Jacki Weaver stars in The Five-Year Engagement (second from right), one of the many Hollywood offers since her Oscar nomination.
Liza Power, The Age, reports
Jacki Weaver says she's never been the kind of actor to bemoan a lack of interesting roles for women in their 50s. Last year, the sixtysomething star was nominated for an Oscar for her turn as Janine ''Smurf'' Cody, the matriarch of a brutal Melbourne crime family, in Animal Kingdom.
In the 18 months that followed filming she performed in six plays, including the Sydney Theatre Company's critically acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya, a role she'll reprise when the production tours to New York's Lincoln Centre Festival in July after its rave season in Washington last year.
In between, she's juggled her pick of the 20-odd film offers she's received in the aftermath of her Oscar nomination, a situation she describes as ''very bewildering and hard to believe. But fantastic.'' It's not that she doubted she would still be acting in her 60s. More that ''it feels amazing to be in another country doing it. There's still plenty of work to be doing here at home, but to be doing it in a foreign country and speaking in different accents … is something else.''
Weaver was in Los Angeles for the Academy Awards when Nicholas Stoller (director of Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Get Him to the Greek) stopped by her hotel room with a script for The Five-Year Engagement, which stars Jason Segel and Emily Blunt. Soon after came scripts for Stoker with Nicole Kidman and Mia Wasikowska, and The Silver Linings Playbook with Robert De Niro. This year her schedule includes four films and an HBO pilot. The offers have been so fast and furious that she's considered relocating to the US.
''I've wanted to live in the East Village in New York since the early '70s. But when I told my manager he said New York was so far from LA I might as well stay in bloody Australia! They talk about getting jet lag between New York and LA, you know. They're so sweet!''
Weaver won her first Australian Film Institute Award in 1971 and has been a mainstay in Australian theatre and television for decades. This year marks her 50th as an actor; she made her stage debut in Cinderella at age 15. Her film debut was Tim Burstall's Stork as the diminutive but sexy Anna. The film's phenomenal success prompted a renaissance in the Australian film industry, with co-star Graeme Blundell later saying: ''Stork proved the commercial validity of Australian film and she was the face of it.'' Weaver has since appeared in such iconic Australian films as Alvin Purple, Storm Boy and Picnic at Hanging Rock.
A ''national treasure'' to many, and a ''national relic'' to the self-deprecating Weaver, her turn in The Five-Year Engagement is being hailed as her ''Hollywood break'', even if she sees it a bit differently. ''To be fair, my Hollywood break was the Oscar nomination. We tend to take awards in Australia with a grain of salt but they take them very seriously in America. It's understandable. I mean, in Australia the film industry is, let's face it, a cottage industry. But over there it's a multimillion-dollar business that employs millions of people. They take awards seriously because it can mean millions at the box office.''
Weaver saw Forgetting Sarah Marshall in Melbourne before heading to the US last February, so when her agent told her Stoller wanted to meet her she was chuffed. ''He came to see me at my hotel in Beverly Hills and he was such a lovely young man. I thought, 'Who could resist?''' She plays Blunt's prim English mother in The Five-Year Engagement, the polar opposite of the maternal figure she played in Animal Kingdom. ''They're both bitches, but completely different,'' she laughs. ''But I was really fortunate I wasn't typecast. I had a lot of offers to play evil women.''
Stoker was filmed in Nashville and Weaver says she loved exploring co-star Kidman's adopted home town and marvelling at the innate theatricality of the Tennessee accent. She's a great admirer of Kidman: ''She's such a beautiful person, not just to look at, and a fantastic actress. I don't think she gets enough credit in Australia.'' Most Australian actors don't, she adds. ''It's great [so many Australian actors are thriving in the US]. No one seems to take the industry seriously over here. They think it's some frivolous hobby … We regard the performance industry with suspicion.''
Filmed in Philadelphia, The Silver Linings Playbook required Weaver to work with a dialect coach to master the local accent. She says actors never stop refining their skills and learning, but the process is more appealing when you're on set with De Niro, among others. ''I had to pinch myself. I couldn't believe it.''
Finding herself suddenly in the star-littered orbit of the Hollywood constellation hasn't, however, left Weaver wishing she'd made a bid for an overseas career decades ago. ''I was always perfectly satisfied and content with the career I had in Australia.'' Nowadays, she says, every ''young kid out of drama school goes straight over for the pilot season. But that was something that happened the generation after mine. Going to the US just was never on my agenda.''
And while there might be advantages to arriving in Tinseltown as a mature star, she wouldn't overstate them. Age is no insurance policy against the perils of stardom: ''I think it's possible [to lose your head] in this industry, in any country at any age, if you're too impressionable. [Acting] is a world of rejection and cruelty. It can have huge triumphs and huge lows. Both can be deleterious to your mental health.''
Starting afresh in a new country doesn't mean you begin with a clean slate, either. Weaver arrived in the US to find people as well versed in her acting accomplishments as her private life. ''On the first film I worked on the director kept saying to people: 'Do you know how many times she's been married?' There's no secrets in America. I keep bumping into people on crews who've read my book. I'd have to go to another planet for my life to be secret.''
Not that she minds. She's being pestered by her publisher to write a follow-up to Much Love, Jac, her first memoir, which details her four marriages, three de facto relationships and wickedly endearing life philosophy: ''I believe in sex on the first date. Otherwise, how do you know if a second date is worth the effort?'' she writes.
''Well, the book came out in 2005 and an awful lot has happened since then,'' Weaver says.
In the next instalment she might dwell on the roles she hasn't had the chance to play. ''I love all the old ones. I always wanted to play Viola in Twelfth Night because I haven't done a lot of Shakespeare. And I always wanted to play Nora in a A Doll's House because I think Ibsen is one of the greatest dramatists that ever lived. I thought I'd make a great Eliza because I'm a good transforming actor that can start out really down and out and ugly and can improve a lot, which you can't do if you're too beautiful.''
That would be a brief chapter because ''it's neurotic to regret things you can't change''. A larger section might detail the virtues of enjoying the moment: ''if it all evaporates tomorrow, it doesn't matter; I'm having the best time''.
The Five-Year Engagement opens May 3.