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GREAT EXCAVATIONS; Interview: Rachel Weisz Rachel Weisz talks to Alison Jones about luvvie rats and irate scorpions.

Rachel Weisz is the classic combination of both beauty and brains. Confirmation, if any were needed, of this came when she was invited to pose for Playboy after her recent starring role - as a librarian.

The idea of displaying her considerable charms across the centrefold of the world's most famous top shelf publication, reduced the Cambridge graduate to tears of laughter.

"I think it is just the funniest thing. My agent came round said 'Obviously you're not going to do it' and I said 'What would it involve?' and he said 'You, totally. . . you know."

"So I don't know whether that is how America sees me, as a librarian Playmate."

She coyly refuses to reveal how much the magazine offered for the Full Monty. "A lot", she said, her voice dropping to a conspiratory whisper. "I suppose they have to get your to sell your body."

Despite her self-effacing amusement at the invitation to pose in the altogether, Rachel is clearly aware of the power of her own sexuality.

Her outfit for our Sunday morning interview could hardly be described as demure, consisting of a leather trouser suit with capri pants, a strappy spangly top and a display of cleavage you could drive a truck through.

On someone less exotically attractive it might look cheap, but Rachel, whose most vital statistic is clearly her IQ, carries it off with considerable class.

In this country the 28-year-old actress is still most famous for her role as the football fantasy girlfriend in My Summer With Des, where she fell for her co-star Neil Morrissey, now her real-life boyfriend.

However, she is about to become huge, after landing the female lead in The Mummy, an Indiana Jones style adventure with Brendan Fraser and John 'Four Weddings' Hannah.

This enjoyably daft slice of hokum has already been a big hit in the States, grossing more than $100 million.

Set in the 1920s Fraser, Weisz and Hannah star as an adventurer, a bookish Egyptologist and her wastrel brother, who disturb the tomb of evil High Priest Imhotep, cursed to endure a living death 3,000 years before following an illicit affair with the Pharaoh's mistress

Old fashioned thrills combine with stomach churning special effects, as the vengeful Mummy attempts to regenerate himself by sucking the life out of living victims and calling down the ten plagues of Egypt.

"I don't normally like horror films, I get really scared. I was petrified watching Gremlins," revealed Rachel, "But I don't think this is horror. It's hokum, a comic book world."

Although hers is the traditional role of the distressed damsel running around in a nightie, Rachel was attracted by the fact it was done with intelligence and humour.

"It was a great character part. Normally women in action movies are just ditsy bimbos. She was a damsel in distress, but she was a librarian in distress, which is funny in itself.

"And I got to do all my own stunts. I didn't do that many but there was one bad one where I had to turn round to shoot a rider on a horse. He was on a pulley that yanked him off and he broke both his arms. They still used the shot though - this is not a charitable industry."

Even the star of the movie, Brendan Fraser, discovered the directors and crew were short on sympathy when he blacked out during a mock hanging scene.

"He nearly died," said Rachel. "He stopped breathing and had to be resuscitated. It didn't hold up the schedule though. They were all 'Are you all right darling? Ok, carry on. Time's money'."

Filming took place in Morocco where the cast had to contend with everything from scorpion attacks, to foul smelling, four legged co-stars in 130 degree heat.

"Quite a few people were airlifted out after they'd been bitten by scorpions," said Rachel. "They used to have a scorpion wrangler who would collect them in empty Evian bottle then shake them in front of your face going 'Look what we've found'.

"We also had to ride camels which are horrible, really horrible. I can ride horses, which I thought would help, but it doesn't. They don't have an even gait. They walk with this wild leg movement which meant you got terrible sores on your arse.

"They smell, they have bad breath and they hate people. They scream when you make them go so you think you are hurting them and then you get camel guilt."

Compared to the hell of riding these hump back beasts, Rachel took having a rat run across her chest while she was manacled to an altar, in her professional stride.

"It was actually a rat actor. It wasn't a wild one who had just been caught in the sewers. He had an agent."

Despite having founded an avant garde theatre group while at Cambridge ("I've sold out big time. . .") Rachel found it easy to adjust to the intellectually undemanding nature of adventure films.

"It is just like being a child, the director says 'There is this big rotting mummy walking towards you' and you just imagine it.

"It wasn't really a movie for deep research. I did buy a book on how to decipher hieroglyphics and I read that for a few. . . minutes, but it was very hard to do."

With The Mummy successfully past the magic hundred million mark, the stars are already lined up for the inevitable sequel.

For Rachel, The Mummy offered her the chance to enjoy a second bite of the Hollywood cherry after her first proved to be particularly sour.

Fresh out of university she was cast as the brainy love interest opposite Keanu Reeves in the leaden Chain Reaction.

With an overweight Reeves unconvincing as a blue collar boffin, the film died swiftly at the box office.

"It was only the second film I had done and it was an amazing experience," said Rachel. "The fact it was this huge turkey didn't affect me too negatively because I had nowhere to fall from, however, it didn't do much for me either. Keanu really took the brunt of it.

"There was a special screening for Keanu and I, followed by the premiere the next day. But I just went straight back to the hotel, packed my bags and came home. I didn't really feel like celebrating."

Stung by the experience she concentrated her energies on British-made dramas and independent art house movies like Land Girls, Swept from the Sea and Bernardo Bertolucci's lush Stealing Beauty.

Although she and fellow Brit beauty Catherine Zeta Jones are currently two of the hottest properties in Hollywood at the moment, Rachel is refusing to let ambition overwhelm her passion for acting.

After completing work on two films back to back, she astounded her American agent by announcing she was planning to spend the summer working in theatre.

"The stage is more important to me right now because that is what I am doing (she is currently appearing in Suddenly Last Summer in the West End). It is like going back to basics, the core of my craft.

"I don't want to sound precious but it is a magical thing to be on the stage night after night. There is a kind of alchemy there.

"I take my hat off to Catherine because she has stuck it out in Hollywood and that's great. I live in north London and I am happy to stay put. I will do some films in America, others that are European co-productions or I'll do theatre.

"You can make more than enough money doing British art house films. I am not after millions and millions."
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Author:Jones, Alison
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Jun 26, 1999
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