After chatting with The Brothers Bloom director Rian Johnson and stars Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo, my fellow members of the press and I seemed to have saved the wackiest—and most energetic—interview for last.
In The Brothers Bloom, Oscar-winner Rachel Weisz plays Penelope, a reclusive heiress who’s spent most of her life alone in a mansion, practicing whichever hobbies struck her fancy. When she meets con men Bloom (Brody) and Stephen (Ruffalo), she finally gets a chance to get out of the house and experience life—and she takes advantage of every exciting opportunity.
From the second Rachel walked into our little room, it was clear that playing fun-loving Penelope wasn’t much of a stretch for the energetic actress. Despite the fact that she’d already been through three interviews just like ours, she still walked in looking thrilled to see this room full of smiling, over-caffeinated strangers. And she looked absolutely stellar in a royal blue dress with white piping. I’ve often heard people say that celebrities are human, too—and they look just like the rest of us. But if that’s the case, then Rachel Weisz might not be human. Still, despite the fact that she didn’t look like any of the rest of the humans in the room, the minute she sat down, she became just like the rest of us. She jumped right into the conversation, laughing and engaging her tiny audience with her expressive brown eyes as she talked about everything from bears to Hammond organs.
Q: How much fun was it to shoot that great montage, where Penelope shows all of her hobbies?
RW: It was a little scary, actually, at first. We had a two-week rehearsal period, and, in that period, I had to learn to look like I could play piano, guitar, banjo, juggle, skateboard… I’d never been on a skateboard in my life, and they’re pretty dangerous things, actually. And [Adrien] Brody’s a skateboarder, so he gave me lessons.
The thing that I actually had to really learn was the card trick. That was me. People think that was CGI—that it was someone else’s hands. But I did it.
Q: Mark [Ruffalo] was saying what a good time everyone had on set. What kind of hijinks did you get into?
RW: We were like a circus, traveling around. We were in Serbia and Montenegro and Prague and Romania. And I had a newborn baby, so I wasn’t out until too late. But I remember one night I went on a walk with Adrien. We were in Romania, up on a mountain. And there was this little restaurant up the road, where big grizzly bears would come down the mountain and the guests would feed them sausage in the parking lot. I just thought that wasn’t quite right, interacting with wild animals like that. But then, one night, we were walking up the street, and Adrien started to wind me up that there was going to be a grizzly bear. He just basically spooked me, and I thought my child was going to lose his mother. I guess that’s not really hijinks, but Adrien thought it was very funny.
[Laughs] That was a really silly story.
Q: What was it about the script that really caught your eye?
RW: The writing was very unusual. The character…it’s very rare that you come across a really off-the-wall female character like that. And it was funny and intelligent and entertaining and very unique.
Q: But you also have to be a comedienne to play this role. Was that hard for you?
RW: In a way, there’s no difference in doing comedy than doing drama, in that you have to connect and be very, very serious. And the more serious you are, the funnier it gets. But I think the main challenge with Penelope was keeping her flesh and blood—because I could have gone too far. I’m sure there were takes that I did—where I was playing around and being really silly. So, really, it was just keeping her grounded and real.
Q: How did you do that?
RW: There’s a special little magic potion [laughs]. I have no idea. It’s just your instinct. That’s all you’ve got.
Q: You were trying things out, though…
RW: Oh, yeah. It’s like feeling your way around in the dark. And the great thing about film is that it’s not like stage. You try things. You do 10 takes, and there’s a little moment in each take.
Q: Your character, Penelope, really could have gone either way. She could have been a pathetic victim—but there’s something within her that denies that victim stance. Was that something that you wrestled with, as far as how she was positioned?
RW: I never think about that. I think it’s a terrible trap to think about trying to be liked. I think it’s quite good to be disliked at moments as a character. I think audiences like that, actually, whether they know it or not.
But it was clear from the monologue that Rian wrote for her while she’s doing her card trick. She tells the story of her life—which is, in essence, a kind of tragedy. I can’t remember the lines exactly, but she said, basically, “I just decided not to look at it like this. Instead of thinking it was the story of someone who had a really sh**ty, desperate life, I decided it wasn’t that story.”
It’s about how you see things, your point of view. And I like that about her a lot—that she’s not self-pitying in the least. And rather than sit at home and get depressed, which would have been understandable, she decided to learn a huge list of hobbies. She was quite a resourceful dame.
Q: If there could remove one thing from your profession, what would it be?
RW: That’s a really good question. I can’t think of anything. I have a pretty good job—I really do. I get to travel and get in someone else’s skin and tell a story. And then people see it, and you get to figure out if they like it or not. It’s very interesting.
Even doing roundtables—some people come up with these really interesting interpretations. You know, you’re meeting strangers, essentially, who are coming up with ideas about what they saw in the work that you were a part of.
I think it’s a pretty good gig, acting. I mean, if you’re getting work—which I am right now.
Q: And what about your own hobbies?
RW: I haven’t got any! I really would like to have some. I’d love to have a hobby.
Q: Couldn’t you just pick one? Like your character, you could just pick something that someone else does.
RW: I had a thought. I realized that my favorite instrument is the Hammond organ. I suddenly realized that I can buy a Hammond organ and learn to play. So I might do that.
Q: What is it about the Hammond organ?
RW: It gets me going. I don’t know…it’s a sound that I love. I love the blues. I love Jimmy Smith. And that sound just gets right in my gut.
Q: We were talking to Adrien about whether his Oscar was a blessing or a curse.
RW: Oh yeah? What did he say? Well, he got to snog Halle Berry [laughs].
Q: He seemed to think that it was a good thing—but, at the same time, he also talked about there are expectations that people have of you. Is that how you felt when you won your Oscar? Did you feel that you had to keep from being pigeonholed?
RW: Yeah, but I don’t think that pigeonholing comes because of winning an Oscar. I think people see your work, and they think of you in a certain way, and you will definitely get offered similar parts. So I think the aim is to do something like [The Brothers Bloom]—just to break from that.
Q: Just to get away from the possibility of being pigeonholed?
RW: It’s not just that. It would just be boring. I mean, when I first got out, I did whatever I was offered. You just have to pay the bills, and it’s very hard to get a job as an actor in the beginning. But I’m definitely in a place now where I can choose, so I’m very lucky that I can keep trying different things—so I don’t get bored. It’s about being challenged all the time. It’s really fun.
Q: Do you feel that you are growing enough—that you’re being challenged?
RW: Yeah. It’s really terrifying—in a good way. I think you need to be terrified as an actor to get the combustion engine going to do the performance. You can just show up and play the part. You have to be terrified.
As we were discussing the terrors of being an actor, one of the studio reps wandered in to let us know that our time was up. Rachel made her way out of the room, leaving the rest of us to pack up our recorders and notebooks and things and rush off to our next events.
While some headed out to the Appaloosa press conference upstairs, I joined back up with my colleagues (who had been assigned to a different room) to compare notes over lunch. Over a much-needed meal of pizzas and pastas, we shared stories and insights, along with our own observations. But there was one thing we definitely agreed on: we can’t wait to see The Brothers Bloom again, when it hits theaters in a few months. The film’s spectacular cast is just as fun in the film as they are in person—so when it comes to a theater near you, be sure to buy a ticket and join them on their adventure.