Rachel Weisz

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9 mins read

Rachel Hannah Weisz was born 7 March 1970 and is a British actress.

She was born in Westminster, London, and grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Her father, George Weisz (1929–2020), was a Hungarian mechanical engineer whose faith was Jewish. Her mother, Edith Ruth (born Teich; 1933–2016), was a teacher-turned-psychotherapist originally from Vienna and practiced the Jewish faith. Her Jewish parents both emigrated to the United Kingdom as children around 1938, prior to the outbreak of World War II, in order to escape the Nazis. Edith Weisz’s paternal ancestry was Austrian-Jewish; her maternal ancestry was Italian Roman Catholic. The scholar and social activist James Parkes helped her mother’s family to leave Austria for England. Weisz’s mother was raised in the Catholic church, and formally converted to Judaism upon marrying Weisz’s father. Weisz’s maternal grandfather was Alexander Teich, a Jewish activist who had been a secretary of the World Union of Jewish Students. Her younger sister, Minnie Weisz, is a visual artist.

Weisz’s parents valued the arts; they also encouraged their children to form opinions of their own by engaging their participation in family debates. Weisz left North London Collegiate School and attended Benenden School for one year, completing A-levels at St Paul’s Girls School.

Known for being an “English rose”, Weisz began modeling at the age of 14. In 1984, she gained public attention when she turned down an offer to star in King David with Richard Gere.

Weisz went to Trinity Hall, Cambridge, where she read English. She graduated with upper second-class honors. During her university years she was a contemporary of Sacha Baron Cohen, and appeared in various student dramatic productions, co-founding a student drama group called Cambridge Talking Tongues. The group won a Guardian Student Drama Award at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival Fringe for an improvised piece called Slight Possession, directed by David Farr.

In 1992, Weisz appeared in the television film Advocates II, followed by roles in the Inspector Morse episode “Twilight of the Gods”, and the BBC’s steamy period drama Scarlet and BlackDirty Something, a BBC Screen Two, hour-long television film made in 1992, was Weisz’s first film. Weisz started her film career with a minor role in the 1994 film Death Machine, but her first major role came in the 1996 film Chain Reaction. She next appeared as Miranda Fox in Stealing Beauty, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci, where she was first labelled an “English rose”.

Following this, Weisz found roles in the 1997 American drama Swept from the Sea, the 1998 British television comedy-drama My Summer with Des, Michael Winterbottom’s crime film I Want You, and David Leland’s The Land Girls, based on Angela Huth’s book of the same name.

In 1999, Weisz played Greta in the historical film Sunshine. The same year, her international breakthrough came with the 1999 adventure film The Mummy, in which she played the female lead. Her character, Evelyn Carnahan, is an English Egyptologist, who undertook an expedition to the fictional ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra to discover an ancient book. She followed this up with the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001.

In 2000, she portrayed Petula in the film Beautiful Creatures, following this up with 2001’s Enemy at the Gates, and the 2002 comedy-drama About a Boy. In 2003, she played Marlee in the adaptation of John Grisham’s legal thriller novel The Runaway Jury and starred in the film adaptation of the romantic comedy-drama play The Shape of Things.

In 2004, Weisz appeared in the comedy Envy, her next role was in Constantine, based on the comic book Hellblazer. Her next appearance, in 2005, was in The Constant Gardener, a film adaptation of a John le Carré thriller. In 2006 Weisz starred in Darren Aronofsky’s romantic drama The Fountain. That same year, she provided the voice for Saphira the dragon in the fantasy film Eragon; and rejected an offer to star in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor due to script issues. Her subsequent films include the 2007 Wong Kar-wai drama My Blueberry Nights, and Rian Johnson’s 2008 caper film The Brothers Bloom. In 2009, she played the lead role of Hypatia of Alexandria in the historical drama film Agora. Weisz starred in the film The Whistleblower, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. Weisz’s 2011 roles included an adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea, Fernando Meirelles’ psychosexual drama 360, the BBC espionage thriller Page Eight, and the thriller film Dream House, alongside Daniel Craig.

She has also starred in the 2012 action thriller film The Bourne Legacy based on the series of books by Robert Ludlum. Weisz plays Evanora, in Oz the Great and Powerful. In 2015, she appeared in the drama film Youth and in science fiction film The Lobster. In 2016, she appeared in the drama film The Light Between Oceans and portrayed Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt in Denial, a film based on Lipstadt’s book, and directed by Mick Jackson. In 2017 Weisz starred My Cousin Rachel, a drama based on Daphne du Maurier’s novel, and in 2018 co-starred in a British biographical film about sailor Donald Crowhurst, The Mercy. Weisz’s production company, LC6 Productions, released its first feature film, Disobedience, in 2017, starring Weisz and Rachel McAdams. Weisz grew up three underground stops away from where the film is set in London. Raised Jewish, she never fully connected to the faith. In 2018, Weisz played Sarah Churchill in The Favourite. In April 2019, she entered talks to join Scarlett Johansson in the Marvel Cinematic Universe film Black Widow. In July of that year, Weisz was announced to play Melina Vostokoff / Iron Maiden in the film. Weisz is set to portray actress Elizabeth Taylor in the biographical drama A Special Relationship, though the film remains in development. The film will chronicle Taylor’s life and career from actress to activist.

On stage, Weisz’s breakthrough role was that of Gilda in Sean Mathias’s 1994 revival of Noël Coward’s Design for Living at the Gielgud Theatre. In 1999, she played the role of Catherine in the Donmar Warehouse production of Tennessee Williams’ Suddenly Last Summer. The same year, Weisz appeared in Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things at the Almeida Theatre, then temporarily located in London’s King’s Cross, for which she received a Theatre World Award. In 2009, she appeared as Blanche DuBois, in Rob Ashford’s revival of the play A Streetcar Named Desire. Weisz and her husband starred on Broadway in a revival of Harold Pinter’s Betrayal.

Throughout her career, she has been featured on the covers of magazines, such as Vogue. She served as a muse to fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez, and was named L’Oréal’s global ambassador in 2010.

A British citizen by birth, Weisz became a naturalized US citizen in 2011.