Q&A: Actress Jacki Weaver on the Ghost Story “HAUNT”
Talking with the soft-spoken, friendly actress Jacki Weaver over the phone, it’s hard to believe she has portrayed such truly scary characters in a couple of recent films. Following her Oscar nomination for portraying ruthless crime matriarch Janine “Smurf” Cody in ANIMAL KINGDOM, shot in her home country of Australia, she was cast in a crucial role in HAUNT, which opens today in select theaters.
Released by IFC Films under its IFC Midnight banner, HAUNT centers on a pair of teenagers, Evan and Sam (played by Harrison Gilbertson and Liana Liberato), trying to get to the bottom of scary events occurring in the house Sam has just moved into. Weaver plays Janet Morello, who once dwelled there and may hold the key to unlocking its supernatural secrets. She has previously performed for such masters of macabre mood as Peter Weir (in PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK) and Park Chan-wook (in STOKER), but HAUNT reps the actress’ first turn in a full-fledged fright show.
FANGORIA: Were you offered a lot of darker roles after ANIMAL KINGDOM, and if so, what was it about this one that stood out for you?
JACKI WEAVER: Well, I thought it would be fun to make a horror film. I’ve never been in one before. I don’t even go and see them, because I’m such a chicken. I hate being frightened, and when I saw HAUNT, I was terrified—and I knew what was gonna happen! After I did ANIMAL KINGDOM, there was a spate of nasty characters offered to me. There was even one where my head got blown off—which sounded like great fun, but I was doing something else and couldn’t take it. You know, I’ve been acting for 50 years, and I felt it would be good to do something completely different. And it was; I had a great time.
WEAVER: I think it’s important not to give anything away. You don’t realize just what she’s about until quite a fair way in. I hope you don’t realize it until the denouement, at the end. And I had great fun with the violent scenes.
FANG: Did being in that spooky house location help with playing the role?
WEAVER: Yeah, that basement was horrible [laughs]. It was scary, and the whole house seemed like a very sad kind of place, you know? I’ve always thought that about houses; I believe they really do take on a personality. You can tell when a house has unhappy people in it, I reckon, and the art department did a great job choosing that location.
FANG: How was your experience working with your two younger co-stars?
WEAVER: Oh, they’re fantastic! Both Harrison and Liana; I think they’re wonderful. And I loved the director, Mac Carter, too; he was terrific. And Harrison is Australian, same as I am. He makes a good American, doesn’t he?
FANG: He does! When I interviewed Carter (see Fango #331, now on sale), he said there were moments when you really scared the two of them.
WEAVER: That’s good [laughs]. You know, you’ve got to try and make it as real as possible, and they were meant to be scared of me. I’m a very unfrightening person, so I guess I wanted to get involved and help them out. Not that they would have had any trouble—they’re both terrific actors—but yeah, I did scare them a couple times, quite deliberately, and it worked.
FANG: You mentioned that you’re not into horror films, but are you at all a believer in the supernatural?
WEAVER: Well, I’m one of those people who is a bit of a fence-sitter. It’s not that I believe stuff, it’s just that I don’t disbelieve. I think all things are possible in this life, and there are more things in heaven and Earth than we can possibly understand. I wouldn’t presume to say something is untruth when I don’t know; nobody knows, really, but I do think anything is possible.
FANG: You’ve worked with some very interesting directors in the past, including STOKER’s Park Chan-wook and PICNIC AT HANGING ROCK’s Peter Weir. Could you say a few words about each of them?
WEAVER: Well, I worked with Peter in 1974, so that’s 40 years ago [laughs], and I’ve known him for closer to about 50 years. He’s a true visionary, extraordinary and with a great eye. Park is in the same category; STOKER is one of the most stunning-looking films I’ve ever seen, and incredibly original in many ways. Working with him was fascinating too, because he doesn’t speak English to the actors. He has an interpreter with him all the time, and that’s quite an exercise. I’ve had that happen on stage plays, where the director had to have an interpreter all the time, and it keeps you on your toes; you really have to focus. But I loved working with Park, and he has a very quiet, gentlemanly quality about him. It’s hard to believe he makes these gory movies, because he’s such a softly spoken and charming person.
FANG: You worked with another couple of fellow Australians, Mia Wasikowska and Nicole Kidman, on STOKER as well.
WEAVER: That’s right, yes, and we were all playing Americans! There’s been a bit of an invasion, hasn’t there? But Nicole’s been here for a long time, of course—for about 20 years.
FANG: Now that you’ve done a few intense thrillers, do you find yourself having a little more tolerance for them, and might you want to pursue more of them in the future?
WEAVER: Oh, I don’t mind being in them. I love to be part of that storytelling process, but it’s watching them—being frightened isn’t good for my heart [laughs].
FANG: What are you working on right now?
WEAVER: I’m doing a TV series called GRACEPOINT. It’s 10 episodes, based on an British series called BROADCHURCH. Have you see that? It was fantastic. GRACEPOINT stars David Tennant, who was Dr. Who; he’s a wonderful Scottish actor, playing American in this one, and he’s the only one from the original BROADCHURCH involved. It’s got Anna Gunn in it, who won the Emmy for BREAKING BAD, and Nick Nolte. It’s a really classy kind of whodunit, about a young boy, only 12 years old, who’s found dead on the beach in a small town. It’s meant to be somewhere in Northern California, a fictional place, but we’re shooting on Vancouver Island, which is freezing!