Rachel Weisz, a star of “The Favourite,” won the prize for best supporting actress this past Sunday at the Bafta Awards, the British equivalent of the Oscars. The night before, she received an even more important vote of confidence.
“A woman came up to me at dinner,” Weisz recalled, “and she looked me in the eyes and said, ‘On behalf of all the lesbians, I wanted to say thank you.’”
So it goes for the 48-year-old Weisz, who spent the last cinematic year exploring same-sex attraction in very different milieus.
In “Disobedience,” released in April, Weisz and Rachel McAdams played women whose passionate affair scandalizes the Orthodox Jewish community they grew up in, while in “The Favourite,” from November, Weisz jousted with Emma Stone as court advisers willing to bed the feeble Queen Anne (Olivia Colman) if it would bestow an advantage in their 18th-century games of manipulation.
Weisz, Stone and Colman all received Oscar nominations for “The Favourite,” but Weisz may have the best shot at winning her wide-open category, and she has become the film’s trending topic online. Her crafty, confident performance has so bewitched viewers that after a fan on the Bafta red carpet asked Weisz to record a smartphone video saying “gay rights,” the two-second clip quickly went viral among her female admirers.
“I think almost every other film I’ve done has been in relation to a man,” said Weisz, who is married to Daniel Craig and is best known for roles in “The Mummy” and “The Constant Gardener,” which earned her an Oscar. “It’s unbelievably refreshing and invigorating for me to have now done two films opposite women.”
While on her way to speak to Oscar voters at a London screening Tuesday night, Weisz called me up to discuss what that female energy meant to her, as well as how she has navigated this awards season alongside Yorgos Lanthimos, the absurdist auteur behind “The Favourite” who first directed Weisz in “The Lobster.”
Here are edited excerpts from the conversation.
In a controversial move, the Oscars will be announcing the winners of four categories during the commercial breaks of the telecast, then editing those results into a clip package. “The Favourite” is nominated in two of those races, for cinematography and editing. What do you make of that decision?
I didn’t know that was the case! I don’t think that’s right at all; cinematography and editing couldn’t be more important. It was lovely that at the Oscar nominees’ luncheon you got to be among people who work in special effects, editing, sound — “egalitarian” is the best way of putting it. If I was in charge, I wouldn’t do that.
In Hollywood, an actress can make multiple movies where she’s the only notable female character. It must be gratifying to make a film like “The Favourite,” where three women go toe to toe.
I don’t believe I’ve been in many films where I’ve been in deep conversations with women, let alone in bed with them! I really savored exploring those relationships. They’re kind, cruel, sadistic, needy, vulnerable, Machiavellian, ridiculous and absurd. They have many, many things going on, which is what makes us human.
Olivia Colman won the best actress award from Bafta, and in her speech, she said the three of you were all leads in “The Favourite.” Would you concur, or do you consider yourself a supporting actress, as you and Emma have both been campaigned all season?
Olivia told me, “I must say how incredible it is that you and Emma agreed to that,” but I don’t think either of us gave it a second thought. It was decided by people who are specialists in these things, and it seemed incredibly natural: Narratively, we’re both supporting the queen, so she’s got to be the lead. She is the center of England and the center of our lives — even if she desperately needs us to prop her up in the story, which is what my character thinks.
Olivia also memorably referred to you and Emma as “her bitches” while accepting a Golden Globe. You were both beaming.
I mean, it’s just heaven, isn’t it? She’s got a potty mouth, and what you saw is the polite version. But she’s delicious, and so full of love.
What has Yorgos made of this Oscar season, which involves so many months of handshakes, Q. and A.s and awards ceremonies?
He seems to me to be very proud and happy, but he’s not a schmoozer in any way. It was the thing that I immediately liked about him when we met. I actually reached out to him after I saw his film “Dogtooth,” and the person I met then in a pub in north London spoke in exactly the same way as the person who received the Bafta award for outstanding British film the other night.
Which is how?
I always use the word “deadpan,” but he hates it! He doesn’t think of anything he does as deadpan. He just sees it as truthful.
By now, you must have a sixth sense of how to modulate your acting based on where the camera is. But in “The Favourite,” the camera is frequently put in the most atypical places. How does that affect things?
I did notice Yorgos wasn’t telling us, “You have to stand there,” but then again, he doesn’t tell you he’s going to use a low-angle, fish-eye lens. He doesn’t tell you anything! He doesn’t even talk to you about the scene or your motivation. You can’t ask him a question like, “Why is my character doing this?” because he wouldn’t answer you.
What does he tell you?
He might say something like, “Do it a bit faster.” Or “Do it a lot faster.” [Laughs.]
He may not want to be called deadpan, but Yorgos can certainly keep a straight face. Do you have the power to make him laugh?
I can make him laugh over a glass of wine, but do you mean in a performance? No, I don’t recall having made him laugh in any film. He would never want to let us know that it was funny, because then we’d be trying to make it funny.
The very first awards ceremony you ever attended was the 2006 Golden Globes, where you won for “The Constant Gardener.” What do you remember about that night?
That I had big hair. It’s very surreal the first time you attend an awards ceremony, and I was pregnant, so I couldn’t have a drink to relax. It’s like a dinner party where there are cameras in your face, and you’re surrounded by people you don’t really know but you recognize. I remember seeing Oprah Winfrey at the next table and thinking, “Oh my goodness!”
Did you have any idea then just how much your feet would hurt after a season spent primarily in high heels?
Oh, forget it! [Laughs.] I’d love to just go in sneakers to these things, but that would just call attention to itself.