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Wednesday, August 6, 2014

An Interview with Jacki Weaver

Left to right: Hamish Linklater as Brice and Jacki Weaver as Grace
Photo by Jack English © 2014 Gravier Productions, Courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics

By Joshua Handler

Actress Jacki Weaver has had one of the most interesting careers of anyone working today.  For the first few decades of her career, Weaver was only known in her native Australia.  However, in 2010, she starred in David Michôd's Animal Kingdom and earned an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress.  Two years later, Weaver earned a second Oscar nomination for her supporting role in David O. Russell's Silver Linings Playbook.  Now Weaver is in Woody Allen's Magic by the Moonlight as a woman who believes that Emma Stone's character can speak to her dead husband.  I sat down with Weaver a few weeks ago to discuss her role and working with Woody Allen.

I asked Jacki how she first got involved in the film.  She said that she got a call from her agent and, "I said, 'Will he want me to read?' and they said, 'He never has people read,' so I went to the office and met him [Woody Allen].  He said, 'How do you do?  I would like you to be in my next film,' and he said, 'But I want to make sure you like it first, so could you just have a look at these couple of scenes in this room?  Go in there by yourself and let me know what you think and you have to be honest.'  He said, 'If you hate it, just say so, and I'll find another project we can do together.'  So I went and read it.  I thought it was hilarious.  I came out and said, 'I really love this, I'd like to play all these women,' and he said, 'Well you can't.  You have to play Grace, you can only play Grace,' and I said, 'Well I'd love to,' and he said, 'Okay, I'll see you next July in France,' and that was it!  And I walked out onto Park Avenue and my feet didn't touch the pavement I was so excited, and I rang everybody I could think of.  I had to lean against a building when I spoke to my manager I was so overwhelmed. [Woody Allen]'s one of the greatest living filmmakers, well one of the greatest filmmakers of all time. Theres such a variety in his work..."

As should be very evident by now, Weaver is a huge Woody Allen fan.  I asked her what her favorite Woody Allen film is and she said, "I'll always have a soft spot for Zelig, and you know when I was a kid, we used to be able to replicate his standup routines from his vinyl.  We used to do all of it, including...the accent.  But then I also love Interiors, for instance, and I love A Midsummer Night's Sex Comedy, and I love Hannah and Her Sisters and Crimes and Misdemeanors and Annie Hall and Husbands and Wives and Broadway Danny Rose and The Purple Rose of Cairo, and there's so many good ones.  And most recently, I think Match Point is a wonderful film."

Later in our chat, Weaver was discussing being on the Magic in the Moonlight set: "I just love him [Allen] so much, and then to be on his film, sitting on that set every day surrounded by all those wonderful actors in that idyllic setting in the south of France wearing those extraordinary, genuine, authentic costumes from the 1920s.  At one point, I was wearing $3 million of jewelry.  But just looking across, and there he [Woody Allen] was sitting in his director's chair looking at his monitor and [I was] thinking to myself, 'This is something that I never expected to happen to me.'  I was perfectly content with my career in Australia, and suddenly, I've just been so lucky."

I asked Jacki whether the shooting location affects the way that she acts in a film, and she replied, "Well it doesn't affect the performance...but it's broadened my mind enormously because in the past three years I've shot films in not only several states in America, but also in Budapest and in Berlin and Puerto Rico, and all American films, and I've always loved film crews, but they're the same the world over.  It's been an eye-opener for me to see not the differences but the similarities between the way people make pictures.  You have to have a passion, you have to be prep to do a 17-hour day, and in so many cases, it's work of love - it's people making art that they really care about."

We also discussed whether the other actors influenced her performance.  On this she said, "I think part of being a good actor is being a very thorough listener and [the other actors] were all so good.  It was not a chore at all to listen to them so the interaction was terrific.  I really felt like Hamish [Linklater] was my son, and I was delighted Erica [Leerhsen] was my daughter. When you're surrounded by good actors, it kind of lifts your own game and it's chemistry again, things work out."

Weaver had some fascinating insights into her character and the film as a whole: "Part of [Grace's] neediness is she's in mourning for her husband, and I know what that's like, and she wants comfort and this is a way to get it. And I think that's also one of the themes of the film: is it wrong to give people hope and comfort?  You shouldn't exploit them.  Why tell her it's all a lie if it's made her happy?  I think the film has other themes about love vs. logic and how the chemistry of love is something that can't be explained away by science.

"As a viewer myself, as a spectator, I never have magic tricks explained to me.  I want to believe in the magic, and I think that there's two types of people in this world: those that need it all explained and those who want to just be taken in by the charm of the trickery."

Magic in the Moonlight is currently playing in theaters.

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