Actress' privacy a benefit for audience

Rachel Weisz's celebrity doesn't overshadow work

September 05, 2005|By Mark Caro | Mark Caro,CHICAGO TRIBUNE

You've probably seen Rachel Weisz in several movies, yet the next time you catch her -- most likely in the new film The Constant Gardener -- you still won't know what to expect.

That's because Weisz isn't one of those actresses who arrives on screen accompanied by a carefully crafted persona or well-publicized dating history. Actresses such as Julia Roberts, Jennifer Aniston and Sandra Bullock have branded themselves, their names selling tickets because viewers feel like they know these performers on screen and off.

Weisz, a 34-year-old British actress who does American accents often and well, has the kind of beauty and talent that could make her a natural fixture of our tabloid culture, but she hasn't gone that route. When you watch her act, you see her character, not some extension of the person you assume she is -- and that's fine by her.

Weisz attributes this lack of expectations to the fact that "I've just done lots of different kinds of things."

That may be true. When you've played a librarian-turned-adventurer in two special-effects-filled blockbusters (The Mummy and The Mummy Returns); a determined manipulator of juries in a legal drama (Runaway Jury); and the down-to-earth girlfriend in a smart, character-driven comedy (About a Boy), you're not looking to get pigeonholed.

Although her kind, soft features often convey sweetness, in certain roles -- such as when she is mercilessly remaking her boyfriend in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things or rebelling against the power structure in The Constant Gardener -- they make her characters' ferocity that much more startling.

The flip side to all of this is that Weisz's work has never become overshadowed by her celebrity. To her, appearing in star-fixated shows, magazines and gossip columns is a choice.

Maintaining boundaries is important because, as Weisz said in a 2003 interview, "I think mystery is kind of great."

The lack of preconceptions about Weisz serves moviegoers well, particularly with The Constant Gardener, a much-acclaimed political thriller based on John le Carre's 2000 novel. Much of the film's tension involves trying to discern the actions and motivations of her character, Tessa, an American activist challenging British government officials and the pharmaceutical industry over drug testing on poor Kenyans.

Before her murder (revealed in the film's opening), Tessa is married to a mild-mannered diplomat named Justin, played by Ralph Fiennes, but diplomacy is far from her No. 1 priority. She says what she thinks when she thinks it, and decorum be damned.

Weisz said she found playing Tessa, particularly under Fernando Meirelles' unobtrusive direction, to be a liberating experience. "She's a very free person," the actress said. "She's not inhibited. She doesn't care what people think of her at all."

Meirelles, the Oscar-nominated Brazilian director of City of God, said Weisz surprised him in several ways -- one, for the "humanity" she made so apparent in this strong character; and two, for her lack of vanity.

"She didn't want to use any makeup," he said. "Beautiful women, usually they like to look beautiful because everybody expects them to look beautiful, and so, of course, I thought she would always have her makeup next to her and would try to look beautiful. But she didn't."

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