Combustible Celluloid

Interview with Rachel Weisz

Real to Reel

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

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Actress Rachel Weisz found herself with a unique opportunity recently. She performed in a play on Broadway and in London, then turned right around to make the movie with the exact same cast, writer and director.

During a recent visit to San Francisco, the 32 year-old tried to explain the difference between the play and the movie, but found it difficult to articulate. "It's a totally different technique. It's like a different language. It's the same thing in that you're trying to become a character, but the difference is in the way you communicate it."

The new movie, The Shape of Things, opens in Bay Area theaters May 9. It's the latest work by Neil LaBute, who specializes in painful and twisted human relationships. His previous films were the controversial In the Company of Men, the dark Your Friends and Neighbors, the brilliant Nurse Betty and the gushy, romantic Possession.

The story has Weisz in the role of Evelyn, a cute, quirky art student who strikes up a relationship with nerdy Adam (Paul Rudd). Their time together stretches over to Adam's former roommate Phillip (Fred Weller) and Phillip's fiancée, Jenny (Gretchen Mol) who was once in love with Adam.

As Adam and Evelyn grow closer, Adam begins to change. He loses weight, starts wearing cooler clothes, and even gets a nose job. But rather than being happy, Adam's life begins to turn strange and sinister.

One difference between the play and the film was that Weisz was finally able to watch herself playing the role. "When I saw it at Sundance, I had no idea she was that sexual," she says. "I didn't know she used desire that much. I was surprised. I wasn't really aware that that's what she was doing. I thought she was playing along being a girlfriend."

Indeed, Evelyn is a master manipulator, one that walks a fine line between attractive and repulsive. "If you play a character like that, you just can't judge her," Weisz says. "I had my point of view align with her point of view. I think she fell in love [with Adam]. But somewhere deep, deep in her memory, she knew she could get out. That's the scary thing."

Born in 1971 in London to an Austrian mother and a Hungarian father, the striking Weisz began acting at Cambridge, forming a theater company called Talking Tongues. She won her first big notices while playing Gilda in a revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living.

From there, Bernardo Bertolucci cast her in a small role in Stealing Beauty and she began flip-flopping between Hollywood studio films like Chain Reaction and The Mummy and art films such as Going All the Way, The Land Girls and Sunshine. Last year she charmed Hugh Grant in About a Boy, and she's currently starring in the caper film Confidence.

If she had to choose between the two types of films, Weisz says she would choose "both." In the upcoming Runaway Jury, she works with Gene Hackman, "which is nothing to sneeze at." Though she did decline an offer to do The Mummy Part 3, saying that she was through with that character.

In addition to acting, Weisz also took on the job of producer for the first time on The Shape of Things. Among her duties? "Just injecting more passion into the project. I was involved in pre-production. I helped get the film financed. I went to companies and sat in on meetings with Neil and tried to raise cash."

She says that the idea of turning the play into a movie came sometime during the play's run, which helped because they could invite the film finance people to see it.

The one major change from stage to screen was the use of music. Both the play and the film have 11 scenes, and music provides the transition between the scenes. On the stage, "we had very loud Smashing Pumpkins songs," Weisz says. "Kind of like an assault, like rock 'n' roll theater. On film I don't think it had as much power. We needed something subtler." And so, to brilliant effect, the film uses instrumental bridges from Elvis Costello songs.

Above all Weisz modestly credits LaBute with the success of both the play and the film. "He's funny like Oscar Wilde is funny. I think he wrote this play in a week or something. It's not a struggle for him to write."

"He's a really nice guy, but he has a very dark sense of humor," she continues. "He doesn't take himself seriously; you can't get him to take himself seriously, which is a beautiful quality."

April 14, 2003

Partial Rachel Weisz Filmography:
Stealing Beauty (1996)
Chain Reaction (1996)
Going All the Way (1997)
Bent (1997)
Swept from the Sea (1997)
The Land Girls (1998)
I Want You (1998)
The Mummy (1999)
Sunshine (1999)
Beautiful Creatures (2000)
Enemy at the Gates (2001)
The Mummy Returns (2001)
About a Boy (2002)
The Shape of Things (2003)
Confidence (2003)
Runaway Jury (2003)
Envy (2004)
Constantine (2005)
The Constant Gardener (2005)
The Fountain (2006)
Eragon (2006) (voice)
Fred Claus (2007)
My Blueberry Nights (2007)
Definitely, Maybe (2008)
The Brothers Bloom (2008)

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