Rachel Weisz On Acting: ‘I Think Humans Need Stories’

For Rachel Weisz, talking about women over 40 getting cast on “scrapheap” roles on film is absurd. She thinks that there are not enough stories being told by women as directors, writers, and producers. Add to that, there aren’t enough women in politics, in boardrooms, and everywhere else.

When Irish news agency, Independent, caught up with Weisz about her new film, My Cousin Rachel, the subject of women over 40 being typecast came up.

“The thing I find almost absurd, actually, is that we have this conversation about women over 40 as if it was some tiny outlier minority—we’re half the population! It’s not like if you were talking about say, a role for a trans-black, now-woman-of color who’s converted to Islam. I understand the urgency of that conversation, but I find it so absurd that we’re talking about women,” Rachel ranted. “I feel like saying giraffes, or you know there aren’t enough roles for pandas. We’re women—I find it bonkers.”

Weisz plays a mysterious cousin in Roger Michell’s adaptation of Daphne Du Maurier’s classic 19th century Cornwall novel, My Cousin Rachel. She stars opposite Sam Claflin (Me Before You), who plays Philip, an orphan raised by an older relative. He one day finds out that his protector has died in Italy shortly after marrying a mysterious cousin, Rachel. Though Philip is convinced that she poisoned him, he couldn’t help but fall head over heels in love with her when she turns up in Cornwall.

Drawn to Rachel’s mysterious motives, Weisz approached her character deciding whether she was good or bad, and of course, it is a secret that even My Cousin Rachel‘s director wasn’t privy to.

[Image by Tim P. Whitby/Getty Images]

“Yes, I did, I decided whether she was guilty or innocent, and Roger Michell asked me not to tell him because he wanted it to be a secret also from him. I guess he didn’t want to direct it in the knowledge that he knew,” Rachel revealed.

“The story brings up all sorts of questions about the position of women in the middle of the 19th century, including the idea that a woman was a possession who wasn’t really allowed to fend for herself.”

The actress added that because the novel was written in the 1950s; author Daphne du Maurier expressed radical ideas about sexual and financial freedom, asking questions about women’s sovereignty and women’s desire for independence and power.

Rachel describes her character as mysterious, inconsistent, and keeps the audience guessing. Though at the time there were constraints of the period, Rachel could be quite extravagant, exuberant, and prone to losing her temper. In some ways, the actress said she could relate to Rachel in that she doesn’t feel quite British.

Born and raised in London, Weisz’s parents came from central Europe. Her father, she shares with The Guardian, “is so Hungarian,” accent and all. Meanwhile, her mom is from Austria. Both of her parents hailed from Jewish communities and fled to Britain in the late 1930s. According to Independent, Rachel attended several exclusive schools in North London and was interested in drama from an early age.


Weisz attended Cambridge where she finished English. Immediately after graduation, she began landing acting roles, one of which is the classic TV series Inspector Morse. In the 1990s, she received steady TV and stage work which led to larger film roles. By 1996, she had starred opposite Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman in Chain Reaction. It would take two more films before she would land her role in The Mummy opposite Brendan Fraser.

“I’m immensely proud of it. It’s funny, and charming and entertaining I think, and when I first read the script, it reminded me of the kind of Saturday morning TV I used to watch with my mum, these black-and-white adventure series, like Zorro,” Rachel said. “That’s the thing I’m still best known for.”

In the early 2000s, Weisz widened her range by taking roles in grim dramas such as Beautiful Creatures and Enemy at the Gates. She also starred opposite Hugh Grant in the unforgettable soulful comedy About a Boy. Later on, she would win a Golden Globe and an Oscar for her role as a politically engaged wife of a British diplomat in The Constant Gardener.

What keeps Rachel Weisz going as an actress then?

“The desire and appetite and ambition to do it has to be enormous in order to stick it out, and to stick out all the initial rejection.”

Rachel further reveals that she didn’t have a defining moment when she decided that acting was for her.

“I just love stories, I love watching films and being transported by stories, so I just always felt I’d like to be telling them. I’m not a nurse or a teacher, which probably, if there was a hierarchy, would be more important, but I think humans need stories,” Rachel explains. “We just need to tell them, so I feel that I can sleep at night knowing that, yeah, I tell stories.”

[Featured Image by Stuart C. Wilson/Getty Images]

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