Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver on the Oscar Circuit, Campaign Couture and Going Hollywood

jacki_ak_500_1_caption.jpgWe're coming up on a year since Jacki Weaver strolled into Park City, Utah with her Animal Kingdom director and castmates, dazzled the Sundance Film Festival and commenced a run of acclaim that continues to this day. But while the film's sweep last month of its native Australian Film Institute Awards was all but a foregone conclusion, Animal Kingdom's Stateside fortune -- particularly Weaver's chances in the Supporting Actress race at the Golden Globes and, Academy willing, the Oscars -- is a little more vague. So! Guess who's back on American soil this week?

After nearly 50 years of stage and screen acting in Australia, Weaver's international profile exploded with the role of Janine "Smurf" Cody, an innocent-seeming Melbourne matriarch who happens to have spawned some of the most dangerous criminals of their generation. The arrival of her grandson J. (James Frecheville) on the scene -- along with the tightening pressure of Det. Leckie (Guy Pearce) and the city's robbery squad -- drives a wedge between a violent past and a more sophisticated, maybe even straight future for the Cody clan. But Smurf has her own ruthless interests to protect, made clear via filmmaker David Michôd's impeccable screenwriting and Weaver's nuanced, chilling characterization.

I've only half-kidded here previously about Team Jacki, but with the awards race as close as it is and one of its most accomplished contenders vying for final consideration, we are done screwing around. Movieline once again caught up with Weaver in New York -- where she will collect her Best Supporting Actress award tonight from the National Board of Review -- to talk awards madness, Hollywood interests and what it's like having your own campaign T-shirt.

Welcome back! I had a feeling I'd be seeing you here again.

Did you really?

Oh, yes. Didn't you?

I don't know. I didn't care to hope in case I was disappointed. I'm only just starting to relax and say, "Hey!"

It's weird, because the film premiered nearly a year ago at Sundance, was shot a full year before that, and first came to you years before that. How has this long tail impacted your perception of the movie -- and your work in it -- over time?

I'm not sure how to answer that. I mean, since we shot it two years ago, I've done six plays. So I've kind of let go of Animal Kingdom. Except that every now and again I hear these incredible things from America about how many people love it. And they're right: I think it's a fantastic film. I think David's amazing. I think he's an extraordinary filmmaker and a naturally gifted storyteller. He's an auteur. I think a lot of the credit I'm getting is due to him. He knew exactly what he wanted from me, and he knew how to get it out of me. That's not to be too modest; I did a good job, too! [Laughs]

You were OK.

I think he gives me credit for telling him not to cut certain things. When you're a scriptwriter and you live with a script for 10 years, you get used to some of it, and you think, "Oh, I can cut that." David's pretty ruthless with his own script, which is a great way to work. It's like Ernest Hemingway -- the old thing about how you've got a good book when you throw out your favorite bits. But there were a few occasions when I said to him: "Don't cut this line of mine. I reckon it's good to remember why you wrote the line in the first place."

Which lines in particular?

That's the other thing! We were talking today about how people keep quoting lines from the movie, and because I'm a theater actress, I wipe the slate. Quite often people say, "Oh, I loved when you said such and such," and I have no recollection of having said it whatsoever.

Do you know they have a T-shirt of your character?


With the line, "You've done some bad things, sweetie"?

Yes! They sent one to us, and my husband wore it up the shops in Sydney. It was a great success.

Do you like it?

The T-shirt? Well, put it this way: I wouldn't wear it up the shops.

"Up the shops"?

You know, to go to the mall. [Laughs]

Of course. So there's this groundswell of enthusiasm for your performance as we roll through awards season. What's your reaction to the phenomenon as an outsider?

Well, I'm overwhelmed with gratitude, for a start. Everybody loves praise. And especially somewhere like New York. I first came here in 1972, and I was in love with New York, and I always wanted to live here. And I came here every year for 20 years. But I never dreamed that I'd actually be part of the industry in a small way, like what's happened. I mean, the NBR? I couldn't believe it.

And the L.A. critics, and the Critics Choice nomination, and the Golden Globe nomination... Six plays aside, has this recognition sparked your interest in returning to film?

Yeah, I'd love to do more film. I really would. But our industry is very tenuous in Australia. There's only 20 million people ad not a lot of films get made every year. I've been offered a few film scripts on the strength of Animal Kingdom -- a couple of foreign ones as well -- but I've been committed to other things. So I still haven't made any decisions about that.

How far out are you committed?

About a year.

Would you consider working in America?

Well, the play I've just done with Cate Blanchett [Uncle Vanya] is probably coming to America. The negotiations are happening at the moment. It's a Chekhov that we did with Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. We'll see.

Almost 40 years ago, your role in Stork earned you an Australian Film Institute award for Best Actress. Can you even compare the reception and phenomenon of something like Stork to what you're seeing today with Animal Kingdom?

I was actually in London when I won that award. The first thing that comes to mind is that they used to give cash, and I had a 2-year-old baby, and I was with my husband in London and we were so broke. He was teaching in a drama school. We were very happy, but we had no money. And suddenly I'd heard that I'd won $500 -- which, in 1972, was like winning $5,000. It meant that we could stay longer in New York; that was the first time I'd come to New York. That's the context of Stork winning that award for me: It meant we could afford the Algonquin Hotel.

There's a lovely symmetry in all of this. He's dead now, that husband, and I'm wearing earrings that he bought me in London at that time. I left them in a taxi when we got out at the Algonquin. I said, "I've left our passports and my jewelry" -- which consisted of these and a bracelet, I think -- "in the taxi." And the bellhop said, "Oh, you'll never see those again." Then we said to the person on the desk, "Can we ring the taxi company?" And she said, "Well, it won't do you much good; lost property never gets recovered." I said, "Well, it's a yellow taxi!" She said, "Honey, every taxi's yellow in New York." Anyway, a few hours later the guy came back with the passports and the earrings and wouldn't take a reward.


And that was my first taste of New York. See? I've got goose bumps now. I'm not going to cry. But there's a symmetry there, right? Why am I telling you this?

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