Leading ladies need 'villainous and vulnerable' roles – Rachel Weisz

Roles for leading ladies were more interesting in the golden age of Hollywood than they are today, according to Rachel Weisz.

Women on screen in the 1940s and 1950s were allowed to be complicated, the actress said.

Weisz is co-starring in ‘The Favourite’ with Olivia Colman and Emma Stone, a film tipped for glory this awards season and a rarity because it has three female leads.

“At this present time in cinema and storytelling, it’s sadly quite unusual, I think, that all three women are so textured and layered and complex and have such different aspects to their character.

“They are not one thing, they are a million things each.

“Films in the 40s and 50s, they always had very complex, strong women who could be vulnerable and villainous and regal and kind and all the adjectives that you could list,” Weisz said.

One of those characters is Blanche DuBois in Tennessee Williams’ ‘A Streetcar Named Desire’, played on screen by Vivien Leigh in 1951 and on stage by Weisz in 2009.

During that run at the Donmar Warehouse, in London, Weisz said: “She’s pathetic, she’s a monster, she’s nasty, she’s tender, she’s kind – she’s so many things that you never know quite what she’s going to do next.”

Weisz said she had found some good writing for women, notably her latest film, a black comedy set during the reign of Queen Anne.

She plays Lady Sarah Churchill, confidante to the queen (Colman) and cousin of Abigail (Stone), a lady’s maid keen to worm her way into the monarch’s affections.

The 48-year-old has been nominated in the supporting actress category for a Golden Globe, and could earn an Oscar nomination later this month.

Currently she can also be seen on screen in ‘Disobedience’, an adaptation of Naomi Alderman’s novel about a forbidden love affair between two women in London’s Orthodox Jewish community.

Weisz has said that she relished playing opposite other women in both films.

“I’ve always played opposite men, so it just seemed like about time.

“It was very refreshing and very liberating. You’re guaranteed at least two [good] roles for women, rather than just one, so you’re off to a good start already.”

In the past, Weisz has had mixed feelings when asked about playing “strong women”.

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