Rachel Weisz on Disobedience, Working with Sebastián Lelio and Creating Chemistry with Co-Stars
I have sat down and chatted with Rachel Weisz several times and always look forward to speaking with her. Last week, I got a chance to talk with Weisz about her latest project, Disobedience. The film is based on Naomi Alderman‘s debut novel of the same name and tells the story of Ronit Krushka (Weisz), a woman who has been shunned by her community in London but must return after the death of her father.
Scott Menzel: As an avid book reader, what was it about this one that spoke to you and made you want to do it, and then also produce?
Rachel Weisz: I was looking for a role to play myself and I thought it would be really interesting to find a women’s role that was in relation to another woman. So it would be two women roles. I’ve played… Probably all the roles I’ve ever played have been in relation to a man. So I did a lot of reading and this one struck me because it was contemporary. A lot of the gay literature that I read was set in the ’50s or, you know, a time when it was taboo but this was set now, just in a community where being gay was taboo. There’s something about if something is taboo and characters have to transgress, it just makes for really good storytelling. Plus, I grew up three stops on the tube from this community. I didn’t know anything about them because then they’re very private, but I grew up near them.
Menzel: That was actually going to be a lead into my second question. Considering you have a Jewish background, was there anything about this film that was difficult for you to tackle and embrace?
Weisz: No. I mean my dad’s Jewish, my mom’s Catholic. I know a lot about both religions. It could have been set like Witness… do you remember the Harrison Ford movie?
Menzel: Yeah, I do.
Weisz: It was set in the ’80s in the Amish community. Disobedience could have been in the Muslim or Christian community. It doesn’t really matter to me that it is the Jewish community, it’s just that’s where it was set because Naomi Alderman, the author of the book, grew up in that community. So she’s writing a first-person account of something she experienced.
Menzel: Your chemistry with Rachel McAdams was incredible. How did you two create that?
Weisz: You can’t create chemistry actually. It’s not something you can create, like going to the gym and getting muscles. It just doesn’t… It’s either there or it isn’t and we just, I would think lucky, we just had it. You find it in action and cut, yeah. I think we were both similar in that way. There are some… Sebastian [Lelio] wasn’t a director who is like, “Go and hang out and live together and get to know each other.” It wasn’t like that.
Menzel: How about re-teaming with Alessandro Nivola?
Weisz: Fantastic. You know, his kids are at the same school as my son, so we’ve both lived in New York so I’ve seen him but not worked with him for 20 years. It was lovely because we have a history so our characters had a history, so that was something we didn’t have to make up.
Menzel: The one scene everyone is talking about was, of course, the love scene in this movie. There was something very unique about that scene. For me, I’ve seen so many movies, this was one of the first times that I’ve seen a love story unfold in which it felt actually felt very intimate but not particularly sexy. As opposed to movies where they’re very exploitative. Was that scene difficult for you to film? I’ve never quite seen you like this before…
Weisz: Often as an actress, you think of a sex scene like, “Is this really necessary for the story?” In this case, it was absolutely. We don’t have a film or have a story without a scene. To me, it was the heart and I was totally happy to talk about it because I think it’s great storytelling. It’s about these two women to manage to feel, when they’re uninhibited, alone, away… They have to travel away from the community and find a private space to love each other. It was, yeah, very vulnerable, very emotional. Sebastian storyboarded it. It wasn’t like we improv’d it. We knew what was going to be asked of us but the improv was just the emotion that we had to come up with. Do you see what I mean?
Menzel: Yeah, very nice. In terms of working with Sebastian, how did he differ? How was his skill on set different from other directors?
Weisz: Incredible empathy. I think that if you asked Alessandro or Rachel McAdams, or any actor that worked, I think they would all say… we all felt like we had his undivided love, care, attention. Very caring, makes you feel very, very safe.
Menzel: This premiered at TIFF. You’ve been at so many different film festivals over the years. How do you feel they have helped your career? And do you think they have had an impact on the success of many smaller stories?
Weisz: Sure. I mean film festivals are the platform and the home to start small movie’s lives. And stories from all over the world meeting one place, so it’s kind of global representation. They’re absolutely essential and also, great place to meet other filmmakers and see other people’s films.
Menzel: Studio films versus independent films. What do you think are the differences between the two?
Weisz: Well it just really depends on what the genre is. I mean after Disobedience, I’ve made a film with Yorgos Lanthimos called The Favorite, which is Fox Searchlight, so that’s a studio film and it didn’t feel different to me than making The Lobster with Yorgos, even though one’s much more expensive. It just depends. But I can’t really generalize them. I just remember action, pure genre action movies, I haven’t been in one for a little while, nor am I being asked to, to be honest. I’m not like turning them down.
Menzel: What do you think about that? I mean, you’ve been in a lot more independent, smaller projects and I feel like in the 2000s you were in a lot of more mainstream movies. Is that something that you just feel like as your career has gotten stronger, with meatier roles, have people been taking you more seriously, you think?
Weisz: I mean, I’d be really interested in doing them. I loved Wonder Women, for instance. You know, I don’t want to close any doors to making other films but I don’t know, that’s just what’s happening right now, but I’m really open to franchise movies and just looking for interesting parts.