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Capone talks to ANIMAL KINGDOM's devious matriarch, the Oscar-nominated Jacki Weaver!!!

Hey everyone. Capone in Chicago here.

I was on a radio show early in January where I was asked to select my Top 5 male and female supporting performances of 2010. Without even considering where I would rank her among her five female acting counterparts, the first name I dropped in my list was ANIMAL KINGDOM's Jacki Weaver, who ultimately landed in my No. 2 spot behind Best Supporting Actress Oscar-favorite Melissa Leo in THE FIGHTER. Both women play mothers you love to hate.

And while Leo's overbaring character genuinely means well does want her boxer son to succeed, Weaver's Janine "Smurf" Cody (a part written specifically for her by writer-director David Michôd) is flat-out dangerous, as she controls her all-male brood with a coniving, bordering on sociopathic grip. In the film's early scenes, Weaver lurks in the background, popping out to drown her grown, thuggish children with a weird brand of affection. She manipulates like a master puppeteer, and while it's tough to see the strings, you know exactly who's working them.

Weaver is something of a legend in her native Australia, where she has been acting for films, television, and the stage since she was several years younger than her Oscar competitor Hailee Steinfeld. Prior to ANIMAL KINGDOM, Weaver was probably best known by Americans for her role as Minnie in Peter Weir's 1975 classic PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK, but fans of Australian cinema might also remember her in a supporting role in 1996's COSI, starring Toni Collette and Rachel Griffiths.

Not long before we spoke, Weaver had just wrapped an Autralian run of Anton Chekhov's "Uncle Vanya," opposite Cate Blanchett. In fact, since shooting ANIMAL KINGDOM, Weaver been focusing on stage work. But I'm guessing that will soon change as her richly deserved Oscar nomination has thrown her into the spotlight. Weaver was one of the absolute sweetest people I've ever been lucky enough to talk to, and thankfully nothing like Smurf. It was especially fun to catch her in the midst of the whirlwind that is awards season, and see how the 63-year-old is getting caught up in the process of being treated like acting royalty in the United States for a change. Please enjoy my chat with Jacki Weaver…

Capone: Hi Jacki, how are you?

Jacki Weaver: Hi, Steve. I’m well, thanks. How are you?

Capone: Excellent. You must be exhausted at this point.

JW: [laughs] Well, it’s not too bad. It’s early in the morning. Ask me again at 10:00 tonight.

Capone: You’ve been at this since literally a year, on and off I’m sure, but promoting this film has been happening since last year at Sundance, right?

JW: And in the last year, I’ve also done three plays.

Capone: That’s right.

JW: Yeah, in fact since we shot ANIMAL KINGDOM, I’ve done six plays. And that’s two years ago, so yeah I’ve been pretty busy.

Capone: Just in the last few weeks when you've getting these awards and nominations, what is this part of the ride like for you? And by the way, congratulations on your Oscar nomination.

JW: Ah, thank you. Well, it’s a hugely interesting adventure. It’s very exciting. It’s so unexpected and I’m having a fantastic time. I’m meeting all sorts of wonderful people who are praising me to the skies, and it’s turning my head a bit. [Laughs]

Capone: Is there anyone in particular you were kind of bowled over by that came up to you and said something to you recently?

JW: Oh it’s quite a list--Quentin Tarantino, Kevin Spacey, Sylvester Stallone, Pedro Almodovar. Yeah, it’s pretty amazing. I’ve been really thrilled. Annette Bening and Tracey Ullman and people that I think are so cool suddenly giving me compliments. It takes your breath away. I just can’t believe it.

Capone: You’ve been acting since you were very young. Has it been, especially since you seem to be getting nominated alongside Hailee Steinfeld quite a bit, has it been kind of neat for you to see it through her eyes and get to know here a little bit?

JW: Yeah, well I haven’t gotten to know her, but I think there’s a sweet irony, because I was about Hailee’s age when I started acting, God bless her, and I hope she enjoys the ride as much as I have almost for the past almost 50 years. It’s incredible, it really is. I’m in such amazing company, as you said. All of the other nominees in my category are fantastic actresses, and it’s really an honor to be named in the same breath as all of them. I met Amy Adams the other day; she’s fantastic.

Capone: I was fortunate enough to talk to David [Michod] last summer when he came to Chicago, and he told me among other things that he wrote this role for you. Has that ever happened to you before?

JW: Well, yeah, I’ve had a couple of TV series written for me and I’ve had two or three plays written specifically for me. And when they are great roles then the onis is on you to make them as good as they are off the page. When David sent me the script, I was flattered, but I was also thrilled because it was such a good script. I didn’t even know him. I had never even met him. With all of the fuss that’s being made over me at the moment, I do owe an awful lot of it to David, because he wrote such a great character and he knew exactly what he wanted out of me as far as performance goes and he knew how to get it from me. So, I do owe him a huge debt of gratitude.

Capone: When you first read the script, like the very first time, were you as surprised at that turn in the film where your character kind of reveals how manipulative and sociopathic she is?

JW: Well, I kind of felt it was coming, because it’s loosely based on-- even thought it’s a piece of fiction--a few crime families in Australia and some actual incidents. So I knew it was authentic, but David wanted to build the character up from the ground up as a total creation of his and mine. So, we didn’t try to copy anyone or impersonate anyone, but yeah I knew she was a bad egg right from the start. I think I owe it to David that we let the audience find out gradually, because that’s how it is with sociopaths. They are clever at concealing their true nature, and so it was important that she didn’t seem to be as bad as she ended up obviously showing us.

Capone: It is kind of incredible that he is able to hold back like that. It shows a certain amount of maturity in his writing and directing.

JW: He’s a great storyteller. He’s incredibly bright. As you probably know, he’s a film school graduate from one of our best film school where Gillian Armstrong and Jane Campion, and he’s got a degree in English Lit. and he was a film journalist and edited a film magazine, so he knows his oats. He’s totally immersed and he knows so much about film. People keep saying “It’s amazing for a first feature,” but I think he’s probably lived and dreamed film for years and years.

Capone: We definitely had a few film geek moments talking about some of our favorite crime dramas throughout history.

JW: Oh, that's sweet. Speaking of which, you know who I met yesterday?

Capone: Who's that?

JW: Walter Hill.

Capone: Oh, really?

JW: I was in heaven. And my son and my husband were so envious back in Australia. They thought he was wasted on me, but God he was wonderful.

Capone: Was that in Los Angeles?

JW: Yeah.

Capone: Yeah, I heard he jut did a couple film screenings there with Edgar Wright, who did a weeklong series of screenings at the New Beverly Theater in Los Angeles and he got Walter Hill to come out for screenings of THE WARRIORS and THE DRIVER, which Walter doesn’t do very often I guess.

JW: I was so honored that he wanted to meet me.

Capone: [Laughs] I know you've talked a lot about this in other interviews you did, especially in the states last summer, but I’ve got to ask because I did kind of poke David about this a little bit. The thing with your character does, kissing her sons, it’s very shocking to watch. Where did that touch come from? Whose idea was that?

JW: That was David’s idea. I would love to say “That was my idea,” but that was a directorial choice, and I think it was excellent. I think it spoke volumes--even though it was such a small gesture--about the power she has over those boys, the inappropriateness of the intimacy between them and how she enjoys the ego trip of being the center of all of those dangerous young men, and it’s yet another hint. People think “Oh, she’s seems such a sweet mother.” It has something to do with us being American and Australian that we find it a little shocking. David said when he was going around Europe with the film, the only place where they didn’t think anything of it was Italy, because apparently Italian mothers kiss their adult sons on the mouth all of the time.

I do say to people, “I have a son in his 30s and I adore him, and we are very close, but I don’t think I’ve kissed him on the mouth since he was two-and-a-half years old.” I think that’s probably the experience of most of us, we are kind of proper about these things. I don’t think there’s any suggestion of incest or anything like that; I think it’s just that there’s something kind of lawless and verging on the indecent about it.

Capone: You mentioned the power she has over them, and it is kind of funny that you are this small, unassuming woman amongst these very dangerous men, and yet they're all scared of her. They are all clearly under her control.

JW: Our first assistant director reckoned that the boys behaved better when I was on set. Not that I’m strict of anything, but the set got really edgy at times with all of those young alpha males flexing their muscles.

Capone: Lots of testosterone in the film.

JW: It was palpable. [laughs]

Capone: In watched ANIMAL KINGDOM recently, it’s a different film knowing what your character becomes. I don’t think it’s better or worse, it’s just a different film. For example, I'd forgotten the way that we are introduced to her is through her daughter’s death, and there’s almost no reaction to that news by your character, which I interpreted a very different way the first time I saw it.

JW: Exactly, and that was David, you see? My natural instinct as an actor was to, even though it was just my voice on the phone call, was to gasp and show some kind of shock, but he said he didn’t want crying. I thought “It's her only daughter…” But no, she takes it very cool, and I think that’s the first kind of hint we get that all is not normal with this woman, and that daughter has obviously made her getaway quite early on, because she realized it’s dangerous staying with that mother, and she had taken her boy with her, and that’s why there has been very little contact. Even in the narrativem in the beginning, the boy says “Mum never wanted me to be around her family.

And I think that cock-and-bull story that the grandmother spins when she’s doing up his tie about the card game, I think that's a blind. I think the daughter left, and there was conflict, and the mother probably didn’t want another female there detracting attention from her.

Capone: Her competition, right. I talked to David a lot about this, but what is going on in Australia right now where every movie that I see from there is just these remarkably strong crime dramas. There seems to be this revival going on in Australia, and maybe it’s just from what we are getting in the states, but have you noticed a resurgence?

JW: Yes, it seems to go up and down, and I think we are riding the wave of the next young generation who are very keen, and even though there’s nothing new under the sun, there’s always a new perspective of looking at things. I think we’ve got a really good bunch of keen young filmmakers at the moment who are doing fantastic things, and the good thing too is they all like working with each other. They help each other’s projects, and it’s a very healthy communal sort of thing going on as far as I can tell.

Capone: When you were in America last year doing press for the film’s theatrical release, did they take you around to different studios and casting agencies and give you that whole treatment?

JW: No, there was no time. That’s what is happening now. I could only get one week off from rehearsals for a play I was doing in Australia, and they spent three intensive days in New York and three days in L.A., and I didn’t see anything but the inside of hotel rooms in that time. The biggest day was 38 interviews and six photo shoots in one day. It was pretty amazing, but because I’m so enthusiast about the project, I didn’t mind. I found it quite interesting. It is a juggernaut, the American publicity machine. It’s a good one and you need it. It’s a billion-dollar industry.

Capone: So, you said now you are actually meeting with casting people?

JW: I’ve had agents approaching me and managers and I’ve had a lot of meetings with people and I’ve met casting directors and quite a few directors and I’ve had about a dozen scripts sent to me, so it’s amazing. I was very content with my career before. I was never out of work, but suddenly my options are much more wide ranging, and the only thing that’s ever driven me was interesting characters and good stories. I kept telling people, I thought I was in the twilight of my career, but it looks like it’s only the mid-afternoon. [laughs]

Capone: Does any of this interest you?

JW: Yeah. Oh my goodness. I always used to say, “I’d like to keep acting until I’m on my last leg,” and I mean my last leg could be next week. [Laughs] Hopefully, I’ve got another good 25 years left.

Capone: Have you made a point of all of your fellow Oscar nominees in your category?

JW: No, I haven’t had a chance. I’ve seen a few things on the computer, but I like to be in a cinema, and now that it’s getting so close I don’t know if I will. I might wait until it’s all over and then go and see them all. I do know that they are all fantastic. I’m a huge fan of Helena Bonham Carter and I’ve met Melissa [Leo], and I know how fantastic she is and Amy Adams of course, I think she’s fabulous. I haven’t seen Hailee’s film.

Capone: Well, Jacki, thank you so much for taking the time out.

JW: Thank you, Steve. I appreciate it.

Capone: Take care.

JW: Bye bye.

-- Capone
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Readers Talkback
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  • Feb. 9, 2011, 6:29 p.m. CST

    She's definitely the best SUPPORTING actress, but...

    by Subtitles_Off

    Melissa Leo --- no offense, but that performance is a bit one-note --- is a "known quantity" since she's been there before, and Hailee is a first-timer, throwing lead-role screen time against the others. The Academy has historically been suckers for first-timer young ladies (not so for young men). The Supporting Actress competition is skewed, just as is the male Supporting category. Put Bale in the Best Actor category, where his role belongs, and let WINTER'S BONE have something.

  • Feb. 9, 2011, 7:25 p.m. CST

    Definitely a legend.

    by MaxTheSilent

    I hope she wins.

  • Feb. 9, 2011, 8:20 p.m. CST

    Yep, she was awesome.

    by Cruzboy

    Particularly loved the scene at the end when she talks to Guy Pearce in the supermarket. Sooo cold. Damn!