I’ve been slothful in getting this up sooner, but I had the chance to chat with Jacki Weaver a while back, in advance of the Golden Globes and her delightful Best Supporting Actress acceptance speech at the LAFCA awards ceremony.
Weaver’s justly lauded turn is of course at the center of the appeal and dark pull of writer-director David Michôd’s Animal Kingdom, an exceptionally engaging Australian crime caper. The film takes a while for its heart of stone to manifest, and this serves to unnerve an audience, because they’re understandably wanting someone with whom young, newly orphaned Josh (James Frecheville) can identify. That person seems to arrive in the form of Weaver’s Janine Cody, aka Aunt Smurf, Josh’s semi-estranged grandmother and the matriarch of a group of bank-robbing and drug-peddling criminal low-lifes. First appearances can be quite deceiving, however.
A lively conversationalist (“I believe in hangovers, not jetlag,” she says, in a cheery tone that makes you believe her), Weaver says that the one-and-a-half weeks of rehearsal before filming were invaluable for establishing a rapport with Frecheville, an acting neophyte. “He was only 17 when we shot, they took him out of
high school for a term to do it,” she says. “But he was wonderful, absolutely wonderful.”
Remarking upon her character’s malevolent detachment and manipulation, Weaver notes that “there wasn’t room for another female
in Animal Kingdom. She wanted to be the center of all that attention, which is probably why she never had successful
relationships with all [of her son’s] fathers. In a way, they’re all a substitute for that.”
Though she’s dabbled in film for decades, Animal Kingdom represents a huge big screen Stateside breakthrough for Weaver, who’s mostly worked in theater, costarring in celebrated works like Six Degrees of Separation. “When we were making it there was a very good feeling on set, we had great camaraderie, and felt that we
were doing good work,” Weaver says. “And when we had a cast and crew screening we felt fabulous,
but maybe biased. It wasn’t until it won (the World Cinema prize at) Sundance that it seemed like this was really a film that could [capture a worldwide audience]. We had all gone to do some publicity because we were one of the 12 finalists in competition, but we didn’t expect it to win. When word came, everyone except
Joel (Edgerton) had already left!”
While more film roles will no doubt follow, next up for Weaver is a touring production of Uncle Vanya, along with Cate Blanchett, which will bring her back to the United States later this year.