Despite plumbing intense depths in “The Deep Blue Sea,” Terence Davies and Rachel Weisz are a cheerful team. During my chat with the duo, they called each other “darling” and laughed a lot. Their rapport is witty. But their business? Serious.
“The Deep Blue Sea” — which only marks Davies’ fifth narrative feature in over two decades — is a personal and radical take on Terence Rattigan’s classic play. It also serves as stunning showcase for Weisz. In the drama, Weisz plays Hester, a woman torn between her barrister husband and a younger lover. Her sexual awakening is at odds with the climate of Davies’ masterfully recreated 1950’s London.
I’m not familiar with the play, but apparently your adaptation was pretty radical.
Davies: The first act is just exposition and it’s just not very interesting. I thought we should do the film from Hester’s point of view. That way, it got rid of all the exposition. Thus, anything that was in the play that Hester is not privy to, we didn’t put in. Although I do break the rule on one occasion, right after the tea scene, where we see two close-ups of William and his mother, and strictly speaking, that’s not playing the game. We shouldn’t have those close-ups, I’m afraid.
Weisz: What do you mean? Because it’s not from her point of view?
Davies: Well, what you would’ve done normally, is take Hester to the door, have you turn around and then have the close-ups. But the way it is now is that she’s already gone out of the room.
Weisz: Oh, I see.
Davies: Because who’s watching? It breaks the rules.
Weisz: God and you.
Davies: Well, you must never tell.
Weisz: (Whispering) You can’t tell anyone!
Rachel, how did you come onto the project? What was your collaboration like with Terence?
Weisz: Well, Terence sent me the screenplay. I had never read the play either, so I was unfamiliar with it. And I read it, and we had a phone conversation and I asked Terence, “May I sleep on it?” I loved it, but I just wanted to sleep on it. And Terence said, “All right. But will you do it?” And I said, “Yes!” And that was it, and then we did it.
I think Terence is, in many ways, as passionate as Hester. Wouldn’t you say?
Davies: Well, I do feel very passionate about getting it right. But that can come across as pedantry sometimes. I do try not to be pedantic, but sometimes, you think, it’s got to be that. Not with Florian [Hoffmeister, cinematographer on “The Deep Blue Sea”], but with other cameramen, they’ll say, “What’s the difference between where I’ve put it and the half-inch that you’ve adjusted it to.” And I’ll say, “I can’t tell you.”
Weisz: So, I’d say our collaboration was quite passionate; passionately involved, passionately caring about getting it right. Sometimes crying a lot, sometimes laughing a lot. We never had a dull day.
Davies: We didn’t have time to have a dull day. As you said once, we didn’t have time for navel-gazing. We shot it in 25 days. There was that one scene where she’s running, and it was so cold, the poor girl was wrapped in all sorts of things, with a hot water bottle, and we did it once. Do you remember what you said?
Weisz: No, what?
Davies: “I shouldn’t be running like that. This was modern.”
Weisz: I was doing “Bourne Legacy” running. Yeah, that instance in the movie, Terence wanted me exactly in the center of the frame, to be carried the whole time. It was very hard because, of course, the grip’s running and the dolly’s running, and sometimes I’d be slightly off the center of the frame. I don’t know how many times we had to do that.
Davies: I think it was ten. But also, you know, you were running in those period shoes, and it was all cobblestones, so we were all terrified that she was going to fall over and hurt herself. It was terribly cold.
Weisz: Oh, it was ten below, and I was in this little dress and raincoat.
Davies: I don’t know if I ever told you, darling, but, for that scene where you run to the pub, we had twenty people talking for twenty minutes about leaving the door open. And in those days, in that working class area, you kept your door open until ten o’clock in the evening, and you locked it at eleven o’clock to go to bed.
Well, on the subject of getting it right, and passion as well, at the time it was written, a story about a woman’s repression sexuality was pretty taboo, and today some of it seems tame. Still, I found the movie really erotic.
Davies: Men were repressed as well. There were things men couldn’t do, and if they were to do them, their wives would snap their fingers and say, “You don’t do that.” You couldn’t cry at funerals. You just simply couldn’t. You were expected to be the breadwinner. It was simply expected. When my sisters were married, they had to give up their friends and careers.
I don’t see the love scenes as erotic. They’re sensual, but not erotic. I said in the script, “These scenes are not explicit.”
Weisz: But you’re not referring to the sex scenes in particular.
Oh, no, I think the whole film had an atmosphere of carnality, so to speak.
Weisz: It’s the erotic desire that you pick up in the close-ups. Nowadays, people do shocking, risque things in order to be sexy, and this is close-ups of people gazing at each other. I agree with you totally.
How did you acheive that so subtly?
Weisz: Oh, I don’t know, I’m just naturally erotic! (Laughs.) The story is about love and repression, for sure, but it’s also about desire. The film doesn’t really show her making love, but, yeah, that atmosphere you’re talking about, I think, comes from Hester’s constant state of desire. I love that it’s erotic when people are fully clothed, sitting on opposite sides of a room and just talking. You know what I mean? It was a real challenge for me. It can literally be someone flicking up their eyes and looking across a room, and if it’s well-crafted, it can be a really charged, erotic moment. That’s what film can capture that theater can’t. On the stage it would be lost, but Terence can capture it so beautifully.
Terence, can you talk about the sound design in the film?
Davies: Well, I knew I wanted Samuel Barber for a long time and I do love it. It’s perfect. And the Jo Stafford was used because, when I was going up, there was a radio program on Sunday for military around the world. They’d send their requests in and their family would send them back. One night, I was walking down the street, and all you could hear was, “See the pyramids along the Nile,” because everyone was listening to it. I’ve never ever forgotten that. The music in the film is extremely important for me.
So, what’s next for you? Don’t tell me you’re going to take another decade, Terence.
Davies: I’ve got four, but God knows whether they’ll ever get funded. One thing that is definite is that I’m doing “Uncle Vanya” for the stage. I love that play so much. But, it’s very difficult raising money in Britain.
Weisz: I’ve just done three films. I did that Bourne film, and I did the Terence Malick film, which is so exciting. I can’t talk about it, of course, but I only shot for a week, so who knows whether I’ll be in it or not, but it was a great, great experience.