Rachel Weisz is talking about love, specifically the type of love where you’re so crazy about the other person that you have no choice but to surrender yourself. What the French call l’amour fou. It’s the love that consumes Hester Collyer, the adulterous 1950s housewife Weisz delineates with grace and fragility in Terence Davies’s film adaptation of the Terence Rattigan play The Deep Blue Sea. “One woman said to me, ‘She’s clearly mad’. I said, ‘That’s a valid interpretation of love, that it’s madness’,” she muses. “When you really, really fall in love, it’s not a choice. Hester’s not doing it because she wants to humiliate herself, she is humiliating herself because she doesn’t have a choice. Some people may not believe in that kind of love, but I do.”
Might that be the kind of love Weisz was experiencing when she startled everyone by marrying Daniel Craig this summer in a ceremony attended only by their respective children — her five-year-old son, Henry Chance, with the director Darren Aronofsky; his 18-year-old daughter, Ella — and two close friends?
“I really don’t want to talk about it,” the actress says, smiling but firm. “It’s very sweet of you to congratulate me, but I don’t want to discuss anything about it. Nothing.”
Nonetheless, listening to Weisz discuss Hester’s abandonment of her dull, respectable marriage to Simon Russell Beale’s High Court judge to live in a squalid bedsit with Tom Hiddleston’s dashing but damaged airman, it’s clear that she believes the heart should rule above all else. In its day, Rattigan’s play shocked for allowing prim and proper English reserve to lose to fiery passion. It’s not very British, Weisz agrees, giggling. “I liked the idea that someone was so in love that they lost all their dignity. She just doesn’t keep it together in any way.”
We are meeting over an early breakfast at the Four Seasons hotel in Toronto, where the night before she attended the world premiere of The Deep Blue Sea at the city’s film festival. At 41 she is immaculate, wearing a grey tweed dress and sporting her raven hair long and straightened. Speculation has surfaced recently that she and Craig are on a health kick in the hopes of starting a family, and her breakfast order sticks to that script: oatmeal “cooked with water”, berries and skimmed milk on the side and a pot of green tea. Weisz’s panda-thick eye make-up, however, may be a clue that she plans to keep her reserve today, down to the gold wedding ring that she seems determined to conceal.
Playing Hester required no research (“Apart from research of the heart,” she says, smiling again) and Davies’s shoot did not allow her to overthink. “We didn’t have the luxury of navel-gazing, we didn’t even rehearse. We just did it and that’s how it came out.” Dame Peggy Ashcroft, Hester in the original stage production, declared that the role had left her feeling naked. How did it make Weisz feel? “I remember reading that. It was an interesting description but I didn’t find her painful or humiliating at all. I found her quite liberating.”
Weisz has felt stifled in the past. Raised in North London by her Hungarian Jewish émigré father, George, and Austrian-Italian mother, Ruth, she struggled to stick it out at a series of private schools and was expelled from one boarding school (Benenden). Her defiance reached fever pitch after her father forbade the 14-year-old from playing Richard Gere’s daughter in the film King David. Weisz has admitted that it took a long time for her to get over his intervention (said to have been a reason behind her parents’ divorce).
Even now there’s an ambivalence. Ask her if being the progeny of intelligent parents (George is an inventor, Ruth a psychoanalyst) has given her intellectual self-confidence and she furrows her brow and stares into the distance. “I really don’t know,” she retorts. “Did yours?”
Still, Weisz has made the most of her inherited brains. She went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where she co-founded a prize-winning theatre company, Talking Tongues, and earned a 2:1 in English. There she caught the eye of Michael Winterbottom (I Want You) and Bernardo Bertolucci (Stealing Beauty). Her career has been impressive ever since, even if some of her script choices have been suspect, particularly those pay-the-mortgage Hollywood gigs. One doesn’t imagine George, whom she describes as her harshest critic, thinking much of Fred Claus or The Mummy.
Her performance in The Deep Blue Sea is easily her most moving since her Oscar-winning turn in The Constant Gardener, although at times, I tell Weisz, you do long for Hester to see sense and ditch her cruel, negligent lover. She looks surprised. “Really? I suppose so,” she nods, not really agreeing. Even though she finished shooting nine months ago, she claims that she doesn’t have enough distance yet to offer a proper appraisal. “Tom [Hiddleston] is much more eloquent about it than me. He says, ‘It’s the triumph of feeling over propriety’.”
Weisz is in a creative purple patch. Two projects — Fernando Meirelles’ 360 and The Deep Blue Sea — opened and closed the London Film Festival. She recently starred in David Hare’s BBC drama Page Eight, alongside Bill Nighy; Dream House, the supernatural thriller that she shot with her husband, is out now, and this year she worked with Terrence Malick on a still-untitled love story. The Malick project was an experience “unlike any other I’ve ever had,” she says. “Unorthodox would be a massive understatement. There isn’t really a script, you don’t know what the story is, you don’t know who the other characters are...”
Currently Weisz is juggling The Bourne Legacy and Oz: The Great and Powerful. She stars as one of the witches in Sam Raimi’s Oz prequel, and promises sparkly attire, panto wickedness and aerial stunts. “Maybe with broomsticks, maybe not,” she teases. She is also looking for a follow-up West End stage role. In 2009 she won rave reviews as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. But her son is her priority, “Some things will become impossible, like going and filming for six months in Australia.” She’ll finish Bourne during Henry’s school term, and plans to take him up to Detroit during his Christmas holidays, where she’ll finish filming Oz, though even that is up for discussion. “He’s going to start making good friends now, so we’ll see how he feels. He may not want to leave them. I don’t have a master plan; we’ll figure it out.”
I ask if being married to James Bond is bringing her a different kind of fame. Do they plot ways to avoid paparazzi? “Not really. Only if I’m having breakfast with a journalist am I even aware of it,” she says, unleashing her hearty, deep-throated laugh. “The rest of the time I’m just living my life. It’s really not traumatic at all.”