Call her Mrs Craig!

‘I love being Mrs Craig,’ says Rachel Weisz who’s looking forward to a little 007½ and her love story with Rachel Mcadams

By Maureen Dow
  • Published 24.04.18
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Rachel Weisz

Rachel Weisz is glowing. That’s not unusual. I’ve interviewed her before and seen her at movie and theatre parties, and she’s always glowing.

I know that if you ask the hazel-eyed, raven-haired 48-year-old how she gets more beautiful every year, defying Hollywood’s propensity to push actresses in their 40s through a trap door, she will shyly demur.

But my editors want to know. So as we sit at a long wooden table in her kitchen in the East Village of Manhattan, in an apartment with wraparound windows and elegant threadbare Oriental rugs and a green-eyed cat named Solomon and James Bond padding around in a green sweatshirt, jeans and socks, I ask again: “Don’t you have some secret to share with the readers of The New York Times, like an avocado face mask or acupuncture?”

The actress explains that she used to have a moon face, but as she got older, she lost her chubbiness and found her cheekbones. But then she takes pity on me, a supposedly trained observer, and pulls up the loose grey sweater she’s wearing to reveal her secret. 

“I’ll be showing soon,” she says, with a radiant smile. “Daniel and I are so happy. We’re going to have a little human. We can’t wait to meet him or her. It’s all such a mystery.”

Wow, I say, grinning back at her. A little 007½.

She already has an 11-year-old, Henry, with her former partner, the director Darren Aronofsky. And Daniel Craig, 50, has a 25-year-old daughter, Ella, with the actress Fiona Loudon. 

Rachel Weisz (pronounced “vice”) likes to say that happiness writes white, meaning it’s anathema to vibrant drama. But it seems quite cosy in life. 

She and Daniel, who have been married for seven years, share a similar quality on screen. It’s hard to look away from them. That’s true in person, as well. As the two stand at opposite counters, Rachel offering me tea and Daniel proffering a cappuccino, it’s tough to know which way to turn. 

“Daniel makes a great cappuccino,” she says, so I choose that.

I’m very happy being married, very, very happy. Daniel (Craig) and I are really similar. We just literally don’t know how to do that. We’re just really crap at talking about our private lives

Too many orgasms

Baby news aside, the real reason I am below 14th Street is to discuss hot lesbian sex. 

Rachel’s latest movie, Disobedience, which she also produced, is about a young woman who becomes estranged from her father, a highly respected Orthodox rabbi in North London. She is persona non grata in their cloistered community — where gay and lesbian relationships are forbidden — because of a teenage relationship she had with her friend Esti, played by a deglamorised Rachel McAdams.

Her character, a photographer named Ronit now living in New York, comes back for her father’s funeral and gets ensorcelled by her old love, Esti, who is now married to the rabbi’s protege, Dovid, played by Alessandro Nivola. The movie focuses both on this taboo triangle and the fraught father-daughter relationship in a closed society where women are not in charge of their choices, wearing wigs and often segregated from men — a world Ronit denounces as “medieval”.

“My character time-travels in a way,” Rachel says. “She’s going back to her childhood but it’s also time travel because she’s going to live amongst a community where the mores haven’t changed for hundreds of years. They’re not part of modern life. They don’t have the Internet or TV and all that stuff. And I grew up down the road from this place. It’s four stops north of Golders Green, which was my stop, so I would see these people sometimes on the way to school. It’s like the ’50s, but it’s happening right now.”

Rachel’s late mother, a teacher turned therapist, was Catholic and convent-schooled but a refugee from Vienna because her father was Jewish. Her father, an engineer and inventor, came from a Jewish Orthodox family in Budapest, and he also fled the Nazis, moving with his parents to London as a child.     

“They met in their late 30s, early 40s, got married and they were like, ‘Oh, we’re both from Central Europe’ and she converted to marry him,” Rachel says.

McAdams said of her co-star, “I remember her telling me her mom put her in dresses as a kid but her hair would be a total mess and her knees scraped up and she’d be off playing in the dirt. I feel like that little kid is still in her.  She’s this gorgeous, timeless, poised, wickedly smart beauty, but she likes to keep things messy and unexpected.”

Indeed, as IndieWire noted, after Disobedience had its premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, the film quickly became known as “‘the movie where Rachel Weisz spits in Rachel McAdams’s mouth’”. Also “‘Jew Is the Warmest Color’,” playing off the 2013 French lesbian romance Blue Is the Warmest Color.

There was a flap over whether Blue Is the Warmest Color was a lascivious product of the male gaze. But so far Disobedience — Rachel Weisz selected the director Sebastian Lelio, whom she described as “a straight Chilean lapsed Catholic” — has been praised for avoiding this trap.

As Jocelyn Macdonald said on AfterEllen, a website that focuses on lesbian and bisexual issues in pop culture, in an interview with the two Rachels: “I was really pleased with the sex scene for not being too objectifying, and yet at the same time, it was not lesbian 101.”

I ask Rachel what it felt like to do her first love scene with a woman.

“Less stubbly,” she says, stroking her cheek. “Softer. I think we both felt very vulnerable and there was a real sweetness. I don’t know if male actors ask this question but I know women normally think, ‘Is this sex scene really necessary?’ And in this case, it’s essential. The whole story of repression leads up to this moment. I think, particularly for Esti, the release of this big orgasm that she had was also a spiritual moment. It’s about freedom.”

Rachel said that, as a producer, she agreed with Sebastian Lelio’s decision to cut out a close-up of her character’s orgasm. “It was too many orgasms,” she says. “Esti’s was more important, and it robbed her of that.” 

She had met McAdams on a one-day shoot on a Terrence Malick movie, which Rachel Weisz got cut from in the end.

“We worked in a very similar way, in that neither of us liked to sit and analyse it,” she says. “We were just like, ‘Let’s do it and see what happens.’ And she’s very touching and tender and soulful as Esti and as a person.”

Rachel was drawn to doing the film, an adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel, not because of the lesbian plotline, she says, but because she wanted to explore a relationship between two women where they were not defined by men, where there was no “history of ownership”.

“I just thought, ‘Perfect: a relationship between two women where it has been a friendship since childhood and there’s love and sexuality and yearning and longing and things to do with freedom.’”

She says she read a lot of lesbian literature when she was looking for a movie to make. 

“There’s a cycle of pulp fiction novels from the ’50s called The Beebo Brinker Chronicles by Ann Bannon,” Rachel says. “Journey to a Woman is my favourite. And I met her and she’s completely fascinating. She’s a professor of linguistics. And she was a gay woman living in a 1950s heterosexual marriage, and she started to write these pulp fiction lesbian novels with an avatar in the book that was her lesbian self. It was mostly in her imagination. And she came down to Greenwich Village and there were lesbian bars where she researched.

“I also read a French lesbian novel called The Illusionist by Francoise Mallet-Joris about a girl who has a love affair with her dad’s older mistress. Very dark but great.” 

Did Rachel do any research for the love scene with lesbian friends?

“Nooooo,” she said. “You can’t ever ask people how they have sex. Sebastian storyboarded it, so it was all his idea to have just faces and spittle and wetness and the other woman’s face. He wasn’t interested in nudity. He was interested in one woman’s face in pleasure in the frame and the other woman outside the frame so you have to imagine where her fingers and tongue are and what’s going on.”

Since it’s a film focused on a father-daughter relationship, I note that the late Mike Nichols, who directed Rachel and Daniel Craig in Betrayal on Broadway in 2013, once told me that the father-son relationship was the most central in drama because, as Joseph Campbell said, “if you are a boy, every enemy is potentially psychologically associated with the father image”.

Rachel says: “I would say that’s because the great playwrights of the 20th century are men. It’s just to do with the canon of great white men writers. I don’t think, in essence, that they are more important than father-daughter relationships or mother-daughter, just less represented.”

I can’t bear just really good, idealised characters. Contradictory characters or illogical things about women are often taken out, and they’re simplified to either all good or bad and they’re never allowed to be just layered and complex

Exploring women’s appetites

Rachel seems to float above Hollywood’s tortured relationship with women. She says she has not had any Me Too experiences and after her kick-start in The Mummy franchise, she has managed to find sultry and strong female roles in a series of indie films and a few big-budget ones.

She has started her own production company, LC6, to look for more projects to tell stories about women.

“I really enjoy all the thousands of movies I’ve seen about men,” she says. “I mean, there are some great masterpieces. But there’s just a dearth of ones about women. I love women. Women are just really fascinating and different to men.”

We talk about how strange it is that the old crass Hollywood moguls, who could treat actresses abominably, still produced movies with juicy parts for women in all stages of life, and that the supposedly more enlightened Hollywood suits that followed — male and female studio chiefs — reduced women’s roles mostly to wives, girlfriends and hookers.

“I think what happened was, women’s appetites were taken away from them,” Rachel Weisz says. “As women got the pill, suddenly it’s like, ‘Let’s not let them be free in the stories.’ Once we had Barbara Stanwyck running around making trouble. Then the ’70s were worse and in the ’80s and ’90s, it got really scary.

“Transgression is delicious. You can be a force for good and sleeping with a married man. That’s what makes you a human. That’s what makes you, in stories, believable and relatable. I can’t bear just really good, idealised characters.

“Contradictory characters or illogical things about women are often taken out, and they’re simplified to either all good or bad and they’re never allowed to be just layered and complex.”

She cited the example of her Oscar-winning turn in The Constant Gardener (2005) as Tessa Quayle, a human-rights activist.

“That character was doing good things, but she was a pain in the ass and difficult,” Rachel says. “She wasn’t like a sweet person.”

She is sceptical about how soon structural changes will be made to the industry. “I don’t think there’s any cause for celebration quite yet,” she says. “I think it’s a long road and a damn serious one, don’t you? And I doubt it will be fixed in my lifetime.”

One story she isn’t interested in making is Jane Bond. As she told The Telegraph, Ian Fleming “devoted an awful lot of time to writing this particular character, who is particularly male and relates in a particular way to women. Why not create your own story rather than jumping onto the shoulders and being compared to all these other male predecessors?”

She reiterated that to me, saying, “Let’s find our own characters.”

(The Daily Mail published an article about how some millennials watching Sean Connery’s Bond movies for the first time described the British agent as a “sexist wife-beater,” a “scumbag” and a “rapist”. Judi Dench, who played M, once described Bond as a “sexist, misogynist dinosaur”. But there have been reports that Danny Boyle will refashion the next Bond movie, which Daniel Craig has already signed up for, to suit the Me Too, Time’s Up era, upgrading the Bond girls. Which will be a 007-worthy stunt if accomplished.)

Since Daniel Craig is my favourite Bond, I tell Rachel I’m relieved that he is doing Bond 25 and that he got over feeling that, as he said in 2015, he would rather slash his wrists than do another Bond.  

“He just meant ‘I can’t think about this today,’ having just done one,” she says. “He was just tired. He needed a really long nap and a glass of wine. It would be like if you asked someone who just had a baby, ‘Do you want another one that day?’ They’d just go, ‘NO!’”

Rachel Weisz as Ronit and Rachel McAdams as Esti in Disobedience

No social media

I ask Rachel Weisz if she still loves being married. 

“I’m very happy being married, very, very happy,” she says. She muses that some other movie star pairs seem to know how to make their “coupledom” part of their brand.

“I really take my hat off to them,” she says. “But Daniel and I are really similar. We just literally don’t know how to do that. We’re just really crap at talking about our private lives.”

I doubt either of them is interested in pushing their brand, since they have never had accounts on Instagram or Facebook or Twitter. They both prefer talking about books and poetry and music to social media.

Rachel has said if she were a record, she’d be a Beethoven piano concerto. She also loves David Bowie, Lou Reed and Patti Smith.

“Patti Smith came to a screening of Disobedience,” Rachel says. “She’s lovely, so warm and generous. She got up and said, ‘I just want to talk about the spitting in the mouth. That was so beautiful to me. I didn’t care what gender either of you were. It was just love, beautiful love.’ Patti’s like a girl’s girl. She likes women.”

Besides her production of “a little human” with Daniel, Rachel has been optioning novels and has six other movies focusing on women in the works.  

One is a Paper Moon-style comedy set in wartime England called Crooked Heart, based on a book by Lissa Evans. It is the story of a pair of grifters who pretend to be a mother and son. “It’s the opposite of a noble war story,” Rachel says. “They’re running around, her and this little boy, with made-up collection boxes for made-up charities, and it’s funny.”

She is also planning on producing and starring in a movie about Dr James Barry, a woman in 19th-century Cape Town who disguised herself as a man to become a doctor. She lived as a man her whole life, rising to be the chief medical officer in the city, which was then a British colony. She was a dandy who got into a lot of duels. She got embroiled in a scandal when she was having an affair with the governor and someone saw them partly disrobed and thought they were two men. So it was known as ‘The Sodomy Scandal’.

“So I’m going to be a bloke,” Rachel says, excitedly. 

She seemed to glow even brighter at the prospect.

 

 

The New York Times News Service