Animal Kingdom's Jacki Weaver talks about her Golden Globe-nominated performance, working with David Michod and more
When the Golden Globe nominations were announced last month, you might have come across a name you hadn't seen before in the Best Supporting Actress category. Right there alongside Mila, Helena, Amy and Melissa is Australian actress Jacki Weaver, who turns in an absolutely riveting performance in David Michôd's down-under crime saga Animal Kingdom. Jacki Weaver plays Janine "Smurf" Cody, the fascinating matriarch at the head of a dysfunctional crime family, whose world gets shaken up when their teenage relative Joshua comes to live with them after his mother's drug overdose.
Animal Kingdom will be released on Blu-ray and DVD January 18, just a few days before the Oscar nominations are announced, where, I hope, Jacki Weaver's name will be called once again. I had the chance to speak with this talented actress over the phone about her phenomenal performance and here's what she had to say:
I read that David Michôd wrote the role of Janine specifically for you. Can you talk about your initial reaction to the script and this amazing character?
Jacki Weaver: Sure. He sent me the script years ago. I thought it was fantastic and I thought I'd love to play the role. I told him that and I didn't hear anything for ages because, being an independent film, it took quite awhile to get the money together.
You see a hint that Janine's relationship with her sons is quite bizarre in an early scene in the movie. How would you best describe her relationship with her sons?
Jacki Weaver: Well, I think she's very controlling and she's had all the boys from different bad relationships with men. In a way, they're a substitute. I don't believe it's incestuous, but I believe there's a power thing going there and there's an inappropriate intimacy. Yeah, I think it's another sign of the lawlessness in the whole setup. They are these law-breaking people who live on the edge, and very dangerously. It's a bond that they've got. A very unusual bond. That was David's choice and I think it was a good one. I think it speaks to just how unusual and how off-center these people are.
I also read that the movie is loosely based off an actual Australian crime family in the late 80s. Did you look into that family's actual story?
Jacki Weaver: Well, yeah. I was aware of all that going on. There was a big sort of war going on between corrupt police and the underworld in Melbourne at the time. And the scene with the two rookie cops being murdered in cold blood, that really happened. David wanted to make a piece of fiction, rather than a documentary or a biopic. He wanted to have the freedom to have more creative and imaginative input. We did build my character from the ground up. She's not really one person. She's a combination of a lot of what we read in true crime about these real mothers and there are quite a few of them around, in other countries, not just Australia. I think the criminal underworld will always exist, throughout the world. It's universal and everybody is fascinated by it. Most of us are decent law-abiding citizens who are fascinated by the people who live such dangerous lives.
You really do deliver such a spectacular performance here. I loved it because on the exterior, to the rest of the world, you seem like a normal, doting mother, but there is so much more beneath the surface of Smurf.
Jacki Weaver: Yeah, I loved that. I think it's really good storytelling that the audience doesn't work out straight away what her true colors are. It sort of creeps up on subtly and that makes it all the more frightening. Like a lot of sociopaths, and I think that's what she is because she's got no conscience and basically only cares about herself, she's willing to go to any lengths to keep her life comfortable. She's obviously condoned and lived off their criminal activities for years and years, and she probably did from their fathers before that. Yeah, she seems contradictory, but I like that in a character. I like that a character has a lot of layers and is complex because that's what people are like in real life. That's one of the things I loved about the way that David wanted it to slowly dawn on the audience, what she's like.
In particular I loved the scene where you're essentially blackmailing the cop with that really sweet smile and that fantastic line, 'You've done some bad things, sweety.' It was just so perfect.
Jacki Weaver: (Laughs) Yeah, people keep quoting that line at me. My husband wore that t-shirt to the mall the other day. I said, 'There's no way I'm going with you with that on. (Laughs)
There is a wonderful cast here and it's also a unique blend of actors. There are the more established actors like yourself and Guy Pearce and then a brand new discovery like James Frecheville.
Jacki Weaver: Yeah, that was his first, professional role.
Yeah, it was really wonderful to watch. Can you talk about that dynamic on the set, with this cast of actors in various stages in their careers?
Jacki Weaver: It was an amazing experience. It was testosterone city. It was just charged with testosterone with all the young alpha males on the set. It got very intense, especially in scenes where there was a bit of aggression involved. They're all such good actors in their own right. You know, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford and Sullivan Stapleton, they're all fantastic actors. Of course, Guy Pearce is amazing. I love the way he keeps showing up in brilliant cameos like The Hurt Locker and The Road. He was so good in L.A. Confidential. Guy Pearce is such a good actor. He just knows the camera so well. He's a beautiful actor.
David had directed several shorts before but this was his first feature. He has quite a wonderful style. What would you say sets David apart from the other directors you've worked with?
Jacki Weaver: I think he's an exceptional filmmaker. He's a natural-born gifted storyteller. He knows when to start a scene and he knows where to end it, cutting the extraneous stuff out of the scene. He knows to drop scenes, even if they're really good, if they're not driving the narrative. He has fantastic dialogue. He's very sensitive to actors. Even though he has a very clear vision of what he wants, he's not a puppeteer, he's a collaborator. He really wants your input, if you're an actor, and he really wants to listen to it. Sometimes it's taken on and sometimes not. I found working with him to be a joy.
Congratulations on the Golden Globe nomination as well. It's very well-deserved.
Jacki Weaver: Thank you. It's very exciting. I'm really thrilled.
I'm hoping there will be an Oscar nomination in a couple of weeks as well.
Jacki Weaver: That would be really nice, yeah.
With getting this kind of acclaim at this stage in your career, are you more prepared for it now, after such a long career, or is it still surprising to you?
Jacki Weaver: It's just so unexpected. It was the last thing on my agenda in this stage in my life. If it had happened 30 years ago, I might be less bewildered than I am now. I'm now signing my emails, "Bewildered." I just wasn't expecting it and I'm so thrilled. I'm over the moon. I feel like I've been launched into space and onto another planet. I'm really thrilled, but still, I am kind of bewildered (Laughs).
I imagine a lot of offers came in after this hit theaters. Is there anything you're in talks for?
Jacki Weaver: I've gotten a few film scripts and some of them are really interesting. I've got some commitments already next year for theater work, so I'm still trying to work out what's the best plan of action, for what I do next. When I go to L.A. for The Golden Globes, I already have meetings set up for me, casting agents and agents to represent me in America. I mean, I just can't stop grinning from ear to ear, like a pussycat (Laughs).
As a follow-up to this, is there a different kind of character you want to take on?
Jacki Weaver: Well, I like to think that I'm fairly versatile, having done over 100 plays in my life. I've only done about 15 movies, but I've done quite a lot of television. I play a huge variety of roles and I hope that opportunity is going to present itself now with some movies or even a TV series with someone I think is fabulous.
Finally, the movie was critically acclaimed, but it didn't get that wide of a release here in America. What would you like to say to anyone who didn't get a chance to see Animal Kingdom on DVD or Blu-ray next week?
Jacki Weaver: I haven't heard anyone say they didn't enjoy the film. It is very disturbing but it's so heart-in-throat riveting. It's very exciting and it's got a lot of menace in it, but it's a clever menace. It's not schlocky. It's a very thoughtful but exciting film. It's a great, great film. I love it.
I would definitely agree. Well, that's about all I have for you. Thank you so much for your time, Jacki, and best of luck at the Golden Globes and hopefully the Oscars.
Jacki Weaver: OK, Brian. Thank you very much.