Millions of moviegoers got their first real glimpse of Rachel Weisz in the 1999 archaeological action epic The Mummy. This weekend, the Oscar winner is after more ancient issues in Agora. This time, however, the film poses real ideological problems and they don’t get solved within the allotted runtime.
Collider recently got into Agora’s philosophical questions with Weisz and it turns out she wants in on another big-scale film with a brain, J.J. Abrams’ untitled Star Trek sequel. Hit the jump for the interview’s full audio and transcript, along with updates on her Jackie O film; the Hedy Lamarr biopic Face Value; The Invisible X for Karyn Kusama (Girlfight & Jennifer’s Body) and the news that should make Trekkies from here to Comic-Con thrilled they logged on before taking off for Memorial Day.
By the time Rachel Weisz won the Academy Award in 2006 for Best Supporting Actress in The Constant Gardener, she had already appeared in a striking variety of films. Following her big break with a small part in Bernardo Bertolucci’s romantic drama Stealing Beauty, Weisz cut a wide swath through a tapestry of genres. They ranged, in order, from the action thriller Chain Reaction to the World War II British home front drama The Land Girls; the aforementioned blockbuster The Mummy (and its sequel); the Weitz brothers’ romantic dramedy About A Boy, Neil Labute’s think piece The Shape Of Things and the legal nail biter Runaway Jury, among several others.
Her latest, Agora, opening today in New York and next week in Los Angeles, is based on the true story of the 4th century astronomer and philosopher Hypatia. The character gets caught in the middle of Alexandria’s epic culture clash between Christians, Pagans and Jews as they vie for power in an increasingly intolerant environment. 17 centuries later, the film’s epic questions, surrounding freedom of religion and science vs. faith, remain unanswered. We delved into them, but the interview started with a conversation we were having about the rise of websites like Collider.
As usual, the transcript is below or you can click here to listen to the interview.
Collider: We were just talking about the internet and how insane it is, where movie blogs have taken over, in some respect, in terms of breaking news and other things.
Rachel Weisz: Yeah.
How much attention do you pay? Do you read movie blogs and things like that?
RW: I do. I do read movie blogs. I think what’s really interesting—Probably everyone says this, but what’s interesting is it, it takes away the power, from the newspaper magnates, so be it Murdoch or whatever. I mean, it’s like the people taking it back. Isn’t it? I mean, do people talk about this all the time?
But it is. It’s like a democratization of information.
RW: Yeah, it’s very interesting.
As opposed to the 5 big companies (Newscorp, Viacom, Time Warner, Disney, Comcast).
RW: Yeah, which may have one political bent. I mean, we’re talking about film, not politics, but-
RW: -it’s kind of a political film, I guess.
Well, speaking of that and people’s agendas and the control of information. Agora deals a lot with that, and it deals a lot in religion and for (director Alejandro) Amenabar (The Others) who talked a lot about the afterlife in films like and spirituality, in Abre Los Ojos (which was the basis for Vanilla Sky) and The Sea Inside. This sort of pivots for him, in a way, that it talks about the certainty, with which people talk about it. What were your initial conversations with him like, in terms of the religious aspects of this?
RW: That was a brilliantly set-up question.
RW: I’m very impressed. No, I mean I hadn’t really thought about that, in relation to his previous works. Sorry, what was the actual question, though?
What did he say about spirituality, in terms of what this film is saying, when you first were meeting?
RW: I see. I see. Well, I mean, I don’t think we really, I don’t think it really is a— Sorry, it’s a really interesting question. I think the movie- When I first read the movie and I closed the script, I thought, “This is a movie about today.” It’s a contemporary film set in the 4th century and what’s interesting is, what hasn’t changed. I mean, we know what has changed. We go to the moon, antibiotics, blah, blah, blah, but in terms of fundamentalism, in terms of people saying ‘I’m going to kill you because you don’t believe in my God,’ we don’t seem to have progressed an enormous amount, at all. You know, in America, Christian fundamentalism vs. science. You know, be it teaching Darwinian evolutionary theory or stem cell res- You know, the whole thing, and then the issue of women being educated in Middle Eastern—I mean, it just seems so contemporary. In terms of spirituality, it’s interesting because I actually think (her character in Agora) Hypatia is very spiritual. I don’t think she’s religious, but I think her spirituality is just to do with the awe and wonder of the Cosmos and trying to come to grips with our place in the universe and she’s thinking not existentially of herself, she’s thinking of the planet Earth. Which is, I’ve never really thought of spirituality, in relation to the film, but in a way, yeah, he’s gone from thinking about spirituality to thinking about religion and those who are so sure of their—
And organized religion, in particular.
RW: Organized, yeah. And those who are so sure that their God is the right God that they believe it’s ok to kill another person who doesn’t believe in their God. And I guess, I guess it’s a humanist film. It’s not really a spiritual film and it’s, you know, it’s saying that we’re all one tribe of humans and we’re on this little rock, floating through the universe and (Amenabar) has these (transitional shots of) POVs where you see humans like ants. We’re on this rock and we can choose to treat each other well or we can choose to kill each other and be uncivilized. I don’t know. It’s very tragic. It’s a very tragic thing to think about.
I once did a shoot down in NASA once & I talked to somebody who worked on the space station and he said that it confirmed his spirituality, because, when you get that high up and you look at all these different magnificent planets he said that it confirmed for him that there was a greater plan to it all.
And he said, and then you look down and you see places like the Middle East and you see, just how small, like you were saying, and like it does with the transitional shots in (Agora), that you look down and you go “My God, what are we, what are we doing to ourselves?”
RW: Yeah, we’re so small and tiny and yet, so amazingly blinded.
Well, petty, as well. Small in several-
RW: Yes. Yeah, I mean, I think that’s really what the film’s about. Yeah.
Talking about religion & who people worship. On some level, and this is not to make the facile comparison to this, but do you think, in some way, that fame and celebrity have replaced false idols, on some level? Where literally-
-people look at a screen and it’s built so that actors are bigger than life and people put up a completely false image of themselves and yet, you know, people buy tons of magazines. They-
RW: Totally, but you know which model it’s very similar to? The Pagan model of religion because, in the Pagan model, there were lots and lots of Gods and Goddesses. They were all incredibly beautiful and there were statues of them everywhere, which is the equivalent of magazines, or whatever, today. And they were fallible, which is different from being mono-, you know, Jewish or Islam (where) you have the infallible, monotheistic God. You know, you can’t see or touch and isn’t embodied. But they were all fallible, the Gods. And they would kind of rise and fall. You know, they all, like Achilles, Icarus, you know, they all had their high points and their low points. (Human) beings, in Pagan times would kind of like, listen to the stories and, they could kind of, identify–. They were, like, bigger than them and more successful than them or more beautiful, but they had these human fallibilities. Which is like celebrities now. It’s like, ‘oh, she’s in rehab. Oh, she’s unfaithful. Oh, they’re divorced. Oh, she’s anorexic. Oh, he’s had a nose job.’ You know, whatever it might be. Yeah, I think, modern magazines, you know, we live in Pagan times. Idolatrous, Pagan times. Yeah.
There’s a satire there somewhere, that’ll be made in a few years.
RW: I hope so, yeah. It would be good.
Now, you’ve worked with a bunch of different great directors. (Alejandro) Amenabar is the latest. Peter Jackson, you just worked with (on The Lovely Bones). Darren Aronofsky (on The Fountain). Did you ever look at directing a film?
RW: No, I like acting too much and it’s too, I’m just too busy doing that and I’m too hungry for it, to get behind the camera. I mean, unless I could act in it, too. I don’t think I’ve got the right brain. I’m too disorganized.
RW: Oh! I wish that were enough. I wish that were enough. It’s- You have to have a very particular set of skills, which I’m not sure that I have yet. Maybe in another decade.
The Mummy. A lot of Collider readers first discovered you in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns. Would you go back to big visual effects movies again?
RW: Yeah! Yeah! Definitely! Definitely!
Anything potentially on the horizon that you’re looking at, you’re like, “You know what? I would love to do that series.” Like all these different comic book adaptations that are happening. That you go-
RW: Yeah. You know what? I loved Star Trek. I mean, I couldn’t even believe how great, I meant to write (Star Trek director) J.J. Abrams a letter. I haven’t written it yet, though. I just thought- Didn’t you think it was tremendous?
RW: I just thought it was tremendous.
And it worked on several different levels. It worked, not just artistically, but also commercially. And it was accessible to people who weren’t necessarily fans of (the series).
RW: And I’m not a Trekkie. I mean, (Weisz’s longtime fiancé) Darren (Aronofsky) took me thinking, he says, “You’re gonna hate this.” Cause I didn’t grow up watching Star Trek. I mean, I, Dr. Spock, I mean, I vaguely know. But, I loved it. I absolutely—I thought the acting was just phenomenal. Really, really great. So, yeah! No, I’m totally open to doing a big, big blockbuster.
Would you enter in and put your name in the hat for the Star Trek sequel?
RW: Me? I would LOVE to be in the Star Trek sequel! Yeah! I would love to! I better write that letter to J.J.
Yeah, start crafting it now. I mean-
RW: Yeah, I would love to. No, I was really, wildly impressed by that. I thought it was an incredible piece of work. Yeah. It just had such a freshness and the acting was, the acting blew me away.
Yeah, they’re all- (And) his writing staff is just so great. Looking just in the next couple of years, you have The Invisible X coming up with (writer/director) Karyn Kusama (Girlfight, Aeon Flux, Jennifer’s Body) and I know that’s still in financing, but it also sounds fascinating. So, you would play somebody who goes through a sex-change operation? Or–
RW: (Kusama) doesn’t really want to say. She is writing the script, right now. So, I am, I am waiting for the rewrites. So, it’s kind of, the ball is in her court. It is something I am really passionate about. It’s actually sci-fi. It’s a man who turns into a woman, but not because of an operation. More a metamorphosis.
And also, the new Jackie O biopic (tentatively named Jackie). How far along is that?
RW: There’s a great script. It just got picked up. I’m not sure quite, if it’s all official, like, sort of, but it’s been, has found a great home, in terms of (production). (It’s) not a biopic. It’s set- it’s 4 or 5 days from the assassination (of President John F. Kennedy on November 22, 1963) to the funeral (on November 25, 1963). And it’s a script that Darren (Aronofsky) read. Noah Oppenheim (former Senior Producer with MSNBC’s Hardball With Chris Matthews and NBC’s Today Show, and author of two books in The Intellectual Devotional series) wrote it. It’s wonderful. We haven’t got a start date or anything like that. It’s just being set up at the studio.
Oh, I was going to ask you if the release would be timed to the (50) year mark (of JFK’s assassination on November 22, 2013).
RW: No plans like that. No.
Nothing like that.
Hedy Lamarr (Weisz will play the 1940’s movie star in Face Value). She was also an inventor (worked on a system that became a forerunner to wireless communication)–
-and your father has an invention background, no?
RW: That’s true. Yeah, yeah, yeah. He’s a really strong inventor.
So, how close is that-
RW: Well, you know, she wasn’t a scientist. She just had this thing that she did, whilst being one of the most famous movie stars in the world and marrying 3 men, and, you know, she was busy. It’s a kind of edgy, fun (look at a) woman in Hollywood in the 40s, who had this other, like, thing, going on for her.
Yeah, and with Agora and with Hedy Lamarr, she’s not an inventor, but (she) worked on this invention.
Is there something that goes back to your childhood, something with your father, since he was an inventor?
RW: I mean, a little bit, but it’s not my forte, I would say, at all. I think it’s just coincidence. I mean I’d be happy to play people who have received no, I mean, (my) favorite role I’ve played in a long time is Blanche DuBois (she won Best Actress at the Olivier Awards in London this past season for her performance in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse) and she’s an alcoholic sex addict, who’s, you know, very poetic, but quite a big mess, so I don’t know. I’m not really just interested in playing people who know about science. I don’t know anything about science. I know f— all about science, to be honest with you. I just, I don’t know. It just seemed like an interesting challenge. But yes, my dad is an inventor.
Would you (do) Broadway?
RW: I would love to. Yeah. I’m actually talking to people right now about- Yeah, I would really love to.
Oh, but you can’t say, yet.
RW: Well, there’s nothing definite, yet. I’m literally just meeting people to talk and reading and– Yeah, I would love to. Love to, love to, love to.
Well, we can end with a fun one. Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet recently said that they keep their Oscar on the back of their toilet. Where do you keep yours (won in 2006 for Best Supporting Actress in The Constant Gardener)?
RW: Well, it’s actually in the bathroom, but that’s my favorite room in the house. So, it’s a beautiful room. I love to take baths. My son calls it my medal.
RW: OK. Thank you.