On a bright Indian-summer day in New York City, Rachel Weisz strides up a ramp and into the enormous, gloomy room where we are to have lunch. The sunshine of the day is still on her. It radiates off her dark-brown hair. It lights up her beaming face with its complicated eyes and wide cheekbones. She wears a short gray dress that comes down to midthigh with nothing but bare leg down to a pair of pumps–green, with amoeba-shaped cutouts that look like keyholes.
She’s sunny as we exchange effusive greetings, but there is something about Weisz that always provokes a slight double take, something other than her beauty. There are layers of complexity, intelligence, and even ambivalence that suggest secrets, a tiny cloud lingering in the otherwise blue sky.
This mischievous, many-layered vibe–a woman with a past, and a future–is familiar to me from almost all of her movies. But she looks a lot different from when I used to know her in London in the mid-’90s. Her boyfriend at the time was friends with my girlfriend. There were some double dates, some lounging around. At the time, she was appearing in a play, Noel Coward’s Design for Living, along with some guy named Clive Owen.
It was her first big part. I can still see her then, stamping her feet as she spoke and moving across the stage in a white, fluffy, tightly belted sweater, her cheeks apple red, everything marvelously bouncing at different speeds. That performance earned her accolades and awards and put her on the map.
Since then, she has starred in blockbusters such as The Mummy and great movies like Enemy at the Gates and Runaway Jury. She is memorable in About a Boy, in which she brings a rather seductive gravitas to Hugh Grant’s fumbling toward adulthood, even though she is onscreen for only about eight minutes. In that movie, she plays the right girl, the good girl, as opposed to the wrong, bad girl. But in most of Weisz’s performances, she is never totally one thing or another, calm or stormy, day or night. One never seems altogether absent when the other is present. Perhaps it was for this reason that she clicked so well as the outspoken and quite sexy Tessa in The Constant Gardener, for which she won both an Oscar and a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress.
The Rachel Weisz bounding up the ramp to meet me at the restaurant/photo studio must be the daytime version. She is a mother now, settled. Her career seems to have entered a new phase. This month, she appears opposite Ryan Reynolds in the romantic comedy Definitely, Maybe, and in My Blueberry Nights, with Jude Law and Natalie Portman. She finished shooting The Brothers Bloom, opposite Adrien Brody, and is currently shooting The Lovely Bones, directed by Peter Jackson.
That is one kind of busy. Another version is raising the baby she has with her fiancé, filmmaker Darren Aronofsky. She gave birth, in fact, a year after playing the pregnant Tessa in The Constant Gardener.
The baby’s name?
“Henry,” she says. “A boring, old-fashioned name. But he’s got to live with Aronofsky as the second name, so I wanted something very nonexotic, shall I say. Like, Romeo Aronofsky is too much.”
Rachel, Darren, and Henry, now 21 months, live in an East Village brownstone that is 12 feet wide. She met her husband at what’s called, in her profession, a general meeting, she says. “It means there is no specific project. You’re just meeting because you admire that person’s work. He came to England. Then I did a play that came to New York. And then I never went back.”
I just welcomed a baby daughter myself, and I am eager to discuss the pleasures and vicissitudes of it all, when Cate Blanchett materializes before us from a photo shoot in another studio. She’s barefoot and wearing an incredibly long green velvet dress. With breathless theatricality, she belts out “Hallo!”
Weisz jumps to her feet. “How are you!” she says. For a moment I think they are going to kiss, that they’re best friends. In profile, facing each other, I can see the similarities: the beauty, and also the slyness, that Streep-ish sense of internal contradiction that animates their acting and ripples across their faces now as they greet each other.
No kiss. Instead, the moment devolves into something more tentative. They touch each other on the arm, above the elbow. The whole thing lasts a second before Blanchett plunges in: “Congratulations on your bay-bee!” she says. “I know it was years ago. A boy?”
“Henry, yes. And you’ve got two boys?”
They talk about work and child care, about Indiana Jones, New Zealand, Peter Jackson, and other films, including Aronofsky’s last movie: “I thought The Fountain was fantastic,” says Blanchett. “I so loved it. I thought it was brilliant. I’m so glad he finally got to make it after all that.”
Then, suddenly this: “Actually,” says Weisz, “I’m doing an interview now.”
“Oh!” says Blanchett, shocked, and as quickly as she appeared, she vanishes back to the room where she was having her picture taken.
Facing each other again, I ask Weisz about Aronofsky’s surreal, stunning film, The Fountain.
“Originally, Cate was going to be in it,” she says. “But then Brad Pitt dropped out and the film fell apart. And so it got very delayed. Eventually, I was in it in the role she was going to play.” Weisz starred opposite Hugh Jackman, so all was well.
Later on, listening to the tape, I note how quickly Weisz drew her attention to my tape recorder when Blanchett mentioned The Fountain. Perhaps, I thought, I had witnessed one of those exquisite moments that transpire between females on a frequency that men simply do not hear. They’re like dog whistles, and only at the end of the night when the party is over and you’re taking off your shoes and telling your wife about the exchange does she clue you in to all the high drama you missed.
When I ask Weisz how Aronofsky feels about being a father, she says, “He’s in love with this baby.”
“I’m a fan of . . . what should I call him?”
“When are you getting married?”
“When are we? Oh, we’re not.”
“I thought you said you were engaged.”
“As in, indefinitely?”
“As a state.”
“Being engaged suggests a proposal.”
“There was a proposal.”
“And you said . . . ?”
“Did you have the idea that there might be a wedding?”
“We did, but now . . . we’ve just been too busy. There is no great political reason.”
I ask if she and Aronofsky belong to the category of couples who talk a lot about things that went before.
“Why would one want to haunt another person with one’s history?” she asks. Weisz went to high school at St. Paul’s and then to Cambridge. Her accent occupies a corner of the British vernacular in which every other sentence has a word whose utterance is lavished with attention as though it were a ripe fruit. In her last phrase, that word is history.
“You get to know someone anyway,” she says. “More than how they represent themselves in stories, I think. How people represent themselves in stories is never remotely who they are.”
I suggest that perhaps there is something masochistic about disclosing such things.
“Very masochistic. And sadistic.”
“And if you want to stay together for a long time . . . “
“Not a good idea. The road to hell.” She pauses for a moment and then we burst out laughing. ” The Road to Hell!” she says. “Sounds like an American self-help book. You know this joke: The masochist says to the sadist, ‘Hit me! Hit me!’ And the sadist says . . . ” and she pauses to savor the word, “‘No.'”
So now she is a New Yorker with nanny anxieties, “As all working mums have.” There’s a freedom in New York she seems to be enjoying, and it manifests itself in many ways, such as the presence of menorahs and Christmas trees side by side during the holidays, which shocked her when she first saw it. “You would never see that in England,” she says. Weisz is partly Jewish and Hungarian on her father’s side, and the pronunciation of her last name–vice–is an unlikely spritz of the Old World in the celebrity column.
Are an actor and a writer, even one who writes for movies, a volatile combination? Both spend a lot of time projecting themselves. Both need attention.
“All people need attention,” says Weisz. “Everyone does, no? With acting, you are necessarily self-involved. Your craft is about getting involved with what you’re feeling. And I think with writing too. Self-involvement has very pejorative connotations, and it can get out of control. But you need it. It’s all you’ve got. It’s your instincts. I’ve realized that reality has the edge over fiction. It’s a better author. I used to not think that. I used to think that fiction was more valuable, imagined life was more valuable than lived experience. But I’ve changed my mind.”
“Prompted by what?”
“I don’t know,” she says. “They’re crazy, actresses, aren’t they? They’re nuts. Right?”
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