‘The Favourite’s’ Rachel Weisz on voguing in the 18th century, making love to Olivia Colman, and her Golden Globe nomination
It was a big morning for the period drama “The Favourite.” The film earned five nominations, second only to “Vice,” including best picture, comedy or musical as well as three acting nods, for star Olivia Colman in the lead actress category, as well as Emma Stone and Rachel Weisz. The latter two will go up against each other in the supporting actress category. Weisz, a Golden Globe winner for “The Constant Gardener,” picked up the phone to talk about the film and her nomination.
Hi, Rachel, it’s Mark Olsen with the Los Angeles Times.
Hi. It’s Rachel, from London.
Where are you right now?
I’m in New York. But I’m from London.
Congratulations on both your nomination and all the nominations for the movie. It must be a very exciting morning for you.
It is. It’s really wonderful and it’s such a wonderful film to have been a part of and made and got to know Olivia and Emma and work with Yorgos [Lanthimos] again. The whole process was incredible and the fact that it’s being loved in this way is really a lovely thing. We loved making it and it’s thrilling that people are celebrating it.
Why do you think the movie is catching on like it is? Not just with critics but with audiences too.
Gosh, I would not be the right person to ask in general why people like things. I don’t have a sense of what’s commercial, I have a sense of what I love. And what I love about it is that it’s a love story, it’s a comedy, it can be absurd, it can be ridiculous, it’s a political thriller, it’s a tale of revenge. Maybe that’s what makes it commercial, that it’s so exciting; it’s got exciting, thrilling elements to it. It’s a great story, it’s brilliantly directed, its original, it’s a bit different. I don’t know. I love it. It’s one of the best scripts I’ve ever read and Yorgos is an incredible director.
The trio of you, Olivia Colman and Emma Stone are so terrific onscreen. The chemistry between the three of you, was that apparent right away?
We had a rehearsal process of three weeks where we really got to hang out and got to know each other, it was more like a theater rehearsal, where you really spend time in a room, doing trust games and physical games. So we got to the point where we were very uninhibited amongst each other and could have fun together. So chemistry is a very mysterious thing. I think it’s probably often down to casting and the director’s vision. He knows what’s going to spark, or she knows what’s going to spark.
How would you describe the chemistry among the three of you?
Chemistry is a very difficult thing to put into words, there is something alchemical that happens. If we could bottle it we all would have, wouldn’t we? I don’t know. Olivia, we were lifelong friends. It was really what was on the page, the story was so rich and it gave us this backstory, childhood friendship, we were lovers, best friends, Olivia Colman is very easy to be in love with. And Emma is just this formidable, incredible talent, very powerful and having her in the story as a protégé and then as a rival. It’s just very rich stuff. They’re both incredibly talented actors. I don’t know how you make chemistry, it just happens sometimes.
At the Gotham Awards recently, you spoke about how you hope someday journalists such as me will stop asking you about what it’s like to work with other women. But on this film it’s a difficult question to avoid.
Of course, of course. I should have added, I didn’t really contextualize it. But they can only stop asking when it’s no longer rare. I let out the main thought, didn’t I? I hope for the day when it’s not rare, that’s really what I meant, not that it was annoying that it happens.
As you mentioned, you worked with Yorgos before, on “The Lobster.” And every film he makes seems both more mainstream and also 100% Yorgos’ work. What was it like working with him again?
I agree that everything he makes could only be made by him. His imagination and his way of seeing character is just massively original and distinct and idiosyncratic. And I’m sure you know this, but he doesn’t discuss motivation or psychology or character or anything. There are no discussions so he gets performances just firing on instinct. It’s a unique way of working, and I think he has a unique cocktail of feathers to his tone, like feathers in his cap. There’s absurdity and then the very heartfelt love and tragedy. There’s very high physical comedy. And it’s not like he starts a scene and says, in this scene we’re going to be absurd. He doesn’t say that, he just somehow creates the atmosphere without words. He’s a very gentle person to work with. He’s very kind, actually. He would probably laugh at me saying this. He doesn’t tell stories that are sentimental, that’s for sure.
Because of the love triangle, the movie is being taken up as a queer film and I’m wondering if you all thought of it that way as you were making it. How did you contextualize the relationship between the three women as you were making the movie?
Well, we didn’t verbally contextualize anything, amongst each other. In my private imagination, which is really all you’ve got to act and tell a story, they were lifelong friends and lovers. It was in a time where my character was also married, and so had the queen been married and Abigail was married. So they are three married women. My character actually also had children, though that’s not in the film. So I guess the term would be bisexual, but I don’t know if that’s an anachronistic term. It didn’t seem to be set in a time they needed to define their sexuality, they just were in love. I loved the queen and loved making love to her. I knew it was definitely a queer story, but it was something so ordinary to my character that it doesn’t need to be discussed. It’s just what’s happening.
The movie, it is a period film, but there is something that feels so contemporary about it, especially the dance sequence. How did you feel about the dance number?
Well in the script it just said “they dance” and Yorgos had this in mind, but I didn’t know that. So I can’t claim credit for it. He worked closely with an Argentinean avant-garde dance director based in Berlin [Constanza Macras], and she came up with some choreography, which Joe [Alwyn] and I started learning, and then Yorgos would say, ‘I like that move but not that move.’ Then on the day we tried it with the costumes, some moves were not possible with a 6-foot train, and we both wore heels and I had a high headdress, so some of the movies were physically impossible. So it was, ‘Don’t do that one, do that one,” and suddenly there it was. I guess he knew that he was mixing some old dance movies with voguing. So it was a mash-up.
“The Favourite” director Yorgos Lanthimos discusses the differences between working in theater and film, while Spike Lee complains about people watching epic movies on mobile devices.
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