Rachel Weisz played 'ridiculous games' to prepare for The Favourite
Actress says director Yorgos Lanthimos likes the 'absurd, ridiculous'
English actress Rachel Weisz believes in pursuing work that interests her.
She wrote a letter to Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos after seeing his 2009 movie Dogtooth saying she wanted to collaborate with him.
The two met in London and he offered her a part in his breakout 2015 film, The Lobster.
Now, she is working again with him in his new period comedy-drama The Favourite, which opens here on Feb 14 and is one of the front runners in the Oscar race with 10 nominations - one of which is a best supporting actress nod for Weisz.
The 48-year-old plays Sarah Churchill, Duchess of Marlborough, the woman who was the power behind the throne of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) in 18th-century England.
Known for her political acumen, brilliance and savage temper, Lady Sarah controlled the country's finances as well as the sickly, petulant and tantrum-prone Queen.
Enter rival Abigail Masham (Emma Stone), who is hired as a servant, but through a mix of charm and cunning, effectively supplants Lady Sarah in the Queen's affections. The love triangle among the three women is the focus of the movie.
On how this experience with Lanthimos was different from filming The Lobster, Weisz said at our interview at the Four Seasons hotel in Beverly Hills: "I think it is the power of his imagination. The Lobster, which is a low budget movie, is a wildly imaginative piece of science fiction that has no prosthetics or explosions or spaceships or special effects, it is just his imagination.
"And in this story, you have England, 18th century, three female characters. But to me, unlike other British period films, he is so bold and original.
"He mixes a love story with a political thriller with a comedy with something ridiculous and absurd, and it is such a cocktail of different tones.
"He is like a great conductor with an orchestra."
What was the rehearsal process like?
Yorgos would give us (trust) exercises to do, where you have to say the lines from the scene fast and jump backwards across the room while holding hands and trying to make a human pretzel, so you have someone's bottom in your face. I mean, ridiculous games.
I think the idea was to break the ice so that we wouldn't feel embarrassed. Yorgos likes the absurd and the ridiculous, so he got us to feel ridiculous a little bit. The best preparation is to go in totally surrendered.
Did you become friends?
Yes, we were buddies and we hung out. Yorgos doesn't analyse or talk about the role or the part, so we didn't talk about the story or the part off-screen. We just hung out and had a good time, and it was a fun set to be on.
Tell us more about the rivalry between the two women in The Favourite.
At the beginning of the story, my character is in charge and holds the power. This ingenue comes to court who turns out not to be an ingenue, and I completely and totally underestimate her. I fall for her flattery and then she topples me and we become rivals. I think we are playing different games.
There are three scenes where we shoot guns and it is almost like the whole arc of our story. She flatters me and I enjoy it, in the second scene I mistrust and warn her, and by the third act she takes me. So it is almost like a little play within a film there.
Emma is a powerful performer, and in real life, she is a complete sweetheart.
Were you familiar with Queen Anne growing up in England?
No. All I knew was Queen Anne architecture furniture, which is long and thin, like thin windows and long chairs. I didn't know anything about her, so it was a whole new discovery.
What kind of research did you have to do?
There are loads of books. We were massively encouraged by Yorgos to do research.
I did read a couple of really good biographies. And there were a lot of passionate and intense love letters written between Lady Sarah and the Queen, since they were children. Whether or not they actually were physical lovers, we don't know.
But they were passionate in the way that women can have teenage friendships.
It went on throughout their whole life, so those letters are really worth reading.
You gave birth to a girl last year, your first child with English actor-husband Daniel Craig. How is being a mum different at this age?
I definitely know that there won't be another one (laughs). When I had my son (in 2006, with her then boyfriend US director Darren Aronofsky), I was like, 'Oh, maybe I will have two more or three, I didn't know.'
When you are younger, you are free of the weight of time, that time is precious, and you just think you are going to live forever.
But when you are older, you know that you won't. So it is precious having some perspective from being more mature and older, the preciousness of a new life and family, it just means so much more.
My son was a miracle and it was an incredible experience, but just the experience of doing it again older, it is precious, and I am with her all the time, which is lovely.
What kind of mum are you?
I might be a little bit of a pushover. I am not super strict. I love it, so I think I am a happy mum.
The writer is the president of the Hollywood Foreign Press Association, a non-profit organisation of entertainment journalists that also organises the annual Golden Globe Awards.