Rachel Weisz’s fans may do a double take when they see her in Rian (Brick) Johnson’s The Brothers Bloom, a caper comedy starring Mark Ruffalo and Adrien Brody as con men who target Weisz’s eccentric “millionairess” Penelope Stamp as the mark for their last and greatest con before parting ways.
Playing Penelope seems to have done Weisz well, as she genuinely seems to be having a lot of fun in the role, a far cry from all the serious, dramatic roles we’ve seen her play in some of our favorite movies in recent years like The Fountain, directed by fiancé Darren Aronofsky, and The Constant Gardener, based on John Le Caree’s novel. Besides cavorting with Brody as his awkward romantic interest, Weisz is also at the center of a montage where we see Penelope demonstrate her hobby, which is essentially collecting other people’s hobbies. It’s one of many “see it to believe it” moments in this distinctively unique second film from Johnson.
Ms. Weisz took part in the Toronto junket for The Brothers Bloom almost eight months ago, but we preserved the interview in our “interview time capsule” to share with you now that the movie is hitting theaters, at least in New York and L.A., this weekend. (Also, check out our interview with writer/director Rian Johnson here.)
ComingSoon.net: What originally attracted you to the script and this character?
Rachel Weisz: Just everything. I really for a long time wanted to do comedy and I think what I was actually waiting for was Penelope. I’m not imaginative enough to have dreamt her up myself, but that was kind of what I was waiting for, just someone who was really… I like screwball, I like that taste.
CS: Earlier, Adrien mentioned that Rian also scripts breaks and pauses, which is something very specific, something that David Mamet does, too. As an actor, do you feel that takes away from your own interpretation of the dialogue or do you welcome that?
Weisz: Gosh, that’s a really good question. I dunno. Rian’s a really good writer, so the writing was just kind of kooky and delicious and exotic and strange and sometimes unwieldable, it was like “woah.” It wasn’t like normal chit-chat we’re having. Our dialogue is not as dazzling, you know? (laughs) It’s just not. It’s hard to speak like that. It’s very dazzling, shiny writing. I love saying it, and I didn’t particularly notice the “ums” and the “ahs” like Adrien did. I was maybe a little less good about getting them all in.
CS: Originally, this movie was called “Penelope” but the title was switched to “The Brothers Bloom” which changes the focus to them. You were actually signed on very early, maybe even the first person signed, so did the script change along the way to accommodate the new title?
Weisz: No, the script never changed. I think it just changed title because there was another film by that title.
CS: As an actor, can you relate to the whole aspect of a con game since you’re basically conning the audience into believing? Penelope always seems to be aware of what’s really going on and in fact, might be conning everyone herself.
Weisz: I think by the end she definitely knows but at the beginning, I think she wasn’t sure if she was being conned. Sometimes I wasn’t sure if she sure she was being conned, but if I thought she did know she was being conned… let me start again. She didn’t really care if she was being conned or not, because it’s a lot more fun hanging out with these guys than juggling at home. If she was being conned, then so be it.
CS: So did she just go along with them because she saw it as collecting another hobby?
Weisz: Well, this wasn’t a hobby; this was an experience. A hobby is something you do alone I guess. She’d been doing stuff completely alone in the house; this was something that was an experience, interacting with real-life humans.
CS: Did you actually have to learn some of those hobbies for that montage?
Weisz: Yeah, we had a two-week rehearsal period in which I had to learn to simulate to be able to play piano, banjo, guitar, juggle, skateboard–I’d never been on a skateboard in my life–Brody is a good skateboarder, so we were in the parking lot outside the place we were filming. He was helping me to get my first little go on a skateboard. They’re actually really dangerous if you’d never been on one before. What were the other things I had to do?
CS: Skateboards are more dangerous than juggling chainsaws?
Weisz: Juggling chainsaws! I had to learn to look like I could juggle and unicycling. The thing that I really, really, really had to learn to do that I actually really did totally, from beginning to end, was the card trick. That was hard. That we did later on and it took me about a month, because I’d never even picked up a deck of cards. I mean, I played Snap! as a child, but I couldn’t do the shuffling.
CS: I thought they used some sort of trickery with the mirrors to make it seem like you were doing that.
Weisz: No, that was the whole point of the shot to see that it was me. The mirror was to show that it could only be me there, but I guess with CGI now, people think… oh, that’s a shame. That was me. Oh, rapping! I had to learn to rap, and there’s a millisecond of it, and Brody’s from Queens, and he’s deep into hip-hop, it’s his culture, and I’m from North London, and I’m not. I remember the look on his face when I butchered one of the classic rap songs of America, but yeah, it was a lot of stuff to learn.
CS: Can you talk about creating a really awkward chemistry with Adrien for your characters? If the two of you met on the street, I can’t imagine either of you being that awkward, but for these characters, you had to create that. He mentioned that you worked on your characters on your own before bringing them together to shoot?
Weisz: You can’t really try and make something awkward. But if you try and do that, it’ll look phony, so it didn’t say in the script, “Penelope and Bloom feel awkward.” It just when Penelope met Bloom, it just got really awkward, that’s just what happened. They were two characters, hopefully of flesh and blood and when they interacted… Penelope at the very beginning has social skills that aren’t particularly refined. She hasn’t been chatting to many people. Maybe some servants somewhere in the house or something, but I think she opens up.
CS: Did you and Adrien have some sort of rehearsal period so that you already knew each other and had to unlearn a relationship created through the rehearsal process?
Weisz: You mean the fact we might get along in real life? Well, maybe me and Adrien felt awkward together.
CS: What part does fashion play in your life and how did that help you get into the wardrobe you’d have to wear as Penelope?
Weisz: With this wardrobe, a lot of the clothes were mine. I’d say like a third of the clothes, so we did a fitting at my flat, and the boots that my character wears throughout the film, those were my boots. I remember running upstairs and going “These are the boots, these are the boots” and when I put them on, they felt like Penelope. So I kind of mixed in my own vintage, odd pieces. Like the black dress with the white ruffle, I bought that as a student and I just kept it, it was like a ’60s dress, and then Beatrix made a reverse one, which was a white dress with a black ruffle. “She goes from the dark into the light” or something. (laughs)
CS: In your bio, it says you’re known for playing “women of incredible spirit and intelligence.” Is that by design and something you actively seek out or is that one of the guidelines you have for picking a role?
Weisz: I’m happy to play any character if they interest me. If they’re unintelligent and unspirited but have an interesting story… I dunno. I think it’s just something that grabs you, an interesting story. I didn’t write that (bio).
CS: How do expectations of a character influence it? In the case of your character in “The Lovely Bones,” that novel has a huge following and they have an image because of the novel, so for something like that, do you go back to the book?
Weisz: Yes, very much. Also, in “The Constant Gardener,” I had the book with me on the set, and I’d go back to it all the time. With someone like Penelope, there’s actually zero research to do, because where do you find Penelope? I don’t know anyone like her even, but with “Lovely Bones,” yeah, I had the book with me on set, and I went back over and over and over. It’s just kind of fuel for your imagination, just to get that poetry inside of you.
CS: Before making movies, did you have any grand adventures like Penelope has in this movie?
Weisz: I’ve been on some great road trips. I drove with a girlfriend, we drove from New Orleans to New York. We got completely stuck in Memphis, though. We were supposed to do two days or one day in each place and in Memphis, we just didn’t leave for two weeks. Just fell in love with Memphis, fell hard in love. The music, the atmosphere, I like blues a lot. That was a great adventure. Same girlfriend, my friend Mel, we drove from Mozambique to Capetown, so basically all along the Eastern edge of South Africa, and we didn’t realize in the Northeast of South Africa, it’s called Zululand, the roads aren’t really paved and we didn’t have a spare tire in this really crappy rental we had and we were just praying, but it was a very exciting trip.
The Brothers Bloom opens in New York and L.A. on Friday, May 15. If you’re in New York, come down to the Angelika Film Center on Friday to either the 4:30 and 7:30 screenings where filmmaker Rian Johnson will answer your questions in person!