Rolling in The Deep

In her new movie, Rachel Weisz falls in capital-L love

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Graeme Mitchell for TIME

Aside from her arresting Hazel eyes, Rachel Weisz's voice might be her best attribute. Not just its lovely English lilt but how she modulates it. "You could learn me," she tells Ralph Fiennes in her Oscar-winning performance in The Constant Gardener; the deepening of learn makes her offer to be lover, wife, what have you, sound nervy, dirty and earnestly romantic all at once. During lunch at a ramen shop in New York City's East Village the day before her 42nd birthday, Weisz's spoken standouts include naked (the letters a and k themselves sound stripped bare), pernickety (she pushes the n) and Daniel (as in Craig, her husband), the sweetest caress of the name since Elton John's.

"The way she has of dropping her voice to almost nothing and then dropping her eyes--God, I loved that," says director Terence Davies, who cast Weisz as lovesick Hester Collyer in his adaptation of Terence Rattigan's 1952 play The Deep Blue Sea (in limited release March 23). "You can't direct that. You have to let it happen." He compares Weisz's performance to Celia Johnson's in 1945's Brief Encounter: inner turmoil made more powerful by restraint.

Davies is cherished by a devoted coterie of fans for his dreamlike autobiographical films (Distant Voices, Still Lives; The Long Day Closes). It took only his screenplay and a beseeching phone call to earn a yes from Weisz, a Cambridge-educated Manhattan transplant who broke out in 1999 in the goofy blockbuster The Mummy. "He's a bit of a cult director, Terry," Weisz says. "I mean, indie, indie, indie."

Set around 1950, The Deep Blue Sea opens with Hester at the edge of an emotional abyss in the dreary London flat she shares with her feckless lover (Tom Hiddleston), for whom she ditched a good husband. They both know she loves him more than he loves her, yet she wants him above all else. "That's what the story is about--that love isn't a choice," Weisz says. "She falls in love in the big capital-L sense of the word."

The band on Weisz's ring finger speaks to her own experience with the big capital L. In early 2010, she shot the thriller Dream House opposite Daniel Craig, also known as the 21st century James Bond. That November, she and Black Swan director Darren Aronofsky, the father of her now 5-year-old son Henry, announced their separation. She and Craig emerged as a couple the next month, and they married in June 2011 without the knowledge of a single tabloid or paparazzo--a marvel of celebrity-relationship stealth, which continues to this day.

Weisz will confirm only that married life is good. "It's not like I've turned into Greta Garbo--'I vant to be alone'--but there are other people involved." She's more comfortable discussing Hester Collyer's love life. "Someone said to me recently, 'It is very unfashionable to unravel that much,'" she says. "Because now it's like that book He's Just Not That into You. You have a spa day, you sob with your girlfriends, then they set you up with more dates or whatever. You move on, right?" Not Hester. "She loses all her dignity. She makes a complete fool out of herself. That was fascinating."

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