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Rachel Weisz Steps Through the Garden

Updated: Jul 18, 2023

Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”



By Brad Balfour

Though Rachel Weisz has received accolades before, none are more appreciated than an Academy Award nomination. And given that she dies a few minutes in the film The Constant Gardener, it’s even more appreciated she got this attention.

But the film is a powerful statement – about drug company manipulations to create a powerful AIDS drug in Africa – in a year of powerful statements. Still, Brazilian director Fernando Mierelles has experience telling a wrenching tales after his work creating City of God.

Is this a thriller, a political corporate expose or a love story?

What I love about the film is that it’s all three. It is a political thriller. It’s very action packed and it’s very exciting, but at the same time it’s a very big soulful love story about longing and loss. They’re not separate; they’re completely dependent on one another. As Ralph’s character begins to discover the political thriller aspect of the film, he falls deeper in love with his wife, so the two run together. That’s the beauty of this film. It has fast pace and excitement, but it also has heart and soul.

Was Tess based on someone author John le Carre knew?

John le Carre wrote a novel that was loosely inspired by an older woman, so I was playing a character based on his novel. She was a political activist; someone who would do anything to do what she believed was right.

Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

Your character is dead a good part of the film. Did you shoot all your scenes early?

You know she’s murdered in the first two minutes of the movie. I think it’s okay to say that.

When you saw it completed, did you feel out of touch with all the other stuff going on in the movie?

I love the fact that’s it’s a retrospective love story, that it’s told in flashback and there are a lot of assumptions that Ralph and the audience make about my character which are then revised as the film goes on. I think it’s a beautiful narrative structure that’s very original.

This production was shot in Africa, and could have been a lot more complicated with a lot more of a hassle.

Simon Channing Williams, the producer, behaved incredibly responsibly in the filming in East Africa. Sometimes, Hollywood crews can go into developing countries and behave less than well. He gave the script to the people of Kibera, so they were aware of the story that we were going to be filming in their midst. We didn’t go in and surprise them. In exchange for using the location, we built a school there; we built a bridge and provided showers and running water. We also set up the Constant Gardener Charitable Trust, which will be ongoing charity. We just wanted to say thank you to the people there. It was a very beautiful exchange.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

Were you excited by the challenge of improvising especially working in an alien environment like Kenya?

Very much. The way in which Fernando works, he really values spontaneity and improvisation. He allows you to stray from the text and try things – to play and be free. I like to work like that and, luckily, so does Ralph [Fiennes, her co-star]. But some actors don’t; they like to stick to the text. There’s nothing wrong with that. They like to do each take pretty much the same and perfect each take as they go. But Ralph and I both like to try new things. If the love story is believable, it’s because of that. It has the kind of banter that a couple have that’s very hard to script because couples interrupt each other and life is messy – not neat like a script.

Did Ralph improvise the Jacques Cousteau scene?

Absolutely. It was a wonderful moment. There were so many moments like that in the film where something happened. That’s really due to the way Fernando allowed us that freedom. Directors, on the whole, like to control things. They like to know exactly what’s going to happen and how it’s going to happen. Fernando has a great humility about him and he allowed us to kind of take over. In those scenes where we were filming in the slum of Kibera, we were just walking around with a tiny camera we led the camera, the camera didn’t lead us – and that’s a pretty extraordinary situation.

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

Did you do a lot of research on this character?

In England, Oxfam were very generous. They allowed me to talk to a lot of people who had been working out in the field. All that research was great, but the real inspiration happened in Africa. When I was there, there was a woman who was an activist. She was a Kenyan who had been living with HIV for the last 12 years and she was a counselor for woman with HIV in the slums. She was incredibly generous and allowed me to accompany her on house calls around the shantytown to visit patients with her. Really meeting the people of Africa was the inspiration. I’d never seen poverty on that level in my life. It’s very extreme: no sanitation, no running water and a very high level of disease. And yet, there was a kind of spiritual wealth that these people had; it was so overwhelming. They welcomed us, and were so generous and hospitable. The scene where the children say, “How are you, how are you?”–That’s just what happened, that wasn’t in the script. They weren’t extras. Some of the parents who spoke English asked us, “Where you live do the children come and welcome strangers?” And I said, “Where I live, the children are told not to speak to strangers.” And they couldn’t understand it. It was mind boggling to them. It was a very huge experience meeting the people there.

In the film you’re a political activist falls in love with a man who is not political. How did your character overcome that?

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Ralph Fiennes and Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

I don’t believe your soul mate has to share your politics. I think he is as moral and as good as she is and has as much integrity as she has. He’s a very good man, but he doesn’t go looking for trouble. And she’s the kind of person who does. She’s a very unusual person. If there’s some injustice being done, she will sniff it out. She’s the unusual one. He is just a good everyman. He’s not aware of this level of corruption that there is. I think the love story is about opposites attract. She is volatile and flighty and likes to rock the boat; he’s the exact opposite. He’s a diplomat, he likes to keep the peace, and he’s very emotionally reserved. He’s her rock; he gives her stability and she feels immediately safe with him.

Rachel Weisz in "The Constant Gardener."

Rachel Weisz in “The Constant Gardener.”

In real life, are you closest to the troublemaker; did you feel a real connection with her?

In real life, I’m a storyteller, an entertainer. So I’ve got a very overactive imagination. I can imagine myself into just about anybody’s shoes. That was my job – to get into the skin of someone who’s a political activist. I’m a very different person than my character.

But since you play a politically committed character in this movie, what political issues concern you in the real world?

That was my challenge playing this role. I’ve always been fascinated by activists, people who will devote their life to a cause, people who go to India and to Africa and put their life in jeopardy to do what they believe is right. What I do for a living is completely different. I’m a storyteller and an entertainer. I’m nothing like my character, but I had a responsibility to do justice by these people and I’ve always been fascinated by what makes these people tick. I’m in awe of people who do that. In reality, the main thing that keeps me awake at night is probably the destruction of the planet; that’s what gets me pretty upset.

Copyright  ©2006  All rights reserved. Posted: March 5, 2006.

Photo Credits:#1 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.#2 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.#3 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.#4 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.#5 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.#6 © 2005 Jaap Buitendijk. Courtesy of Focus Features.  All rights reserved.


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