Culture

Actress Jacki Weaver had to wait until her 60s for worldwide acclaim. Now, the offers from Hollywood keep flooding in. By Donna Walker-Mitchell.

Jacki Weaver in Hollywood

Jacki Weaver with Patrick Stewart
Credit: SUPPLIED

Jacki Weaver stands in a sunbathed garden in Beverly Hills beaming from ear to ear. “G’day,” she says warmly, right hand outstretched. “Come on, let’s take a seat over here.”

Dressed in a fitted black-and-white sheath dress with capped sleeves, the petite 69-year-old looks relaxed and happy as she points to some patio furniture shaded by a large umbrella.

“I am happy, yeah,” she smiles. “Things are going well and I think most importantly I’m having such a great time, which is a wonderful thing to be able to say at this stage of my career.”

Going well is an understatement. The double-Oscar nominee is starring in the American sitcom Blunt Talk, playing Rosalie Winter, the TV producer and former love interest of Patrick Stewart’s character. She is also currently on the big screen opposite David Wenham and Aaron Pedersen in the Australian crime thriller Goldstone, and in the TV series Secret City, co-starring Anna Torv, Dan Wyllie and Alex Dimitriades, just finished airing on Foxtel. Her latest film, Sister Cities, premieres at the end of this month.

The night before our interview, Weaver was on the set of Blunt Talk until 1.30am, but, despite an early start this morning, she is bubbly and effervescent.

Working hard is in Weaver’s blood.

“I’m used to it, definitely. I guess it’s because I’ve never been out of work,” she says, laughing. “I’ve never stopped working, in fact.”

With that, Weaver hopes to clarify something of a misconception about her. “There’s some misinformation on the internet that I was struggling to find work at one stage, and it’s just not true. I’ve done about 80 plays and when I got to America [six years ago], I’d already done 15 films and loads of TV. I hate to sound like I’m blowing my own trumpet, but it’s true.”

Indeed, since the late-1960s, Weaver has been a familiar face on TV, film and stage, and is regarded as one of Australia’s most enduring stars.

Weaver grew up in Hornsby on Sydney’s upper North Shore and attended Hornsby Girls High School. When she was about eight years old, she became mesmerised by actress and synchronised swimmer Esther Williams. As the glamorous Williams dazzled on screen in films such as Million Dollar Mermaid and Neptune’s Daughter, a young Weaver would sit in a darkened Sydney movie theatre transfixed by the beauty of it all. It was about this time the acting bug bit and Weaver starred in her first professional production of Cinderella at 15, earning £30 a week.

“I loved everything about the theatre,” Weaver recalls, her large grey-blue eyes sparkling. “I was lucky to have found what I wanted to do for the rest of my life at such a young age.”

Realising she had found her calling, Weaver went on to star in many other theatre productions before landing her first television series at 19 in the mystery drama Wandjina!

In the early to mid-’70s films such as Picnic at Hanging Rock, Stork and Caddie followed. Interspersed with her theatre work, Weaver also starred in several television series including Alvin Purple, Homicide and The Last of the Australians.

Reflecting on her past, Weaver takes a sip of her coffee as a wistful smile crosses her face.

“I was quite the star,” she laughs. “When I was in my 20s I was doing really well.”

Regarding her latest incarnation on screen, Blunt Talk, Weaver laughs at the similarities between the Patrick Stewart character Walter Blunt, a tough-talking, tell-it-like-it-is newsman, and the man she married twice, Derryn Hinch.

“Are you implying that I once knew someone like that?” she says, laughing. “You know, when I first read the script, I was thinking exactly the same thing.”

Weaver and Hinch still have a close relationship and talk on a regular basis.

“Look, it is absolutely uncanny,” Weaver says of the resemblance between Blunt and Hinch. “Derryn is very amused by all of it and he thinks it’s wonderful. When I first got the show I had a lot of Australians ask me if I gave the show’s creators any advice. I was married to Derryn for 15 years and day in, day out I knew all the workings of how it all goes. I have said to Patrick, ‘You know, once I was married to someone just like your character.’ ”

Stewart describes Jacki as someone who is incredibly successful because she follows her heart in life and is not someone who always follows the rules.

“Jacki is a renegade,” Stewart says. “She is an outspoken, not to say at times foul-mouthed, member of our team. Now, I didn’t say it had anything to do with her being Australian at all,” he smiles. “I would never dream of making that connection with your lovely country.”

Mention the description to Weaver and she laughs out loud.

“Is that what he said?” she asks. “Well, yes, I am a bit of a stickler for certain things. He gets it. As actors, we’ve both been around for a long time. And yes, as an actor you need to know your lines and we both very much agree with that. Know your fucking lines!” she says, banging her right fist on the table.

“I always say, ‘Be punctual, be serious and be cheerful.’ Oh, and stay away from craft services, because it will make you fat,” she laughs.

Weaver made the move to live in Los Angeles permanently six years ago.

While her career was going well in Australia, Weaver was quickly earning a reputation as a great actress in Hollywood, thanks to her spine-tingling role in the 2010 Australian crime drama Animal Kingdom.

She went on to receive an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and was fielding offers from top directors, including David O. Russell, who asked her to play Dolores in 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook opposite Robert De Niro, Jennifer Lawrence and Bradley Cooper. Weaver received her second Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.

She has worked almost nonstop since, starring in films such as the British-American psychological thriller Stoker, with fellow Australians Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, and Last Cab to Darwin, as well as the TV mini-series Gracepoint.

Weaver is modest about the offers that have come her way in steady succession since her Oscar nominations.

“It was given to me,” she explains. “It’s not something I chased. It really was given to me. It felt foolish and ungrateful not to accept it, so that is why I came here and I love living in LA. It’s wonderful. I love it and I didn’t expect to because this was never  on my agenda.”

Weaver lives not far from Beverly Hills and while she says she loves her home in the hills above Hollywood, she still misses her inner-city apartment in Sydney.

“I miss my little flat in Sydney, yes,” she says. “And I do miss my brother [Rod], my son and my friends,” she says, taking another sip of her coffee.

Due to her hectic work schedule, Weaver has only spent about eight weeks in Australia in the past two years. As a special treat to herself, as well as her loved ones, Weaver flew her family to LA at Christmas so she could be with them.

But despite living in the City of Angels for more than half a decade, there are some things that still baffle Weaver on an almost daily basis.

“Well, it’s not a very pedestrian-friendly city,” she says. “Everywhere you go, you go in your car. Some streets don’t even have pavements. I’m a walker so I do make an exception sometimes and walk down to the restaurants and cafes near me. The only thing is, I have to make my way back up a bloody big hill afterwards and it’s a killer.”

Weaver has become used to driving on the opposite side of the road now, albeit with a few caveats.

“That wretched rule where you can turn right on a red light is so annoying. I’d much rather just wait until the light turns green, wouldn’t you?” she asks.

While her Australian accent is firmly intact today, on the set of Blunt Talk, Weaver’s character is American and she says it can be difficult to maintain it with so many English actors working on the show.

One of the directors who regularly works on the show is Tristram Shapeero, whose credits include Smack the Pony and Absolutely Fabulous.

“He’s one of the main directors. I just love him. He’s English and he’s got great comedy cred. He’s an absolute darling. There’s a lot of English people on this show and it’s very hard to keep up your American accent when you’ve got all these English voices around you. Then we had a continuity girl who had the broadest Melbourne accent you’ve ever heard,” she laughs. “So sometimes it can get tricky.”

Weaver’s accent is so flawless in many of her American projects that she sometimes has to explain herself when she is out socially.

“I meet Americans all the time who say to me, ‘Why are you talking like that?’ I say, ‘Because I’m Australian’, and they don’t know, so that always makes me laugh,” she says.

On set, her best friend is co-star Adrian Scarborough, an English actor who plays Blunt’s manservant. “He’s my best friend on the set and we have so much fun together. We like to drink gin, so we drink quite a lot of that.”

While she is relishing her success, Weaver says she would have been fine if she had never achieved fame in America. She was extremely happy with her life in Australia.

“I was perfectly content with my career in Australia. I had nice plays I was being offered every year and I was doing what I loved. It was more than enough to keep me happy, but this came along and I had to say yes to it all,” she says, smiling.

As she enjoys her LA life with her husband, actor Sean Taylor, Weaver ponders one day writing a follow-up to her hugely popular memoir Much Love, Jac, which was first published in 2005.

“As soon as this all happened to me six years ago, the publishers asked me to write another memoir straight away, but I haven’t had time. The first one wasn’t easy to write. Every now and then you get on a roll. You sit down and you think of all these interesting things and then other days, I’d sit in front of the screen and think, ‘Oh, who wants to know this shit?’ ”

Weaver isn’t sure what the next chapter of her life holds, but says she is enjoying the ride and no longer toys with the idea of retiring.

“You know, just before we made Animal Kingdom, I was thinking about retiring,” she confides. “I sat down and thought, ‘Okay, how can I afford it?’ But no, I don’t think about saying no to all of this now. That just wouldn’t be right when it all feels so great.”

This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jul 16, 2016 as "Dream Weaver". Subscribe here.

Donna Walker-Mitchell
is an Australian journalist based in Los Angeles.

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