My Cousin Rachel, the twisty, sexy, psychological mystery based on the Daphne du Maurier’s 1951 novel of the same name, is back on the big screen June 9 (it was adapted into a movie starring Olivia de Havilland in 1952). This time, it stars Rachel Weisz, who brings a fresh intensity and urgency to the role.
In the adaptation, which was directed by Roger Michel (Notting Hill, Le Week-End), she plays the mysterious widow of a young man’s (Sam Claflin) beloved guardian. He believes she might have killed his cousin—and yet, he finds himself falling in love with her. What follows will have you guessing about Rachel’s motivations throughout, with many questions remaining long after the credits roll.
Here, we talk to Rachel herself—Rachel Weisz, that is—to get just a few of our questions answered about the film, feminism, and so much more.
Glamour: I’d love to talk about what drew you to the project and how you developed your take on this character. It’s a novel—and it’s been a film before—but how did you make it your own?
Rachel Weisz: The novel and the  film is really told from Philip’s point of view, but you realize he’s a little bit of an unreliable narrator. So I made a decision as to whether she was guilty or innocent, and the director didn’t want me to tell him. He still doesn’t know; he wasn’t interested in knowing the answer. I was just interested in playing the truth of what I thought to be right. What’s been fascinating is speaking to people who come out of the film who actually haven’t thought its ambiguous but have been absolutely sure she’s innocent or absolutely sure she’s guilty. They’ve argued very passionately their points of view, and that I’ve found very fascinating.
Glamour: Do more people say guilty or innocent?
RW: I don’t know. I can’t tell because I’ve only met about five people; I haven’t seen enough people. Right now, its about half and half in my small experiment.
Glamour: It’s something of a surprisingly modern character. She wants to have her own agency, to not only be controlled by the men in her life.
RW: As you know, the book was written in the mid-twentieth century, so she has a post-Freudian, early feminist take on being a woman, which is kind of startling in the mid-nineteenth century [when the novel is set]. She believes she’s sexually free and can sleep with whom she wants to without feeling any guilt. She doesn’t have any sense of sexual shame; she doesn’t want to just be a wife and a possession. She has all of these very modern ideas for a woman of her time. Is that what you meant?
Glamour: Yes, it just struck me as being sort of unusual…
RW: Yes, well, almost, almost impossible, but not quite. I mean, Mary Wollstonecraft wrote about feminism, I guess, in the nineteenth century, but it’s extremely radical. If her character were in the 1960s and sexually free, it would not be that interesting. Set in the eighteenth century, it’s startling. It’s about context. She’s not wildly transgressive, but she’s transgressive enough for her time.
Glamour: It reminded me a little bit of your character in Agora (a criminally under-seen 2009 film about mathematician philosophers in ancient Rome), who is also very…she doesn’t want to necessarily get married just because someones pursuing her. She wants to chart her own path in life.
RW: They’re both women that definitely don’t just want to be possessions, which is kind of a…which is OK by me!
Glamour: What are you looking for, when you read a script?
RW: It’s many things. It’s hard to say it in a simple way. It’s where character meets story meets the director. Film is such a director’s medium; you’re really in their hands in terms of the real storytelling. As an actor, you can give a performance moment to moment and some of your takes will be used and some of them won’t. I think there are great films you can make with bad performances, and vice versa. There are all combinations of those things. It’s really down to the director what happens, I think, so that’s why it’s really good to work with very talented, bold directors. It’s really hard to make a good film; it’s really, really hard. So, the director’s very important, and a [character] that can be described with more than one or two adjectives, maybe with contradictions. Contradictions are always good because that’s truthful.
Glamour: Had you read the book before you started the film?
RW: I hadn’t. I did read it before we [actually shot] the film, but I hadn’t read any du Maurier. I hadn’t read Rebecca or The Birds. It’s an interesting book because it’s a woman writing about a man, writing it from the point of view of a man who’s in love with a woman. And apparently, someone told me this, it’s actually Daphne’s kind of disguised passion for her—I’m gonna get this story wrong, and you’re gonna have to look it up—but it was her, she as Philip, she was passionately obsessed with her publisher’s wife or her publisher’s sister? And it was about her passion for a woman. I don’t think she was necessarily gay, maybe she was bi, but she had this obsession with this woman. And that’s what this was disguised as. You’ll have to look it up; I probably got the details of it wrong. A journalist told me that, who’d done more research than me, someone in England who had done a lot of research and found that out. It’s probably find out-able.
Glamour: You’ve done film work, all these genres, stage work…what’s the next challenge for someone like you with such an extensive filmography who’s worked with these great directors?
RW: I feel like I’m just getting going! The thing about acting is even if you get technically more skilled at what you do, every time you begin a film or a play—every actor would say this—you’re terrified. You don’t know if you’re going to pull it off. Every film and every story has its own set of challenges. I’ve never felt like, oh yeah, that’s it, nailed it! You can never sit and rest. That’s why it’s such an exciting job. It’s beginning again every time you begin again. New story, new character, new place, new time, new director. It’s like moving to a different planet and trying to figure out how to live there. So yeah, I guess I have done a lot of work at this point, but it doesn’t rally feel that way. It feels still endlessly challenging.
My Cousin Rachel is in theaters June 9.