Tall, elegant and passionate about her work, Rachel Weisz curls up in a chair in her Beverly Hills hotel room in which the usually publicity shy actress admits that in the case of The Constant Gardener, here was a role she fought to get, attracted, she says, to “just the whole story was which was a mixture of the classic thriller spy story, such an ordinary man who becomes a spy rather than a kind of Jason Bourne character who is a spy,” Weisz explains.
“But I also loved the fact that it was also a love story, and the fact that it was about these really interesting contemporary topics. And the character is great – I mean, a spunky female role and the fact that Fernando was directing it. So, the passion really was for the character and for the fact that he was directing it.”
Based on the John Le Carre novel, the film opens when a British diplomat’s [Ralph Fiennes] wife — a socially-conscious lawyer [Weisz] — turns up dead in Kenya, so he sets out to find the truth surrounding her murder. In the process, he finds out that his wife had been compiling data against a multinational drug company that uses helpless Africans as guinea pigs to test a tuberculosis remedy with unfortunately fatal side effects. Therefore those who may have had the most reason to silence her are closer to home than he ever imagined. Shot on location in Kenya, Weisz has no doubt that working in the actual location enhances her work as an actor. “I mean I researched endlessly in London before I went off to Africa, but there was nothing that could replace, meeting the people in Africa, meeting the people in Kabiri, and being in that reality. There it was, vivid, bright, full of life and just extraordinary.”
While the film doesn’t exactly paint the pharmaceutical industry in a positive light, Weisz denies it’s an obvious target. “You know the thing about the pharmaceutical industry is that they do a lot of good; I take their pills all the time,” she says, laughingly. “We need them, we’re living longer and they’ve saved our parents’ lives, no doubt. But I think with any large corporation, there can be wrongdoing, This is a fictional story, it’s based on a novel ,and it didn’t actually happen. But look, I’m an actor so I’ve got an overactive imagination and so I can imagine much worse things than this happening.” Weisz says that she can be as passionate as this character but “probably about different things. I’m not an activist or anything. Stories make me impassioned, you know, telling stories.”
While mainstream audiences remember the actress in the Mummy films, Weisz is clearly trying to roles that really get her juices flowing, but concedes “those roles are few and far between and you have to hunt them down and go after them like I did when you want them.” But it’s not a bad time for Rachel, who also completed work on Darren Aronofsky’s romantic epic, The Fountain, which was originally due to star Brad Pitt and film in Australia. This time, Weisz stars opposite Australia’s Hugh Jackman, described as one man’s journey in the present as well as 500 years into the past and future.
On working with her fiancé Aronofsky, Weisz says she was surprised by “how tremendous he is with actors, a real performance director. He directs performance, and not all film directors do that as often they’re just taken up with the look of it and how, the camera’s moving and just the technical filmmaking part of it. I mean he does that and he’s also very, very, very involved in the acting.” Weisz plays a cancer patient in the film, defining as “incredibly and intensely raw.” In playing the role, Weisz says that she approaches it “by just about getting completely lost in what you’re doing so that you don’t even know what you’re doing anymore.”
She says it wasn’t based on anyone or any experience within her own reality. “I mean inevitably, you and I are a sum of all our experiences, so as an actor I guess you draw on everything and anything that has every happened to you. But oftentimes you’re in a situation that you yourself haven’t been in.” And Weisz has nothing but genuine praise for her Aussie co-star. “It’s so lovely to meet and work with someone of that calibre who’s just so real and grounded and down to earth which I think is really an Aussie quality. But I mean he’s so real and unaffected and present. If anybody on the set wants to talk to him he’s open, and available with just no snobbery.”
Some 10 years after her acting debut, Weisz is an established actress, and has come a long way from the time we first met when Swept from the Sea screened at the Toronto Film Festival. Looking back, Rachel says she is genuinely surprised by the transition from up-and-comer to film star. “I suppose everyone hopes that they’re going to be successful and in the end get to do the kind of projects that they really believe in, like this one. I mean oftentimes when you’re younger you take work to pay the rent and you don’t really get to choose so much. But I’m in a position now which is incredibly lucky where I can pick and choose a little more, and that’s a tremendous luxury. I don’t know what I thought back then, except I just think I was just so happy to be working. There are so many actors are out of work that right at that point I was just thrilled to have a job.”
Next year, Weisz will step onto the New York stage in the title role of Miss Julie, and after that, would she REALLY do a Mummy 3? “Why not?” she says with a twinkle in her eye.