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Rachel Weisz on why Hollywood Jews prefer blondes

by Danielle Berrin

October 22, 2009 | 4:13 pm

Among studio executives, the name Rachel Weisz is not synonymous with “box office draw,” even though Weisz has appeared in a few blockbusters. She was the leading lady in a little franchise called “The Mummy” and played the voice of Saphira in the movie “Eragon,” based on the bestselling series. In general, Weisz is thought more of an actress than a movie star, but that may be about to change.

An article in today’s Variety declared that Alejandro Amenabar’s Spanish-backed epic “Agora,” starring Weisz, enjoyed an unexpected opening in Spain where it grossed $17 million during its first two weeks. Those numbers are decidedly unimpressive by U.S. standards, but for a film that cost $70 million to make and failed to find distribution after its premiere at Cannes, Variety found the numbers “stunning”.

But I’m more stunned by Weisz, who may be Hollywood’s best kept secret. According to The-Numbers.com, a box office database for movie stars, Weisz’s resume has grossed more than $2 billion worldwide ($860 million in the U.S.) with an average gross of more than $35 million per film. Her average opening weekend clocks in at around $11.2 million which puts her on par with Nicole Kidman, who, according to the same Web site, has an average opening weekend of $11.4 million. If the numbers are correct, that means Weisz is only about $2 million shy of matching Julia Roberts’s average opening weekend ($13.4 million) as well as Jennifer Aniston’s ($13.8 million), both of whom are considered two of the biggest movie stars in the world. In fact, according to The-Numbers.com, Roberts is ranked no. 37 on the list of highest grossing movie stars of all time. (Then there’s Angelina Jolie with an average opening weekend of $15.8 million.)

Weiss still needs $500 million to catch up to Jolie’s domestic gross and more than $1 billion to reach Roberts, but her average opening weekend is well suited to the competition. Not that Weisz cares—she is famously content with her private life and avoids getting caught up in the ills of Hollywood.

“Believe me,” Weisz told Blackbook in April 2009. “I get it. I’m living with a nice man, and I have a nice job and a happy family, blah, blah, blah… ”

Weisz lives in Manhattan’s East Village with her fiancé, director Darren Aronofsky (Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Wrestler). She was raised in northern London, in the Hampstead Garden Suburb, by parents Edith Ruth and George Weisz. Her mother was a teacher and later became a psychotherapist; her father, an inventor, who was born in Hungary but fled to England to escape the Nazis.

Below, Weisz talks about being Jewish in Hollywood in a 2001 interview with writer Emma Forrest for Index Magazine.

EMMA: When we were at the drugstore you innocently opened up Talk Magazine and I heard a shriek of dismay.

RACHEL: Yeah, I literally saw not only the most disgusting, but the most ridiculous photograph I’ve ever seen of any woman.

EMMA: And who was it of?

RACHEL: It was me. [laughs] It was me photographed by David Bailey, who had some kind of concept that because it was for a Russian film, I would be wearing a Russian hat. But you can’t really see the hat, just fur everywhere. And my nose looks like it’s … just a really outsized nose, you know.

EMMA: But, you see, you’re holding back from saying what you said at the store, which was that you thought you looked too Jewish. Is it limiting as an actress to be perceived as being too ethnic in any way?

RACHEL: Well, I think you and I have always felt the same way — that we’re Jewish but we can get away with just being exotic. We’re kind of Jews in disguise. Those cultural stereotypes about the Jew with the big hooky nose and the fleshy face rub off on you. That’s terrible to admit, isn’t it.

EMMA: Well, it’s that Jackie Mason joke about how no Jewish woman wants to look Jewish: “‘You think I look maybe a little Italian, I look a little Russian, perhaps I can be Spanish?’ … ‘You look Jewish!’”

RACHEL: Hollywood’s run by Jews. I was advised by an American agent when I was about 19 to change my surname. And I said “Why? Jews run Hollywood.” He said “Exactly.” He had a theory that all the executives think acting’s a job for shiksas.

EMMA: Of all the self-loathing Jews in the world, the most self-loathing are the Hollywood Jews. They don’t want to see images of themselves on screen. That’s why Lauren Bacall had to hide her identity, and Winona Ryder changed her name from Horowitz.

RACHEL: In some way acting is prostitution, and Hollywood Jews don’t want their own women to participate. Also, there’s an element of Portnoy’s Complaint — they all fancy Aryan blondes.

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

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Danielle Berrin writes the Hollywood Jew blog, a cutting edge, values-based take on the entertainment industry for jewishjournal.com. A Los Angeles Times profile dubbed her...

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