Simultaneously an archetypal English rose and someone rather more exotic, Rachel Weisz has developed into a major British actress over the past decade.
Born on 7th March 1971 to an Austrian mother and a Hungarian father, she decided she wanted to be an actress from an early age. However, she famously turned down a role opposite Richard Gere in King David (US, 1985), and only started acting properly when she left Cambridge, where she founded the award-winning theatre company Talking Tongues. Her own stage debut came in the lauded Donmar Warehouse production of Noël Coward's Design For Living. Her first significant roles were an appearance in Inspector Morse (ITV, 1993), and, opposite a young Ewan McGregor, in the Stendahl adaptation The Scarlet and the Black (BBC, 1993). Her screen debut, as 'Junior Executive' in the horror film Death Machine (d. Stephen Norrington, 1995) was inauspicious, but a witty performance in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (Italy/France/UK, 1996) deflated much of that film's pomposity.
Her first Hollywood lead, as a jargon-babbling scientist in Chain Reaction (US, 1996) was unpromising, but perhaps a necessary rite of passage. She was fine in the underrated Swept From The Sea (Canada/UK/US, d. Beeban Kidron, 1997), fun as the jolly-holly-sticks land girl Ag in The Land Girls (UK/France, d. David Leland, 1998), and, in a complete change of tone, sensuous in I Want You (d. Michael Winterbottom, 1998).
However, it was with The Mummy (US, 1999) that her fortunes changed. Her superb performance, combining conventional love interest with substantial comic elements, was the key to much of the film's charm, and was the high point of the otherwise indifferent sequel The Mummy Returns (US, 2001). Playing the lover of two Fiennes siblings, she was striking alongside Ralph in István Szabó's Sunshine (Germany / Austria / Canada / Hungary, 1999), but largely irrelevant opposite Joseph in Enemy At The Gates (US / Germany / UK / Ireland, d. Jean-Jacques Annaud, 2001).
Other than an acclaimed return to the stage in Neil LaBute's The Shape Of Things, which was later filmed, with LaBute directing and her producing (US/France/UK, 2003), much of her work at this time seems somewhat disengaged, as if directors were not quite sure how best to use her; she impressed in an extended cameo as Hugh Grant's eventual romantic interest in About A Boy (UK/US/France/Germany, d. Chris & Paul Weitz, 2002), but her generic femme fatale performances in such films as Confidence (US/Canada/Germany, 2003) and The Runaway Jury (US, 2003) were underwhelming.
Thankfully, a stirring and Oscar-winning comeback came with the brilliant The Constant Gardener (Germany/UK, d. Fernando Meirelles, 2005), in which she played down the glamour to portray, with conviction and passion, a committed activist, and, despite only being in around half the film, gave it its heart and soul. Her appearance in her partner Darren Aronofsky's long-awaited The Fountain (US, 2006) should continue this upward progression.