A British actress whose name and dark looks effortlessly conjure up associations with Eastern European exoticism, Rachel Weisz first earned the attention of an international audience with her role as the spoiled daughter of a sculptor in Bernardo Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty (1996). The daughter of a Jewish-Hungarian inventor and an Austrian psychoanalyst (both sides of the family fled Fascist Europe during the '30s), Weisz was born in London on March 3, 1971. Much of her adolescence was spent modeling, and after attending Cambridge to study English, she broke into acting with a role in Sean Mathias' West End revival of Noel Coward's Design for Living.
Weisz's performance in the play won her the Critics' Circle Best Newcomer award, and she subsequently took advantage of this recognition with a starring role in the BBC's TV adaptation of Scarlet & Black (1993), and then in 1996 with her aforementioned part in Bertolucci's Stealing Beauty. Although most attention was paid to Liv Tyler in her role as the film's protagonist, Weisz managed to garner notice of her own, and this recognition was furthered by her top billing opposite Keanu Reeves in Chain Reaction that same year. Unfortunately, the big-budget thriller was an unmitigated turkey; Weisz followed it with leads in smaller films such as The Land Girls (1997), a WWII drama that cast her as a young socialite sent to work on a farm; and Going All the Way (1997), a post-war coming-of-age drama starring Ben Affleck and Jeremy Davies that saw Weisz play Wasp, Affleck's Jewish girlfriend.