Is Rachel Weisz a good witch or a bad witch? In “Oz the Great and Powerful,” she’s very, very good at pretending to be being very, very bad.
Weisz plays Evanora, the latest wicked woman to threaten the magical world envisioned by author L. Frank Baum in Disney and director Sam Raimi’s original prequel, which explores the origins of first generation of Oz inhabitants. The Oscar-winning actress explains how she conjured up a villainess who may be even nastier than the Wicked Witch of the West – and all without greenface.
Because your character Evanora didn't have any real precedent from “The Wizard of Oz” book or film, like some of your co-stars, was that a good thing for you?
Definitely. I was completely free – I don't think the character even exists in the Frank Baum books, so, yeah, for me it was just completely made‑up fun, and my key into her when I read the script was like, ‘Ooh – this character has fun being bad!' Like the more bad she is, the more fun she has. It gives her like a visceral pleasure to be evil, and that just seemed to me like a fun idea, so that was my contribution to the character.
Did you delve into the whole Oz mythology, between ‘The Wizard of Oz’ and the Baum books?
I didn't read any of the Baum books. I didn't re-watch the original film, but I've obviously seen it a number of times in my life. I went from what was on the page, and I just used my imagination. I just cooked her up, I guess, with Sam's help, and I tried lots of different things. And Sam like picked the bits that he wanted of her for the film, but, yeah, she was just an act of imagination because obviously, there's no one like her that I could meet or copy or research or anything like that.
Did you have to decide how far was too far before getting campy?
No, it's not something you can figure out intellectually. I just tried it on camera, and you just sort of feel around and, no. There's no decision. There's not. Like, a thought process thing. It's just a feeling.
Would you have liked the chance to go full-on green face, like the Oz witches we’ve met before?
No. I wouldn't! Evanora’s very vain – very, very, VERY vain. Really, she's about 326 years old, and she's not into looking her age, so she wants to look younger. So, no – Evanora would HATE to be green!
When you did you first see the original ‘Wizard of Oz,’ and as a kid, did the Wicked Witch or the flying monkeys scare you?
I think I saw it when I was five, and it was the first film I remember seeing. My mom took me to see it, and I don't actually remember the flying monkeys. I remember the witches, though! They really scared me. Yeah, the witches were traumatic, actually.
Why do you think the whole Oz mythology has this staying power and grip on everybody's imagination?
I guess they’re early 20th century American fairy tales. From Europe, you've got the Grimm fairy tales, but, they're just archetypal 20th century American fairy tales, and then a little later in the century, Dr. Seuss makes fairy tales of a different nature. They're not so scary and archetypal. I guess Baum tuned into something that was the equivalent of the European Grimm. It was the American version of that. Good, evil, magic powers, a lot of very powerful female characters.
'The Wizard of Oz' had iconic elements like the ruby slippers and the yellow brick road. What do you think are the 'Oz the Great and Powerful' hallmarks that will be talked about in the future?
The China Doll – she's an original new character; Glinda's bubbles; Theodora's green face. Those are the things that come to mind – and Finley the monkey!
As a mom, is there something from your childhood - a film, a story, a book – that you've tried to introduce to your son?
There are songs that I sing to my son that I learned when I was about his age that he's really into, songs with stories. Like pirate songs, Irish sea shanty songs I learned as a kid when I was in kindergarten which I taught him and he knows all the words to.
Most of your scenes were in the castle – did you ever get to see that elaborate yellow brick road leading to Oz?
I don't think I ever saw it, but everyone in the crew was given a brick so I have a brick at home. I'll go stand on it.