Rachel Weisz opens in Agora today (in limited release) and for those of you in NYC not interested in dealing with the masses at Sex & the City 2 this is a good alternative. Here are my thoughts on the film.
She answered some questions for Women & Hollywood, last week in NYC.
W&H: What made you pick this film?
Rachel Weisz: It kind of picked me. It was sent to me by Alejandro Amenabar and I just thought it was a really interesting story. A true story, about someone I had never heard of. I knew nothing about her. I guess what really interested me about the whole script was that when I finished it, it was actually a contemporary story set in the 4th century. What interested me was how relevant it was to today and how things have changed.
W&H: It seems that there are probably many extraordinary women whose lives have basically disappeared over the centuries. I felt this erasure was offensive because she was such a scientist. And her discoveries about astronomy weren't replicated until centuries later by men.
RW: I must point out that we don't know for sure that she worked out this heliocentric model. Could she have done this? Did she for sure? We don't know. Was she killed by Christian fundamentalists? Yes. Did she give one of her students who was in love with her a handkerchief stained with her menstrual blood? Yes. There were a lot of true things. The only area of imagining is the heliocentric model.
W&H: She operated in a world completely devoid of women. It was just her. Were there any other female characters in the film?
RW: There was one slave who becomes Christian.
W&H: It was interesting how she was accepted as a scholar and thinker. Why was she accepted?
RW: That's a great question. There were other women you see in the streets but in terms of being a teacher, apparently there were other women who were also teachers. But she was part of the aristocracy. Her dad ran the library, she was part of the aristocratic intelligencia. And I guess it was a time when, I don't know, maybe Pagans were more tolerant of a female teacher. I don't know. I know that had she married at that time she would have been subject to her husband's wishes. I think that is one of the reasons why she didn't marry, because she didn't want to have to give up her work.
W&H: The film was huge in Spain. A blockbuster. Can you explain the word Agora?
RW: It's an ancient Greek word that means market place. It's a place where people met. And I guess the premise of the film, or the conceit of the title is, the earth is an Agora. It's a meeting place for humans who don't get along.
W&H: You're opening up against one of the biggest female franchises, Sex and the City. People are always looking for alternatives out there. What would you say to people as to why they should go see Agora?
RW: I say go see both. They're very different. One is more like a confection. And this is a true story about a woman who really existed in the 4th century. It's very provocative. It's very emotional, It's very moving. It's a drama. And one's a comedy. It's like comparing an apple and orange. Go see both.
W&H: The last part of the movie is when the whole religious intolerance issue comes in. She never felt like a second class citizen in some respects until the religious overtones came in, even with the people who love and respected her. How did the whole woman and religion thing play out in terms of her life?
RW: She just lived in a very interesting time where it was the end of the Age of Classical Enlightenment and the beginning of the Dark Ages. And one of the reasons why those ages were dark was because women were really relegated to being tenth class citizens and demonized. She was called a witch. And the idea that a man would be taught by a woman or inspired by a woman became... She just lives in a time when things changed.
W&H: Since you've won the Oscar for the Constant Gardener, you've been playing such interesting, strong women. Can you talk about what draws you to playing strong women?
RW: It's funny. I have an issue with the word strong, quite a big issue. You would never say to a man, 'do you like playing strong men?' You just wouldn't say that. It's a ludicrous thought and I know people are unconscious of it when they say it. What do you mean? Can I lift a twenty pound weight? What does that mean, strong? I literally don't know what it means. Do I want to play boring people or do I want to play interesting people? I would say I want to play interesting people. I want to play interesting women. And strong is such a bizarre notion. I'm kind of interested in people who a little bit of a pain in the ass. Like the Constant Gardner and like this woman. In real life, I'm polite and nice all the time. It's fun to play people who aren't. It's escapism.
W&H: That leads into your next film The Whistleblower. Is that completed?
W&H: Is there a release date on that?
RW: No. We just finished it at Christmas. So they're editing it and I don't know when that will be out.
W&H: That movie is a true story...
RW: She was a cop from Nebraska and she went to work in Sarajevo at the end of the nineties as part of the International Police Task Force, which was there to help the local police force and help the people get back on their feet. America is actually the only country that had privately contracted individuals with a company, rather like Halliburton. It's a huge corporation. A big financial thing whereas all the countries in Europe used their local police force and they just rotate them. And they get stationed there.
She blew the whistle on the U.N. It's because of her character that she did this. I'm not like that. I wouldn't dare to do that. She kind of really was willing to die for what she believed in, which is the same as Hypatia, same as The Constant Gardener gal. I'm not like that. I'll say anything to live. I'm very interested in people. I'm not like that. I'm very ordinary in that way. But people who really can't help themselves. They're amazing people and it's interesting to tell stories about them.
W&H: Those are the great stories...
RW: Often, yes. I guess Norma Rae is probably my favorite film of all time.
W&H: I read you were also attached to a film with Karyn Kusama and it's having a hard time getting funding. Do you think she's having a hard time because she's a female director?
RW: She's actually rewriting the script. That's what's happening. So we're all waiting one the new rewrite.
W&H: What is that film called?
RW: Invisible X.
W&H: Is it an action movie?
RW: No, it's sci-fi.
W&H: As a person partnered to a male director (Darren Aronofsky) and as an actor who's worked with male and female directors, do you experience any difference between a male and female director? And have you noticed a difference treatment of male and female directors in your jaunts around town?
RW: Not really. I don't know why it's so hard for women. I don't know.
W&H: I thought it was interesting that The Lovely Bones played really well with the teenage girls. Do you have any comments on that?
RW: It was Peter Jackson's take on the novel. His version of it focused on the supernatural elements of it. We know from Twilight teenagers are very interested, that's there thing right now. So I guess that's why.
W&H: Do you have a favorite part you've played?
RW: Blanche DuBois.
W&H: What is it about that character that draws women in?
RW: It's the greatest role I've ever seen written for a woman. She's not one thing. That's the biggest problem with writing, particularly in parts for women.You get one thing. She's the bitch. Or she's the kooky girl. It's the same for men too, but I think it's worse for women. It's the lack of complexity. And if you want to talk about complexity. Blanche DuBois. Sex addict, alcoholic, monstrous, funny, pathetic, tragic, warm, cold, mean, cruel, kind, gorgeous... I mean she's so many things. She's such a complex character. She's so rich. She has such humanity. She's so flawed and that's what really interests me about characters - their flaws.
W&H: Do you have a film that you feel was misunderstood by people?
RW: Not really.
W&H: Do you have any desire to direct?
W&H: What would be next on your plate?
RW: It's an independent movie. They're assembling finance right now. It's a true story. It's about Hedy Lamarr.
W&H: The one directed by Amy Redford?
RW: She's not directing it anymore.
W&H: Hedy Lamarr. Another scientist...
RW: A movie star scientist.
W&H: What did she patent?
RW: Frequency hopping for radios.
W&H: Who's going to direct it now.
RW: They're in negotiations right now so I probably shouldn't say. It's a man.
W&H: Are you going to work with Darren again?
RW: Darren has the Jackie O script. That's just being set up with a studio right now.
W&H: That seems really far out of his wheelhouse...
RW: It wasn't my idea. He read it and said this is the one. I was like 'ok'.
Agora opens in limited release, May 28. Originally published on Women & Hollywood