BY DENNIS KING
NEW YORK – Sitting side by side, actress Rachel Weisz and former United Nations peacekeeper Kathy Bolkovac couldn’t appear more physically different, and yet the two women shared a single-minded persona in the making of “The Whistleblower,” a searing fact-based story about human sex trafficking in war-ravaged Bosnia.
Weisz, Oscar winner for “The Constant Gardener,” is a petite, brunette Londoner who speaks in a lilting English accent.
Bolkovac, a single mother, veteran Nebraska police officer and former U.N peacekeeper, is a sturdy blond who speaks in the broad tones of her native Midwest.
But in “The Whistleblower,” Weisz steps into Bolkovac’s shoes with gritty determination to portray her in the story of one honest peacekeeper who arrives in Bosnia and uncovers a network of brutal brothels that import teenage girls from Eastern Europe as sex slaves. When Bolkovac tries to blow the whistle, she further discovers a dire tangle of complicity among fellow peacekeepers and a series of bureaucratic roadblocks, denials and cover-ups among certain powerful diplomatic officials.
During a press conference at the Regency Hotel hosted by Samuel Goldwyn Films, Weisz said after she first read the story she couldn’t get it out of her head.
“When I was first offered the role I was pregnant, very pregnant,” the actress said. “And I thought that this was one of the most incredible stories and scripts that I’d ever read. But it was too challenging and traumatic to engage with at that moment because of my physical state. I just couldn’t get my head around it, but I couldn’t forget it.
“I suppose I was haunted by this story, and it just kept coming back into my mind,” she said. “And after I think it was two years I called the producer and said, ‘Hey, that script, “The Whistleblower” …,’ and I don’t know the details but it was embroiled somewhere. Anyway, nine months later we were shooting.”
The film was shot on location in and around Bucharest, Romania, and Weisz said from the beginning she felt a very close bond with the real-life woman she was portraying.
“Kathy and I met a week into filming,” Weisz said. “And I realized immediately that she was not just a generic tough cop. She was a very specific human being.”
“I couldn’t wait to meet her,” Bolkovac said. “I’d seen her in ‘The Constant Gardener,’ of course, and just found her to be so intelligent, along with her beauty. And I thought, wow, somebody like her is going to play me.”
Weisz recalled: “Kathy came to Bucharest with Jan (Van Der Velde, her partner), the man my character meets in the movie and Kathy is now with. And we went to dinner, and I basically hung out with her every spare moment I had, asking her questions. You know, as an actor that’s a great experience.
“The story was based on Kathy’s life, so what better source material – sorry to call you that – could I have?” Weisz said. “It was fantastic. I talked to her about her childhood, about her kids, about being a mom, about being a cop. It was wonderful. Hopefully in a few moments there are a couple of improvs in the film where I think I got her sense of humor.”
Bolkovac said she truly appreciated Weisz’s thoroughness, interest and commitment to telling her story accurately.
“That’s what I really appreciated about Rachel,” Bolkovac said. “She was so interested in who I was as a person. Not, obviously, to look like me or to behave like me, but to make sure that my character came out and to make sure that she was saying and doing things perhaps the way that I would’ve wanted them done. And I know that there had to be a lot of liberties taken to make the movie. But I think in general she does do a great job of bringing my character to the film.”
Weisz said she believes “The Whistleblower” is not just a powerful drama but also an important vehicle for alerting the world to an ongoing tragedy and injustice.
“I guess it’s my favorite genre of movies,” she said, “but maybe I shouldn’t be calling it a genre because I can only think of two films like that, ‘Silkwood,’ starring Meryl Streep, and ‘Erin Brockovich,’ starring Julia Roberts. You know, both quote-unquote stories about ordinary women, moms who just David and Goliath-style see injustice and go after a huge corporation or organization.
“And I get goose bumps watching those movies because these women are heroes,” Weisz said. “When you talk to Kathy about it, she just says, ‘I was just doing my job. I was a police officer and I was there to report crime, I found crime, I went after it.’ I just find that so intensely moving that she didn’t think she was doing anything extraordinary. She was just literally doing her job. But no one else was, and that’s what makes her an extraordinary woman.”