Jacki Weaver could tell you her Secret City character’s motivation, but then she’d have to kill you. 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.”
Power players: Jacki Weaver with her SecretCity co-stars Mekhi Phifer, left, and Alan Dale.