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STEPS THROUGH THE
By Brad Balfour
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
March 5, 2006.
Though Rachel Weisz
has received accolades before, none are more appreciated than an Academy
Award nomination. And given that she dies a few minutes in the film The
Constant Gardener, it's even more appreciated she got this attention.
But the film is a
powerful statement – about drug company manipulations to create a powerful
AIDS drug in Africa – in a year of powerful statements. Still, Brazilian
director Fernando Mierelles has experience telling a wrenching tales after
his work creating City of
Is this a thriller,
a political corporate expose or a love story?
I love about the film is that it's all three. It is a political thriller.
It's very action packed and it's very exciting, but at the same time it's
a very big
soulful love story about longing and loss. They're not separate; they're
completely dependent on one another. As Ralph's character begins to
discover the political thriller aspect of the film, he falls deeper in
love with his wife, so the two run together. That's the beauty of this
film. It has fast pace and excitement, but it also has heart and soul.
Was Tess based on
someone author John le Carre knew?
John le Carre wrote
a novel that was loosely inspired by an older woman, so I was playing a
character based on his novel. She was a political activist; someone who
would do anything to do what she believed was right.
character is dead a good part of the film. Did you shoot all your scenes
You know she's
murdered in the first two minutes of the movie. I think it's okay to say
When you saw it
completed, did you feel out of touch with all the other stuff going on in
I love the fact
that's it's a retrospective love story, that it's told in flashback and
there are a lot of assumptions that Ralph and the audience make about my
character which are then revised as the film goes on. I think it's a
beautiful narrative structure that's very original.
This production was
shot in Africa, and could have been a lot more complicated with a lot more
of a hassle.
Channing Williams, the producer, behaved incredibly responsibly in the
filming in East Africa. Sometimes, Hollywood crews can go into developing
countries and behave less than well. He gave the script to the people of
Kibera, so they were aware of the story that we were going to be filming
in their midst. We didn't go in and surprise them. In exchange for using
the location, we built a school there; we built a bridge and provided
showers and running water. We also set up the Constant Gardener Charitable
Trust, which will be ongoing charity. We just wanted to say thank you to
the people there. It was a very beautiful exchange.
Were you excited by
the challenge of improvising especially working in an alien environment
Very much. The way
in which Fernando works, he really values spontaneity and improvisation.
He allows you to stray from the text and try things – to play and be free.
I like to work like that and, luckily, so does Ralph [Fiennes, her
co-star]. But some actors don't; they like to stick to the text. There's
nothing wrong with that. They like to do each take pretty much the same
and perfect each take as they go. But Ralph and I both like to try new
things. If the love story is believable, it's because of that. It has the
kind of banter that a couple have that's very hard to script because
couples interrupt each other and life is messy – not neat like a script.
Did Ralph improvise
the Jacques Cousteau scene?
It was a wonderful moment. There were so many moments like that in the
film where something happened. That's really due to the way Fernando
allowed us that freedom. Directors,
on the whole, like
to control things. They like to know exactly what's going to happen and
how it's going to happen. Fernando has a great humility about him and he
allowed us to kind of take over. In those scenes where we were filming in
the slum of Kibera, we were just walking around with a tiny camera we led
the camera, the camera didn't lead us – and that's a pretty extraordinary
Did you do a lot of
research on this character?
In England, Oxfam
were very generous. They allowed me to talk to a lot of people who had
been working out in the field. All that research was great, but the real
inspiration happened in Africa. When I was there, there was a woman who
was an activist. She was a Kenyan who had been living with HIV for the
last 12 years and she was a counselor for woman with HIV in the slums. She
was incredibly generous and allowed me to accompany her on house calls
around the shantytown to visit patients with her. Really meeting the
people of Africa was the inspiration. I'd
never seen poverty
on that level in my life. It's very extreme: no sanitation, no running
water and a very high level of disease. And yet, there was a kind of
spiritual wealth that these people had; it was so overwhelming. They
welcomed us, and were so generous and hospitable. The scene where the
children say, "How are you, how are you?''--That's just what happened,
that wasn't in the script. They weren't extras. Some of the parents who
spoke English asked us, "Where you live do the children come and welcome
strangers?'' And I said, "Where I live, the children are told not to speak
to strangers.'' And they couldn't understand it. It was mind boggling to
them. It was a very huge experience meeting the people there.
In the film you're a
political activist falls in love with a man who is not political. How did
your character overcome that?
I don't believe your
soul mate has to share your politics. I think he is as moral and as good
as she is and has as much integrity as she has. He's a very good man, but
he doesn't go looking for trouble. And she's the kind of person who does.
She's a very unusual person. If there's some injustice being done, she
will sniff it out. She's the unusual one. He is just a good everyman. He's
not aware of this level of corruption that there is. I think the love
story is about opposites attract. She is volatile and flighty and likes to
rock the boat; he's the exact opposite. He's a diplomat, he likes to keep
the peace, and he's very emotionally reserved. He's her rock; he gives her
stability and she feels immediately safe with him.
real life, are you closest to the troublemaker; did you feel a real
connection with her?
In real life, I'm a
storyteller, an entertainer. So I've got a very overactive imagination. I
can imagine myself into just about anybody's shoes. That was my job – to
get into the skin of someone who's a political activist. I'm a very
different person than my character.
But since you play a
politically committed character in this movie, what political issues
concern you in the real world?
That was my
challenge playing this role. I've always been fascinated by activists,
people who will devote their life to a cause, people who go to India and
to Africa and put their life in jeopardy to do what they believe is right.
What I do for a living is completely different. I'm a storyteller and an
entertainer. I'm nothing like my character, but I had a responsibility to
do justice by these people and I've always been fascinated by what makes
these people tick. I'm in awe of people who do that. In reality, the main
thing that keeps me awake at night is probably the destruction of the
planet; that's what gets me pretty upset.
PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved.
March 5, 2006.