Shut Up NIMBYS—Destefano’s, Gentrification & Hustlers

The irony wasn’t lost on this old sailor: Last night, I was treated to a serious steak at a decidedly non-hipster haunt near my new home in Williamsburg. Destafano’s satisfied all my carnivorous urges and also introduced me to some of the locals in my new hood, people that don’t have a used dresser packed with plaid shirts back home. Williamsburg, with its hipster hangs, massive flowering parks, and quaint shops, is grounded in the old-school Italian and Polish populations who’ve been here forever, and, thankfully, who readily accept their newish quirky residents.

It’s a neighborhood much like the one I just left, the super-gentrified tourist-trap North Little Italy, which was renamed with a real estate agent’s moniker, Nolita. It was meant to assure newcomers that this wasn’t the Little Italy of gangster lore, but a new chic hood dominated by actors, artists, chic restaurants, and boutiques. When I got to Nolita 7 or 8 years ago, it was all that—quiet and trendy. I would have a breakfast at Gitane or Habana while saying hello to a couple dozen neighbors. It was too good to be true — and it was too good to last. The fabulousness attracted the tourists and yuppies. They came in hordes. The local shops and cafés changed to meet their needs. Prices on everything, including rents, skyrocketed.

A few years ago it became impossible for a local to visit these haunts, with hour-long waits not uncommon. Sure, the other day I saw a very tired and wet Gabriel Byrne leaving his place to catch a bite. Eight years ago I would have stopped and chatted with my neighbor. Nowadays, it’s become like the rest of Manhattan, a place where you don’t know those who live nearby. The new construction and high rents have diminished the diversity and friendliness. Gentrification has taken the neighbor out of the hood.

Last night my new friends at Destafano’s talked about Noho. They lived there when it was little Italy or The Village. They, too, have migrated to Williamsburg for much of the same reasons as I did. While I followed the hipster migration, they found a small enclave that still has the values they cherish. The old neighborhood had lost its charm. Williamsburg still had it. Destafano’s is all that: broccoli rabe and panacotta to die for, and families and conversations that made a stranger feel at home. We talked of Ray—the actual real Original Ray’s Pizza, who passed just a couple of years ago, and Vinny Vela, who’s also out here. We talked about this guy, and that one, and of Little Charlie’s Clam House, which is now Travertine. Ironically I’m going to Travertine tonight. Travertine is a great place that made me forget it was Little Charlie’s. Destafano’s was so good and so friendly that it made me forget my Nolita years.

Tonight’s party at Travertine centers around a beautiful young actress’s birthday. I’ve known Evy Bjorn since she was around 4 years old. Her dad, an actor as well, managed at Café American, which is where Nobu downtown is. It was there I did fun, experimental fashion shows that started in the kitchen, went into the aisles, passing the large windows of the restaurant, wended out the front door to the street where large crowds gathered, and then flowed back through the service door for a change. Evy was sometimes running around being cute. We met up years later at clubs around town when she was old enough to vote. We remain great friends. Her story is one of survival while she tries to make it big. I gave her her first gig working with New York and now Vegas legend, Mike Diamond. She was a bottle host at a thankfully forgotten joint called Madison. She moved on to work with Travertine force Ruben Rivera, who was running the door at Mansion at the time. Then it became M2 and she was still there. She has bartended and waitron’ed at dozens of joints. If she is working 4 days a week, she looks for more shifts. Shifts pay for her career. She is now bartending at Upstairs. Her day job has had her stunt driving in Steve Carrell’s flick Dan in Real Life. She’s always studying, auditioning and collaborating. Her night jobs afford her the flexibility. Without a vibrant night scene, and the jobs it creates, we’d have far less talent struggling to make it here. That’s often lost on the NIMBY’s who fail to respect that nightlife brings needed jobs to this job-starved city. If you ask her what she’s up to she spouts “auditioning a ton, some commercial modeling,trying to get funding for a Franc Reyes pilot, and another pilot by Zach Dunham, finishing up and writing my own pilot, and looking to put together my first gallery show of some of my pieces by the end of the summer. Taking my career to the next level. Oh ,and in an Improv Group at The PIT.”

At a community board meeting the other night, yokel locals held up signs and shouted at respectable operators vying for board approval for their projects. Operators who would provide work so that our communities are full of Evy Bjorn’s doing their thing and paying their way. The locals just shout and spew vile, harass, and lie. The biggest lie being that they actually represent the community. I told someone with some clout that the only way to end their power is to hold them accountable individually in court. Sue individual ”neighbors” and board members for libel if they libel, when they libel. Hold them accountable for the threats and lies, which are so much a part of their toolbox. Tonight I’ll head to Travertine to celebrate Evy and a thousand others who still believe if you can make it here, you can make it anywhere. In the city that never sleeps, Evy and her ilk sleep less than most.

Malibu’s Most Wanted: Rande Gerber’s Café Habana Comes Alive at Night

Southern California finally has its very own Café Habana, and although related, it’s nothing like Nolita’s go-to Cuban spot. During the day, this Malibu social hub is winning over the rich and famous with stellar Cuban-inspired fare. At night, kids pack the spot to check out what the DJs are saying and playing. Every Tuesday, the restaurant turns into a club of sorts, when Sicky Dicky productions teams up with Cisco Adler and Shwayze to play hip-hop and more for very attractive white people.

It’s an incredible scene, one that owner Rande Gerber says people are driving up from Los Angeles to attend. “We get a lot of people coming from West Hollywood, Santa Monica, Westlake, and other areas that prefer weekdays so they don’t have to deal with the weekend traffic in Malibu,” he said via email last week. To be sure, Gerber himself isn’t hanging late-night on Tuesdays, but the longtime hotel bar owner is frequently there during the day with his wife, Cindy Crawford.

“We are the only place in Malibu that serves all night. Most other places are quiet at 9pm and close soon after,” Gerber added. Accordingly, Malibu’s version of Habana attracts a twenty-something crowd looking for something to do after dark that doesn’t involve a long drive to L.A. Malibu suffers from a serious lack of late night options, and the restaurant that sometimes morphs into a scene is filling a gap in one of America’s best-known, wealthiest communities.

Tuesdays at Habana can become riddled with bottle-happy college students from Pepperdine hell-bent on getting wasted, but the crowd remains eclectic by Malibu standards. According to Gerber, “We get Malibu housewives, rock stars, people who might one day be rock stars, and those who after a few drinks think they can sing.”

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Photos courtesy of JohnHildebrand.com

W2W2: What to Wear to Your Next Mojito Outing

When you go out as much as half the people I know in New York do, it’s natural for your style choices to suffer from a lack of inspiration. Whenever there’s dinner and drinks in the evening forecast, someone is always ringing me with the same inquiry: What should I wear? This time of year it’s natural to see PYTs sipping summer cocktails on patios, all wearing the same uniform lifted straight from the latest street-style website. Perhaps it’s time we put down the look-book blogs and turn to the city itself to inspire our nightlife ensembles. Beat the heat by taking a cue from your next Mojito outing at a fiery Cuban restaurant. Get your cocktail, the ambiance, and your outfit just right.

Inspiration: The Mojito. Traditionally made by combining white rum, sugar cane, lime, soda water, and mint, it’s believed to be the world’s first cocktail. Origins can be traced back to 16th century Cuba, where the locals were sipping a cocktail called El Draque, named after Sir Francis Drake, a prominent sailor who, among other things, defended England against the Spanish Armada in 1588—a rockstar of his time. The concoction is believed to have been a way to cover up the unsavory flavor of aguardiente, an early version of rum.

The Look: Tip a fedora to the glamor of Havana. Draw from the vibrant romance of the city that invented the Mojito with tropical shades and breezy summer staples that could be worn just as well on a walk to the green market as they could inside a colorful salsa bar. Add a little drama to a cotton dress with liquid liner and a bold lip. Accent your summer tan with tropical blue-greens, corals, and shimmering bronze nail polish and shadow. And bring along a bit of loose powder to stay fresh amid the searing heat.

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Where to Wear to: Calle Ocho (Upper West Side)— Bright, colorful Latino menu and décor syncs with high-energy scene. Havana Central (Union Square)— Latin music, chainified Cuban fare for the bridge and tunnel masses. NitaNita (Williamsburg)— Their Green Tea Mojito + tasty tapas + stiff drinks = good times. Yerba Buena (East Village)— Cuban sandwiches, Peruvian ceviches, Caribbean roast pork, plus Argentine yerba mate sprinkled in for medida buena. Cafe Habana (Nolita)—Scarfing roast pork is so much better when Mary-Kate is watching, longingly. Habana Outpost (Fort Greene)—Enviro chic spin-off of Soho/Smith Street café faves.

What to Wear to: Nordstrom Grosgrain Border Straw Fedora, $28 Kate Spade Wedge Heels M·A·C Pro Longwear Lip Color, $21 Sephora by O.P.I Havana Nights Nail Polish Set, $9 Temptu Retouch Powder To Go in Translucent, $18 Sephora Collection Doe Eyed Felt Eyeliner Black, $12 Nars Duo Eyeshadow in Misfit, $32

Industry Insiders: Farryn Weiner, Fly Girl

Farryn Weiner really loves her job. As the associate editor of Jetsetter, the flash-sales travel site allied with Gilt Groupe, the Miami native gets to peak around the four corners of the world in search of premier hotels, properties, and adventures for members of the site. Launched in September ’09 by Drew Patterson, formerly of Kayak, Jetsetter makes the decision to travel easy with incredible steals on hotel stays and members-only experiences. More after the jump on Farryn’s must-have travel tips and the story behind Jetsetter.

On catching the travel bug: I was an NYU undergrad and went on a semester at sea. We circumnavigated from Puerto Rico and ended up in San Diego. It really opened my eyes to all these amazing stories that you can tell through travel and the art of storytelling that was happening through my photography and my writing. I came back and totally changed my career path and started working as an assistant for Zac Posen. I ended up back in grad school doing a masters degree in travel content. I started freelancing and worked for National Geographic and Daily Candy.

On fitting in at Jetsetter: The moment I heard about Jetsetter, I was like, that has to be my job. When I came in to interview, we all just clicked. They’ve built a team of people who are passionate about what we do. We sit around and talk travel, we breathe travel. That’s what I was doing on my own, so I finally found a place where I wasn’t the odd man out. It was the norm to die over a new hotel or a new article.

What is Jetsetter, exactly? Our CEO, Drew Patterson, has two questions: where do I want to go next and where do I want to stay when I get there? He’d met with the founders of Gilt and thought that their flash sale model would be really well-suited to travel. We ended up working with them to develop Jetsetter, which is an online private sale site for people to come and find the world’s best experiences, best hotels, and even things like safaris and luxury cruises for a really great value.

On securing good deals: We have a really wonderful marketing model and the places that we pick are places that we’d actually go. We work with the properties to find a way to offer something exclusive to our members. The sales normally last 5-7 days, and gives members the opportunity to get in and get a great value that they can’t get anywhere else. People want to know how we pick our places, but it’s really just places we love. We want to send our members to places that they’re going to come home and brag about to their friends.

On loving the gig: When I’m in a bar and someone asks me what I do, I’m like, You do not want to ask me this right now. I might go on for an hour. It’s really exciting to be somewhere that’s growing and where people are passionate and really just love what we do. We’re crazy.

A typical day: On a normal day, I’m working with the writers. I’m working with the correspondents. I’m finding new properties. I have a writer right now in China who is just hearing about this new property that she thinks is perfect for us. I spent yesterday speaking with the people from that property, trying to see if they were interested, and developing these relationships. We want to work with people for the long run. If we put our stamp of approval on you, you’re a part of the family. A lot of what I do is putting together the bits and pieces of the writing, the photography, and, of course, the property. When I’m not in the office and I’m out in the field, I’m shooting for Jetsetter and I’m covering events. I was at Coachella and did a whole big spread. People were in Palm Springs for the first time. “Where do I go? What do I do? Where do I eat?” A perk of the job is being able to have those kinds of experiences and share those with our members.

Favorite destinations: I think everyone should go to Tokyo. It’s like New York in 20 years, or at least what you hope New York will be like in 20 years. I was just in Barcelona and then Turks and Caicos visiting Zanzibar Hotel which is such a perfect escape, especially for city goers, who really will feel comfortable hopping on flight and relaxing for a weekend. I’m dying to go to Napa Valley.

On the concierge aspect of Jetsetter: All of us are travelers and we want to share that information. Sometimes Drew will answer an e-mail at midnight because he wants to make sure that our member who’s out in St. Lucia knows exactly where to go. We all race to be the first person to answer! We also get tons of feedback and we listen to all of it. We’re very hands on.

Summer travel trends: The dollar’s getting stronger, the recession is subsiding slightly: people are starting to realize that they can do things that maybe in the last two years they haven’t been able to do. People are really looking for value. When they have one week off in the summer to take or they’re going to go on one big trip in the year, they want to get the best value. We’re seeing a lot of interesting bucket list trips like visiting the pyramids in Egypt. We sold an amazing Experience Galapagos cruise and we’ve seen such a peaked interest in things like this. We sold safaris in Africa and we did a trek up Kilimanjaro. They’re more than adventure trips, they’re those once-in-a -lifetime opportunities things that haven’t been all that financially accessible the last few years.

Tips on packing light: Pack half of what you think you should pack, and pack a duffle bag. On the way back, you can always take it out. You’re going to buy things. You’re going to have dirty laundry. Go there with a carry on. Don’t worry about coming back. I’m a big fan of versatile clothing—anything you can wear twice. If you can’t wear something out at night and during the day, then you probably don’t want to bring it.

Travel as a learning experience: You really need to be open to new experiences and you need to be ready for everything. Being prepared and cautious is important, but it’s more about being open-minded. For me, traveling with the right group of people is so important. It really can make or break a trip. When I was younger, I’d travel with friends. When I got older and started to have a really good sense of what I wanted to see and do, it became even more important to pick the right group of people that are on the same level .

Other favorite travel websites: TripIt is an amazing tool! It’s an online itinerary builder. You can forward them your flight information and they put that right into your itinerary. They give you a map of your itinerary. They give you the weather. They tell you when your flights are delayed. I get a TripIt update on my flight delays before I find out from the airline. You can import articles you find directly into your itinerary. You can also connect to other people. So, when I’m away, my friends, my sisters, and my parents can look online and see exactly where I am and where I’m staying and the phone number of the hotel. Kayak is great to book flights. I’m a fan of this woman who writes this blog called Eating Asia.

Go-to’s: Locanda Verde. One of the best meals I ever eaten. I couldn’t speak. Café Habana is one of my favorite restaurants. I love SL. Abe & Arthurs is a wonderful restaurant and it’s really fun to hang out downstairs. They always have really good music. The Jane Hotel. Morandi is the best lunch. Balthazar is a staple. I think Balthazar at 8 a.m. is secretly one of the best things to do in the city.

Scott Caan on His New Film ‘Mercy’

Scott Caan, who you might remember as the lovable lug Turk Malloy from the Ocean’s trilogy, has gone and made himself a movie. It’s called Mercy, and not only is Caan the star, but he wrote the thing, too. The film, which costars Wendy Glenn, Dylan McDermott, and Scott’s dad James, is about a novelist who falls in love with his own critic. It opens in limited release today, and was directed by Caan’s friend Patrick Hoelck. Here the actor talks about working with his famous father, his love for The Outsiders, and when true love leads to decapitation.

Was writing the story a cathartic way for you to deal with your own experience with relationships? Yeah, I think everything I write is not that far away from what’s going on in my life. I’ve always been interested in relationships and love and I think it’s something that there’s not a lot of science to. In everything I write, one character or another is dealing with something to do with relationships.

Did you write the character of Mercy as your ideal woman? No, I don’t think so. I think that in the movie she serves a purpose. She’s not the most well-rounded person, but she seems perfect on paper and that’s how I wanted it to be. The story is not about her flaws. Next time I write a female character maybe I’ll make her more flawed and real.

Do you find it harder or easier to play a character and get into it when you have written it yourself and you are speaking your own words? I always think it’s the best way to play a role when you’ve written it yourself because no one understands it better than you. Sometimes for the actors, it’s hard to figure out what you are supposed to be feeling, but if you’ve written it then you know that already.

Did you know you wanted your father to play your father in the film? No, it just kind of came about. He’s read stuff and told me what he likes and doesn’t like but when he read Mercy he was pretty much like, “What do you want me to do? I’ll be any part.”

Is it a weird dynamic on set to try and separate your real life relationship with him from your character’s? Yeah, it was. It was definitely the hardest stuff to shoot. I feel like I am the best, as an actor, when I’m using what is really going on, whatever the reality is. And the reality between my old man and I is so different from what we were doing, we were fighting against that the whole time.

Do you feel a lot of pressure when working with your dad? Anytime I’m working with someone I have a lot of respect for it is a lot of pressure. It’s like if you play in the minor leagues and then you get to play with the Yankees one day, of course you’re nervous. In those moments, to me he is a great actor. I don’t look at him like he’s my father, we’re kind of past all that.

Do you enjoy doing stage more or film? As an actor there’s so many pluses to doing theater. There’s things I dig about both. I love writing theatre and acting on stage. Sometimes I wonder how good I would be if I just stuck with one thing but I’m always so scattered, I want to do so many things.

There’s a completely different feeling when you’re on stage that you can’t really match behind a camera, isn’t there? I just think you can’t fully live out something when you are doing a movie like you can do in the theater. In theater you can fail, you can try things, no one is really remembering that one moment. But with film it’s that split second they are trying to get and it’s micromanaging moments. I’ve been talking to actors now that haven’t really done a ton of theater and I’m telling them to just go out there and do their thing, go out there and have an honest moment.

Are you a big Outsiders fan? Because you seemed to be referencing it a few times in the movie. I tend to use The Outsiders in every movie. I mean the name of my company is Gold Pony. It was the first movie I saw that changed my life. I was obsessed with all those characters. Even that Robert Frost poem in it, it just says it all; I like everything about what The Outsiders means.

Your character doesn’t use a laptop, he’ll only use a typewriter. Is that something you do or is that just a character quirk? No, its just a character thing but I purposely wrote a line in the movie where someone calls him pretentious for doing it. It just looks cool, I don’t want to shoot a computer.

I read somewhere that you said, “As morbid as it is, the death of someone I love would be easier than seeing them with someone else.” Is that sentiment why you chose to not give the couple a typical relationship? Sometimes when you are trying to get over somebody, the thought of them not existing is easier than the thought of them living somewhere else, a life without you. But that has nothing to do with their story. I wanted it to be more tragic than a break up and I thought the movie wasn’t really about their relationship, it was about this guy. It wasn’t about the break up, it was like, I don’t believe in love, then I find it, and then it’s gone. And that’s life.

There was one scene between your character and Mercy where they are shown kissing for the first time and your character looks her in the eyes and says, “If you leave, I’ll kill you.” That was pretty much a perfect moment. Yeah, don’t you feel that way sometimes when you’re so passionate and happy with someone and you just want to rip their head off and kill them?

If you could go back and live in any period of cinema is there one time you would go to? I love American movies in the 70’s, but I wouldn’t mind being an Italian actor with Fellini and Antonioni, guys like that. But since I don’t speak Italian I guess I’d have to say America.

What do you have coming up next? I have this play that comes out in two weeks called Two Wrongs, then Mercy and I’m just working on Entourage right now.

Is that as great as it seems? Oh yeah, it’s a dream job.

When you’re in New York in there any place you always go out? I’m not a big “out” guy. I mean I just love walking around and being in New York. The restaurants I like to go to are pretty simple. I like Cafe Habana, Lucky Strike. Nothing too sexy. And you know my friends out there own nightclubs but I get tired at about 10:30 at night and you New Yorkers want to start at that time. You want to have dinner and I’m ready for bed. What about LA? Well, I’m standing on the beach right now staring at good 5 to 7 foot surf.

Rachel Weisz Is In Bloom

Darting through the Sahara with a preserved corpse. Murdered at a crossroads in Kenya. Kicking ass alongside conmen brothers and their explosive sidekick in Prague. The edgy and earthy Rachel Weisz hasn’t exactly been easy to track (or pin) down. But with a young son at home, an Oscar on her mantel and three new movies in the can, the daring and elusive actress takes a minute to consider her illustrious career, all the while trying to make sense of the condom shorts on display at Manhattan’s New Museum.

Like most major stars, Rachel Weisz understands that scandal shines brighter than Academy Award polish, and that tabloid gossips would kill to replace the Narciso Rodriguez gowns in her closet with skeletons. But there are no addictions in her past. There are no tapes documenting torrid affairs with boldface, bald-headed studio executives. One cannot even recall a single of her awards-show acceptance speeches colored by too much red wine. Weisz can’t be blamed, then, for wanting to shake things up. “Believe me,” she says. “I get it. I’m living with a nice man, and I have a nice job and a happy family, blah, blah, blah… ”

Far from Hollywood, a diorama of desperation and loaner implants, Weisz has created a home in Manhattan’s East Village with her fiancé, Darren Aronofsky, the director of fantastically unconventional fare such as Pi, Requiem for a Dream, The Fountain and this year’s The Wrestler. With their 2-year-old son, Henry (Weisz wrote one of her two university theses on the ghost stories of Henry James), they live in a townhouse amid the tattooed punks and NYU co-eds who occupy the tattered streets near St. Mark’s Place. Weisz often dines at Café Mogador, a Moroccan restaurant (where she also conducts the majority of her interviews). On rare nights out, she stops in at Zablozki’s in Brooklyn, the no-fuss beer den owned by Aronofsky’s best friend, Ari Zablozki, and Angel’s Share, a lounge above St. Mark’s Bookshop that serves “the best lychee cocktails in the world.”

But there is another Rachel Weisz, an actress who exudes subtlety and strength. Watching this woman onscreen is not unlike angling through a swarm of tourists at the Louvre for a better look at Mona Lisa’s smile: take one step, and in an instant, her tenor changes dramatically. She is quicksilver, and has shifted effortlessly between a thrill-seeking Egyptologist, a prostitute, a pickpocket, a blue dragon, a policewoman (and her twin sister) and a writer with a penchant for graying men. In each case, she commits to the fiction, mocking vanity through her own game of make-believe—“like pirates,” she says, “or smugglers.”

Over the next few months, Weisz will star in three studio releases, including this month’s grifters’ yarn The Brothers Bloom, featuring a stacked deck of actors like Adrien Brody, Mark Ruffalo and Rinko Kikuchi. In director Rian Johnson’s absurdist wonderland of theft, betrayal and card tricks, Weisz plays Penelope, an idiosyncratic heiress in search of adventure. Weisz raps, juggles, skateboards and crashes cars (many cars) as she sets off on a journey with two conmen brothers and their monosyllabic arsonist-sidekick Bang Bang. Adjectives in the realm of “lovely” and “electric” do not do Weisz justice.

Later this year, she will star alongside Susan Sarandon and Mark Wahlberg in Peter Jackson’s adaptation of The Lovely Bones, based on Alice Sebold’s bestselling novel about rape and murder, and Agora, a historical epic directed by celebrated Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar. (On the set of Agora, co-star Max Minghella nicknamed the actress “Dr. Weisz” because, he says, she is “such a deeply curious person. It really is a shame that she’s such a bloody good actress, because she would have made a champ psychoanalyst.”)

As it turns out, she also would have made an outspoken art critic. Crossing New York’s Bowery, a sociological zoo of homeless missions and luxury hotels, we approach the New Museum. “You must check out the work of Thomas Ruff,” Weisz says, holding open the entrance door. “He’s a German artist who takes pictures of Internet porn and then blurs them digitally. He blows up cropped arms, legs and genitals so that they’re heavily pixilated and almost look like Grand Master paintings. I own a little one he did that shows a girl with her panties falling down,” she adds, her crimson cheeks betraying a slight blush.

Without question, the most cherished pieces in her collection have been created by punk icon Raymond Pettibon. “I think he’s a poet,” she says, walking through an exhibition devoted to the urbanization of modern-day China. “I bought Darren a piece from a series that Pettibon did on surfers. It’s a picture of Jesus on a surfboard and it says, ‘Proof that everything is rideable.’” Her big eyes grow bigger when describing “Untitled (Aretha),” a red block made from amber that could easily be mistaken for a monster Jolly Rancher. It was created by her friend, conceptual artist Roni Horn, and Weisz swears it’s “the sexiest block you’ve ever seen… but it’s Aretha Franklin!”

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Crossing the main floor of the museum, Weisz shrieks at a pitch normally reserved for scratch-ticket winners and newly engaged sorority sisters. “Viagrate! Is Viagra called Viagrate in China? Wait, is that a joke? Condom shorts! They’re entire shorts with a condom on the end! This must be jokey stuff, like from the joke shop.”

The elevator doors open onto the fifth floor of the gallery, into what looks like an Israeli refugee camp. Spray-painted phrases like “Terror Error” share space with Tinky Winky, the purple Teletubby that Jerry Falwell accused of homosexuality. “It’s all very Tracey Emin-ish,” says Weisz. And she’d know. In 2003, she reprised the role of Evelyn, her stage character in Neil LaBute’s The Shape of Things, for the writer-director’s film adaptation of the same name. As the calculating art student who manipulates and transforms an impressionable loser into a handsome but miserable bachelor, Evelyn is plucked directly from the pages of the Turner Prize–winning artist.

“I’ve met her,” says Weisz, quietly. “She’s very scary. She came to see the play, and I met her in the bar afterward. She’s an amazing character, very… provocative.” It’s clear from Weisz’s raised eyebrows that “provocative” intrigues her.

In The Brothers Bloom, Weisz’s character Penelope tells Adrien Brody’s Bloom that “a photograph is a secret about a secret… the more it tells, the less you know.” It’s a statement that Weisz considers over fish tacos at Café Habana, a Cuban diner in Manhattan’s NoLita. Privacy, she thinks, might actually work against her; the less one offers up, the more ravenous media vultures become. “Have you ever heard the saying, Happiness writes white? It’s a good expression, isn’t it? It means that if the story is too happy, no one will ever be able to see it on the page.”

While not exactly blemish-free, Weisz’s biography still reads whiter than most. She was raised in the north of London, in Hampstead Garden Suburb, by Edith Ruth and George Weisz. Her mother was a teacher, and later became a psychotherapist who saw clients in her home. Her father, an inventor, was born in Hungary but later fled to England to escape Nazi persecution. Weisz has chosen to safeguard the details of their relationship, which ended in divorce when she was still a child. “I think everyone’s family is like its own planet,” she says, adding, “Some are just more ‘nanu-nanu’ than others.”

“Writers have always been interested in my parents and in my teenage years, which I find so weird, especially now that I’m in my late thirties,” she says, her tone suddenly more serious. “That’s always made me feel infantilized, like they are talking to me as if I were still 10 years old. I’m made to feel as if I were Annie in the musical.” People are hungry to dig up the past, she notices, as if her parents’ failed marriage might somehow shed light on who Weisz is now, the roles she chooses to inhabit.

“It’s very atavistic… is that the right word? That this happened or is like this because of that?” But might there be some truth to that line of thought? Weisz chooses her words carefully. “It’s such a hard thing to sum up. The best way to describe my parents and our family is… operatic. Everything played out in a very melodramatic way, as if we were the stars of a Tennessee Williams play, which is not actually that good for acting. It would be good for opera, but sadly, I can’t sing. If I had a million-dollar voice, I could nail opera, because I understand that emotional level of living. But with acting, you have to learn that it’s all about very quiet, internal moments. I think I was pretty crap at acting in the beginning because I was too operatic, and it’s taken me a while to learn how to tone that down.” (It’s worth mentioning here that Weisz will inhabit the role of Blanche DuBois this summer in a London production of A Streetcar Named Desire.)

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I don’t think anyone can push me harder than me, professionally,” says Weisz, considering a nearby plate of sautéed spinach. “If that person exists, I’d love to meet them.” She smiles, waiting for suggestions. What about Lars von Trier, the notoriously prickly director of Dancer in the Dark and Dogville? “Oh, I would love to work with him!” she says, tugging slightly on her upturned black turtleneck. She imagines the possibility for a minute. “Actually, I don’t do too well with conflict in work. Some people like that sort of thing. They create conflict and that’s how they get their energy up. I’d rather have friends.”

She does not at all sound like a scripted pageant contestant with a knife in her hand. Glowing reports from her peers and friends don’t hurt, either. Of her experience with Weisz on the set of The Brothers Bloom, Rinko Kikuchi says, “Rachel’s concentration is very intense. She has this magic that puts everyone under her spell.” Hugh Jackman, with whom Weisz starred in the time-travel love story The Fountain, seconds the sentiment. “Rachel is fearless,” he says. “She has a razor-sharp wit, brimming with creativity.”

Looking back on his experience with Weisz while filming The Fountain in 2004, however, Jackman is reminded of one particularly awkward moment: “There was a scene that called for me falling into the bath with Rachel. I was fully clothed, and we started to kiss, which was meant to be the end of the scene. Darren, who was sitting no less than three yards from us, never called cut, but like good pros we carried on until my pants started coming off, which is when we started laughing. Darren screamed, ‘Why didn’t you take his pants off, Rachel?’ And she yelled back, ‘Because I was shy!’” Remembering this exchange, Weisz says, shaking her head and laughing, “My husband the pornographer.”

Even Ben Stiller, her co-star in Envy, the 2004 stinker about fecal evaporation, says, “We were always laughing together. She was definitely the highlight of an experience I’ve almost altogether blacked out.” Peter Jackson, the director of The Lovely Bones, offers: “Some people think of Rachel as a beautiful movie star with an air of fragility about her. However, having played laser tag against her with my son, and seen her running around wielding a gun, I can tell you—she’s not that fragile!” Paul Rudd, who starred opposite Weisz in The Shape of Things, agrees: “Rachel has an ability to stare at you and, in seconds, you feel as if she’s detected all your bullshit.” Hugh Grant, who played Weisz’s love interest in the romantic comedy About a Boy, says, “Making a film with her aroused more jealousy and rage in my male friends than any other girl I’ve ever acted with.”

“Oh, baloney!” says Weisz, when met with this grocery list of high praise. “I think this is what’s referred to as ‘blowing smoke up my ass.’” Despite international acclaim and trophies to go with it, the New York transplant has little interest in brandishing her good fortune. “The whole thing about going home,” she says, “is that everyone already hates you, so you have to be the opposite of boastful. Nobody wants to hear you lord your success over people, so you do yourself down.”

A graduate of Trinity College at the University of Cambridge, Weisz majored in English Literature, where she founded the Talking Tongues theater group. It wasn’t long until her scene-stealing debut in Bernardo Bertolucci’s Stealing Beauty, which quickly led to starring roles in The Mummy and The Mummy Returns, not to mention a searing career-high in Fernando Mereilles’ Big Pharma epic The Constant Gardener, for which Weisz took home the 2006 Oscar for Best Supporting Actress.

As Tessa, the dead wife of Justin Quayle, a low-rung diplomat played by Ralph Fiennes, Weisz ransacked the film in fewer than 20 minutes. While trying to understand and confront his wife’s murder, Justin goes up against an unethical drug corporation and the suspicion of Tessa’s infidelity. Instead of coddling the role of victim, Weisz delivered a staggering and ambiguous performance that was widely heralded as the year’s best. “I was blown away by her commitment to the situation,” says Stiller, “and the fact that she wasn’t trying to make us like her.”

Weisz admits that the prizes thrown her way since the release of that film have had a significant impact on her career. “I spent my twenties chasing down parts. I sort of miss the fight. It’s weird to have a good thing fall into your lap, or two good things and then be forced to choose.” Weisz laughs, absorbing what she has just said. “I should have such problems, right?”

Despite having been born time zones away, Weisz is now a proper New Yorker, and as such, there are no drivers named Dudley or Jeeves waiting for her behind tinted windows, nor does she sport the oversize sunglasses typical of an actress hoping to avoid recognition. “I’m not Tom Cruise,” she explains. “I don’t get hassled.”

Instead of focusing on the art of celebrity—which, she insists, is anathema to credible screen performances—Weisz would rather clock time in films that make her proud. “I remember watching a television interview with Gael García Bernal, and he was asked about the difference between being a celebrity and being an actor. He said, ‘It’s apples and oranges, really.’ And that is so true,” she says, matter-of-factly. “It’s a categorical error to talk about the two things in the same breath.”

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[Also check out our interview and photos with Rachel Weisz from 2003.]

Photography by Nicolas Moore, styling by Marcus Teo.