Jacki Weaver Doesn’t Hold Grudges

January 6, 2020
We caught up with the ever-candid Australian actor on the set of her latest American film, The Grudge.

Jacki, what attracted you to do a horror movie?

Well, we all call it artistic horror movies and genre movies… I thought the script was brilliant. I won’t be able to watch it. I won’t. I think the last frightening film I saw was When a Stranger Calls in the ‘70s, but I’ve made two other really frightening films and I haven’t seen them yet. So, I won’t be able to watch this one…

Which two are they?

Well, one was about five years ago in Utah called Haunt. And Bird Box with John Malkovich and Sandra Bullock, directed by Susanne Bier. That’s another very artsy horror film. It’s terrifying.

What things scare you?

I hate being frightened. I can understand why it gives a lot of people a thrill to be frightened, but I’ve always said, I don’t need terror to be delighted. I get enough terror in my work. Standing in the wings eight times a week waiting to go on stage is frightening enough. It gives me enough adrenaline to last me forever. But it’s the kind of thing with a roller coaster I suppose. People love roller coasters because it gives them that fabulous adrenaline rush. But no, I hate being frightened. And also, I dream. If I’m frightened by something like an Alfred Hitchcock film, I will just have bad dreams forever about it.

Do you have bad dreams while you shoot things like this?

Not yet. I did dream last night that Ellen DeGeneres invited me around for lunch and when I got there she said, “I didn’t invite you at all. What are you doing here?” And I panicked.

Were you frightened when you read the script?

Yes. I made the mistake of reading the script late one night when my husband was overseas, and then I couldn’t sleep. I was so frightened. And the next morning I said to my agent, “I can’t do this. It’s too frightening.” He said, “You don’t have to see it. You just have to be in it.”

You’ve had a long career. What was new or fresh for you with The Grudge?

Well, I haven’t had a lot to do with blood before, although Bird Box was quite a bloody film. But it’s nice to have a frightening film that’s also got a bit of intellectual depth to it. The characters are actually the substance, and they’ve got an arc. They’re not just surface characters for the purpose of gore. There’s a bit more to them than that, which I think probably is what makes them more frightening. Of course, they’re people that you can relate to that really exist.

Did you expect to have this career?

No, I didn’t really. I’d already been acting for nearly 50 years. I’ve done about 90 plays and I’ve probably done about 15 films and quite a lot of TV, including a couple of series in Australia that were written specifically for me. I was content and in fact, I thought I was ready for retirement when suddenly David [Michod] made the call, the siren call. I was more surprised than anyone.

Is there any kind of character you haven’t played yet?

I’ve played murderers and evil people and I’ve played really nice people and I’ve played virgins and nymphomaniacs and lesbians and the whole gamut. If I do get a script where the character’s different from what I can remember ever doing, I’m always eager to.

I started acting in my teens in 1962, so I’ve been acting professionally for 57 years. The first few decades, because I always looked such a baby face and because I’m very small in stature, I was still playing children and virgins into my thirties. I used to get so frustrated saying I want to play a woman and a woman of substance. I came into my own later on when I did start playing probably the worst mother of all time in Animal Kingdom. I don’t look like I’d be evil, but in fact she was a horrible piece of work, ordering the murder of her own grandson.

And is there a character you wouldn’t do?

I turned down a role a few years ago of a horrible old woman who’s a paedophile. I’ve got grandchildren and I just thought I can’t be doing this character.

Most Australian actors, when they finally move to LA, that’s when they start getting loads of work back home in Australia. Did that happen to you?

I always had loads of work, but I never had a yearn to go to America because I was perfectly content with my career in Australia. And I was mainly a theatre actor. I’ve done about 90 plays and about 15 movies and lots and lots of TV. But yeah, it was so unexpected, and it was because of Animal Kingdom, and it did so well at Sundance. And then I got offered other stuff and only two years later I got Silver Linings Playbook. So, after that, there’s always been work for me. I get offered a lot more work in America than I do in Australia.

I was getting more interesting offers in America, but I’ve done a few things in Australia [Weaver has Australian productions Penguin Bloom and Never Too Late scheduled for release in 2020] in the eight years I’ve been living in America. And of all the American films I have done, I’m always an American, except once. And I was English, which is not a problem for me because my mother was English. And I was Emily Blunt’s mother [The Five-Year Engagement], so you only have to stand around her and then suddenly you’re from England. But everything else, I’ve been American. And then the few things I’ve done back in Australia, the crew loved to tease me saying, “Well, you still sound like a yank” with my Australian accent.

How do you rate David O. Russell?

I adore David, but he’s very unusual. And some actors get rattled by him because he has his own technique. Sometimes you’ll do 20 minutes takes and he’ll be shouting to you and the set’s lit so the camera can move around and around… But I relished it absolutely. I like directors that only want one or two takes, like Woody Allen, I did a film for him [Magic in the Moonlight].

With Robert De Niro in David O. Russell’s Silver Linings Playbook

Where does your stamina come from?

I don’t know. I don’t think I’ve gotten old. Now and again I’ll meet people I went to school with, and I’ll think, “Who’s this old fogy?” You know when you meet old school friends you haven’t seen for a while, you think, “Gosh, am I that old?” I think it happens to all of us.

How old do you feel?

Some mornings I feel 81. Other mornings, 21. It’s all in your head, really.

You had your birthday during The Grudge shoot. How did you celebrate in Winnipeg? [Co-star] Frankie [Faison] took me to dinner with [co-star] Lin Shaye and the crew sang happy birthday.

I had a huge birthday in Los Angeles in 2017. A huge birthday [70th], and there were about 40 people there and nobody over the age of 40 except me. They brought out a birthday cake with a perfectly drawn likeness of me naked. They had taken it from a screenshot of a movie I’d been in when I actually had a body worth showing.

With Jack Thompson in Petersen (1974)

Did your husband secretly plan this?

He was a little bit cross. No, he was overseas, and he was a little bit… He said, “I don’t want people looking at my wife’s body.” I said, “don’t be stupid. It doesn’t look like that anymore.”

Did you have a slice?

I made sure I cut the crotch out.

The Grudge is in cinemas January 30, 2020

Comments

  1. Pauline Adamek

    What a fantastic interview! So insightful — great questions and fabulous answers. I’ve always loved Jacki Weaver. I remember seeing her in a play in Sydney (so long ago, I can’t even remember which one it was) and she’s just incredible on stage.

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