Ancient mosques and modern high-rise buildings greet The Constant Gardener's Rachel Weisz on her return trip to Istanbul, the city where Europe and Asia meet.


I'm in an apartment in Paris, calling Rachel Weisz in New York to talk about ­Istanbul, Turkey. It's an odd constellation of cities, but it somehow makes sense. In the apartment where I'm staying, there's a stack of magazines proclaiming Istanbul as this millisecond's hottest "It" city, and this morning's International Herald Tribune bears the headline "Selling Turkey," above a story about how Istanbul's spin doctors are selling their country to the world. "You can have breakfast in Europe and take the boat across to Asia for lunch," Weisz says. "It straddles Asia and Europe. That's kind of what the whole place is like. It's a real mixture of East and West, a real kind of hybrid of mosques and the Ottoman Empire, and then European values and culture."

Born in London and educated at Cambridge, Weisz (pronounced "vice") visited Turkey as both a six-year-old with her family and, more recently, with her boyfriend, American film director Darren Aronofsky (Requiem for a Dream, Pi). (Next year, she stars alongside Hugh Jackman in Aronofsky's sci-fi thriller, The Fountain.) A city of beauty and mystery, Istanbul is the perfect destination for Weisz, who tends to play difficult women who revel in making mincemeat of men, from a conniving art student who dupes her lover in The Shape of Things to the student-turned-activist whose murder sends her soft-spoken husband (Ralph Fiennes) spiraling toward doom in this year's The Constant Gardener. So here's Rachel raging in Istanbul, a city of souks and spices.

"Oh, I was in Paris last week!" she tells me as we two oh-so-cosmopolitan travelers launch our chat, me past midnight in Paris, she at cocktail hour in New York.

I want to answer with something clever, intelligent, exotic - along the lines of what Fiennes told Kristin Scott Thomas when they were stranded together in the desert in The English Patient. ("There is a whirlwind in southern Morocco, the aajej, against which the fellahin defend themselves with knives. There is the africo, which at times has reached into the city of Rome. … The alm, a fall wind out of Yugoslavia ... The samiel from Turkey, 'poison and wind,' often used in battle.")

But I blow it with a blunder before we even begin.