For someone who hates attention, Rachel Weisz certainly knows how to make an entrance. It begins with her not entering the room at all. Standing outside a quietly posh restaurant in her London neighborhood, she peers through the window between two brown-gloved hands. Her strikingly pretty face—a Revlon face, no less—looks disconcerted, even pained. She walks away, walks back, peers in again, and walks away once more. Suddenly, she bursts in, strafing the joint with charmingly abashed apologies. To the maître d': "Sorry, sorry, but we can't stay." To the interrogator: "So, sorry, there was a mix-up, we're at the wrong place."

Then she's out the door, leading the way to the place she actually had in mind—a noisy Russian tea room with big horrible paintings on the wall of thrashing horses and plump, middle-aged proles getting pissed.

"Sorry," she says, once more, as she strips off her sweater and settles into a chair with that's-more-like-it satisfaction. "That's place was just too fancy."

Weisz's preference for the low-key life could be in jeopardy, thanks to the three-film perp walk she's making through 2003. It begins this month with Confidence, a grifters-getting-even thriller with Ed Burns and Dustin Hoffman. That's followed by the low-budget The Shape of Things, the big-screen version of the Neil LaBute play she appeared in to good reviews in both London and New York with Paul Rudd, Gretchen Mol, and Fred Weller. Finally, in June, comes Envy, a dark comedy in which she plays the wife of a (yet again) beleaguered Ben Stiller, whose lifelong buddy Jack Black becomes suddenly, putrefyingly rich.

"It's a satire of the American Dream," says Weisz. "It's pretty timely, I think, about what we aspire to."

Weisz's own aspirations are fairly mild, at least by Hollywood standards. She lives contentedly far from L.A. mania and doesn't even like to talk about the idea of celebrity.

"It's such a boring fucking subject," she says. "Who cares? We live in a culture that's fascinated by it, but I don't want to expound my theories on it."

An allergy to attention can be problematic when your taste in men runs toward smart American auteur types. She dated Sam Mendes for a time and is now seeing Darren Aronofsky. Still, even if she resists the InStyle cover life, there's enough talent, beauty, and career ballast—from blockbusters (The Mummy, The Mummy Returns) to serious stage work on both sides of the pond—to make you wonder how her rise has remained so unmeteoric.

She's a bit of a throwback to a star that we saw in the sixties," says Neil LaBute. "The international star, like Sophia Loren or Brigitte Bardot."