Jacki Weaver on being forever young: 'I’m 71, I still get offered roles for women in their 50s'

As Bloom – a TV drama about getting a second chance at youth – launches on Stan, the Australian actor reflects on her decades in the industry

Jacki Weaver is standing in the middle of the street looking rather worse for wear. The veteran actor’s piercing blue eyes are rimmed with dark circles and her hair – brown with streaks of grey – is frizzled and wild. The pale blue nightie and slippers she has on wouldn’t seem out of the ordinary except she is wearing them in the middle of the day – a picture-perfect day, in fact, on a quiet street in the small Victorian town of Clunes, near where parts of the original Mad Max were shot many years ago.

This is a scene from Bloom, an original television show commissioned by Stan that arrives on the Australian streaming platform on 1 January. Birds are chirping and the sky is a beautiful aqua, though the tranquility of this pretty location is about to be ruined. Suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s, Weaver’s character Gwen doesn’t exactly endear herself to people on the street when she reaches into a stranger’s pram, snatches the baby inside and keeps on walking.

She is an intense character, to say the least, but “I always try to be as relaxed as possible without losing my impetus,” Weaver tells Guardian Australia. “I have always approached my characters in much the same way, being very conscientious and doing as much preparation and research as I can. This job also had the benefit of being in a lovely neck of the woods. It’s so pretty.”

Jacki Weaver and Bryan Brown on the street of Clunes near racks of clothes
Weaver with Bryan Brown in Bloom. ‘It was a lovely job but some of it was a bit uncomfortable.’ Photograph: Stan

There is a dramatic justification for Gwen’s behaviour. Bloom is in part about the things we most want from life that we never achieved, and what we might do if we had our time again. In Gwen’s case she never had a child, which manifested into her baby-snatching crimes.

But there’s more to it than that. Bloom not only asks what its characters might do if they got their youth back, but allows them to return to their physical prime to find out. A freak tsunami floods out the small town of Mullan, leaving magical yellow berries that make whoever consumes them young again. The flood also forces Gwen and her husband Ray (Bryan Brown) on to the roof of their home as water fills up the place below them.

“Shooting some of it was a little bit rough,” says Weaver. “Bryan and I were both drenched for four hours and we were filming in the freezing cold. That morning it was minus five degrees in Ballarat. It was a lovely job but some of it was a bit uncomfortable. Still, I loved it.”

It is normal if not expected for actors to talk up the merits of the script for any project they are working on. Even so, the cast are particularly effusive about the script for Bloom, which was mostly written by creator Glen Dolman, who penned four out of six episodes (the other two were written by Alison Nisselle and Matt Cameron).

Phoebe Tonkin in a blue dress standing at a gate in front of a green paddock in the country
Phoebe Tonkin as young Gwen in Bloom. Photograph: Stan

Co-star Ryan Corr says the series depicts “a magical realist world that doesn’t have a place in time ... it deals with very human themes, with a fantasy element.” And Phoebe Tonkin tells me it “takes a different spin on Australian drama – it’s a very cinematic, very elevated cinematic piece”.

On the subject of working with Jacki Weaver, Tonkin recalls that “she came on set last week and she was very sweet. She wanted to watch how I moved. I said to Jacki, I should be doing that for you!”

In Bloom, Tonkin plays a younger version of Weaver. But historically Weaver, who was born in Sydney and has long been a fixture of Australian cinema, television and theatre, has regularly played characters substantially younger than herself.

Weaver chuckles about this. “Now that I’m 71, I still get offered roles for women in their 50s. But that kind of thing has happened to me for a while. When I was in my 30s I was still playing schoolchildren sometimes, so I think I’m still being paid back for that ignominious experience.”

Jacki Weaver
Jacki Weaver: ‘I always try to be as relaxed as possible without losing my impetus’. Photograph: Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

The casting of Weaver gives Bloom greater international appeal. Outside Australia she is best-known for her chillingly charismatic performance as the matriarch of a family of suburban criminals in director David Michôd’s 2010 gangland drama Animal Kingdom, for which she received an Academy Award nomination for best supporting actress (she was again nominated in that category for 2012’s Silver Linings Playbook).

Since then Weaver has appeared in productions including the Tommy Wiseau biopic The Disaster Artist, the Melissa McCarthy comedy Life of the Party and Netflix’s apocalyptic Sandra Bullock movie Bird Box. She has a suite of film and TV shows scheduled to arrive in 2019.

“The work hasn’t let up. The offers continue to come in. I can’t do all of them, so I just keep going as fast as I can,” she says.

Weaver’s long and storied career predates the Australian film renaissance in the 1970s.

While she has certainly been recognised for some of her more powerful roles, she says the titles she is best remembered for are the comparatively tiny parts she played in director Peter Weir’s seminal 1975 adaptation of Picnic at Hanging Rock and the 1973 sex comedy Alvin Purple.

According to Weaver, Picnic at Hanging Rock was “a wonderful film and a wonderful experience”. But as for Alvin Purple: “I’m in that film for about one minute and 45 seconds. I think people remember it because you can see my breasts, which is kind of pathetic.”

Bloom premieres on Stan on New Year’s Day


Luke Buckmaster

The GuardianTramp

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