With the recent announcement of selections for this year’s Toronto International Film Festival, Rachel Weisz discovered she is going to be there with two films: The Deep Blue Sea and Fernando Meirelles’ ensembler 360. But it was her acclaimed performance in another Toronto film — from the 2010 fest — that she most wanted to discuss when I recently caught up with her.
After its 2010 Toronto premiere, buzz started on awards prospects for The Whistleblower star Weisz’s intense and emotional performance. But after the fest, filmmakers went back into editing and toned down the harrowing rape scenes and further shaped the movie, which finally gets released today through the Samuel Goldwyn Company, which hopes the awards buzz will pick up again, especially if the distributor can get any box office traction in a crowded marketplace for small movies like this one.
Although it received mixed reviews after its Toronto unveiling, there was near-unanimous praise for Weisz’s portrayal of real-life Nebraska cop Kathryn Bolkovac, who took a job as a peacekeeper in post-war Bosnia only to uncover a web of corruption, sex trafficking and United Nations cover-ups when she arrived there in 1999. The real story turned out to be too intense to show the way it really was. “In fact the rape scene was cut down after the Toronto screening by the studio, which I completely understand,” she says. “It would be just too harrowing for people to watch. What actually happened was so much worse. I mean the stories I could tell you from the first person who encountered these young women. That was the ‘light’ version if you can believe that. But it isn’t a documentary, you don’t want to destroy people. You just want to illuminate something that actually happened that was a hundred times worse.”
Weisz, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 2005’s The Constant Gardener, is proud of what they were able to get onscreen, and particularly that it comes from a woman and first-time feature filmmaker, Larysa Kondracki. Since it is inspired by actual events, Weisz feels a great responsibility to get it right. “It was a great, great character to get into the skin of, like an Erin Brockovich or Karen Silkwood, stories about ordinary women, both moms, who come across something unjust and go up David and Goliath-style against a huge organization or corporation and risk their lives to do what’s right,” she says. “I just love this kind of story; it’s inspiring.”
But the fact is, when the role was first offered, she was pregnant and turned it down, feeling it wouldn’t be something she could subject herself to at the time. Fate intervened, and the project eventually came full circle back to her.
Because of the indie nature of the film and the low budget, she didn’t get the opportunity to meet the true-life subject of the movie, Kathryn Bolkovac, until about a week into filming, when Bolkovac came to visit the set. “She was there for I think a couple of weeks,” Weisz says. “I kind of absorbed her every possible moment … but we don’t look similar and this isn’t a biopic. I know (in Erin Brockovich) Julia Roberts got the breasts [laughs]. I didn’t try to emulate her appearance. But I did try to capture her spirit and her center of gravity, which is very different from me. I mean I’m just not brave like that.”
Weisz has been working non-stop lately and has had a lot of projects offered after winning that Oscar five years ago. But she’s not about to say the statuette completely changed things for her. “I’m sure it’s helpful,” she says. “The main thing that I noticed happening was very interesting directors were suddenly offering me jobs. That is always lovely. And it was an incredible moment, very career-changing in that sense. It puts you on the map with directors that you might not always get to work with.”
Among the A-list directors she has films with this year are David Hare (Page 8); Jim Sheridan (Dream House); Terrence Davies (The Deep Blue Sea); Terrence Malick’s untitled next film; Tony Gilroy (The Bourne Legacy); a reunion with her Constant Gardener helmer Meirelles on 360; and the film she is currently shooting in Detroit with Sam Raimi, Oz: The Great and Powerful, which is a prequel to The Wizard of Oz. “James Franco plays the Wizard and gets to Emerald City, where he finds the Wicked Witch of the East, me; and my sister, the Wicked Witch of the West, Mila Kunis; and Michelle Williams, who is the Good Witch Glinda. It’s all so creative and such fun,” Weisz says, mentioning they are shooting in Raimi’s hometown, where she says he always wanted to go back and film. So there is a big studio there where they have built the Emerald City.
With all this cinematic activity Weisz also somehow found time to marry her Dream House leading man Daniel Craig just months after announcing her split from partner Darren Aronofsky. As for being a newlywed? “I’m very, very happy and very blessed,” she says.