Rachel Weisz on Playing Hester Collyer in ‘The Deep Blue Sea’

WRITER’S NOTE: As the opening sentence hints at, this article was written in 2012.

The 2012 New York Film Critics Circle Awards were recently given out, and one of the big winners was Rachel Weisz who won the Best Actress Award for her performance in “The Deep Blue Sea.” In the film she portrays Hester Collyer, the wife of a High Court judge who ends up having a passionate affair with Royal Air Force pilot Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), and we watch as this affair throws her life into utter turmoil. “The Deep Blue Sea” hasn’t yet found the audience in America it deserves, but hopefully Weisz’s win will bring more attention to the film which has earned tremendous critical praise since its release.

“The Deep Blue Sea” was directed by British independent filmmaker, Terence Davies. His resume includes such movies as “Distant Voices Still Lives,” “The Neon Bible” and “The House of Mirth” which featured an extraordinary performance from Gillian Anderson. In an interview with Ara Aquino of Complex, Weisz described Davies as being “very different” and “unusual” compared to most other filmmakers she has worked with. Hearing Weisz talk about Davies makes him sound both rigid and yet full of life:

“He’s probably as passionate as Hester and led by his emotions and his heart. He’s more like her than I am,” Weisz said of Davies. “He gets really carried away both in happiness and sadness and anger. He’s a very emotional person. He likes things to be incredibly controlled in terms of where the camera is; you’re the center of the frame. It’s the opposite of contemporary, hand-held reportage style films that we’re used to seeing now. He’s got real rigor as a filmmaker, but he’s also really passionate.”

Weisz then went on to tell Aquino that what interested her about playing Hester was how the character “really, kind of completely humiliated herself” and has “no pride.” Those who have seen “The Deep Blue Sea” can agree this role is a frightening and challenging one for any actress as it forces them to convincingly portray conflicting emotions and to play a character who is not exactly likable. Still, it was those challenges which made Weisz want to take on the role.

“What I found interesting about her was she just fell so completely, devastatingly, utterly in love with someone who really didn’t even love her back,” Weisz said about Hester. “She just couldn’t control it, and I thought that was really interesting to see someone lose it. She just throws herself at his feet and kind of makes a complete fool out of herself in many ways.”

Actually, one of the most refreshing things I heard Weisz say about the roles she chooses is that she does not worry about whether the character is likable or not. Many actors tend to be very self-conscious about their work and how the public will treat them for playing someone who is far from being universally loved. But they do themselves a disservice thinking like that as they cut themselves off from many interesting opportunities worth taking advantage of. Weisz made this clear in an interview she had with the Awards Line website.

“I think if you ask the audience to like you, it’s all over,” Weisz said. “The most interesting characters are those you’re drawn to, then repelled by, and then come to understand. All that tension – I live that. But I don’t plan the tension. It’s just something that should happen. I don’t judge the character at all. It’s a bit like being someone’s defense lawyer-you have to believe in their innocence in order to defend them. Did I know that Hester was a pain in the ass? Yeah.”

Another interesting story about the making of “The Deep Blue Sea” involved shooting the love scene between Weisz and her co-star Tom Hiddleston. While Weisz has been in her share of sex scenes in movies, this particular one was the first that Davies ever directed. In talking with Michael Ordoña of the Los Angeles Times, it sounded like she spent a lot of time trying to make Davies feel more comfortable about doing it which was amusing because it’s typically the other way around.

“He just said, ‘I want you to lick his shoulder.’ He had never shot a nude scene, or a sex scene,” Weisz said of Davies. “I thought for a while, ‘Maybe I’ll just keep on my slip.’ But then he said ‘Ah, no, I don’t think so …’ He was really embarrassed. He had it in his mind he wanted audiences to see their bodies together.”

“The Deep Blue Sea” may not be the kind of movie that fills up multiplexes around the globe, but it is a must see for those who love complex dramas and great acting. Rachel Weisz continues to deliver one great performance after another, and this film features one of her best yet. If she continues to choose her roles in the way she told Aquino, then we can expect many more unforgettable performances from her in the future.

“You just have to read a script and think, I’d really like to play this character,” Weisz told Aquino. “It doesn’t really matter if it’s a big movie or a small movie. You still have to say the lines and make it sound true. I just need to be intrigued or pulled in. It’s hard for me to put it into words. It’s like reading a book: Some books grab you and some books don’t. It’s the same with a character. Some things you just really connect with. It could be a really silly book or a dark tragedy.”


Ara Aquino, “Interview: Rachel Weisz Talks “The Deep Blue Sea” & The Madness Of Love,” Complex, March 21, 2012.

Q&A: Rachel Weisz on Deep Blue Sea,” Awards Line, November 21, 2012.

Michael Ordoña, “How Rachel Weisz put depth in ‘Blue Sea’ performance,” Los Angeles Times, November 29, 2012.

Exclusive Interview with Peter Strickland on ‘The Duke of Burgundy’


He received critical acclaim for his film “Berberian Sound Studio,” and now British filmmaker Peter Strickland follows it up with “The Duke of Burgundy.” Now while the title might have you believing this is just another stiff period piece, it proves to be anything but that. It stars Sidse Babett Knudsen and Chiara D’Anna as Cynthia and Evelyn, two women with a keen interest in butterflies who are involved in a sadomasochistic relationship. Despite what sounds like a harsh situation, Cynthia and Evelyn are very much in love with one another and enjoy playing the roles of the dominant and the submissive. But as Cynthia begins to yearn for their relationship to become a more normal one, Evelyn becomes increasingly obsessed with playing the submissive to where it becomes an addiction which cannot be easily fulfilled.

I got to speak with Strickland over the phone while he was doing press for “The Duke of Burgundy,” and we talked about how the movie is not what it appears to be. Strickland described how he achieved the movie’s beautiful look, what he wanted to see onscreen in regards to a sadomasochistic relationship, and of the challenges of shooting a six-minute scene in one take.


Ben Kenber: “The Duke of Burgundy” is a fascinating and mesmerizing movie, and what I liked about it was that while these two women are involved in a sadomasochistic relationship, it still feels like any other relationship in terms of how it runs on routine and gets run down by it as well.

Peter Strickland: Yeah. Ultimately what I found really interesting was that one of them is doing that out of the purest joy. There are two levels: one level is the joy of sex which makes us happy but also the joy of feeling desired I think especially as she’s (Cynthia) feeling that she’s getting older, but only have so much mileage to that. To me the film is about anybody who’s in a relationship with someone who has different needs and how you navigate those and how you find compromise, and I think coercion leads into it somehow. To be honest I was making the movie as a way to argue that afterwards or at least have discussions about who should compromise. Should it be one person doing things to somebody else that they find distasteful? It doesn’t matter what that thing is. It could be the most basic sexual acts. Or should the other person compromise and just withhold their desires and not express themselves? I don’t have the answers to that. I’m just showing this domestic drama really.

BK: Yeah, in any relationship those questions of who’s going to compromise the most comes up. In the end when you take away the sadomasochistic elements it really is like any other relationship.

PS: Yeah, I think so. And I think that, despite some of the harshness, there was a tenderness there as well. What I wanted to do was to start the first 10 minutes like your classic 70’s sexploitation film which would serve that kind of fantasy where they are all in character where the stern mistress is the stern mistress but then somehow unpeel that, and I want to see that stern mistress in her pajamas. I want to see her snoring at night, I want to see her get her lines wrong and miss her cues just to see what ticks underneath that somehow.

BK: This movie has such a beautiful look to it. It looks like it was shot on film, but I read that you actually shot it digitally. How did you make The Duke of Burgundy look like it was shot on film?

PS: That was Nicky (Nowland, the Director of Photography). He has literally been shooting on film for many, many years and he has been shooting stuff since the 60’s so he’s got a good feel for that. We were very close to shooting on 16mm but we just didn’t quite… We could’ve applied for more money, but the more money you get, the less control you have. So, we kept the budget around $1,000,000 pounds which meant I had complete control, but the consequence of having complete control is that we had to make cuts, so film was the first one to go. Nick can talk more about it in terms of the lenses he uses which were older lenses which I think were uncoated. That haze machine is quite important for him in terms of having this very diffuse quality to the whole movie. But also during the scenes where Evelyn is having her sort of excitable moments he was using doubles and mirrors so all that is done in camera, and I think we just did a lot of trial and error just moving the camera and moving the actors. Sometimes you have two doubles crossing into the mirror and crossing into another mirror and cover that up with the haze machine, and that really has a certain tasty look that’s reminiscent of the 70’s. We didn’t want to try too much to go down that route. Now you can make film looked distressed and so on, and that was the danger of sort of being a pastiche. We just wanted to do the most beautiful job we could, and I think the production design played a huge part in that and the costumes played a huge part as well.

BK: The movie kind of looks like it takes place in the 70’s, but in the end, it could be taking place in any time period. Was it your intention to leave the movie’s time period ambiguous?

PS: I wanted it to be kind of like a fairytale in that you don’t know where it is, you don’t know when it is, and you don’t know how in the hell they make their money to live in that place. It’s all those things that fairytales have been in a sense. Hopefully, you’re not worried about social elements of class or gender. There’s no counterpoint in that sense, so hopefully you’re just immersed in the dynamic of it. What was important as well was to be open to the fact that other people enjoy these practices so it doesn’t feel like this unusual activity. It’s kind of normalizing it so it’s not about treating it like it’s this odd thing. It could be any act in that sense, it’s just one person doesn’t like it, that’s all.

BK: I also got the impression that you designed “The Duke of Burgundy” to mislead viewers in a way starting with the movie’s title. Also, with the relationship between Cynthia and Evelyn, it looks like Cynthia is the dominant one, but it turns out to be the other way around.

PS: Yeah. Very subconsciously, I knew people wouldn’t watch the film so I just tried to make it like this kind of tasteful period drama, but I think it was kind of like a perverse pleasure having one concession to a masculine presence especially given that, being a male director, you can’t avoid that element of it. I’ve seen a lot of films on that subject, not everything, but I think what often happened was they would prop up the fantasy of masochism and never show the dominant out of character. What I wanted to look at was the idea of the masochist controlling the whole scenario, and the whole paradox is controlling the situation where you are controlled by someone else. The whole paradox of the submissive controlling the dominant is that it is being dominated on her terms. It’s exploring all these dynamics I guess.

BK: One of my favorite scenes is where Cynthia and Evelyn are in bed, and you see on Cynthia’s face a yearning for something normal in their relationship. The acting by Sidse Babett Knudsen who play Cynthia is extraordinary. How did you go about directing that scene?

PS: That was a weird one. There wasn’t enough space for me in the bedroom, so I directed it from the bathroom. Normally I talk to the actors in person but there was just so many wires that I had to sort of shout to them from the bathroom. Obviously, we spoke about it prior to that. In one sense, it was quite easy to do because of the whole dynamics of it, but it was very difficult in another sense because we had to do it in one take. If you get one line wrong, you have to go again. There’s a weird kind of meta thing going on because obviously if one line goes wrong for Evelyn’s character it’s gone wrong for her, and if one line is wrong for me it’s gone wrong. Since there was this double pressure, I actually think it was quite easy to do that scene. It was quite tense because it was actually six minutes long, and even though we got it in one take at the very end it was just too long. It’s a weird thing because when you’re on set time just flies by, and when you look at it at in the edit room out of context you think, oh my god this is so long, it’s just not working anymore. So all that effort to do it in one take was just kind of wasted; we had to do it like a sort of insert cut. But yeah, that scene kind of sums up the film: to being ordered to order someone. It sounds kind of preposterous but it’s really an interesting part of human nature.

BK: The music score by Cat’s Eyes is wonderful and sounded very unique. What was it like working with the band on the score?

PS: I loved working with them. They are really, really, really talented and woefully overlooked. Hopefully that will change now. They come from very different disciplines. Rachel (Zeffira) comes from a classical background and Faris (Badwan) comes from this rock ‘n roll, experimental background, and they just complement each other really well. They’re completely fine if it’s not right; they’ll just keep going. The main thing at the beginning is just setting them up for the right mood and just playing the music. In hindsight, I feel a bit guilty sometimes that maybe I’ve gotten too attached to some piece of music, but I think it was setting the mood for them and discussing the instruments they would use. I remember I put Mozart’s Requiem over that long montage towards the end, and I knew I shouldn’t do it because it’s such an obvious piece of music and everyone’s used it. Then Rachel just came on and said, “I don’t care. I can just write my own requiem.” It was just an amazing piece and I didn’t miss the Mozart at all. I assume that they will be asked a lot more to do soundtracks. I bought their first album in 2011 and it just blew me away. They’re the first band that made me say, “Okay this is The Carpenters if they were doing music now without any kind of ironic take or pastiche.” I highly recommend the first album they did. I was really, really lucky that they said yes (to working with me).

BK: It’s compelling to think that the use of butterflies in this movie serves as a metaphor for the relationship between the two women, but it’s my understanding that you never actually intended that to be the case.

PS: No, not really. I’m not a big fan of putting the audience through that (laughs). For me, it was a framework for the film. Obviously, there are connections you can make, but you can do that with anything if you wanted to because of the metamorphosis and the cataloging of the insects. But there’s something about the absence of these insects when they’re emigrating and their hibernating which really added to the atmosphere of this very autumnal love story where you just feel it might be coming to an end. And that last lecture that Cynthia gives with the mole cricket going into hibernation really connected with Evelyn’s dormant desires. So, you really feel this extreme hibernation that is coming.

Thanks to Peter Strickland for taking the time to talk with me. “The Duke of Burgundy” is now available to own and rent on Blu-ray, DVD, and Digital.

Forget ‘Fifty Shades of Grey,’ and Check Out ‘The Duke of Burgundy’


Looking at the trailer for “The Duke of Burgundy,” I couldn’t help but expect a sexploitation flick with lots of nudity and dozens of butterflies. But while the movie does deal with a sadomasochistic relationship between two women, it actually turns out to be a domestic drama about two people who love one another deeply. When the movie starts, however, it looks like this relationship is reaching its breaking point.

“The Duke of Burgundy” starts off with an innocent looking woman named Evelyn (Chiara D’Anna) cycling over to a grand mansion where she is greeted coldly by Cynthia (Sidse Babett Knudsen) who bluntly informs her she is late for work. From there it looks like Evelyn works as Cynthia’s maid and is rudely ordered around and made to do chores, each of which are increasingly demeaning. It’s a daily routine for these two, and the day ends with Cynthia punishing Evelyn behind a closed bathroom door. We have a good idea of what Cynthia’s doing to her, but director Peter Strickland is more content to let us visualize what’s happening instead of showing us everything.

At this point, I became very eager for Evelyn to smack Cynthia in the face, but as the saying goes, you can’t judge a book by looking at the cover. What’s actually happening is that these two are in a relationship where Evelyn is the submissive one and Cynthia is the dominant one. They are deep into role playing and enjoy each other’s company more than we could have realized. But as “The Duke of Burgundy” continues on, it becomes apparent that a compromise in this relationship is desperately needed. We see in Cynthia’s eyes a longing for a more normal relationship, but Evelyn has become hopelessly addicted to the submissive role she plays and wants her lover to punish her more aggressively than ever before. With any addiction, you eventually come to find too much is not enough.

This movie surprised me throughout as it plays around with what you think you know about sadomasochism to where you’d expect Cynthia to come out dressed as a dominatrix and carrying a big whip. But if you strip away the strange and painful things they do to one another, you see their relationship is no different from any other, and like any relationship, there needs to be some compromise. The question is, who’s willing to compromise more?

Both D’Anna and Knudsen are perfectly cast, and they nail each of their characters’ complexities with a lot of depth. It’s fascinating to watch their relationship evolve to where the most dominant one is actually Evelyn as she continually begs Cynthia to feed her dark desires. Knudsen, in particular, has a great moment where she’s getting intimate with D’Anna, and you see this wounded look in her eyes which says without words how this relationship is becoming a lot less comfortable for her.

“The Duke of Burgundy” is also one of the most beautifully filmed movies I’ve seen in a while as it looks like it was shot on 16mm film to where you think you’re watching something from the 70’s. To my astonishment, I discovered it was shot digitally which completely blew my mind. Many congratulations go to cinematographer Nic Knowland who has been working in movies since the 60’s. The lush and hazy look he gives this movie feels magical and makes you realize what amazing things can be captured with digital cameras. It was also fascinating to learn many of the images were created in the camera and not in post-production.

The movie also features a very unique and original score by Cat’s Eyes, an alternative pop duo made up of two musicians from entirely different disciplines. Their music adds immeasurably to the story which reaches a fever pitch towards the end when this relationship looks to be doomed. Like Mica Levi’s score for “Under the Skin,” I have a hard time comparing Cat’s Eyes score to others out there. Here’s hoping they compose more film scores in the future.

Strickland previously directed “Berberian Sound Studio” which brought him to the attention of many film critics who became immediately enthralled with his work. I regret to say I haven’t seen that movie yet, but watching “The Duke of Burgundy” does make me want to check it out sooner than later. Strickland shows a strong mastery of the filmmaking process, and he ends up taking us on a journey unlike few other have recently. He also tricks us into thinking we are watching one type of movie, and he ends up giving us something which is not only different but far deeper and more mesmerizing than we ever could have expected.

I also want to point out that there’s not a single male character to be found in this movie. That’s actually pretty amazing considering how hard it is to think of an American movie where this is the case. I’m sure there’s one like this one out there, but nothing comes to mind right away.

What bums me out is audiences will not be quick to come out in droves to see a movie like “The Duke of Burgundy.” Small and original movies like these tend to get swept under the rug far too quickly in this day and age of superhero franchises, and I hope those with a taste for challenging and unusual material will give it a shot. What Strickland has given us is an edgy fairy tale which could take place in any time period, and he sucks us into a story you cannot help but be enthralled by. With any luck, we’ll get more challenging movies like this one in the future. At the very least, it’s infinitely better than the awful monstrosity which is “Fifty Shades of Grey.”

* * * ½ out of * * * *