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Rachel Weisz on Her ‘Favourite’ Moments of Fun and Mystery

Fox Searchlight’s “The Favourite” is nominated for 10 Oscars, including best picture and best director for Yorgos Lanthimos. Supporting actress contender Rachel Weisz says working with the filmmaker was similar to the audience’s experience with the film: “There is a high level of the unknown and mystery in his process, but there is a lot of fun.”

The film earned a rare three acting nominations: Weisz and Emma Stone as supporting, and Olivia Colman as lead. Weisz says Lanthimos’ attention to the actors and to the script (by nominees Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara) was clear even before production began.

During three weeks of rehearsal, “there never was any camera blocking. He didn’t dictate things from the camera. On the day of filming, we’d just do it, and he’d adapt the cameras to how we were playing the scene.” And while he always emphasized the script, “there was nothing discussed or analyzed” during rehearsals.

So with no camera blocking and no analysis, what did they do for three weeks?

“It was all about playing,” she laughs. “Anyone who’s done theater would find it normal: theater games, trust games, games that made you laugh and broke down barriers.

“We would play games like Twister — but not Twister — while saying our lines very fast, or saying someone else’s lines. It was about familiarizing us with the text, to know the script really well, so it became second nature, so we were freed to act spontaneously.”

Weisz was first mentioned in Variety in 1994, when she starred in Noel Coward’s “Design for Living” at London’s Donmar Warehouse, which then transferred to the West End. Since then, she has done a wide range of roles onstage and onscreen (including her Oscar-winning “The Constant Gardener”).

And 2018 was particularly gratifying, personally and professionally. Aside from giving birth to a daughter with husband Daniel Craig, she starred in two very different films about triangles: Bleecker Street’s “Disobedience” (directed by Sebastian Lelio) and “The Favourite.”

Writer Tony McNamara has spoken about the “casual cruelty” of the characters in the latter, but Weisz isn’t sure she agrees. “Sarah can be defensively aggressive, but she’s not cruel. With cruelty, there’s a pleasure in administering nastiness to others. I see her as practical. I think she’s a lioness. In nature, females can be quite aggressive. Sarah is definitely alpha, very territorial; she’s working to protect her patch of land, which happens to be the whole of Britain. It’s a big patch,” she deadpans.

A character this complex can be exhausting. Weisz was asked the secret of keeping her energy up during production.

“Tea, cups of tea! And then playing with incredible performers like Olivia and Emma; their energy is very invigorating. It was an unusual experience. To work with all those actors, including those two extraordinary performers — it’s something I’ll never forget.”

Weisz had collaborated with Lanthimos on the 2015 “The Lobster,” so his methods and style weren’t new — though “The Favourite” still held plenty of happy discoveries.

“Everything surprised me! On the page, the script was excellent, but nothing prepared me for the way Yorgos moves from the text to framing a story — the way he shot it, the tonal shifts from the absurd to the tragic, to a love story, to a political thriller. The mastery of tone still surprises me.”

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