She’s been a philosopher in 4th century Roman Egypt and an outlaw in a dystopian society, fought everything from mummies to scheming servants, and turned the heads of quirky con men and the Queen of England alike. Throughout her three-decade career, Rachel Weisz has proven to be one of the most talented and versatile actors working today.
Born and raised in London, Weisz got her start in theater before landing her first on-screen role in 1992 in the legal drama The Advocates. Since then, she has accumulated 60 film credits in several beloved franchises as well as critically acclaimed indie gems, racking up an Oscar, a Golden Globe, a BAFTA Award, and countless other accolades in the process.
With her highly anticipated series Dead Ringers set to premiere on Prime Video in the coming months, in which she’ll play a set of twins determined to revolutionize the birthing industry, let’s take a look at the best performances of her career so far.
Evelyn Carnahan O’Connell in The Mummy (1999)
She is a librarian, and she is proud of who she is! The Mummy is the film that put Weisz on the map, and over two decades later, it remains one of her best. In it, she plays Evelyn “Evie” Carnahan (later O’Connell), a brilliant but accident-prone librarian fascinated by ancient Egypt who sets out on an adventure with her scheming brother Jonathan (John Hannah) and brawny adventurer Rick (Brendan Fraser).
At the risk of sounding like Stefon from Saturday Night Live, this movie has everything: exciting adventure, a sizzling enemies-to-lovers romance between Evie and Rick, and well-executed comedy. Weisz plays Evie with the perfect blend of endearing quirkiness and badass heroism. She’s confident, she’s curious, and she’s a cultural icon.
Rachel in About a Boy (2002)
About a Boy is a romantic comedy that’s not afraid to lean into – and find humor in – the messiness of life. The film stars Hugh Grant as Will, an irresponsible man who joins a group for single parents to meet women. The twist? He doesn’t actually have any children.
In a cast that includes Grant and Toni Collette, both of whom received Golden Globe nominations for their performances, Weisz still manages to stand out as Grant’s love interest. Though she doesn’t show up until halfway through the movie, she carries the weight of acting as its turning point, serving as the catalyst for Will to change his ways. She feels both effortless and magnetic – an excellent pair with, and foil to, Grant.
Evelyn Ann Thompson in The Shape of Things (2003)
This is one of Weisz’s lesser-known roles, which is a shame considering how great she is in it. Weisz plays Evelyn – an outgoing art student who takes an interest in nerdy English major Adam (Paul Rudd). It’s better to go into this one without knowing much, but let’s just say it offers a biting satire on the romantic comedy genre, with a wild twist you won’t see coming. Weisz shines in a role that can perhaps be described as a manic pixie nightmare girl, and her delivery of an extensive monologue toward the end of the film is truly a sight to behold.
Tessa Abbott-Quayle in The Constant Gardener (2005)
Based on the John le Carré novel of the same name, The Constant Gardener tells the story of Justin (Ralph Fiennes), a British diplomat based in Kenya, as he tries to solve his wife Tessa’s murder. Sprinkled throughout the mystery and investigation are flashbacks of Justin and Tessa meeting, falling in love, and building a life together.
The fact we get to know Tessa for the passionate, brilliant activist that she was makes this more than a run-of-the-mill thriller. Weisz plays Tessa fearlessly, characterizing her as someone who will risk everything to do what’s right. Her nuanced, powerhouse performance won her an Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.
Isabel in The Fountain (2006)
The Fountain is a divisive film, which makes sense, as it’s not an easy film to categorize or describe. The basic premise sees Tomas (Hugh Jackman), a modern-day scientist searching for a cure for his cancer-stricken wife Isabel. That synopsis, however, only scratches the surface of what the movie actually is. While it certainly has elements of a romantic drama, it also experiments with science fiction, magical realism, and historical fiction to explore themes of spirituality, mortality, and time.
The film consists of three storylines: the aforementioned scientist, a 16th-century conquistador and his queen, and a futuristic traveler lamenting his lost love. This gives Weisz rich material to play with. Once again, Weisz’s character acts as the sun for the plot to orbit around, and her honesty and subtlety allow the film’s themes to shine through in an intriguing and effective way.
Penelope Stamp in The Brothers Bloom (2008)
Weisz is best known for her dramatic acting, but in The Brothers Bloom, she gets the chance to flaunt her comedic chops – and make a strong case that she should be allowed to do it more often. Rian Johnson’s caper dramedy sees Mark Ruffalo and Adam Brody as Stephen and Bloom Bloom, talented con men set to retire from the business after doing one last job.
Weisz is downright delightful in this role, playing an eccentric heiress with an eclectic list of hobbies that ranges from juggling chainsaws to impressive card tricks. She does all of them while maintaining a casual, almost dry delivery – the juxtaposition of which amps up the humor even more. Just like Penelope and her collection of highly skilled hobbies, Weisz makes it all look easy.
Hypatia in Agora (2009)
A historical drama, Agora sees Weisz playing mathematician and philosopher Hypatia in 4th-century Roman Egypt. With religious and social unrest looming, Hypatia attempts to preserve crucial cultural knowledge from destruction – something that is both aided and made more complicated by the men in her life.
The film explores complex themes, including the relationship between science and religion and how women are seen and treated in academia. Weisz’s unflinching performance is compelling, grounding the film and helping it to explore these large concepts, making it far more than a paint-by-numbers biopic or ancient epic. When you decide to watch this film, be warned: the ending is brutal and sure to stay with you long after the credits roll.
Kathryn Bolkovac in The Whistleblower (2010)
The Whistleblower is another important film that’s not for the faint of heart. Weisz plays a real person in this movie, too: Kathryn Bolkovac, a Nebraska police officer recruited to be a UN peacekeeper who must take matters into her own hands when she discovers a conspiracy. The film is bleak and haunting, and it’s hard not to look away during some of the more graphic scenes. But it’s the way Weisz shows Bolkovac to be someone who refuses to look away – to be brave enough to take on these horrors – that acts as its driving force. Fierce and unrelenting, Weisz’s bold performance makes the protagonist both inspiring and flawed. In some ways, it feels like a spiritual successor of sorts to The Constant Gardener.
Short Sighted Woman in The Lobster (2015)
As moving as it is disturbing, authentic as it is absurd, The Lobster is singular in both story and tone. The film takes place in a surreal world where single people are turned into animals if they are unable to find a mate within 45 days. We follow David’s (Colin Farrell) journey, where he struggles to make a match and eventually finds love in the most unexpected – and inconvenient – of places.
Directed by the great Yorgos Lanthimos, The Lobster is everything you expect one of his films to be: weird, dark, and wickedly funny. Weisz effortlessly balances all of those things, seamlessly walking the tightrope between comedy and tragedy. Credited as, simply, the Short Sighted Woman (with the exception of David, nobody in the film gets a proper first name), Weisz mesmerizes with her awkward, deadpan, and deeply charming delivery. The film’s concept may be bizarre, but the emotions are real and relatable.
Lena Ballinger in Youth (2015)
Youth is a very different film from what the poster, which depicts Michael Caine and Harvey Keitel’s characters sitting in a pool and looking at a young, naked woman, might have you believe – and that’s a good thing. The movie focuses on Fred (Caine) and Mick (Keitel), two old friends who reflect on their lives during a vacation at a luxurious resort in the Swiss Alps. Throughout the film, they must reckon with themes of mortality, betrayal, and regret.
Weisz shines as Fred’s daughter Lena, who is grappling with her husband’s infidelity and the fact her father was distant throughout her childhood. She once again proves herself the queen of the monologue, delivering a raw and memorable one when Lena and Fred go to the spa together. Their father-daughter relationship, while complicated, is clearly rooted in love, and the fact this film explores it is a rare and wonderful thing to see.
Ronit Krushka in Disobedience (2017)
What’s better than one Rachel? When you watch Disobedience, the answer quickly becomes obvious: two Rachels. Weisz stars alongside Rachel McAdams in this romantic drama, which tells the story of Ronit and Esti (McAdams), who grew up in an Orthodox Jewish community in London together. Ostracized due to her sexuality, Ronit left years ago to become a photographer in New York. But when her father dies, she returns to her hometown – and learns that her old flame Esti is now married to their childhood friend Dovid (Alessandro Nivola).
Disobedience is breathtaking, in large part due to Weisz. The chemistry between Ronit and Esti is passionate and palpable, making for one of the most intense and authentic love stories in recent memory. Weisz is unafraid to let Ronit be messy in her stubbornness, grief, and anger. Despite her tough exterior, we can feel the pain that she experiences. Weisz acts as our way into a unique environment and culture, struggling with themes of faith, love, and closure to which there are no easy answers.
Rachel Ashley in My Cousin Rachel (2017)
Based on the 1951 novel by Daphne du Maurier, My Cousin Rachel is a mysterious period drama that centers around Philip (Sam Clafin), who believes his cousin’s wife Rachel is responsible for his death. Though he initially plots revenge against her, things get complicated when he finds himself falling for her and is torn between his suspicions and developing feelings.
Weisz is captivating in this role. At times, she plants enough uneasiness for us to buy into the darker of Philip’s thoughts; at others, she exudes enough warmth for us to write Philip off as paranoid. However, the switches never feel jarring. Her enthralling performance makes the audience toggle that thin line between enamored and skeptical right alongside Philip, making for a gothic rollercoaster of a movie.
Sarah Churchill in The Favourite (2018)
Weisz’s second collaboration with Lanthimos doesn’t disappoint. The Favourite offers a refreshing – and hilarious – twist on the period drama. The film tells the story of Queen Anne (Olivia Colman, who won an Oscar for her performance) and the rivalry that develops between her confidant and advisor Sarah Churchill and maid Abigail Hill (Emma Stone) as they vie for Anne’s affection and loyalty.
In this role, Weisz once again proves herself a master at showcasing multitudes. There’s a delicious, gleeful ruthlessness she displays during her scenes with Abigail, but it’s her vulnerability and genuine care for Anne that add a tremendous amount of depth. Yes, Lady Sarah can be blunt and ambitious to a fault, but she does try to do what’s best for Anne. That’s a credit to Weisz’s skills, as in lesser hands, it’d be easy to make her nothing more of a one-dimensional villain or caricature.