s going to end up being like, but I knew it was one of the best scripts I’d ever read, not just been in, but read. I’ve read a lot of scripts, and Yorgos is pretty unparalleled as a director, so I had high hopes that it would turn out well. But, as an actor, you can’t really tell. You’re too small of a cog in the wheel.

So what surprised you when you finally saw the picture?

[Exhales] You know, just the sheer force of his imagination. I had read the script multiple times, but what he imagined and put on the screen is just so bold and so complex and textured and absurd and funny, and the shifts in tone from political thriller to love story to absurdist ridiculous comedic romp to you know, sex games to power play...

It's a lot!

I mean, it’s just so rich and so full and so elegant and absurd. He’s really very talented.

This material is very, as you said, textured. There’s a lot going on in every scene, so that type of work, do you get more rehearsal for that? How do you prep for something this intricate?

Well, we did a three-week rehearsal period where we learned to shoot guns and ride horses and do costume fittings. But also Nicholas Hoult, the Queen, Abigail, Joe Alwyn, James [Smith] who plays Godolphin --  we were all in a room for three weeks doing ridiculous physical comedy games while saying the text of the lines. We were saying each other lines and making human pretzels and being told to play a game where you had to put your hand on the butt cheek of that person and touch your nose and whistle and then say the lines.

Crazy.

It took the edge off trying 'the declamatory way' in which you could do a kind of 'Period English Costume Drama,' which many of them are like. They’re quite stodgy, and it’s very easy to fall into that, particularly for me as a Brit -- very very easy to fall into that. But he led us away from that. 

So that's how you prep for something so unique and textured.

I mean, you can’t. You can’t really prep for it. I didn't even know that’s what it was going to be. You don’t really know what’s happened on a Yorgos film. You just … it happens. It’s completely unconscious. He doesn’t discuss psychology, motivation, anything, zero discussion. Nothing. 

That surprises me actually,because something like The Lobster, one of the things that's so rich about that movie is that everyone was in sync and the tone was so precise, but how would you know exactly that tone, unless he was describing it?

Describing tone is the last way, because everyone would have something different in mind. That’s the thing about language. If I say red, you’re going to see a different red to me, so you can’t really describe a tone to a person and get everyone in the same tone. Words would be very misleading. He gets you on a wavelength through non-verbal things. I don’t know how he does it. You have to ask him. You do it again and again and again and again ‘til it hits something, and then you move on.

So what was your favourite scene to shoot in this? 

Uh… [whispering the question to herself “favorite scene to shoot”]

Or barring a favourite, something that felt eventful… 

The dance scene was very memorable for me, because there was a lot of rehearsal, and it was quite high stakes. I had to dance in front of a whole room full of people and look like I knew what I was doing. The dance scene was a lot of fun to learn and rehearse and do.

So many beats in The Favourite, are interior - the characters have so much going on which they're hiding from each other in the gamesmanship. Are you ever thinking about how to let the racing brain or shifting emotions show on the outside or are you trusting the camera, because it can pick up miniscule things?

It’s best if you don’t think anything at all. So you might do a take and think, “Is that a bit big?” which I guess is what you were saying. You have to trust that it’s real. You have to make it real and then… you can’t try to do anything, because as soon as you try to do something, you’re screwed.

That’s interesting because with material like that, the tiniest details make the movie essentially.

I think Yorgos is really sensitive to the tiniest thing, moreso than most directors.

You shot Disobedience right before this. How would you compare Sebastian Lelio and Yorgos as directors?

Sebastian will discuss things a lot. They couldn’t be more different. They’re from different continents, different cultures... I couldn't compare them at all. They're from different planets, it’s fair to say!  

Disobedience was another really rich film. Between your two pictures this past year it seems you're at the peak of your creative powers right now.

I haven’t got to the peak yet! I’m climbing the mountain, I’m climbing…

more on The Favourite | previous interviews 

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Reader Comments (37)

Weisz's talent is abundantly clear at all times, but I'll admit she's had to grow on me a bit. I've often found her performances to be technically brilliant but haven't hit home with me like those of some other actors (notably both Colman and Stone). I'm hoping I can focus more on her performance in The Favourite on my second viewing because I really want to love it equally with the other two. That said, she is of course brilliant in it and in her other roles, no doubt.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

I think she's gonna win. She'll be the card up the sleeve.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterFeline Justice

ooooh, what a get, Nathaniel!

I saw her once some years back at a restaurant in L.A. and didn't dare approach her. But I gotta say I thought she was even more gorgeous in person than on screen, which is really saying something!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLynn Lee

Love her and this interview. Thank you for sharing it! Dare I say she's entering the Cate / Kate / Emma Thompson zone for me?

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTom M

Sigh.

Oscar or no Oscar, I’m just happy she has her BAFTA for such a delicious role, and that more people than ever have hopped on the Weisz train!

I love that The Film Experience has at last fully embraced the Weisz! :)

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

isn't it cute that she refers to Emma and Olivia by their character names but the male roles as the actor names?

But also Nicholas Hoult, the Queen, Abigail, Joe Alwyn, James [Smith] who plays Godolphin -- we were all...

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterNATHANIEL R

If the AMPAS picks Weisz and Ali, both will become two-time winners with zero other nominations.

The only performers with 2 for 2 records at the Oscars: Hilary Swank, Christoph Waltz, Helen Hayes, Vivien Leigh, Luise Rainer, Kevin Spacey. It's very rare! Sally Field was in that club for like 30 years until Lincoln.

Some of those fit into the "temporarily obsessed with you" category (Ranier, Waltz, Spacey, Field) some are flukes (sorry Hilary) and others (Hayes & Leigh) reflect serious esteem. I think Weisz would fall into the last category. Ali will fall into the first.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterHayden

What a great interview! She’s so secretive about the specifics of her and the director’s process!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBushwick

A lovely interview, but I was expecting you to ask her about her fraudulent category placement. ;)

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterTyler

Tyler -- i was already scared of her. so...

February 14, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

Where did this interview take place? And why were you scared of her? I'm so curious.

Great interview!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterDavid S.

What Tyler said. Spread the word about category fraud!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commentercal roth

I have such a premonition that Weisz is going to "upset" on Oscar Sunday. And despite my love for Glenn, I think Colman will too...

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterRoop

Roop -- well Weisz wouldn't really be an upset since there's been no consistency with Supporting Actress. But I hope you're wrong about Colman. I want Glenn to win *sniffle*

February 14, 2019 | Registered CommenterNATHANIEL R

I really think that Weisz is sublime as Colman, Stone does a great job to as complement of the triangle but i don't know...i feel she is always so herself and i don't see deep diferences into her characters.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCésar Gaytán

Shes my pick for both leading (Disobedience) ans supporting (favorite) nice interview

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterOrrin

In my eyes she stole the movie from Colman and Stone (and Hoult almost stole it from everyone else). She's Celeste Holm and he's George Sanders of The Favourite:-)

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterpawel

Great questions and answers!

I recently watched The Deep Blue Sea for the first time (after seeing The Favourite). She's an incredible actress. Here's hoping other writers and directors take note and continue to give her the quality parts she deserves.

I'd love to see either her or Marina de Tavira win the Oscar this year. All that BAFTA love has to go somewhere, right?

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEric

I do love Rachel Weisz as I believe she can do it all. I think one of the best roles she's ever done that not many has talked about is in The Brothers Bloom. Just her energy, low-key humor, and mastery of skills just make her such a joy to watch only to be matched equally by Rinko Kikuchi who barely says anything in that film.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenterthevoid99

Where's Meryl?

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterGlenn

Very good interview. I'm very much in love with her lately.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterPeggy Sue

Well this is a glorious Valentines Day surprise! Happy Valentines Day to me, and everyone else in the Weisz Squad!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEz

I tink Weisz has the edge over King now. And I tink she will benefit fr those voters who luv The Fav ladies, but is voting Glenn as Best Actress

They may wanna reward at least one o The Fav ladies, n Weisz seems most likely the one they will pick.

Vice versa, Those who pick Colman, most likely will pick King or de Tavira.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterClaran

I've been a fan since "About a Boy" and "The Constant Gardener". Lovely interview, she's a great actress who until this year was under-appreciated by a mass audience. She doesn't bother with Blockbuster Comic Book films and she goes after parts that are varied and difficult.
I'm not going to rain on Regina King's parade, but otherwise I would be rooting for her.
She's having such a great year, and well deserved too.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterLadyEdith

Oh I so wanted this interview to go on and on. I remember first noticing her I'm "Swept by the sea". My mom and I loved that movie so much that whenever it played on cable, we would sit and watch together. That movie didn't get the best reviews but I think of it fondly. I think I resonate with the kind of emotional intelligence that Weisz brings to her characters. For me she never feels feigned, something I can't say for many other actors who even have had more award recognition. I still think that it was a travesty her work in "The Brothers Bloom" didn't get more recognized. Kinda went under the radar, that wonderful film

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJones

Correction: meant to say "Swept from the sea" !

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJones

Weisz is the only upset I'll welcome because multiple supporting actress winners always ending with W is the best Oscar stat ever. Sorry Tomei and Spencer.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered Commenter/3rtful

Oh, thanks for the interview, just love Rachel, actually have been in love with her since 1997's Swept from the Sea and 1999's Sunshine, she has such a diverse and brilliant body of work: from Constantine, The Constant Gardner , The Fountain, The Brothers Bloom, The Deep Blue Sea,to Disobedience and The Favourite...she's dynamite, classy and ferocious. I'm rooting for Amy Adams this year beacuse , well, she's overdue, but if Rachel wins I won't mind at all.

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterEder Arcas

Watching her since Chain Reaction, then to Stealing Beauty, and then finally The Mummy and beyond, I love how she has tested herself and has improved her skills and honed in her talents, and STILL manages to surprise herself and the audience. I remain a devoted viewer and lover of her entire filmography, including Beautiful Creatures and The Brothers Bloom (which I have to agree, is perhaps her most underrated performance, and should've easily been nominated for a Golden Globe, at LEAST).

I'm also a huge fan of how non-scandalous her life has been, despite some obvious efforts in the past to try and turn certain moments into scandalous fodder for gossip, to no avail.

She's classy and intelligent, through and through. And I think that's part of the intimidation aura she gives off. I know I'd be intimidated if I was ever in the same room with her, and I'm thankful I haven't been!

I believe her when she says she hasn't peaked yet, and I couldn't be more excited to watch my favorite actress ever slowly but surely get the recognition she's always deserved.

I wish she did more theatre too, and not just because I'd love to see her nominated for a Tony!

February 14, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterManny

I hate it when people say "but she's won before, probably won't". But they don't say the same thing about Ali who won two years ago. And unlike Ali, Weisz actually delivers such a juicy and touching (yes, touching!) performance. It was a pleasure watching her on screen. She's a rare actress who, like la Streep, always feels very intimate on screen. I love that about her and I'm hoping she'll win in the end. All due respect to King, she appears to be a lovely human and she was quite good in If Beale Street Could Talk, but to me, Weisz was so much more intriguing. (Kill me but I prefer half the line-up to King.)

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterZooey

This is beautiful Nathaniel ! Something to cherish - after all the upset - thank you !! ...I don't even know why I got so winded up ... taste is gladly a ragtag minefield .... and what a freaky fun diverse pick we got this year ! So happy for Weisz to be finally honoured with a nominee again. I gotta feeling she's the one this year - not Regina - no worries about Close - she is so so brilliant in the Wife there is no doubt ... and Coleman as outstanding as she is - will get another chance or three - this is just the beginning for her and half of Hollywood feels already this stiff fresh breez coming over to lift their toupees ... Amen

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterMartin

A wonderful interview. And my personal pick for Best Supporting Actress.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBrady

Now that Adams is gonna win for anything that she gets nominated for next, I am rooting for Weisz! She stole the movie and I relate so hard to Lady Marlborough

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterCraver

@Zooey: The difference is that Ali has swept the televised precursors from start to finish, while Weisz only picked up BAFTA. In terms of performance? Certainly it would make more sense to me that Weisz repeat than Ali. But people are basically going to pull the lever for him because it's been written in stone, while Weisz is just merely one of the contenders. That's where the fact she's won before COULD work against her. But it's been awhile now (13 years) since she's won so it may not be as huge a factor against her as it would be for Stone. Her only problem at this point would appear to be King's own strengths.

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterBruno

Damn Nat, work that anti category fraud campaign. Weisz reaches Colman who you know is on your side. Plus the army and reach of a Lynsky, Pyle, Dowd, etc. And being in close proximity to actors can be the only reason you remain with the BFCA. The time is nigh,

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterWerk Bish

She's the new Dianne Wiest and I love her.
A true supporting champ. She always nails the technique and characterization.
Sometimes she picks terrible projects, but when she hits the bullseye, watch out!

I hope Lanthimos keeps on working with her (and with Farrell and Colman, too, as that collective brings the best in each other).

February 15, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterJay

we have so many great nominees in BSA this year. I would be happy with a won for any of them, except for Amy Adams.

February 17, 2019 | Unregistered CommenterAnonny

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