The subject Jacki Weaver doesn’t want to touch

 

The subject of Jacki Weaver's very public stoush with Anjelica Huston has reared its ugly head - again.

Last year, Huston slammed Weaver's comedy film Poms as an "old-lady cheerleader movie", and in response, Weaver forthrightly retorted: "She can just go f*ck herself."

Today, there are no curse words from Weaver when it comes up in her conversation with Stellar, just a sigh.

“Work is noble, whether you’re a railway fitter or a house painter. It’s good for your soul, I think, to work.” (Picture: Supplied)
“Work is noble, whether you’re a railway fitter or a house painter. It’s good for your soul, I think, to work.” (Picture: Supplied)

She would clearly like to move on from the controversy (and headlines) their back-and-forth generated, but the fact remains that Huston's provocative comments - a response to a journalist's question about why she didn't work much anymore - ended up being extraordinarily revealing.

While Huston sits around waiting for what she dubbed a "special old lady" role worthy of her talent, Weaver prefers to keep practising her craft. "Work is noble," the 73-year-old actor tells Stellar.

"I lean, it doesn't matter what you do - whether you're a railway fitter or a house painter. It's good for your soul, I think, to work. And it's also good for your soul to be told you have done a good job, whatever job you do."

Weaver's first surprise Academy Award nomination, in 2011, for her steely, against-type performance as a suburban crime matriarch in Animal Kingdom, might have had a big impact on the kind of projects she was offered, but it didn't really alter her work habits.

After wrapping principal photography on David Michôd's underworld drama, the actress appeared in six plays across Australia - including a widely acclaimed production of Uncle Vanya starring Cate Blanchett, Richard Roxburgh and Hugo Weaving, and a regional tour of Steel Magnolias.

"Country people knew I was working because they used to see me every few months in another play," says Weaver.

“I thought I did a good job [in Animal Kingdom] but I was pretty overwhelmed by the reaction it got.” (Picture: Screen Australia)
“I thought I did a good job [in Animal Kingdom] but I was pretty overwhelmed by the reaction it got.” (Picture: Screen Australia)

Whether she's sparring on screen with Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook or treading the boards opposite Michael Caton in a bare-bones theatrical production in an Australian country town, her criteria for taking a role are simple. First, she has to like the story. Beyond that? The character has to have some kind of a journey.

"It doesn't have to be Shakespeare," Weaver says in a Zoom interview from the freshly painted apartment she and her husband Sean Taylor recently bought in Los Angeles. A well-stocked bookcase warms the wall behind her.

"I mean, I'd love just to do Tom Stoppard plays and only work with Martin Scorsese or Quentin Tarantino, but there are thousands of storytellers out there who have a decent story to tell."

Besides, those two Oscar nominations (the other came for Silver Linings Playbook) mean something. Namely, she says with a laugh, "The second one proves the first one wasn't a fluke."

“There are thousands of storytellers out there who have a decent story to tell.” (Picture: JasonMerritt/Getty Images)
“There are thousands of storytellers out there who have a decent story to tell.” (Picture: JasonMerritt/Getty Images)

But the 73-year-old isn't convinced that those performances are even her best. "I thought I did a good job [in Animal Kingdom] but I was pretty overwhelmed by the reaction it got," she admits. "And I have also done some good things that didn't get so much attention."

Taylor, for instance, believes his wife's work as Lee Harvey Oswald's mother in Parkland is one of her best. "And that passed without much of a ripple," observes Weaver. "You go into everything thinking, 'This could be the best thing I've ever done', even if you've only got two or three scenes."

Weaver doesn't have a lot of screen time in Penguin Bloom, an upcoming film based on the true story of an injured magpie that helped an Australian family overcome their grief, but she still makes an indelible impression.

One can sense the heartache and impotence that underpin her character's busybody behaviour as she hovers over her daughter, Sam (Naomi Watts), who has been paralysed from the chest down in a freak accident.

Weaver met Watts briefly at the 2013 Oscars, where they were fellow nominees. "I didn't really know Naomi apart from that and I hadn't worked with her before," she says. "That was the reason I wanted to do the film. I've been a huge admirer of Naomi's ever since Mulholland Dr. It was great to observe her up close. She's terrific."

“We were tested every day. We couldn’t go anywhere. We wore masks. Nobody could go near anybody on set.” (Picture: Supplied)
“We were tested every day. We couldn’t go anywhere. We wore masks. Nobody could go near anybody on set.” (Picture: Supplied)

Director Glendyn Ivin's poignant adaptation of Cameron Bloom and Bradley Trevor Greive's bestselling book was one of the last films Weaver made before international borders were closed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The inspirational drama was shot on location at the Blooms' real house, on a hill overlooking the ocean north of Sydney. "Filming where we did brings home to you just how physically beautiful it is," says Weaver. "It's 100 miles of the most spectacular harbour and coastline. We tend to take that for granted."

Not anymore. One of the few downsides to Weaver's late-career revival is the distance it puts between her and her family, including son Dylan, daughter-in-law Makiko, and her two grandchildren. "I do miss them," the actor says. Still, the past eight months in virtual lockdown overseas have kept her busy with distractions.

 

While the four projects Weaver had lined up prior to the pandemic have been shelved or postponed, she recently spent a month in Montana filming a guest role on the Kevin Costner TV series Yellowstone.

"It was a strange experience because the coronavirus protocols were really strict. We were tested every day. We couldn't go anywhere. We wore masks. Nobody could go near anybody on set."

And there's the matter of her new home. After a decade renting in West Hollywood, she and Taylor finally decided to put down some roots. "It's just a modest little flat, about 10 minutes from where we were living," she says. So there are plenty of moving boxes to finish unpacking and decorating to be done.

She has also been quietly developing a couple of projects of her own, even if she has no idea where they will go. "Heaven knows when they are going to be able to be produced! I think we're stuck with this for quite a while."

Weaver says lockdown confirmed her suspicions that she's a definite introvert. "Just having my husband and my dog to talk to hasn't bothered me at all," she says. "The things I miss the most are intimate bars - I like a drink in a cosy bar - and the cinema."

Jacki Weaver features in this Sunday’s Stellar.
Jacki Weaver features in this Sunday’s Stellar.

Before the pandemic, she and Taylor went to the movies two or three times a week: "You only do justice to a filmmaker's vision if you see it in a proper cinema." But she hardly misses the attendant opening-night functions that come with the job.

She may be drawn to extroverts - "They are entertaining and bring out the best in people. I used to have a lovely time being with Derryn [Hinch, to whom she was "happily married" for 12 years], because I didn't have to say much at all. I could just observe and listen" - but trying to force conversation with them in that environment can be a punish.

"I don't like parties. I find them difficult - talking to strangers about meaningless things. My husband and I usually find a corner and sit there... talking to each other."

 

Penguin Bloom opens in cinemas on January 21.

 

Originally published as The subject Jacki Weaver doesn't want to touch