Rachel Weisz says she knew she had big shoes to fill stepping into the emotionally wrought role of Hester Collyer in The Deep Blue Sea, a film adaptation of the famous 1952 play.
The Deep Blue Sea tells the story of the sheltered young wife of an elderly judge who impetuously throws it all away to be with a hard-drinking, but vibrantly alive, Second World War pilot with whom she shares an obsessive, ultimately destructive, love. Peggy Ashcroft, Vivien Leigh, Penelope Keith and Blythe Danner have all taken a run at the main character – often considered one of the greatest parts for an actress in modern theatre.
Weisz (pronounced "vice"), who carries the dialogue-heavy psychological drama, says she jumped at the chance to work alongside the film's prolific director, Terence Davies, a man she had never met but whose films she is familiar with and fond of.
"In Britain, Terence is considered one of our great directors," she says, referring to his body of work, which includes classics such as The Long Day Closes, The Neon Bible, Distant Voices, Still Lives and The House of Mirth. "His work is a milestone in British cinema."
Weisz was at home in New York with her new husband, Daniel Craig – she met "Bond" in Toronto while they were filming the soon-to-be-released horror film Dream House and the two were married in June – when Davies rang to offer her the part. The two spoke for several hours, and before she hung up, the 41-year-old British beauty says she accepted the challenge of bringing Davies's vision to the screen.
"Terence's script is an incredibly beautiful piece of writing," says Weisz, who attended the Toronto International Film Festival premiere of The Deep Blue Sea in Toronto on Sunday night. "And I was drawn to the character, who I imagine married her husband when she was very young, handed off straight from her father. She lived a very sheltered life, loved her husband in one way, because she didn't know anything else. Then she meets this man who awakens feelings she couldn't help or was able to control. And she is bold. She forgets any notion of rational intellect, and follows her heart. "
Davies, who had been working on the adaptation for several years, stripped away many of the supporting characters in Terence Rattigan's play, leaving only Collyer, her husband, William (Simon Russell Beale), and the handsome pilot, Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston). The plot unfolds primarily in a run-down apartment, where Collyer is living with Page and has recently attempted suicide in desperate last bid to win back his waning affections.
"Was their love dangerous?" Weisz asks. "Yes. But I didn't judge her. I tried to understand her," says the actress, who is shot in myriad close-ups, Davies's dead-still camera capturing her pain and vulnerability.
"Did she hurt her husband and upset the equilibrium of her life? Yes. Was it all plain sailing? No. But it was something out of her control. There was a kind of wildness inside her containment. I don't think she felt she had any choice but to go down this path."
Weisz, who picked up an Academy Award for best supporting actress in 2005's The Constant Gardener, is a potent presence at this year's TIFF, with three movies in the lineup: The Deep Blue Sea, Fernando Meirelles's ensemble drama 360 (he also directed her in The Constant Gardener) and David Hare's espionage thriller Page Eight.
Her role in The Deep Blue Sea, though, is the one in which she has invested the most time and energy.
"The other roles were quick shoots. I was only working on 360 for five days," says the hard-working Weisz, who immediately after her TIFF duties hopped a plane to Detroit, where she is filming Sam Raimi's fantastical Oz: The Great and Powerful.
Raimi's film is a prequel to the beloved 1939 movie classic The Wizard of Oz; Weisz plays the witch Evanora, along with fellow wiccans Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis (James Franco is the wizard). She is also slated to star alongside Jeremy Renner and Edward Norton in The Bourne Legacy.
"I like to mix things up," she says.
The three faces of Rachel
In an ensemble drama about chance encounters between strangers, Rachel Weisz plays a successful business woman, mother and wife. Her marriage is floundering, and she strikes up an affair with a young photographer.
Bill Nighy stars as a veteran MI-5 agent who is given a document he knows is toxic information about his government. Weisz, who plays a neighbour of Nighy's character, is very good in an unglamorous role in a drama mainly about powerful men.
The Deep Blue Sea
The role of Hester Collyer is considered to be one of the greatest parts for a stage actress. Weisz carries the story of sheltered young wife of a elderly judge who throws it all away to be with a vibrantly alive pilot.