September 01, 2005 06:00 AM

Age: 34
Hometown: London
Current gig: Playing the activist wife of a diplomat (Ralph Fiennes) in the political thriller The Constant Gardener

She knows what she wants
Weisz was so determined to win the role of Tessa in The Constant Gardener that even though she was working in Los Angeles at the time, she hopped a plane to meet with Oscar-nominated director Fernando Meirelles in London. “I was like, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got to see him,’ ” says Weisz. “I had an hour meeting with him. I was the first person he met. I managed to get to London and back in 24 hours.”

The actress (whose last name is pronounced Vice) is glad she used good old-fashioned chutzpah to get the gig. “There’s something about this man,” she says of Meirelles, who won acclaim (and an Academy Award nod) for directing 2002’s Brazilian film City of God. “It was artistic freedom I’ve never experienced.” And hooking up again with costar Ralph Fiennes – whose lover she played in the 1999 drama Sunshine – wasn’t shabby either. “I’d love to work with him a third, fourth, fifth time. He’s the most tremendous acting partner.”

No role is too unglamorous for her
Weisz filmed The Constant Gardener in Kenya, where a toilet was dug in the ground and she lived in a tent during filming. But it’s not the first time she had to get down and dirty for a role. For 1999’s action-adventure hit The Mummy, she endured a scene where a rat was on her stomach. “The rat didn’t just stay there – he started to crawl up to my face. It was disgusting,” she says.

And while starring opposite Jude Law in 2001’s World War II film Enemy at the Gates, instead of being made up for her part, she visited the “make-down trailer. There were boxes of dust. Before a take, Jean-Jacques (Annaud, the director) would take some mud and put it on you. It was very liberating.”

She’s got a knack for writing
In her teen years, Weisz – the daughter of Ruth, a Viennese-born psychotherapist, and George, a Hungarian-born inventor – was a rebel who smoked, cut classes, ran away from home and was “a very, very naughty girl.”

But Weisz, who splits her time between New York and London, left behind her wild ways when she attended prestigious Cambridge University, where she majored in English. Her interest in writing prompted her to form the Talking Tongues theater company at the school, and at 1991’s Edinburgh Film Festival she won a student drama award for a play she wrote and acted in. “It was some of the best work that I ever did,” says Weisz.

Two years after graduating in 1991, she was cast alongside Ewan McGregor in the BBC miniseries Scarlet & Black. And since scoring her breakout Hollywood role in The Mummy, she’s acted opposite leading men including Hugh Grant (in 2002’s About a Boy), John Cusack (in 2003’s Runaway Jury) and Keanu Reeves (in this year’s Constantine). But her real-life leading man is maverick director Darren Aronofsky, whom she met on the set of their upcoming sci-fi drama The Fountain and has been engaged to since June.

She likes to do the right thing
Though she devotes her free time to environmental causes and working with the British charity Help the Aged – “It’s something that breaks my heart in our culture that the old aren’t really honored and valued and (are) cast out of their homes,” says Weisz – her goal is to continue telling good tales. “My drive is as a storyteller,” she says. “I’m an entertainer.”

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