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Animal Kingdom - Jacki Weaver interview

Animal Kingdom

Interview by Rob Carnevale

OSCAR nominated Australian actress Jacki Weaver talks to us about making Animal Kingdom and playing terrifying crime family matriarch Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody.

She also reflects on her Oscar experience and why it has opened so many doors for her, including being given the opportunity to play Emily Blunt’s mum in forthcoming comedy The Five-Year Engagement (for producer Judd Apatow).

Q. How flattering was it that David Michod wrote the part of Janine ‘Smurf’ Cody for you?
Jacki Weaver: Well, he wrote it a long time ago. I didn’t know David at the time. I just received the script out of the blue and he said he wanted me to do it. Quite often, you get scripts sent to you and they say they’ve been written especially for you and they’re not that great – so you’re flattered on the one hand but dismayed on the other [laughs]. This script was great right from the beginning. He wrote it about 10 years ago and took a while to get his budget going. And we shot it about two and a half years ago. So, yes, it’s very flattering when someone writes something for you, especially when it’s so well written like this.

Q. What did you like about the challenge of playing Smurf?
Jacki Weaver: I like the fact she’s full of contradictions and not all she seems… she has several layers to her. Like all sociopaths, she’s very good at hiding her true nature. I liked the fact it’s not obvious from the beginning just how vile she is [laughs]. Yeah, I think it’s a multi-layered, really complex study of a sociopath personality.

Q. How easy was it for you not to judge her?
Jacki Weaver: Well, I’m pretty good at not judging characters from a moral standpoint while I’m playing them. It wasn’t until afterwards, when I saw the finished product that I really started thinking how dreadful she was. But it’s a dangerous thing to do while playing a character… you can’t objectify them too much.

Q. How was it working with such a great cast of experienced actors and a newcomer like James Frecheville?
Jacki Weaver: I think the performance of the film for me has got to be Ben Mendelsohn as Pope. I found that to be amazing and extraordinary. And I loved working with Joel Edgerton, even though we didn’t get to do a lot together. I think Guy Pearce is an amazing filmmaker. Everything he does is fantastic. I think he’s a chameleon in his films. But I don’t think there are any passengers in this cast at all. Everybody is great. Even young Laura Wheelwright, who plays the girl Nicky, is terrific. I couldn’t watch the scene between her and Ben again. Last time I saw it, I found it too distressing.

Animal Kingdom

Q. How much did you know about the Walsh Street Murders in Melbourne during the ‘80s, upon which some of the film took its inspiration?
Jacki Weaver: I actually knew a lot about it because even though I’ve lived in Sydney for most of my life, I was actually living in Melbourne when the Walsh Street Murder happened and the city almost came to a standstill because of the stand-off between the police force and the underworld. But that was a really shocking thing to happen. Even the rest of the underworld was against that family. And the real family is a lot a worse than the one we portrayed in the film. That woman had about 10 sons with different fathers and one of them was a multi-murderer. She ran all sorts of rackets.

She’s still alive today but we didn’t want to do a biopic. She’s kind of dangerous. In all of the press I’ve done in Australia, I don’t mention her at all, frankly because I’m frightened of her. She’s living in retirement in a small town about two hours from Melbourne. But she’s an extraordinary piece of work.

Q. Congratulations on the AFI Award you received for the role and congrats, too, on your Oscar nomination. What was that like?
Jacki Weaver: Well, the Oscar is kind of streets ahead of anything else. It was not only a complete shock, but it opened so many doors for me, especially at this stage of my life. I mean, I don’t think I’ll ever retire but I certainly wasn’t expecting this to happen at this stage! I’ve been acting for 48 years, mostly in theatre… I’ve done 100 plays and only about 15 movies, so suddenly to have this happen to me is so unexpected and out of leftfield. Since we shot Animal Kingdom, I’ve been in five plays – one of which ran for six months and another for seven months, and one I did with Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving, which we’re going to take to Washington DC in a couple of months’ time.

Q. Would you consider bringing that one to the West End?
Jacki Weaver: That would be fantastic. My husband was in a play in Hampstead last December – and he is an amazing actor. But I would love to work in England, especially as I’m half English. My mother was a war bride and my dad was in the Australian Air Force and he was stationed in England. He received a distinguished flying cross from George VI, so yes, I’d love to come over to England and be in the West End.

Q. You’re also working with one of our finest actresses at the moment, Emily Blunt…
Jacki Weaver: Yes, I’m playing her daughter in The Five-Year Engagement.

Animal Kingdom

Q. So, how is playing Emily’s mum?
Jacki Weaver: Oh, she’s divine. I’m totally in love with her! To know Emily Blunt is to love her. I’ve never laughed so much in my life on a job. We’re laughing constantly… and the boys are fabulous too – Nicholas Stoller, the director, and Judd Apatow, who is a legend. But he’s so sweet and unassuming and so funny. And then there’s Jason Segel, who is completely adorable. I’m having the best time. I’ve spent about a month on it so far and I’m back home in Australia briefly before going back to do some more work on it.

Q. Is that a romantic comedy?
Jacki Weaver: Well, it’s a sort of a sequel to Forgetting Sarah Marshall. Jason is playing the same kind of character and this time he’s engaged to Emily Blunt and they keep deferring the marriage for various reasons. It’s very irreverent, politically incorrect and endearingly winsome.

Q. You’ve worked with some great directors in your time, including Peter Weir on Picnic At Hanging Rock. So, how does David Michod compare to Peter?
Jacki Weaver: Well, when we did Picnic at Hanging Rock that was Peter’s first feature, too, so there were not a lot of differences. Peter Weir is a genius, in my opinion, and I wouldn’t be surprised if David Michod is very close to being one. They’ve got a lot of things in common in that they have a great feel for narrative, an enormous regard for detail in every area and Peter, especially, has a great eye for art direction. Both are incredibly intelligent, philosophical types of people, who think very deeply about film on a lot of levels. And they’re both great storytellers and really clever guys.

Q. So how was the experience of shooting Picnic At Hanging Rock for you?
Jacki Weaver: I remember that as being a very enjoyable time. But we’re talking about 1974… I think I said something like that in my AFI speech… that the last time I won the AFI award was for Caddie, which I received when David Michod was only four-years-old. So, that offers an interesting perspective on things [laughs].

Read our review of Animal Kingdom

Read our interview with David Michôd