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Rachel Weisz Explains the Shortage of Female Roles – and How to Combat it

Many actresses, including Jessica Chastain and Viola Davis, have spoken out against the shortage of compelling roles for women, but now, one actress has a theory for the actual reason.

Academy Award winning actress Rachel Weisz spoke to Harper’s Bazaar on why she believes there aren’t enough complex, engaging roles for women.

“Pre feminism, there were great roles for women. The ‘30s, ‘40s and ‘50s were the golden era for women’s films – just think of Barbara Stanwyck, Bette Davis, Katharine Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor. There were stories about female subjectivity from females front and centre in film. They were written and directed by men, but with women in the front,” she said.

“And then, something happened,” Weisz continued. “I’m not a cultural historian, but maybe women got ‘too scary’ in real life so they had to be pushed off the stage in the stories. If you look at those old black and white movies, women were allowed to be quite intense. It’s interesting how it changed, how it shifted.”

It is debatable what Weisz meant by ‘too scary’ and ‘pre feminism,’ but to combat bland role casting, the actress has been seeking out writers she is intrigued by, rather than waiting for roles to be offered to her.

“Life is short and why not let people know if you’re a fan?” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “There are people I really admire and I’ve let them know – or just generally if I just really wanted to meet them and say, ‘I love your work, I love what you’re doing and please keep me in mind; I’d love to work with you.’

“Whether it works or not doesn’t really matter,” she continued. “You’ve still got to meet someone you admire. That happened with Yorgos Lanthimos and The Lobster.”

Weisz was cast in Lanthimos’s film The Lobster, and of his work she said she had “…watched his films in Greek with subtitles…I like being a fan. It’s a good feeling.”

She also turns to novels in search of captivating roles. Her most recent role has come with the film-adaptation of Daphne du Maurier’s novel, My Cousin Rachel. For the namesake role, she plays a widowed woman accused of murdering her husband. The book itself was published in 1951.

On the role and the novel in general, Weisz was intrigued. “The ideas that she has are very radical for the 19th century – that a woman should be sexually liberated, able to earn her own living and shouldn’t be the possession of a man through marriage,” she said. “That’s less provocative now, but it was fascinating to see such a fascinating modern woman in a 19th century context, to watch her fight for her life in the way that she knew how – whether that’s poisoning and murdering people or if she’s just trying to survive.”

The character of Rachel is thought to foster split audiences when the film is released. She is a complicated, shadowy character, and Weisz is very excited about her.

“I liked the ambiguity of my character,” she told Harper’s Bazaar. “Did she or didn’t she? Is she a femme fatale villainess or is she a victim of 19th century misunderstanding and misogyny who’s just trying to live her own life? It asked really interesting questions I thought.”

Maybe Weisz has found the key to finding roles that excite: seek out what sparks your wonder—but first, be a fan, and the rest will follow.

Featured Image by Peter Kudlacz on Flickr

Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)

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