For Australian actress Jacki Weaver, the meeting itself felt like magic. Director Woody Allen shook her hand, said, “How do you do, I want you in my next film” – Magic in the Moonlight, which opened in select cities Friday – and gave her the role, a wealthy widow in France between the world wars, who falls under the spell of a sham psychic played by Emma Stone. After the meeting, “I just floated along Park Avenue,” Weaver recalled in a recent phone interview. “I couldn’t believe my luck. I’ve idolized him for 40 years.”
Weaver’s voice floated over the phone, too – lilting, droll, almost innocent sounding, but with a cheeky, mischievous undertone. “I’ve grown to love L.A.,” where she now lives, after previously favouring New York, she says at one point. “It’s a fabulous place. Also, the last time I was in New York an icicle fell on my head, so I haven’t forgiven it for that.”
Filming Magic in the Moonlight last summer, in the most beautiful parts of the French Riviera, was also “enchanted,” Weaver says. The actors – Allen’s typical all-star lineup, including Colin Firth, Hamish Linklater, Marcia Gay Harden and Eileen Atkins – “were all cossetted together in the same small town, like grown-up summer camp. We were all in each other’s pockets and got very close.”
Every day they were driven somewhere sunny and flower-filled – Nice, Antibes, Cannes, St. Tropez. Weaver’s period costumes were haute couture originals sourced in Paris. “Even the shoes were original,” she says. And Allen ran a “lovely, peaceful” set. “It was bliss,” she sums up.
Weaver’s experience with Allen, however, was just the latest in a streak of near-magical luck that began when Animal Kingdom – an Australian indie in which she terrified viewers as the vicious matriarch of a mob family – premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January, 2010, and won its World Cinema Jury Prize (Dramatic). The film went on to burn up the box office in Australia, sear Weaver into the brains of every casting agent in Los Angeles and net her an Oscar nomination for best supporting actress.
Since then, she has made 10 U.S. films, despite being of an age – 67 – when most people are slowing down. She played Emily Blunt’s mother in The Five-Year Engagement, Mia Wasikowska’s great-aunt in Stoker, and Robert De Niro’s wife in Silver Linings Playbook, which earned her another Oscar nomination. “Again, to use the old cliché, I had to pinch myself,” she says about acting opposite De Niro. In October, she will co-star opposite David Tennant, Anna Gunn and Nick Nolte in Gracepoint, a 10-hour U.S. remake of the British crime drama Broadchurch.
During Gracepoint’s five-month shoot in Victoria, Weaver occasionally caught her American accent drifting into a Canadian one, “because I was surrounded by a Canadian crew and had Canadian in my ears all the time, and I’m a bit of a sponge,” she says.
In fact, her American accent is so good, and her work in the United States so steady, that in most of her meetings in Los Angeles, people are shocked to discover that she’s Australian. “It’s very amusing,” Weaver says. “And gratifying.”
Weaver’s stateside success is all the more remarkable because it came to her; she never chased it. “I was perfectly content and fulfilled with my very long career in Australia,” she says. “I’d played a lot of Americans. I’d had some great leading roles in American and British plays. But as much as I loved American culture, [going there] was never something I thought was even possible. So when it was placed in my lap, I couldn’t believe it. It could evaporate tomorrow – but it doesn’t seem to be, the scripts keep coming, the offers keep coming. So while it’s happening, it would be ungrateful not to make the most of it.”
She was almost literally a born actress, pretending to be other people “from the minute I could talk,” Weaver says. “And all sorts of other people – I was doing French and Italian accents at the age of three. And dressing up, pretending I was someone else. Slightly neurotic, I guess that is, but I always found other people more interesting than I found myself.” She got her first professional job at 15, and has worked steadily for 52 years – and I mean steadily. When she isn’t working, she’s looking for work, and has never waited more than a few months for her next job.
“The press in Australia did a bit of a beat-up on me when I got the first Oscar nomination, saying, ‘From jobless to Oscar nominee,’ which wasn’t true,” Weaver says. “Between the end of Animal Kingdom and the Oscar nomination 18 months later, I did six plays. I was never jobless.”
She has also kept rather busy getting married, five times, to four men. (She married and divorced one, broadcaster Derryn Hinch, twice.) “When you look at it, a lot of women my age have been married just as many times,” Weaver says cheekily. “They just don’t make the papers.” She’s now married to South African actor Sean Taylor, and has a grown son and two grandkids (a three-year-old girl and a seven-year-old boy) with whom she is “passionately in love.”
Magic in the Moonlight presents a series of debates (Does magic exist? Are people like Weaver’s character, who needs to believe in spirits and a spiritual life, suckers? Is rationality all it’s cracked up to be?) and then settles on an answer: Falling in love is magic. Undefinable, indeterminate, but undeniable.
“I like to quote Patrick White, who was Australia’s Nobel-prize winning novelist,” Weaver says. “He said that atheists are people who lack the imagination to conceive of something that is beyond their comprehension.
“But I’m a fence-sitter,” she continues. “I’m not gullible and naive like my character, Grace, is. But at the same time, I’m not a grizzled old skeptic either. It’s not that I believe, I just don’t disbelieve. I think there are things that are inexplicable.”
Weaver is wise. If you’re floating on a wave of near-magical good fortune, you don’t second-guess it. You enjoy the ride.