JACKI WEAVER: the highs, the lows and the humour of one of Australia’s most successful actors
At 71, Jacki Weaver is one of the most successful Aussie actors in Hollywood. In a candid, irreverent chat with Susan Horsburgh, she shares the highs, the lows and the humour of a life lived without compromise. And she offers to babysit.
Jacki Weaver has a terrible hangover. She was out last night with “the Senator” – aka ex-husband Derryn Hinch – and can’t remember when she got home. “But I went to bed alone, you’ll be pleased to know,” she says with a laugh. Jacki has a colourful history in the infidelity department, but she’s apparently a new woman with husband number four, South African actor Sean Taylor. “I’ve never cheated on this one,” she says. Fifteen years of marital monogamy, she reckons, is a pretty good effort: “It is for me!”
An Australian stage and screen star since the ’60s, Jacki knows her personal dramas have threatened to eclipse her professional achievements in the past. But that was before her breakout role as sociopathic crime matriarch, Smurf Cody, in 2010’s Animal Kingdom – when Oscar came calling. A second Academy Award nomination for her part in Silver Linings Playbook two years later proved the rst nod wasn’t a uke, and the Hollywood screen roles have ooded in ever since.
When we meet, Jacki is in Melbourne for ve whirlwind days, waking at 4.30am to lm Stan Original’s six-part sci- series Bloom, playing a retired actress at various stages of dementia. Last week she was in Atlanta with Diane Keaton, shooting a comedy about a bunch of 60-somethings who start a cheerleading team in a retirement village. Next week she ies to Nova Scotia with Lucy Liu to play a Baptist choirmaster who inherits her estranged son’s drag club. After that, she’s off to New Mexico with Ben Kingsley to
lm a modern-noir drama series, as a dodgy pastor’s wife. And her next lm Widows, starring Viola Davis and Australia’s Elizabeth Debicki, is in cinemas now.
“I’m peddling as fast as I can,” says Jacki, who has nabbed more than 30 lm and TV roles since her Silver Linings part opposite Robert De Niro six years ago. “I feel I’ve got to cram as much in while I can still put one foot in front of the other.”
Now 71, Jacki is so chuffed by her surprise third act, she doesn’t even try to be cool about it. She name-drops with incredulous abandon, recounting fan-boy approaches from the likes of Daniel Day-Lewis and Quentin Tarantino, and volunteers what she calls a “boastful story” about then-President Barack Obama singing her praises to a producer. Yet she doesn’t seem braggy at all – just appreciative, like she still can’t believe her luck.
That’s the upside of scoring your big break at 63. “I don’t think I would have coped with it as well if I’d been young,” says Jacki. “I think I would have got a bit deluded and carried away. And maybe there wouldn’t have been the same demand for me when I was young.”
Maturity, however, doesn’t diminish the terror of Oscars night. After winning multiple awards for Animal Kingdom, Jacki thought she had a shot at the Supporting Actress gong in 2011. She had memorised a speech with all the Academy rules in mind – no longer than 45 seconds, no lists of unfamiliar names – so when The Fighter’s Melissa Leo was crowned the winner, Jacki had to concentrate on looking gracious for the cameras.
“There’s this ush of disappointment, then this huge relief you don’t have to make the speech,” she says, laughing. “I think my husband was more crushed than anyone. He was so cross that he dragged me out to the bar and we were with all the other losers for about an hour drinking champagne.”
Perched on the edge of a sofa in a cavernous inner-city studio, Jacki is sandwiching our interview between marketing shots for Bloom. She initially seems shy and uncomfortable, her 151cm frame folded up tight and her hands plunged into her sleeves, until she announces she’s just freezing. Extra coats arrive and then the trademark cheeky-kid demeanor emerges – the squeezed-up shoulders coupled with the twinkly-eyed grin. When an assistant delivers a plate of scrambled eggs, Jacki is too queasy to touch it – and out comes the hangover confession.
That earthiness is a big part of her appeal. “She’s so humble and grounded and inclusive and sweet,” says
“I feel I’ve got to cram as much in while I can still put one foot in front of the other.”
Bloom creator Glen Dolman. “She doesn’t have any ‘Hollywood-ness’ at all. She has a lovely, intimate openness – you just want to hug her when you meet her.”
For Bloom, a drama revolving around a mystical plant that seems to restore youth, Glen wrote the complex part of Gwendolyn with Jacki at the top of his wish list.
She didn’t disappoint. “She’s just so fearless – there’s an honesty that takes your breath away,” he says. In one scene, her character, devastated by Alzheimer’s, walks down the main street of her town in a bathrobe and slippers. “She had to look quite raw,” Glen recalls. “Often actors want to look good; she does whatever needs to be done to tell the story.”
Jacki’s own story began in
Sydney where she grew up the clever, theatrical rst child of a barrister, taking elocution lessons from the age of nine. In her 2005 autobiography, Much Love, Jac, she chronicles a “fairly run-of-themill” 1950s childhood, but also reveals the sexual abuse she suffered at the hands of a middle-aged family friend from age seven to 11. “There was a time in my twenties when I was so consumed with hatred for my tormentor that I fantasised about doing him bodily harm,” she writes. “I’m over it, almost forgetting, though not quite forgiving. The subject is closed.”
At 15, Jacki made her professional stage debut as Cinderella and promptly fell in love with the heartthrob Prince Charming, Bryan Davies, who incited mass hysteria when he picked her up from Hornsby High School in his red Jaguar.
Aged 18, Jacki took her rst trip down the aisle – after a rst-date proposal from director David Price. “I believe in sex on a rst date,” she writes, “otherwise how do you know if a second date is worth the effort?” A few years later, though, she ditched David for John Walters, a smoothtalking producer who was 30 years her senior. She became pregnant at 22 and son Dylan’s birth in 1970 was announced with the front-page splash, “Jacki’s Love Baby”.
Dylan was still a toddler when Jacki took up with theatre director Richard Wherrett, “the handsomest man I’d ever seen”. Jacki knew he was gay from the start, but they were deeply in love and remained so, even after she suffered a miscarriage, the relationship crumbled and she married boom operator Max Hensser in 1976. Richard, who had lived with HIV for 15 years, died of liver failure in 2001, and Jacki nursed him until the end.
Throughout the 1970s, Jacki was a signi cant force in the new wave of Australian cinema. She was in
Picnic at Hanging Rock and The Removalists, and won AFIs for Stork and Caddie. The lm roles petered out in the 1980s, but she went on to build an extraordinary body of theatre work, including acclaimed productions of A Streetcar Named Desire and Uncle Vanya.
Jacki was in They’re Playing Our Song when she started seeing Derryn Hinch in 1982. Fond of a grand gesture, Derryn took out a full-page ad with the headline, “JACKI WEAVER SUPERSTAR” in The Advertiser when the musical moved
to Adelaide, both endorsing the show and declaring his love. They married soon afterwards. They lived the high life, with matching Rolls-Royces, but also endured Derryn’s jail stint for contempt of court. In the mid-’90s, she “did yet another runner”, dumping him for another man, but the two are still in contact every day.
“He’s relentless!” says Jacki, laughing. “He’s such a decent man – a really good human being.” Says Derryn: “I loved her, I still love her, and we’ve shared a lot of ups and downs.” It was Derryn who woke her to say she’d just been nominated for her rst Oscar – news that apparently prompted Jacki to run around the room screaming expletives in her Qantas pyjamas. After a decade-long dearth of lm offers, the recognition was especially sweet. Says Derryn: “She doesn’t need to prove anything to anybody anymore, ever again.”
He describes her as funny, smart (“almost up there in Mensa territory”) and ferociously loyal – a pocket rocket whose only shortcoming is her ability to bear a grudge. And if Jacki has been lifelong tabloid fodder, she’s partly to blame. “She’s said some outrageous things,” says Derryn.
“And she does it in such a sweet, girly voice.” Among her all-time zingers: “‘Promiscuous’ implies that I’m not choosy. In fact I’m very choosy. I just happen to have had a lot of choices.”
Jacki told Australian Story in 2015, “I think I’ve always been a bit like a man when it comes to matters of the heart. I just take what I want.” Looking back now, she says, “I sometimes think I probably fell in love too easily.” Still, she’s not
“‘Promiscuous’ implies that I’m not choosy. In fact I’m very choosy. I just happen to have had a lot of choices.”
about to beat herself up about it. She calls regret, “the height of neurosis. Of course, like everyone, I look back and think, I shouldn’t have done that, but to dwell on it is to spoil what’s happening now. Isn’t that just basic sanity? You’ve got to forge on.”
Age has brought a certain calm, but also a sense of time running out. “I often think about death,” she says. This year has been marred by the loss of her aunt Georgina, who was more like a sister. “That was tough,” she says quietly. “I’ve had a few friends go this year. There are terrible holes.”
Brought up an Anglican, Jacki still goes to church sometimes, but doesn’t believe in an afterlife. “I think what we do now is important,” she says. “That’s how we leave an imprint.”
After seven action-packed decades, “I probably do know a few things,” she admits, but she prefers to keep her life lessons light and breezy. “I’ve learnt that it’s not that important to remove your make-up before bed.
You know those women that say, [with a plummy voice] ‘I never go to bed without doing a full cleanse?’ Were you never too drunk or amorous? Didn’t you want to jump in and f*ck him?”
Jacki and husband Sean met in
2002 when they co-starred in the David Williamson play Soulmates. Their marriage works, she suspects, because they’re both actors. “We really understand each other’s angst,” she says. “And he’s a wonderful actor. Whenever I do get an award, I always say I’m the second-best actor in the family, which is a big suck-up, but it’s actually true.”
The couple lives in a modest rented apartment in West Hollywood, eccentrically decorated with lots of books, kitsch and clutter. Both news junkies, they follow US politics religiously. As a self-confessed
“sour old leftie”, Jackie describes the political atmosphere in Trump’s America as fraught, but she’s reluctant to badmouth the President. “I try to be polite because I’m in someone else’s country,” she says. “I don’t say his name. It’s very, very sad.”
Worse than Trump, though, is the distance from her grandchildren, 11-year-old Taketora and Luli, eight. Sydney-based Dylan texts his mum every day but Jacki only sees the family twice a year. “I don’t think I’m a very good granny because I’m so absent, but I do adore them,” she says. “They like me, but I think it’s ’cause I let them do anything they want.”
Jacki had a similar laissez-faire approach to parenthood. “I loved being a mother,” she says, “but I was inconsistent. I was always working, I didn’t have any proper rules. I had my son when I was 23 and I used to cart him everywhere. He slept in dressing rooms and his rst full sentence was, ‘Don’t touch the props.’”
After exactly 40 minutes, her minder calls time on the interview so Jacki can dress for the next shot. “But I like talking to this lady,” protests Jacki. Actually, she might just be dreading another photo session. “I bet the stylist hates me,” she whispers. “She thinks I’m a mean old bitch.” It transpires that the wardrobe woman asked her earlier to take off her watch – and Jacki refused. “It’s a Longines!” Jacki explains indignantly. “I won it
30 years ago on Celebrity Sale of the Century!”
Even hung over, this Australian acting legend is a delight. As she’s ushered away to face the scary stylist, she says, “Email me! We can start a relationship. And I can mind your children ...” It’s no wonder Jacki Weaver’s a hit in Hollywood.
Jacki dazzling at the 2011 Oscars. Right: Pictured in the late ’60s as her career took off.
Clockwise from top left: Jackie and son Dylan; with theatre director Richard Wherrett; pictured in the late ’80s with Derryn Hinch; with her husband, South African-born actor Sean Taylor.
From left: Silver Linings Playbook co-stars Robert De Niro and Bradley Cooper; a still from Animal Kingdom; as an Alzheimer’s sufferer in her latest project, Bloom.