When it came to casting Wicked Witch Evanora in Oz: The Great and Powerful, director Sam Raimi required a special kind of actress. Created especially for the film, Evanora plays a vital function as the despicable older sister of Michelle Williams' Glinda the Good and Mila Kunis' naive Theadora, as the plot unfolds in the prequel to
L. Frank Baum's much-loved children's classic, The Wizard of Oz. Fortunately after auditioning many other performers, Raimi, former Spider-man director, found what he needed in Rachel Weisz, who brought the necessary sense of gravitas and menace to the role.
"My whole job is becoming other people and escaping into different characters," says Weisz, who returned to her native London last week for Oz: The Great and Powerful's world premiere.
"The thing I'm probably least interested is what other people think, apart from my family.
I hope they don't think I'm a mean, evil witch, but I guess she has a kind of authority to her. I wanted to play her as somebody who is completely evil, manipulative, cruel, nasty, lying, cheating and without an ounce of goodness in her.
The meaner she was, the more fun and more pleasure she had."
After more nuanced performances in more high-minded films such as The Deep Blue Sea and The Constant Gardener - for which she won an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress in 2005 - the 42-year-old welcomed the opportunity to cut loose and play an almost cartoon-like villain in Evanora. "It's not like I'm not playing an evil dictator in a deep psychological drama, although she actually is an evil dictator, but it's in the Land of Oz," says Weisz wryly. "It's just fun. She's nasty but it's kind of campy.
It's not like I had to think 'oh my god, I'm a really nasty person because my father beat me and didn't love me.' Maybe her father didn't love her but I don't know, as I never wrote her back-story. I didn't have to dig too deep; I could completely make her up."
Set some years before the events of the iconic Wizard of Oz, Evanora tempts James Franco's Wizard-to-be, carnival magician Oscar 'Oz' Diggs, with untold riches after he journeys to the mythical kingdom. "When he meets her, she purports to be the current ruler of the Emerald City as, in the absence of the King who has been poisoned, she is waiting to take up the throne," explains Raimi. "So I needed somebody who had a kind of regal quality to them; someone who I believed had the power to do that, and Rachel had that. Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis were exactly the same; they had the essence of the characters they were playing within them. With Glinda, I saw a lot of actresses but Michelle has this really positive sweet quality to her. She almost emanates goodness, so when the camera gets close you know that she's telling the truth. She's not pretending to be a good person; she's pretending to be Glinda."
Despite their characters being poles apart morally, Weisz relished the opportunity to appear alongside Williams. "I'm good friends with Michelle so it was really funny to be treating her so very badly," she laughs. "Our kids are exactly the same age so they hung out together on set and they all went to summer camp in Detroit. As for Mila, she's very feisty and has got more energy than anyone I've ever met. She could sit around and entertain the crew for hours with her stories."
Last seen bouncing off Jeremy Renner in last year's The Bourne Legacy, Weisz has been enjoying some precious down time. However, she is set to team up with her husband Daniel Craig for the first time since they met on the set of horror thriller Dream House when the pair take to the boards on Broadway later this year in a revival of Harold Pinter's Betrayal.
I haven't worked for a year as I wanted to spend some time with my family," says Weisz, who denies that sharing a stage with her other half makes for a strange experience. "It'll be exactly the same as with any other actor as we're both just pretending to be somebody else."
Oz: The Great and Powerful is playing now.