Editors Note: Nick Allen interviewed Rachel Weisz back in November 2008, because The Brother’s Bloom was originally set to release in December 2008.
Rachel Weisz is not a weird person. In the flesh, sitting only a high-five away from me in a room at Chicago’s James Hotel, undeniable beauty seems to be the only eccentricity she shares with Penelope, her character in the new film The Brothers Bloom. She doesn’t seem to exemplify the defining quirky characteristics of her shut-in, socially awkward character from the film, written and directed by Rian Johnson. If anything, sitting down with two other writers and the Oscar-winning actress, it was difficult for me not to embody Penelope-like awkwardness myself.
Regardless, the actress from the first two Mummy movies and husband Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain was happy to discuss her new wacky character, the on-screen chemistry she has with Adrien Brody, and even the types of hobbies she maintains when not making approximately three films a year.
Why did you take on the role as Penelope?
It just really appealed to my sense of humor. Kinda eccentric. There’s a kind of luscious innocence.
It was a departure for you a little bit.
Very much. I don’t know why, I just really wanted to do comedy, which is exactly what I was not being offered. Lots of drama, so I was obsessional about finding a comedy. And then I told my agent “this is the one, this is the one”, and off we went.
There is such a deep beauty behind the film. How did [writer-director] Rian Johnson and the cast want to best express it as beyond a comedy?
I know exactly what you’re talking about, but it’s not something we talked about. Because when you’re playing a character you can’t play the themes because its too abstract. Just by the fact we’ve all hopefully created these believable, soulful damaged people. That kind of told the story, so the philosophy is in the story.
What does Penelope really end up doing for the two brothers?
Well, she’s been picked by Steven as probably the person he knows his brother will fall in love with, so he’s actually stage managed the whole thing. But whether she knows whether she’s being conned or not, I was never quite sure; but I was sure she didn’t care if she was being conned because it was a lot more fun than sitting at home with her hobbies.
Do you have any unusual hobbies yourself?
No. I desperately would like to have a hobby but I don’t have one. I’d take suggestions.
What do you do when you’re not shooting? What do you fill your time with?
I don’t know, just really regular things. I go see movies, I read. I don’t have any hobbies, I really don’t. I desperately need one. Any suggestions I’ll take.
A while ago, The Scorecard Review interviewed (husband) Darren, and he said that Brick was one of his favorite movies. Is that related at all to you being a part of this?
No, it’s not really related. I mean, Darren was thrilled that I had found the script, because he had seen Brick and thought it was an incredible first film. He’s a big fan.
The film seems to be a throwback a romanticized sense of film, mystery, and dialogue. What line of dialogue or piece of the mystery first attracted you to the script?
That’s a good question…(long pause)…it’s very unusual writing. And very good writing. You know, as a character I make pinhole cameras out of watermelons – the whole thing was so magical to me. It’s just a magical and as I say innocent world, it was just a place that I wanted to be.
What’s the trick for playing a character like that? If you play it too quirky it becomes two dimensional. What is it for you when you’re playing that character where you know where to draw that line?
It’s instincts, but you do need a good director. You need a director who is going to know when you’ve just gone too far and gently nudge you back. Sometimes you don’t have that, and then you just rely on yourself. I would say in this case Rian is a really good director and he can really read a performance. Like some directors, they don’t even really know what you’ve just done in front of them. Maybe they’ll see it later in the editing suite, or the rushes, but some directors can’t see it right then, but Rian could. He knew when things were grounded and human. This could easily have become caricature. Particularly with my character, (she) could’ve spun out into 2D. And that’s the challenge – to make it feel like how I’m sitting here talking to you now. I don’t know – there’s a certain magic potion, I don’t know how you do it.
Will you talk about your romantic scenes with Adrien Brody in this film?
Yeah. I think [our characters] are both really damaged people. She’s been stuck in this house, thinking that she’s allergic to everything, she’s the girl in the bubble that hasn’t been out – and he’s never really had a real life. Everything he’s done has been scripted. And the reason why he and his brother have to think up stories because their life is so painful – as funny as the film is – they would be booted around foster homes, which wasn’t fun. So I think they’re both very sensitive and very damaged to me. The film has a recognition that they have, of each other, but I think also they’re kind of missing a skin – they don’t have a tough skin. There’s a lot at stake for both of them. They have a real need for each other, there’s definitely chemistry.
When you have a love affair a movie, do you need to need to learn anything about the male co-stars while you’re attempting to develop a chemistry?
There’s nothing you’re going to learn. You just get to know them. It’s unconscious – you can’t make chemistry happen. It’s un-makeable, you have to let it happen.
So is it real chemistry?
Yeah. It’s real, but you’re not really the person that you’re playing. So it’s real between the two characters.
Vogue recently said you were one of Hollywood’s smartest stars. Do you ever read your press?
I normally don’t tend to read reviews, but something like Vogue it was something about me.
How has your career changed post-Oscar? (for The Constant Gardener)?
Definitely more interesting directors and more interesting material.
Do you feel more pressure because you won the Oscar?
I think I just have more opportunities.
Do you have any commercial opportunities? You seem to stay away from the fray, so to speak.
Yeah, definitely. I just had a child, and this is when I wanted to do a comedy. So Definitely, Maybe and Fred Claus, which was like a five-minute part, and then there was this. I wanted to do a comedy and I kind of worked my way up to it.
How do you connect with the philosophy expressed in the film, “when you’re done with something blow it up”?
Be careful with things like that because you might think you’re done but you’re not. And then it might be too late. I probably used to be like that, but I’m much more careful now.
The movie talks about this idea of an unwritten life – having an unwritten life. What’s the next chapter in your life, and not necessarily in films, but what do you see the next ten years of your life like?
Well, it’s cliche, but I’d like to keep working.
No, no plans right now.
What’s the very best part about your job?
To get to tell stories. I really love storytelling, I love to be able to get into the skin of another person to tell stories.
In the stolen book scene in Montenegro, what did your character tell the police chief to seal her release?
I can’t tell you. That must remain a secret. I did [know] at that time, but now I can’t remember. But to me, that’s part of what is delicious, is the mystery and the obscure object of desire. You want it, but you can’t have it. You don’t know what it is. So I won’t destroy that for you.
Did you actually develop something? Did Rian develop it?
No, it was just in my head, he didn’t want to know.