In the globe-trotting con-artist movie The Brothers Bloom, two lifelong grifters (Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo) devise double-crosses so fabulously complex that they begin to lose track of where real life ends and the bamboozle begins. To them, everything—identity, love, friendship, death—is a lie.
Even the film’s title is a classic bit of misdirection, because the movie isn’t really about the guys, after all. It’s about the marvelous mark they pursue: Penelope, a basket-case New Jersey millionairess with a thousand talents and just as many fabulous outfits. And the saucer-eyed, seemingly guileless actor playing Penelope—Rachel Weisz, as you have definitely never seen her—steals the film right out from under the brothers’ noses.
“When I first saw the script, it was actually called Penelope,” says Weisz, a London–to–East Village transplant, from whom we’ve come to expect sober cinema. “I got offered a lot of dark dramas after The Constant Gardener, but this was the character I’d been looking for for a long time.”
Weisz was the first actor to commit to the film, and the director, indie standout Rian Johnson (Brick), built it around the flashiest, silliest role of her career. “The key was bringing her genuinely to life, so she wasn’t just wacky,” says Johnson, “and from her films, I knew she could bring that depth to the role, which was more important here because it was so goofy.”
“I collect hobbies” is how Penelope introduces herself to Adrien Brody’s Bloom, and that’s followed by the most ludicrous montage an actor could hope for: a rat-a-tat showcase of her character’s skills, from gymnastic tumbling to pinhole photography, a performance that’s half Audrey Tautou, half Will Ferrell.
“I had two weeks to learn to play piano, violin, accordion, and break-dance, to juggle, do karate, play Ping-Pong, banjo, unicycle, and even skateboard,” says the new mother (son, Henry, with director Darren Aronofsky, is 2). Most ridiculous of all, Weisz, who generally deploys her prestige-pic accent in tough dramas and prim romances, learned to rap. Sort of. “Adrien is really into hip-hop. I had to rap a classic [by Slick Rick], and he was so ashamed. The look on his face—it was like I was dissing his whole culture.”
Of course, that’s just a prelude to the real adventure, when the Bloom brothers whisk Penelope off on a transatlantic trip to smuggle, seduce, and (literally) detonate their way through Europe. “It was like I joined a gypsy circus—a real trip,” she says.
And a nice respite before returning to her apparent lot in life: “not-funny-at-all films.” Next year, she’s back to playing dark—murdered by a rabid Christian mob in the epic Agora, and mourning the death of her raped and murdered child in Peter Jackson’s The Lovely Bones.
Should she tire of all the drama, “she’s learned to juggle,” Johnson points out. “She can make a living entertaining at birthday parties.”