Culture

Hungarian Roots: Rachel Weisz, World-Famous Movie And Theatre Actress

In our new weekly series we write about celebrities – artists, actors, musicians, sport stars and scientists – who have some Hungarian origin, yet only few would consider them as “par excellence Hungarians”. In many cases even the person concerned knows only very little about his or her Hungarian roots, while others are proud of their “magyar” background despite lacking the ability to say a word or two in the language of their parents or grandparents. Our second target is:

Rachel Weisz, English film and theatre actress and former fashion model

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The 46-year-old actress, who holds both British and U. S. citizenship, was born in London in 1970. Rachel’s parents fled to the United Kingdom to escape Nazism; her mother, Edith Ruth Weisz (née Teich) was a psychotherapist from Austria, while her father, George (György) Weisz, was an engineer and inventor from Hungary. Both of her parents had a Jewish background. Having embarked upon a modelling career at the age of 14, she gained public attention in 1984 when she turned down an offer to star in King David with Richard Gere, supposedly due to pressure from her father because of her disruptive behaviour at a number of expensive private schools.

The Oscar and Golden Globe-winning actress began her acting career at Trinity Hall, Cambridge, in the early 1990s, appearing in television series and making her film debut in the science fiction movie Death Machine (1994). Her first Hollywood appearance came in the action film Chain Reaction (1996), opposite Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman. She remains best known for her roles in the films The Mummy (1999) and The Mummy Returns (2001).For her supporting fole in the drama thriller The Constant Gardener (2005), opposite Ralph Fiennes, she received an Academy Award, a Golden Globe and a Screen Actors’ Guild Award. In 2006, she received the BAFTA Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year.

She is also known as a theatre actor, her breakthrough role being that of Gilda in Sean Mathias’s 1994 revival of Noël Coward’s Design for Living at the Gielgud Theatre in Westminster, London. For this role, she received the London Critics’ Circle Award for the most promising newcomer.

Her latest film, the 2015 comedy The Lobster, directed by Greek director Yorgos Lanthimos, was selected to compete for the Palme d’Or at the 2015 Cannes Film Festival and won the Jury Prize.

According to reports, the actress, who is married to fellow Hollywood star Daniel Craig, is proud of her Hungarian heritage and has rejected approaches from several producers to Anglicise her surname, which is written in the Hungarian style. In an interview, she once said that her role-model is the world-renowned illusionist Houdini, who was also of Hungarian ancestry. Because Houdini’s surname at birth was also Weisz, she hoped for a while to be a distant relative of the stunt performer known for sensational escape acts, she once revealed.

The actress also starred in the 1999 historical film Sunshine, written by Israel Horovitz and István Szabó, that follows three generations of a Jewish family during the changes in Hungary from the beginning of the 20th century to the period after the 1956 Hungarian Revolution.

When Hungary entered the European Union on 1 May 2004, the British Foreign Office organised a large-scale gala to which a number of celebrities from newly-joining countries were invited, including the actress.