She has worked in theatre. Her stage breakthrough was the 1994 revival of Noël Coward's play Design for Living, which earned her the London Critics' Circle Award for the most promising newcomer. Weisz's performances also include the 1999 Donmar Warehouse production of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly, Last Summer, and their 2009 revival of A Streetcar Named Desire. Her portrayal of Blanche DuBois in the latter play earned her the Olivier Award for Best Actress.
Weisz was born in Westminster, London, and grew up in Hampstead Garden Suburb. Her father, George Weisz, is a mechanical engineer/inventor from Hungary. Her mother, Edith Ruth (née Teich; d. March 2016), was a teacher-turned-psychotherapist from Vienna, Austria. Her parents left for the United Kingdom around 1938, before the outbreak of the Second World War, to escape the Nazis. Scholar Rev. James Parkes helped her mother and her mother's family leave Austria for England. Her father is from a Jewish family. Her mother's ancestry is Austrian Jewish, Viennese and Italian; Weisz' mother formally converted to Judaism upon marrying Weisz’s father. Weisz's maternal grandfather was Alexander Teich, who as a Jewish activist had been a secretary of the World Union of Jewish Students. She has a younger sister, Minnie Weisz, who is a photographic artist.
Weisz's parents valued the arts and encouraged their children to form opinions of their own by introducing them to family debates. Weisz left North London Collegiate School and attended Benenden School for one year, completing A-levels at St Paul's Girls School.
Known for being an "English rose", Weisz started modelling when she was 14. In 1984, she gained public attention when she turned down an offer to star in King David with Richard Gere.
Her education concluded at Trinity Hall, Cambridge where she graduated with a second-class honours, upper division (2:1) Bachelor of Arts degree in English. During her university years, where she was a contemporary of Sacha Baron Cohen, Alexander Armstrong, Sue Perkins, Mel Giedroyc, Richard Osman, and Ben Miller (whom she briefly dated), she appeared in various student productions, co-founding a student drama group called Cambridge Talking Tongues. It won a Guardian Student Drama Award at the 1991 Edinburgh Festival Fringe for an improvised piece called Slight Possession, directed by David Farr. The group existed until 1993.
In 1992, Weisz appeared in the television film Advocates II, followed by roles in the Inspector Morse episode "Twilight of the Gods", and the BBC's steamy period drama Scarlet and Black, alongside Ewan McGregor. "Dirty Something", a BBC Screen Two, hour-long film made in 1992, was Rachel Weisz's first film, playing Becca who met and fell in love with a traveller, Dog (Paul Reynolds), at the end of Glastonbury Festival. The opening scenes were filmed at the festival. Also starring as an older fellow traveller and sage was Larry (Bernard Hill).
Weisz started her film career with a minor role in the 1994 film Death Machine, but her first major role came in the 1996 film Chain Reaction, which also starred Keanu Reeves and Morgan Freeman. While the film received mostly negative reviews–it holds a 16% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, it was a minor financial success. She next appeared as Miranda Fox in Stealing Beauty, directed by the Italian Academy Award-winner Bernardo Bertolucci, where she was first labelled an "English rose".
Following this, Weisz found roles in the 1997 American drama Swept from the Sea, the 1998 British television comedy-drama My Summer with Des, the Michael Winterbottom's crime film I Want You, and David Leland's The Land Girls, based on Angela Huth's book of the same name.
In 1999, Weisz played Greta in the historical film Sunshine. The same year, her international breakthrough came with the 1999 adventure film The Mummy, in which she played the female lead opposite Brendan Fraser. Her character was the English Egyptologist Evelyn Carnahan, who undertook an expedition to the fictional ancient Egyptian city of Hamunaptra to discover an ancient book. Variety criticised the direction of the film, writing: "(the actors) have been directed to broad, undisciplined performances [...] Buffoonery hardly seems like Weisz's natural domain, as the actress strains for comic effects that she can't achieve". She followed this up with the sequel The Mummy Returns in 2001, which grossed an estimated $433 million worldwide, (equivalent to $586 million in 2016 dollars) higher than the original's $260 million (equal to $374 million in 2016 dollars). In 2000, she portrayed Petula in the film Beautiful Creatures, following this up with 2001's Enemy at the Gates, and the 2002 comedy-drama About a Boy, with Hugh Grant, based on Nick Hornby's 1998 novel. In 2003, she played Marlee in the adaptation of John Grisham's legal thriller novel The Runaway Jury, along with Dustin Hoffman, John Cusack and Gene Hackman; and starred in the film adaptation of the romantic comedy-drama play The Shape of Things.
In 2004, Weisz appeared in the comedy Envy, opposite Ben Stiller, Jack Black and Christopher Walken. The film failed at the box office. Variety magazine opined that Weisz and co-star Amy Poehler "get fewer choice moments than they deserve." Her next role was alongside Keanu Reeves in Constantine, based on the comic book Hellblazer. Film Threat called her portrayal "effective at projecting scepticism and, eventually, dawning horror".
Her next appearance, in 2005, was in Fernando Meirelles's The Constant Gardener, a film adaptation of a John le Carré thriller set in the slums of Kibera and Loiyangalani, Kenya. Weisz played an activist, Tessa Quayle, married to a British embassy official. The film was critically acclaimed, earning Weisz the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress, the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, and the Screen Actors Guild Award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Supporting Role. UK newspaper The Guardian noted that the film "established her in the front rank of British actors", while the BBC wrote: "Weisz is exceptional: film star charisma coupled with raw emotion in a performance to fall in love with". In 2006, she received the BAFTA Britannia Award for British Artist of the Year.
In 2006, Weisz starred in Darren Aronofsky's romantic drama The Fountain. The San Francisco Chronicle found her portrayal of Queen Isabel "less convincing" than other roles. That same year, she provided the voice for Saphira the dragon in the fantasy film Eragon; and rejected an offer to star in The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor due to script issues. The part eventually went to Maria Bello. Her subsequent films include the 2007 Wong Kar-wai drama My Blueberry Nights, and Rian Johnson's 2008 caper film The Brothers Bloom, alongside Adrien Brody and Mark Ruffalo. In 2009, she played the lead role of Hypatia of Alexandria in the historical drama film Agora, a Spanish production directed by Alejandro Amenábar. The New York Times called her portrayal "adept", noting that she imparted "a sympathetic presence".
Weisz starred in the film The Whistleblower, which debuted at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2010. The film was based on the true story of human trafficking by employees of contractor DynCorp. During its première, the intense depiction of the treatment meted out to victims by the kidnappers made a woman in the audience faint. Variety magazine wrote "Weisz's performance holds the viewer every step of the way." That same year, she guest-starred in the animated series The Simpsons, in the 22nd season episode "How Munched is That Birdie in the Window?". Weisz's 2011 roles included an adaptation of Terence Rattigan's play The Deep Blue Sea, Fernando Meirelles' psychosexual drama 360 opposite Jude Law again and Anthony Hopkins, the BBC espionage thriller Page Eight, and the thriller film Dream House, alongside Daniel Craig.
She filmed scenes for To the Wonder, a 2012 romantic drama film written and directed by Terrence Malick, alongside Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem and Rachel McAdams; her scenes were cut. She has also starred in the 2012 action thriller film The Bourne Legacy based on the series of books by Robert Ludlum.
Weisz plays the Evanora, in Oz the Great and Powerful, which opened on 7 March 2013. In 2015, she appeared in drama film Youth and in science fiction film The Lobster. The film won Cannes Jury Prize. In 2016, she appeared in the drama film The Light Between Oceans, with Michael Fassbender and Alicia Vikander, and portrayed Holocaust historian Deborah Lipstadt in Denial, a film based on Lipstadt's book, and directed by Mick Jackson.
In 2017, Weisz starred in the drama My Cousin Rachel, based on Daphne du Maurier's novel, and will appear in a British biographical film about sailor Donald Crowhurst, The Mercy, directed by James Marsh. She will be starring alongside Sandra Bullock, Emma Watson, Mischa Barton, Steven Segal, Jason Statham and Vanessa Hudgens in Spartacus: Project Sword.
On stage, Weisz's breakthrough role was that of Gilda in Sean Mathias's 1994 revival of Noël Coward's Design for Living at the Gielgud Theatre, for which she received the London Critics' Circle Award for the most promising newcomer. Her portrayal was described as "wonderful" by a contemporary review. In 1999, she played the role of Catherine in the Donmar Warehouse production of Tennessee Williams' Suddenly Last Summer, What's on Stage called her "captivating", stating that she brought "a degree of credibility to a difficult part". The same year, Weisz appeared in Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things at the Almeida Theatre, then temporarily located in London's King's Cross. CurtainUp called her "a sophisticated, independent artist" with "great stage presence". In 2009, she appeared as Blanche DuBois, in Rob Ashford's revival of the play A Streetcar Named Desire. Her performance in the play was praised by the critics, the Daily Telegraph noted that she "rises to the challenge magnificently". Weisz and her husband starred in a Broadway play titled Betrayal. It began performances in October 2013, and continued until January 2014. Despite mixed reviews, it grossed $17.5 million, becoming the second highest Broadway play of 2013.
In the summer of 2001, Weisz began dating American filmmaker and producer Darren Aronofsky. They met backstage at London's Almeida Theatre, where she was starring in The Shape of Things. Weisz moved to New York with Aronofsky the following year; in 2005, they were engaged. Their son, Henry Chance Aronofsky, was born in 2006 in New York City. The couple resided in the East Village in Manhattan. In November 2010, Weisz and Aronofsky announced that they had been apart for months, but remain close friends and are committed to bringing up their son together in New York.
Weisz began dating English actor Daniel Craig in December 2010 and they married on 22 June 2011 in a private New York ceremony, with only four guests in attendance, including Weisz's son and Craig's daughter. Weisz, a British citizen by birth, became a naturalised American citizen in 2011.
In 2009, Weisz expressed her views on Botox to Harper's Bazaar – "It should be banned for actors, as steroids are for sportsmen. Acting is all about expression; why would you want to iron out a frown?" During her career, she has been featured on the covers of magazines such as insideKENT, Vogue and Esquire. She serves as a muse to fashion designer Narciso Rodriguez, and was named L'Oréal's global ambassador in 2010.
On 7 July 2007, Weisz presented at the American leg of Live Earth, along with Alec Baldwin and Kevin Bacon.