Oscar-Worthy: Animal Kingdom ‘s Jacki Weaver

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One of the nicest surprises of 2010 going back to its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival is Animal Kingdom, the debut by Australian filmmaker David Michôd, which has helped to herald a new age of Australian cinema.

The name on everyone’s lips after seeing the movie is Jacki Weaver, an actress who has only appeared in a dozen or so films in her lengthy career, with her early starring role in Peter Weir’s Picnic at Hanging Rock 35 years ago being the one most Americans will know. In that time, Weaver has been working extensively on television and theater in Australia, though her unforgettable performance in Michôd’s film has already earned her awards and accolades from the National Board of Review and the International Press Academy.

In the film, she plays Janine, lovingly known as “Smurf,” the only woman and head of a household of bank robbers and drug dealers who have become the target of Melbourne’s corrupt Anti-Crime Unit. Into this environment comes her teenage grandson J, played by newcomer James Frecheville, whose mother had escaped from the criminal family only to die of a heroin overdose at the start of the film. As much as the film is about J’s arc, showing this crime-filled world through his young eyes, it’s Weaver’s character who ultimately drives the point home that family always comes first, but only to a point. Janine is constantly smiling and cheery, but there’s always something much darker under the façade, which we get to see more than once, but most noticeably in the film’s final act. As much as the results are a tension-filled crime-thriller, it’s also a very different look at family dynamics than we’ve seen before.

ComingSoon.net had a chance to sit down with Ms. Weaver in the chaotic environment that is the Regency’s Library restaurant–sorry for all the noise!–and we talked to her about her career up until and including her late breakout role. After our rather clunky and awkward intro, we discussed:

* How she was contacted by David to be in the film
* Whether it was obvious why he wanted her to play Janine
* Talking a bit more about Janine’s backstory
* The environment in Australia at the time when the police were cracking down on crime in similarly illegal ways
* Working with the ensemble of actors to create the family
* Whether they were able to shoot in any logical order
* We talk about the attention she’s been getting for the movie
* Her plans for the future including hopes the Sydney production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” with her and Cate Blanchett might come to Broadway
* We also name-check two terrific must-see Australian dramas, The Square and Little Fish

And more! Also stay tuned after the interview for one of our favorite Janine moments from the movie.

Animal Kingdom is out on DVD on Tuesday, January 18. You can also check out our earlier interviews with filmmaker David Michôd and Jacki’s co-star Ben Mendelsohn.