Jacki Weaver: ‘I know how lucky I am’

Jacki Weaver is a renowned actress in her native Australia but has only appeared on Hollywood’s radar recently. Her role as a mob matriarch in David Michod‘s “Animal Kingdom” won her kudos from both the National Board of Review and the Los Angeles film critics and she is both a Critics’ Choice and Golden Globe nominee.

All of this awards attention makes her a strong contender for a Best Supporting Actress bid when Oscar nominations are announced Jan. 25. When we met up in Sydney recently to chat over coffee, that was one of our first topics of conversation. Weaver was on her way to the Sydney Theatre Company where she is co-starring with Oscar champ Cate Blanchett (“The Aviator”) in an acclaimed production of Anton Chekhov‘s “Uncle Vanya.”

Robert:I wanted to congratulate you on winning Best Supporting Actress from the National Board of Review. That must have been quite a thrill for you.

Jacki: An absolute thrill. I mean really amazing. I knew it was a good thing to win. The head of Sony, Tom Bernard, sent me an email in great capital letters saying “THIS IS VERY BIG DEAL – YOU HAVE TO REALIZE” and then, when I got to work that night, Cate Blanchett was waiting in my dressing room with flowers and she said she wanted me to know that this is one of the most prestigious ones of all. If Cate Blanchett and Tom Bernard say it, who am I to argue?

Robert: I don’t think you can argue with that. The last three winners of that award have gone on to be nominated for an Oscar – Anna Kendrick, Amy Ryan and, of course, Penelope Cruz, who won in 2008. Over the last decade, six out of 10 have gone on to an Oscar nomination, and even your co-star in “Uncle Vanya,” Cate Blanchett, won this in 2001. So I would suggest that you are in pretty good company. How aware are you of the way that these Oscar campaigns progress in the months leading up to the nominations announcement?

Jacki: I’m not really knowledgeable about it, but I’m gleaning a bit more every day. My sister-in-law, who is a lot younger than I am, is on the net all the time and is always sending me stuff. I do find it amazing and bewildering. I have had a bit of taste of it. Sony sent me over to do some publicity in June before the film opened in the US and I did six very intense days in New York and LA and I got a good taste of the scale of it. It’s like a military operation and it was really eye-opening. It was exciting but it’s very hard work. It’s harder than acting!

Robert: I guess it comes with the territory. You’ve been around for a long time in this industry, but this is, as you say, a completely new ballgame, because even though a lot of actors won’t admit this, being nominated by the Academy has got to be at least one of the highlights of an actor’s career.

Jacki: Oh my goodness, yes, I mean I do love awards ceremonies and I’ve been watching them since I was a little kid, you know and I’ve been going to movies for 60 years. I just love American culture. But this was never on my agenda, you know, it never seemed possible. My generation, I was born in 1947, so I’m 63, my generation just didn’t go to Hollywood. Now, with all the kids in their 20s and 30s and 40s, that’s what they do, they go over for the pilot season, it’s just second nature almost, so yeah, I do realize how big a deal it is. I’m just kind of gob-smacked and it’s hard to take in at this stage of my life. I’ve been acting for 48 years and I think I’ve done some pretty good work and I’ve done work that I didn’t think was so good, but this, if it had happened 30 years ago I think I would have been less bewildered than I am now.

Robert: It is amazing because it’s come so late in your career. Given that we’re talking about awards, we should probably mention the AFIs – [the Australian Film Institute] Awards.

Jacki: I would have loved to have gone to Melbourne for the AFIs, but I can’t because I’m doing eight performances a week of Uncle Vanya with Cate Blanchett, Hugo Weaving and Richard Roxburgh. You know, state theatre companies can’t afford understudies, so there is no way I can go and it’s a 900 seat theatre and it’s been sold out, like everything Cate is in, for months ahead, so there is no way I could attend the AFIs – it’s a shame their having it on a Saturday night.

[Jacki went on to win the Best Actress award at the AFIs, which she did not attend. Click here to watch her heartfelt acceptance speech from her dressing room.]

Jacki: I’ve got two AFIs but they’re from a very long time ago.

Robert: One of them was shared wasn’t it?

Jacki: It was shared, yeah, dear your research is good Rob. Yes, I shared it with Melissa Jaffer, who is just a brilliant actress. That was in ’76 when David Michod was 4 years old, so that gives you some kind of perspective.

Robert: I noticed a personally interesting fact the other day – we’re from the same place – Hurstville, in Sydney’s southern suburbs. How does someone from Hurstville, go from a quiet suburban upbringing to being one of Australia’s national treasures in the entertainment industry – 48 years, on stage and screen – to now being a possible contender for an Oscar? Are you able to pinpoint the highlight of your career at this stage?

Jacki: I don’t think there is one. There have been quite a few. I’ve done a lot of American plays and I’ve done a lot of Australian plays. I was in an American musical called “They’re Playing Our Song” for three years that did about 600 performances. Recently, in the last few years, I have been doing a one-woman play that toured Australia for about a year doing about 300 performances in 62 venues called “Mum, The Brunette and the Vengeful Redhead.” I think that’s been done in America. That was huge for me. But it was the Prime Minister [Gough Whitlam] back in the mid-seventies who called me a national treasure.

Robert: That’s a while ago now.

Jacki: And all my friends call me a national Trevor.

Robert: Since “Animal Kingdom” exploded almost a year ago at Sundance, have you noticed more interest from the US film and television industry? Are you thinking about having a serious crack at working over there now?

Jacki: Well, I’ve had approaches and I’ve been offered a few films. I always had plenty of work here at home, so it wasn’t something that I considered.

Robert: You are currently starring in “Uncle Vanya” for the Sydney Theatre Company, which is keeping you away from Hollywood. Not that that really matters, because you’ve got a lot of very, very competent people working around the clock to make sure that your name is part of the discussion.

Jacki: I think there is a lot of kudos simply being in a play with Cate Blanchett.

Robert: Absolutely, there is no way in the world you’d pass up an opportunity like that with Andrew Upton adapting Chekhov with people like Roxburgh and Weaving. But given that it is finishing up on January 1st, what is next for you? Are you going to the US?

Jacki: I will be going to America and I’m very excited about it.

Robert: Absolutely. Oscar ballots are mailed on the December 27th, so you will be in the US when voters might need to be reminded of your performance when they’re filling out their ballots. And at the end of the day the Oscar nomination in itself would be wonderful, but the fact that you’ve been part of the discussion, it’s got to be in itself such a compliment

Jacki: Oh yes.

Robert: It just goes to show that your performance has been so indelible, it has really impressed so many people, otherwise this discussion wouldn’t be taking place.

Jacki: I’m really grateful and I know how lucky I am. I am very excited.

Robert: It is very exciting. I don’t know if you’ve seen the ads touting your performance all over the internet at the moment. It’s pretty impressive actually.

Jacki: Oh wow!

Robert: You haven’t seen that? That’s for your consideration advert.

Jacki: Wow. I should get you to be my researcher [laughing] and get you to forward everything on to me!

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