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MOVIES Oscar winner Rachel Weisz: On new role, LGBT films
by Jerry Nunn, Windy City Times

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Actress Rachel Weisz has come a long way since her first minor role in 1994's Death Machine. She began staking her claim to big-budget Hollywood with Chain Reaction, a few Mummy movies, About a Boy and The Runaway Jury. She later won an Oscar for her role in The Constant Gardener.

In live theater, she revived Design for Living and A Streetcar Named Desire. The Londoner starred with her husband, Daniel Craig, on Broadway with Betrayal, which racked up ticket sales.

Art-house films are her specialty, with 2015's The Lobster, Youth and, now, My Cousin Rachel. This is another film adaptation of Daphne du Maurier's work and the first one since 1952. It is a tightly wound mystery involving a young Englishman named Philip, played by Sam Claflin, who plots revenge against his cousin because he believes that she murdered his guardian. Things grow complicated as he develops romantic feelings for her.

Windy City Times talked with the accomplished actress during a recent press conference.

Question: Hi, Rachel. Would you start off with talking about researching the role in My Cousin Rachel and making it different from the past?

Rachel Weisz: I didn't watch the original 1950s classic because I didn't want to have Olivia de Havilland's performance in my mind.

I did read the novel because obviously I could interpret that in my own way, and not be haunted by another actress's reading. I read the script and I like to ride side saddle. That was about it in terms of active research. The rest is just imagining.

Q: Did you work closely with the director on your interpretation of her guilt or innocence?

RW: I made a decision, and when I first read the script, I didn't know. It was open to interpretation and ambiguous as to kind of did she or didn't she but I made a decision before I actually played her as to whether she was guilty or innocent. The director asked that I keep that a secret from him, and it's a secret still. He still doesn't know.

Q: Did you make a decision about it?

RW: I definitely made the decision as to her guilt or innocence. I didn't know when I first read the script whether she was guilty, but I made a decision in order to play her. I played her with that in mind, with my decision in mind.

Q: Now that the film is out, can you say how you feel about the character?

RW: I'm afraid not—I can't. I'll take it to the grave. I'm so sorry.

Q: With Du Maurier, gender lines are broken and sexual orientation is played with. How does the cast deal with this?

RW: Well, it's a great question. I mean, it's there in the story and in the novel, obviously it's a woman writing about a man in love with a woman. Apparently she was actually writing about Daphne's obsession with her publisher's wife. I don't know much more about the story than that but it was her, she was actually in love with this Rachel figure, the writer. So that's there in the history of the writing of the novel, which I think is an interesting biographical detail.

But, yes, I mean she is playing with feminism and a woman living, feeling not guilty about having sexual pleasure, and not feeling like she needs to be married in order to have sexual pleasure or that being married would mean that she would be owned or possessed. She wants to be independent and free and carve out her own sense of self and her own sense of sexuality—which is, I guess, for the 1850s, very radical and, unfortunately, may be still radical in some places.

Q: How did you maneuver in those big costumes?

RW: Well, wearing a corset, you can't put it on yourself—someone has to lace you in. It takes time and, once you're in it, you're very restrained and it immediately makes you more formal, more poised. You feel less modern. I guess it's kind of like a cage of femininity strapped on to you.

It's quite intense, wearing a corset. You can't breathe. I understand why women used to say, you can only shallow breathe. It's a whole other feeling, than if I was in jeans and T-shirt. There's a certain oppression of the time that is expressed through the clothes, I guess. Also beauty—there's great beauty in them as well.

Q: What was the most difficult scene to shoot?

RW: They were all difficult and all easy. There wasn't one thing that was particularly, that stands out. I think all performances are challenging. They're all a crapshoot; you don't know if you're going to pull it off. It doesn't matter how many performances you've managed to do, sometimes I think the more experience you get, the more nervous you get.

You just don't know if you're going to pull it off. It's a scary endeavor. You have to jump off into the deep end.

Q: You were in the movie Bent in the past. Any plans for more LGBT movies?

RW: Well, I just produced and starred in a film called Disobedience, which is an adaptation of a Naomi Alderman novel. It is a love story between two women.

I just finished a film, 1708, which is also a love story about two women, and then turns out [there are] three women.

Q: When does Disobedience come out?

RW: Disobedience is just in post-production right now.

It's a novel that I optioned and sought out the director and found the financing and we made it at the beginning of this year in London. It stars Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola. It's set in the Orthodox Jewish community of North London.

My Cousin Rachel currently is running at Landmark Century Centre Cinema, 2828 N. Clark St., among other theaters in Chicago.

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