Rachel Weisz on making love to Rachel McAdams in 'Disobedience,' mature female roles in Hollywood, and #MeToo

Rachel Weisz, left, Rachel McAdams, and Alessandro Nivola in a scene from Disobedience. (Photo: Bleecker Street via AP)

Rachel Weisz rocketed to stardom thanks to her turns in 1999’s The Mummy and 2001’s The Mummy Returns, yet in the years since those hits, she has carved out one of Hollywood’s most varied and impressive careers, replete with an Oscar win for 2005’s The Constant Gardener. The 48-year-old actress returns to theaters this Friday with Disobedience, an incisive portrait of three individuals from London’s orthodox Jewish community who find their relationships complicated by issues of tradition, oppression, desire, and freedom. Co-starring Rachel McAdams as the woman who can’t deny her feelings for Weisz’s ex-orthodox protagonist, and Alessandro Nivola as the religious husband of McAdams’ housewife, it’s another sterling showcase for the talented and magnetic Weisz, who brings a profound measure of hurt, defiance, and confusion to her role. Directed by Sebastian Lelio (himself a newly crowned Oscar winner for A Fantastic Woman), it’s one of the standouts of the ongoing Tribeca Film Festival. Ahead of its theatrical premiere this Friday, we sat down with Weisz, who is expecting her first child with husband Daniel Craig, to discuss her latest project, finding great female parts in today’s Hollywood, and her steamy love scene with co-star Rachel McAdams.

Yahoo Entertainment: In recent years, you’ve made a number of mature adult dramas, which exist in a shrinking cinematic space between enormous blockbusters and tiny independent films. Is it tough to find such projects, and is producing them — as you did with Disobedience — the key?
Rachel Weisz: I don’t think it’s the only way. I also love just getting a really good script, and having that land on my doorstep. The film I did after Disobedience is called The Favourite, and that was a script that arrived and was just spectacular, and that has three female leads  not two. So there isn’t really a rule. But certainly, producing means I can tell stories I’m interested in telling. So it narrows it down to: At least I’m definitely interested!

How did you come to Disobedience?
It began with the novel [by author Naomi Alderman]. I was looking for something to option — something that had two female leads, specifically. I read Disobedience, and it also had a great man’s part, which seemed wonderful. I knew Frida Torresblanco, who’s one of the producers, and she’s Mexican and had a relationship with [director] Sebastian [Lelio]. She showed me [his 2013 drama] Gloria, and I immediately said, “Let’s send him the novel.” He read the novel and immediately said yes, so it wasn’t like it was a long journey of looking for a director; he was the first person we sent the book to. Then he adapted it, and had a co-writer, Rebecca Lenkiewicz, come along to write with him.

I helped develop the script, for however many drafts we went through. But when filming begins, I just become an actress. I’m not a producer at all, because acting is hard. It takes up all my headspace. And also, my job as an actress is to surrender to Sebastian’s vision, so I didn’t get involved with the cinematographer, or the set design, or anything. I’m just an actor at that point.

Arriving as it does amid #MeToo and #TimesUp, the film — and its portrait of women finding themselves, and their freedom, in an oppressive male-dominated religious environment — feels quite timely. Were those undercurrents part of what drew you to the story, and to your role in particular?
Well, I read the book just over three and a half years ago, so if you feel that it coincides thematically with the #MeToo movement, that’s great. But it hadn’t yet happened. I was just looking for really good parts for women.

Are those difficult to locate?
Well, I do find them! I just thought I would do my own looking as well. It wasn’t out of desperation; it didn’t come out of a negative space. It came out of, wouldn’t it be interesting to use different muscles, and use a different part of my brain than my acting brain. Which would be the brain which would find a novel, find a director, shepherd the adaptation through screenplays. It’s just more, it’s something else, it’s something other. It’s not something that became a necessity. It’s just a lovely, beautiful experience, to see how a script gets developed. I love writers, and it’s just a different part of my world now.

You play a Jewish woman in both Disobedience and in 2016’s Denial — was that just a coincidence, or were you particularly interested in exploring that culture and faith?
It was just a coincidence, yeah. My husband [Craig] has also played two Jews, in Defiance and Munich. So we’re two-for-two [laughs]. Really, though, I’ll play anyone of any background. My job is not to represent any particular religion or culture; my job is to tell stories and to imagine I’m someone else. I’m certainly not a Queens, N.Y., historian, or an ex-orthodox Jew, you know what I mean? They’re actually quite distant from anything I’ve ever experienced. But it’s a coincidence. It just took me until recently to play my first Jew.

What was it about Sebastian that made you confident he was the right director for Disobedience?
The reason I thought he was right for it was that I’d seen Gloria, and he took the story of a 58-year-old woman’s dating, and desires, and sexual escapades, and put her front and center into a story, which rarely happens. You see films about teenage women or young girls, but characters like Gloria would normally be the grannie or the auntie, and they’d have a couple of lines. They’re not on the margins of life, because if you’re 58, your sex life is front and center in your life. But in storytelling, you just get pushed away, and you don’t get represented. So the fact that he wanted to represent this woman, and felt for her, and it’s funny and serious and absurd and deeply moving and inspiring — I just knew that he really liked women, and was interested in empathizing with the female experience. Which is really different than the male experience.

Your love scene with Rachel McAdams feels like it’s been a large part of the conversation around Disobedience. Were you ever concerned that such intense focus on that one aspect might give people the wrong impression about the film?
No, because it’s an incredibly important scene. In the script, it just said, “They make love”  it was like a line. So Sebastian came up with all of that stuff, and it took a day to shoot, and he storyboarded it so we knew what the gestures would be. It’s sort of the heart of the film, and essential to the storytelling. I guess it’s just that we’ve seen men and women make love, and we had Call Me by Your Name last year, and we’ve had Brokeback Mountain, and it just seems more unusual to see women with women. But they’re out there! There are gay women making love. What’s unusual is its being represented, I guess.

As you said, your next film is The Favourite, which reunites you with your The Lobster director Yorgos Lanthimos. What it is about him that you find so appealing, as a collaborator?
I’m not expansive enough to have the adjectives to describe Yorgos. He is just himself, and the way he tells stories is not like anybody else. He has a wild and precious imagination, and he’s completely unique. No one else could make the films that he’s made; they’re just from his point of view.

I think the same is true of Sebastian. He has a completely different point of view. Disobedience is really a three-hander, and the audience gets to follow three people who want very different things. I think even with the smaller characters, he has this quality where he makes everybody feel like he’s got your back and that you’re really the only person who exists. He makes you feel held and cared for, and he’s incredibly nurturing and makes you feel very safe. It’s extraordinary. It’s kind of like a dad  a really good dad, the kind of dad that listens and that one wants. He’s got your back in an extraordinary way.

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