Rachel Weisz is known for taking on roles that entice and challenge—she’s even won an Oscar for it. But it’s her latest role as Hester in Terence Davies’s The Deep Blue Sea that resonates in a most powerful way. The film tells the story of a woman who throws herself into a self-destructive love affair with an emotionally distant Royal Air Force pilot and the madness in which it causes her to descend. As the wife of a tame yet loving judge, she makes the decision to leave him in pursuit of her extreme desire, only to end up shattered by the passion she possesses but does not receive. Known for his unique cinematic works, Davies has crafted a brilliant adaptation of Terence Ratigan’s play that feels almost like a nightmarish, lovesick dream that can feel at once relatable or completely out of one’s emotional sphere. We caught up with Rachel to discuss what attracted her to Hester, how love makes one mad, and working with such an iconic director.
What drew you to the film at this particular time?
It was a beautifully written script. I had never read the play, but Terence had written a very beautiful adaptation and he has this beautiful point of view, and I liked that kind of storytelling. Terrance in England is a really bit of a cult director; it was just a great character, great story, great director—kind of a no-brainer.
Did you see a lot of yourself in the character of Hester?
Not really, no. What really interested me about her was that she really completely humiliates herself. She has no pride; she doesn’t hold it together. Nowadays people say things like, “He’s just not that into you.” You don’t behave like that—your friend will take you out for a drink and say, “Come on, there’s plenty more fish in the sea,” but Hester doesn’t have that response. What I found interesting about her is that she just fell so completely, devastatingly, utterly in love with someone who really couldn’t love her back, but she couldn’t control it. I thought that was really interesting to see someone lose it and just throw herself at his feet. She kind of makes a complete fool out of herself in many ways, it’s really undignified.
And it was time when people were supposed to be more repressed and she didn’t even care at all.
She lost it. But even now if one of our girlfriends was behaving like that we’d say, “Pull yourself together!” I feel like it’s more interesting to tell it in the ’50s because it was a time of greater repression, so it makes it more taboo . But it’s still a relevant story now. I think if a woman left a comfortable marriage for a younger man and humiliated herself in a way, people would still be talking.
Would you say the character goes through a sexual awakening?
I think she’s never felt love or passion or, as Terrance calls it, “erotic love.” It’s a completely new feeling and she’s a bourgeois, married wife of a judge, and she’s never had these feelings. It’s an awakening, and her life is torn to pieces by it.
In most of your films, you’re usually the object of desire or object of love and it’s told from a male point of view. Is this the first of your first films where it’s you who’s doing the desiring?
I loved it. It’s a great story to tell. What Terrence has been saying is that he grew up on films like Brief Encounter and like actresses like Bette Davis or Barbara Stanwyck—stories about women getting to be strong and powerful and complex. Those were the movies he grew up on. The question is not just the movies I have done. but the movies that are made.
What kind of mindset did you have to put yourself in for this character?
I suppose just someone who is not really thinking too much. She’s not thinking anything sensible, practical, self-reservation-like. She’s screwing up in a major way and thinking too much. She’s all ridiculous-crazy love.
Would you say that Hester was mad or just utterly and helplessly in love?
Some people say she’s just mad. I personally don’t think so, but in a way you can see that. I just think she’s in love, but then you can say that love is a kind of psychotic state. I don’t think she’s mad at all. I think it’s a bid for freedom, and I think it’s a really bold, brave thing that she does. I personally respect her, but there are people who see the movie and think she’s just nuts. That’s a fair enough interpretation.
How was filming the sex scene?
It was new for Terence. He had never shot a sex scene before, so I spent most of my time making him feel alright about it.
How was it working with him in general?
He’s very different, very unusual. He’s probably as passionate as Hester—led by his heart and his emotions. He’s much more like her than I am. He gets very carried away both in happiness, sadness, and angerm so he’s a very passionate person. He likes things to be incredibly controlled in terms of where the camera is. It’s the opposite of a contemporary reportage style—films that we’re used to seeing now. He’s got real rigor as a filmmaker, but he’s also really passionate.
Tell me about working with your two leading men.
I’d always imagined the husband role being very unpleasant, but that’s not how Simon played it. He played him with incredible sweetness and empathy and made it really hard to leave him. I thought he would be kind of a pig—nasty and controlling. But he was a sweetheart and lovely to work with, so his performance always surprised me. Tom is just wonderful. He’s very alive and sexy and passionate and really bright, very smart. We met once before we started filming, but it was very intense. We had a really easy rapport.
Do your parents tell you any stories about post-war England?
Well my mom, who is going to be eighty this year, grew up in England during the war. My mom would talk about music actually, and she still sings songs from the ’50s. Music is very important to Terrence. Like the singing in the pub scene; he has a whole story as to why there came about. Apparently that’s what people did before there were TVs and jukeboxes in bars, so that’s what they did on a Saturday night. My mom talks about songs a lot, and rations. She lives very frugally as a result of it. I think it’s still very hard for those who lived through the war to shake it off.
Do you look for something specific in a role?
I just look to be touched in some way, or to be intrigued or be pulled in. It’s like reading a book. Some books grab you and some don’t; it’s the same for a character. It would be hard to say what makes you connect to a certain book. You can connect to something silly or something really dark and tragic, you know what I mean? It’s just different.
Had you wanted to work with Terrence before? The story is that he never heard of you and saw you and said he wanted to work with you but did not recognize you.
He’s not really heard of anyone after color films. I’m serious! He wouldn’t know who anyone is in color movies.