x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Rachel Weisz: 'I don't really think of her as evil…'

In Oz the Great and the Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic that tells the backstory of Oz and the witches, the British Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz plays Evanora, who at first seems very nice. At first ...

The British actress Rachel Weisz in Oz the Great and Powerful, in which she plays Evanora, the Wicked Witch of the East. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures
The British actress Rachel Weisz in Oz the Great and Powerful, in which she plays Evanora, the Wicked Witch of the East. Courtesy Walt Disney Pictures

"Toto, I've a feeling we're not in Kansas anymore," is one of the most famous quotes in movie history. The line is said when Dorothy first lands in Oz and has become a catchphrase for when life has taken an unexpected turn. It's an expression that's apt for the 42-year-old actress Rachel Weisz, who, in her own fairy tale, left London to live in New York and ended up an Oscar-winning actress.

In Oz the Great and Powerful, a prequel to the 1939 classic that tells the backstory of Oz and the witches, Weisz plays Evanora, an official royal adviser who at first seems nice but whose dark side slowly reveals her to be the Wicked Witch of the East.

It's unusual to see her play such an evil character, although Weisz begs to differ. "I don't really think of her as evil, she just knows how to get what she wants." But the actress, who won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar in 2005 for playing a humanitarian trying to uncover dubious drug tests by a pharmaceutical company in The Constant Gardener, then backtracks a little. "I mean, she's very, very bad. But I tried not to judge her when playing her."

The casting is perfect because Weisz seems too good to be true. She looks as good now as she did when she first made her screen acting breakthrough, after graduating from Cambridge, in Michael Winterbottom's I Want You in 1997. She looks so good, in fact, it wouldn't be a surprise to learn she's taken a leaf out of Dorian Gray's book and has a painting growing old in the attic.

She got the moniker Mrs James Bond after her surprise wedding to Daniel Craig in June 2011, soon after the break-up of her marriage to the film director Darren Aronofsky, with whom she has a son. The actress won't talk about her personal life, but she acknowledges that love can be mad. "That's a valid interpretation of being in love, I suppose. You can say it is a kind of madness."

The Oscar winner doesn't like talking about how she gets into character, either. "That's impossible to explain, it's what my job is. How do you get into someone's head when you're interviewing them? It's your instinct, isn't it?"

The filming of Oz took place in Detroit, Michigan - a city once famous for cars and Motown but now more talked about for its decrepit buildings, cheap houses and burgeoning art scene. There is still a hangover from the rich origins of the city and Weisz is surprised when I tell her it's one of my favourite American cities. "How come?" she asks, as she switches into the role of interrogator. There is a natural curiosity and inquisitiveness about her that she uses on screen to great effect.

It turns out that Weisz has been shepherded away from the more edgy parts of the city. "I was staying in a suburb called Birmingham. I was working really long hours and so I drove downtown only once, to where the baseball stadium is, but I guess the more interesting parts are not around there." She asks for tips on where to go next time she's there.

Born in London, Weisz, the child of a Hungarian inventor and Austrian psychotherapist, now lives in New York. "I've been living there for more than 10 years. You can get everything you want there, Thai food delivered at three in the morning … sometimes there is a bit too much excess." She still has a place in London but for now her life must be a long way from her roots, as New York is where her son is going to school.

The actress has not worked since Oz: a couple of movie projects fell through, but in what is sure to be one of the big theatrical events of the autumn, she and Craig will perform on Broadway together in Harold Pinter's Betrayal.

Oz the Great and Powerful opens across UAE cinemas tomorrow

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