Rachel Weisz on 'The Favourite': "It's Just Great Playing Opposite Women"

By Jolin, Dan | Screen International, February 7, 2019 | Go to article overview

Rachel Weisz on 'The Favourite': "It's Just Great Playing Opposite Women"


Jolin, Dan, Screen International


The actress tells Screen about loving her female co-stars and being directed by Yorgos Lanthimos.

Rachel Weisz couldn’t get away from The Favourite even if she wanted to. Speaking to Screen International from New York one mid-January morning, she has just come from dropping her oldest child off at school, where, she says, she was stopped by another mother at the gates who told her she had particularly enjoyed the scene where Weisz’s sharp-tongued Lady Sarah Churchill describes a rival as smelling like “a 96-year-old French whore’s vajuju”.

Weisz laughs. “She said, ‘I just love that line.’ The Favourite is an extraordinary piece of writing. I’m thrilled that people like it.”

Yorgos Lanthimos’s darkly comic period drama, set in the turbulent, decadent court of Queen Anne in the 18th century, is not short of appreciators. During the first three days of its US release, it earned the biggest per-theatre average of 2018 (at $105,000) and has so far grossed $23m; in the UK, it reached $14.5m (£11.1m) after three weekends.

Its strength at the box office has been matched by its awards-season heat. Olivia Colman won a Golden Globe for her performance as the malady-inflicted Anne; the film has 10 Oscar nominations (tied with ROMA) and 12 Bafta nominations. Weisz herself has received no fewer than 35 best supporting actress nominations for her steely performance as Anne’s straight-talking confidante, whose position in court is threatened by her ambitious young cousin (Emma Stone).

It is a towering triumph for a script by Deborah Davis and Tony McNamara, which took 20 years to get to the screen and was, for many years, tricky to finance because it was a British period film that has same-sex relationships and no male lead. “It takes someone from Greece to make it happen,” says Weisz of Lanthimos, praising him for crafting a period drama with an immediacy and freshness the genre often lacks. “There’s a received way of doing things on period films. Yorgos really wanted to blow that up, and I think he did. It’s not a dusty museum piece.”

Role playing

The Favourite marks the second time Weisz and Lanthimos have worked together following The Lobster in 2015, but she found the Athens-born filmmaker to be “exactly the same” this time, despite the shift in genre and increase in scale. “It was just how he’d collaborated with his group of actors on The Lobster, except on The Favourite we had time for rehearsal,” says the actress.

Over a three-week period, Weisz and her co-stars were able to “really get to know each other and play lots of games”. She likens it to theatre rehearsals, except with Lanthimos, “you never talk about your character or your psychology. There’s nothing like that. You just play the games, like saying other people’s lines, or making a speech very fast while jumping on one foot and throwing a ball up in the air. Anything to take your mind off the acting. [Yorgos] likes things to be just based on instinct. …

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