Se­crets and lies

Why pol­i­tics drew Jacki Weaver back to Aussie TV

Sunday Tasmanian - Tassie Living - - FRONT PAGE - By SHAN­NON MOL­LOY

OF all the cities in the world, Can­berra has a very spe­cial place in Jacki Weaver’s heart.

Be­fore she was an ac­claimed ac­tor, dom­i­nat­ing Aus­tralian film, tele­vi­sion and stage, and later one of our most suc­cess­ful Hol­ly­wood ex­ports, she was a “tiny, lit­tle girl” who’d hop on a plane by her­self to the na­tion’s cap­i­tal most week­ends.

“My dad was a lawyer who worked for the Crown So­lic­i­tor and in the early 1950s I used to miss him so much that ap­par­ently I’d be sent to Can­berra on a Fri­day evening to see him,” Weaver says.

“The pilot would some­times carry me off the plane. So I’ve been com­ing here for a long time and I’m very fond of it. Al­though it’s changed a lot. It used to be a big coun­try town back then.”

When we speak, it’s at dusk out­side Can­berra’s “fab­u­lous” Na­tional Gallery, where Weaver and the rest of the Se­cret City cast are pre­par­ing to film a scene with about 50 ex­tras.

De­spite the chilly tem­per­a­ture, from which Weaver shel­ters her­self with an over­sized puffer jacket, the at­mos­phere is elec­tric.

Prime Min­is­ter Martin Toohey, played by Alan Dale, hosts a re­cep­tion wel­com­ing the new US Am­bas­sador Brent More­ton (Mekhi Phifer). Weaver’s char­ac­ter, the for­mi­da­ble At­tor­ney-Gen­eral Ca­tri­ona Bai­ley, watches on.

In the book on which this po­lit­i­cal thriller is based, Se­na­tor Bai­ley suf­fers a stroke in the first chap­ter and spends the next cou­ple of hun­dred pages in a coma.

“Oh, I would’ve loved that,” Weaver cack­les. “I love ly­ing in bed act­ing. It’s my favourite kind of act­ing.”

But in the TV adap­ta­tion, Bai­ley is front and cen­tre. Ex­actly what part she plays in this cap­ti­vat­ing tale of es­pi­onage, be­trayal, dirty deals and crim­i­nal cover-ups, is ini­tially un­clear.

“If I told you, I’d have to kill you,” the 68-year-old smiles.

While peo­ple may try to draw par­al­lels with fig­ures like Julie Bishop or Hil­lary Clin­ton, Weaver in­sists she hasn’t based the politi­cian on any ac­tual per­son.

“Ca­tri­ona is very much an in­vented per­son,” she says. “I’m not try­ing to be any­one. I made her up out of my head, with a lot of help from the text.”

She de­scribes her­self as “very po­lit­i­cally aware” and says there are count­less fe­male fig­ures whom she has “ad­mired and de­spaired for” over the years.

Her hus­band Sean Tay­lor also has a role in Se­cret City, play­ing ASIO boss Paul Wheeler. While they’ve worked to­gether on stage sev­eral times, it’s their first on-screen pair­ing.

Fel­low ex-pat Anna Torv also re­turned to Australia for this project, play­ing tena­cious Press Gallery jour­nal­ist Har­riet Dunk­ley.

She’s on the trail of mystery that deep­ens with ev­ery piece of puz­zle she stum­bles across, leav­ing a body count in her wake.

“I spent a day shad­ow­ing a few jour­nal­ists,” Torv, 36, says.

The Fringe star got tips from the lo­cal jour­nal­ists about what it takes to cover the cut and thrust of pol­i­tics.

“I don’t want to name names in case they don’t like the char­ac­ter,” Torv laughs. “I’ll pro­tect my sources.”

SE­CRET CITY

SUN­DAY, 8.30PM, SHOW­CASE

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