"Sometimes you feel like you're a needle on a record"

Interview with Rachel Weisz
Academy Award winner Rachel Weisz has carved a career playing women of incredible spirit and intelligence, and with Lady Sarah Churchill in Yorgos Lanthimos’s The Favourite, she adds to a roster of extraordinary characters that have made her one of Britain’s most beloved actresses.
It’s rare for a film to feature three lead women as complex as this. What did you make of it?
It’s a very unusual thing, to have three women lead a film like this. What’s interesting is they’re in competition with each other, but there’s love, there’s envy, there’s rivalry. There’s a cliché in cinema of women being bitchy to one another, and this film plays with that, but it goes way beyond it, because what you discover is that there’s a real love story between the Queen and Lady Sarah. It’s not quite Casablanca, but there’s a real, real love there.

What I loved so much is that it dares to make women all things at all times. It’s probably very satisfying to watch Sarah and Abigail being bitchy, but then you add in this unusual mixture of other things, and when we’re all put together it breaks apart, and that makes it so exciting.

Did you know anything about this history?
Nothing. I’ve heard of Queen Anne architecture, but I knew not a jot of the true history. I think what people are saying is that Anne has been misunderstood and misrepresented – possibly by male historians – but she had more nous and political savvy and strength than has been credited to her previously.

How would you describe Yorgos’s approach as a director?
I think he has an unusually powerful forceful, elaborate interesting imagination. It's just all an active imagination. The lobster and Dogtooth, they're complete acts of imagination and set in a universe with totally different rules. When you make a Lanthimos film, I feel like you enter his imagination and he's your guide but he doesn't necessarily tell you where you're going.

We have this script, which is an extraordinary road map and it explained everything. But there's some alchemical thing that happens, because he directs meticulously but without any discussion or any analysis. Sometimes you feel like you're a needle on a record and that he's getting you into the groove of his record and you keep missing the groove and finally he'll get you and you didn't know that take was the one. You don't know anything, so you're on your instinct. I think he likes to get you to a place where you're totally unconscious, which as an actor is a really attractive thing to be. As an actor, it's really good to be unconscious. You're not in control of what you're doing.

I sometimes think that maybe when people talk about the deadpan thing, I think he would laugh. I think he might feel things very keenly. He can see sometimes what you're feeling inside even if you didn't know what it was. I think he is very sensitive.

You rehearsed with the whole cast, and Yorgos had you performing all sorts of trust exercises with one another. What did that process offer?

I think it made everything second nature. What it gave us was this feeling that the language could become second nature, because he made us say it very quickly, or swap lines with one another, or say the lines while we were playing really silly games with each other. It stopped feeling like we were living inside a costume drama.

Do you think Sarah underestimates Abigail when she introduces her to court?
Oh, she totally underestimates her enemy. One of her tragic, fatal flaws is her vanity, and Abigail really flatters her. She becomes her protégé, and she thinks she can fashion Abigail in her own image. There’s real narcissism to that. She underestimates her because Abigail is as brilliant as she is, if not more. She treats her like an ingenue and, my God, she’s not. It’s even playing with the trope of what the ingenue is capable of; you think she’s this wide-eyed sweetie pie and actually she’s serious business.

You’d worked with Olivia Colman briefly on The lobster. What did you make of her performance in The favourite?
It’s staggering. She can just walk that line between the absurd and the ridiculous and the extremely funny, and have pathos and tragedy at the same time. She can flip you from one to another in the course of a second. It’s an extraordinary gift she has, and so unique.
(11 pictures)

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This week...
Budapest, Kiscelli Múzeum, 05 April 2019 - 19 May 2019
Budapest, Millenáris, 16 May 2019 - 19 May 2019
Budapest, Millenáris, 19 May 2019 19:00
Budapest, Robert Capa Kortárs Fotográfiai Központ, 05 April 2019 - 19 May 2019
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