Actress Rachel Weisz talks about the challenges of being part of the cast of the latest Bourne franchise, The Bourne Legacy
ENGLISH actress Rachel Weisz is known for portraying women of incredible spirit and intelligence. Having won a Golden Globe and an Academy Award (Best Supporting Actress) for her performance in the 2005 drama The Constant Gardener, directed by Fernando Meirelles, the London-born former fashion model continues to seek out challenging roles, both on screen and stage.
With The Bourne Legacy, the latest instalment of the Bourne series, Weisz and fellow series newcomers Jeremy Renner, Edward Norton, Stacy Keach and Oscar Isaac join franchise veterans Albert Finney, Joan Allen, David Strathairn and Scott Glenn who reprise their roles.
It is written and directed by Tony Gilroy, the narrative architect behind the Bourne film series, the popular espionage franchise that has earned almost US$1 billion (RM3.14 billion) at the global box office. This movie expands the Bourne universe created by Robert Ludlum by featuring an original story that introduces viewers to a new hero — Aaron Cross/Kenneth Gibson (Jeremy Renner) — whose life-or-death stakes have been triggered by the events of the first three films.
Weisz began her career as a student at Cambridge University where she formed the Talking Tongues Theatre Group which performed experimental pieces. It won the prestigious Guardian Award at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.
Known to audiences worldwide for her lead role opposite Brendan Fraser in Stephen Sommers’ blockbuster movies The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, Weisz also starred in Jean-Jacques Annaud’s Enemy at the Gates, Michael Winterbottom’s I Want You, David Leland’s The Land Girls, Beeban Kidron’s Swept From the Sea and Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty.
She will next be in Sam Raimi’s upcoming Oz: The Great and Powerful, which also star Mila Kunis, James Franco and Michelle Williams (slated for a March 2013 release by Walt Disney Pictures). She recently reunited with director Meirelles on 360, co-starring Jude Law and Anthony Hopkins, which premiered at the 2011 Toronto International Film Festival. Here’s an interview with Weisz:
You were part of the Mummy franchise and now you’ve stepped into this reboot of the Bourne franchise. Do you think that a franchise film can still be original or does it rely too much on its original pedigree?
I think what is similar with this film when compared to the original Bourne films is the realism. We don’t have the shaky camera work that was the stamp of the first three. We don’t have that reportage style. What is interesting is that this film is about the legacy. If you have not seen the first three, you can come in to this fresh. If you were a fan of the previous films in the series, you get to see the curtain lifted and the man who has been in charge. I think that is an incredible reveal. The movie is like peeling off onion layers. It is a whole new operation. At the beginning, they cannot find Jason Bourne so we do have a tie to the other films.
In this film, we are now back in the world of Bourne but with new players and a new risk. Can you talk about how this all comes together?
Good writing sets you up emotionally. The set-up is that Edward Norton’s character has been in charge of the whole operation since the beginning. He has been the behind-the-scenes puppet master for the first three movies. He has been behind the curtain but now the curtain lifts and we meet Edward Norton’s character. We find out that he needs to wipe out all the various operations, including the one Jeremy Renner’s character is a part of.
I am part of the science team that has developed the science aspect of the operation and they come in and wipe out my entire team. Every single person in my work place has been shot and I am witness to it. That was pretty intense. The next day, I have three people from the CIA come to my house to try and kill me. Jeremy’s character shows up and saves me. From there we set out on this adventure to find the truth.
What drew you into the series?
I loved the realism and the level of the acting. The acting was very realistic. They are not superhero films but about real people. Jason Bourne was just a man enhanced with special gifts. It could happen out there now. When you watch The Avengers, you like seeing the characters but you know they are not one of us. When you see the Bourne films, you can understand the man and identify with what would happen to an ordinary man who got caught up in this government programme. I just identify with the realism. That is exciting to me.
With the science that has been developed, the government, in a strange way, has made these men into drug addicts. Jeremy’s character keeps telling you that he "needs the chems”.
The issue for my character is that this is a huge moral conundrum. I am doing this cutting edge science but I am told not to think of the moral implications of this science. When I meet Aaron, I am told not to think. So, when it all blows apart, I am morally compromised. What I have been doing for the government is massively, morally compromised.
Does that give you any food for thought morally about the grains of truth this film explores?
I know there are elements of truth. All that we show can happen. Our story is fiction but totally realistic fiction. Tony and I went to speak with some really high-powered scientists before the movie and they told us that, in certain areas, some of these things are really happening. It is scary but true.
Did you like the opportunity to play a scientist? One presumes most scientists don’t look as glamorous as you.
I am an actor and I like to play various parts. My character, Marta, is not a super hero. She is a real person. I did meet some scientists who dressed up and wore lipstick but once this film gets going, it would look preposterous for Marta to whip out a blow dryer. This is the real world she is in and she has to deal with her environment.
Tony Gilroy wrote the first three Bourne films. Now he gets a chance to direct. Do you feel he was emboldened with this responsibility?
Tony was the writer on all of the other Bourne films. He masterminded the whole thing and now he tells the fans, “You think you knew it all. You didn’t. You think you knew who was in charge? You didn’t.” It is brilliant and fun.
What was your assessment of working with Tony Gilroy?
It was fantastic. I like to improvise and play with the piece when we shoot. Some directors, who also write, don’t let you play around with their material but Tony is fine with it. He is this great mixture of a brilliant wordsmith but he also loves chaos. That is great because that is what acting is about, getting chaotic in the moment. Tony is intellectually brilliant but loves the chaos.
Your character goes through this wide range of emotions in the film. Does that come naturally to you?
There is not much smiling in the film. Marta is fighting for her life.
How do you get to that emotional place?
There is a whole scene to act so you just have to do the scene and hopefully the reality of the situation takes over. You have to pretend that this is really happening.
You were a tomboy as a kid. Do you think that helps you make a movie like this?
Yes it does. I can climb trees and run. I am not too girly.
In part of the movie, Marta is running for her life. Did you worry that you didn’t want to run like a girl when the going got tough?
I am flattered if you thought that I didn’t run like a girl. Women have wider hips, so we tend to kick our feet out. We run like we run.
You are not an actress we usually picture with a gun in her hand. When that situation arises in The Bourne Legacy does that put you in a different state of mind?
Hmm, it is a really scary situation. I don’t really shoot.
Was it fun to be gripped on the back of that motorcycle?
I just had to hold on (laugh). I don’t drive. It was terrifying. My role was a realistic journey about someone who has never had to fight for her life. Marta has always been in a lab doing things with test tubes and she suddenly has to learn to fight. She is not a super hero. She is a real person who has to fight for her life.
Was that the biggest challenge on the film?
The stunts were the challenge. There are a lot in the film. In Manila, we have this huge chase scene on a motorcycle and Jeremy and I did most of it. We drove through that city and jumped over bridges and crashed into buses. I was way out of my comfort zone.
When does ego step in and allow you to ask for a stunt double?
I would say about 99 per cent of the time Jeremy and I were doing the stunts. Jeremy is a really good rider. He is just very physically adept at stunts. He is agile and fluid and beautiful to watch. I felt safe with him. We practiced for a couple of weeks in a big parking lot.
Was there an adrenaline rush?
Oh yes, but I had a lot of trust. Sometime when you watch a film, you see action scenes and car crashes and you just know that it is fake. Here we are on the streets of Manila, on this bike, going fast. Audiences can see that this was really happening.
You don't do each scene once. You have to do them numerous times. How do you keep your adrenaline up?
You need a lot of takes and your body starts to rebel. You do get some aches and pains. I did something to my elbow while we were running through the streets of Manila. I jammed it and it still hurts. Sometimes you have to look completely desperate and after take 30, you don't have to act anymore because you are feeling that way (laugh).
At one point in the film, Jeremy calls your character naive. When was the last time someone called you naive? And what were the circumstance?
I cannot recall someone calling me naive. My character is in a very particular situation. She is not naive. She is just not morally thinking about the implications of her actions. Have I had regrets about things? Have I made mistakes? Is that naive? I think it is just being human. It is all about trying things that you have never done to get the experience. You never know how any decisions will turn out, so maybe we are all naive.
How delicate has the balance been to keep your personal and professional life separate? Fame can consume one’s life. Can you fight being famous?
I see them as two separate things. I cannot say that I am not a celebrity at this point. That would be silly.
How difficult is the balance between being a mother and the demands of acting?
Of course it is difficult, but it is difficult for any working mother. All mums face the challenge. I am lucky that I work extensively and then I am off. Some mums work all day and they get home late and have to be a mum.
Being a mother of a young boy, is it like being in an action movie all the time?
Not really. For my son’s birthday, he just got this little plastic lie detector test. He makes me put my fingers on it, and he asks me questions. I turn it around on him and ask questions like, “Did you eat your vegetables at school today?” It has been fun.
What are your criteria for choosing a film?
Sometimes you seek things out and sometimes you are chosen. The reasons vary. It can be the director or the material. With Oz (her upcoming film), I chose that film. It is the prequel to The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to do it because it was something I have never done before. I play the Wicked Witch of the East. She is really evil and the role was different from anything I had ever done before. I read it and knew I wanted to play that character. That was a challenge. I got to be in a whole new universe where lightning bolts shoot out of my fingertips. When does one get to do something like that? It was like being a kid.
The movie is called The Bourne Legacy. What kind of legacy do you hope to have?
Beyond my child, I cannot think of anything. I am sure there will be some movies on DVD that might be a legacy. Hopefully my carbon footprint won’t be too big. We filmed in a disadvantaged area of Manila and I funded a playground for the kids there. They had no resources there to do it themselves. I actually wanted to call it The Bourne Legacy, but we couldn’t for legal reasons. Is that a legacy?
The Bourne Legacy opens in cinemas nationwide on Aug 9.
United International Pictures