From Sebastián Lelio, the director of the Academy Award-winning A Fantastic Woman, Disobedience follows Ronit Krushka (Rachel Weisz), a woman who, upon the death of her estranged father, returns to the Orthodox community that shunned her years earlier for an attraction to a childhood friend. Once back, she is greeted with resentment and mistrust, and while that old passion is reignited, Ronit is also reminded of exactly why she left. The film also stars Rachel McAdams and Alessandro Nivola.
At the film’s press day, Collider got the opportunity to sit down with actress Rachel Weisz, who also produced the film, for this 1-on-1 interview about why she wanted to develop this story into a feature film, her interest in exploring closed communities, what she learned about producing from being a part of this project, what made Sebastián Lelio the right director to handle this material, what makes this story relatable, and the story’s parallels to The Shape of Water. She also talked about the type of characters she wants to play, developing a film about the fascinating life of James Miranda Berry, and reuniting with director Yorgos Lanthimos for The Favourite.
Collider: This is such a beautiful and tragic film.
RACHEL WEISZ: Thank you!
Everybody is just so tremendous in it. You became involved in this all the way back when it was in book form. From the beginning, were you looking at this as something you could both act in and produce?
WEISZ: That was the intention. Ten years ago, some producers said to me, “Do you want to start a production company and do all that stuff?” They said, “What sort of stories do you want to tell?” And I just really didn’t know. I knew scripts that I liked, if they came my way, but I didn’t know how to look for a story. But over the years, I’ve honed my personal taste. I know what my taste is, so I was looking for something that I wanted to play in, and I really wanted to find another good role for a woman. I thought it would be really interesting to have two female roles, and for them to be in relation to one another rather than in relation to a man, which is what I’ve done in probably every other film. So, I ended up reading a lot of lesbian novels and I thought this one was good because it’s contemporary. It’s not set in the ‘50s, when being gay was taboo. It’s set now, in a closed community, in North London. It’s three tube stops from where I grew up.
This is such an interesting story because it has those ‘50s ideals, even though it is contemporary.
WEISZ: Exactly. It’s a bit like that movie Witness, from the ‘80s, that’s set in the Amish communities, where some things are still taboo. I’m sure it’s the same thing with Muslim communities. I’m interested in closed communities.
Did you always know that it was this particular woman, of the two, that you wanted to play, or did you think about that?
WEISZ: I thought about playing Esti, and (writer/director) Sebastián [Lelio] was like, “No, you have to be Ronit!” They’re both wonderful parts. He said to me that, in a way, they’re like two halves of the same character. I’m the half that left, and she’s the half that stayed.
It shows what Ronit might have been if she had stayed.
WEISZ: Yeah, exactly!
How did you figure out who you wanted to play Esti?
WEISZ: Rachel [McAdams] is the first person that we went out to, and she just immediately responded with an enormous amount of passion. I spoke to her on the phone, and she really loved it. That’s what you want. She’s a brilliant, talented, incredible, luminous actress, but it was important that someone would really want to identify with Esti, and she completely identified with Esti.
What did doing a project like this teach you about producing? Do you feel like you know a little more about what that entails now?
WEISZ: Yeah, I think so. I was very involved in the novel to screenplay adaptation, and then casting, but once we started filming, I wasn’t involved in the production design, or cinematography, or anything visual. I just became an actress for hire. And then, when the filming ended, I got re-involved, in terms of the edit and the storytelling through editing, with the other producers. I definitely learned a lot. I learned that I can be somewhat objective, even though I’m watching myself in the film.
That seems like it would be one of the harder aspects of producing something you’re acting in.
WEISZ: It is and it isn’t. I actually didn’t find it that hard. I think Sebastián was quite surprised. When I first saw it, he said, “You know, actors normally freak out when they first see themselves,” but I didn’t, even though it was a rough cut and actors normally see things when they’re finished. I really like seeing it in its raw, unpolished state. I was pretty objective, up until a certain point, and then we just had to leave it to Sebastián because it’s his film and his vision.
What was it like having Sebastián Lelio as that counterpart?
WEISZ: I completely trusted him. He’s got such empathy and sensitivity that made him a really good person to entrust the story to. You have to trust the director. They have to make the decisions on how the film is gonna look, which takes of your performance they’re gonna choose, how the movie is gonna end, and the tone of the film. It’s their medium. It’s not really an actor’s medium.
This is such a beautiful and tragic story about two women that I was surprised to learn the director was a man.
WEISZ: Listen, when I saw Gloria and I saw that Sebastián Lelio directed it, I would have bet my life that he was a gay man. I couldn’t believe that he’s not. He’s a straight man, but he breaks the mold.
Maybe it’s just about having an understanding and listening.
WEISZ: Yeah! He definitely, definitely, definitely listens. Everyone that’s worked with him would say the same. We all felt that we had his undivided attention, which of course, we didn’t really because he had a lot of people to pay attention to, but he makes you feel completely listened to. It’s a beautiful quality.
Because this is a closed community, how did you find ways to connect with this character?
WEISZ: Well, my character left like 15 or 20 years before, so I didn’t really have to connect with it. I have to feel uncomfortable returning to it, which was quite easy to do because it’s quite weird. It was more Alessandro [Nivola] and Rachel. They had to do a six-month immersion into becoming English, becoming Orthodox and becoming Jewish. They had to really live in that space, whereas I was playing a rebel who abandoned it. And my dad’s Jewish, so I know bits and bobs about it.
It’s very relatable and universal to see someone realize that you can leave a situation or a community, but you never really leave your past behind because it’s always a part of you.
WEISZ: You can’t! You can’t run away. In the running, you lose something. That’s what happens with Ronit. She goes back and makes peace, and she can live her life without running anymore. She’s got the source of where she’s from in her, even though she’s not gonna stay there.
Do you think she wished that she would have had that moment with her father, before he was gone?
WEISZ: Oh, yeah, but who knows? Maybe it would have been awful. Maybe he would have just been really mean. In a way, maybe that was the best way to make peace with him, when he was in the ground. Poor Ronit. Poor all of them. They have a rough ride.
It seems like such a hard way to live, when you can’t actually voice how you’re feeling.
WEISZ: Yeah. For Esti, what a conundrum, to love God, love your community, love your job, love the girls that you’re teaching, and love your husband, but be gay. You have to give up all of that for your sexuality. It’s a really hard choice.