TIFF 2013: Jacki Weaver on Parkland

Jacki Weaver Animal Kingdom

The Toronto Film Festival movie Parkland tells the story of the assassination of President Kennedy and the following days in Parkland Hospital, where the body was taken. Jacki Weaver plays Marguerite Oswald, the mother of Lee Harvey who proves to be an outrageous character herself. She claims her son was framed by the CIA and demands he be treated like a hero. Her other son, Robert Oswald (James Badge Dale), believes Lee Harvey did it. This is part of the tapestry that also includes Zac Efron and Colin Hanks as the ER doctors, Paul GIamatti as Abraham Zapruder, Bill Bob Thornton as Secret Service agent Forrest Sorrels, and more cast as Secret Service agents and hospital staff.

We got to speak with Weaver, Oscar nominee for Animal Factory and Silver Linings Playbook, in Toronto.

CraveOnline: Did you enjoy playing a character as brazen as Marguerite Oswald was?

Jacki Weaver: Oh, I loved it. I thought it was terrific. It was great that she was such a bizarre character and I had proof that she was. There was videotape that I was able to study. There’s quite a lot been written about her but one of the best things is a book by a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist called Jean Stafford called A Mother In History. She spent three days with Marguerite Oswald so that a lot of what I say in the film is actually verbatim what she said to Jean Stafford, really deluded sort of things like, “My son has done more for his country than any other living human being” and yet later on she says that he was framed. She says things like, “He should be buried at Arlington Cemetery.” If the way I played it seemed exaggerated, rest assured that’s exactly how she was.

I was going to ask if there were actual transcripts in the film, but it sounds like there’s more than that. There’s even video?

Yes, yes, and I tried to get her voice which is an interesting hybrid of Louisiana where her early years were spent and then later on, Dallas, and then New York City. So she’s got a mixture. It’s a hybrid sort of accent and there’s a slightly hysterical note to it. I always love research but that was interesting research because there was so much evidence.

When was the video from? It couldn’t have been from 1963.

No, I think a bit later because she began doing interviews. She was after money and she began doing interviews with people in the press. There’s a couple of really good ones.

Is it true you were the first actor cast in Parkland?

I’m not sure about that. Oh, Alex is nodding so yeah, I didn’t know that.

The production notes for the film say you were.

Oh, I didn’t know.

So what was your reaction seeing the ensemble come together around you?

I’ve got Paul Giamatti on such a pedestal. I love Paul Giamatti. I think he can do no wrong as far as his work in my eyes. I think he’s fabulous. I think Zac’s really good in it playing that innocent young doctor who’s suddenly got all this responsibility of saving these two lives. And James Badge Dale who plays the older brother, I think he’s a wonderful actor. I think it’s a really great cast actually. No passengers.

How many days did you actually shoot on the film?

Not many. I was in Austin for only about 10 days. The reason we did a lot of it in Austin is because there weren’t any hospitals left in Dallas that looked the way they looked in 1963. They did do some stuff in Dallas, the grassy knoll stuff, Dealey Plaza. Austin’s a good place. Have you ever been there?

I love Austin! I go back twice a year.

Isn’t it good?

I’m going for another film festival, Fantastic Fest, right after Toronto.

All right. Any town whose slogan is “Keep Austin weird…” I had a great time there. I love that street, 6th Street where it’s all live music in every saloon. You do a pub crawl and listen to different music.

Has it only been the last two years that you started doing American movies?

Yeah. Only since the first Oscar nomination. It was something that was never on my agenda because I always thought it wouldn’t be possible, and I was quite content with my career in Australia. I’d been acting for nearly 50 years. It was 50 years last November actually and I’d always been getting great characters to play in wonderful plays, mostly theater. So I didn’t really imagine a career in America. It was like being handed a big present.

Had you always been able to do both comedy and drama in Australia?

And musicals too. I used to do musicals. Yeah, I’ve always done both.

Has it been funny to you that a lot of your big American movies have been comedies?

Well, I would call Silver Linings… I wouldn’t categorize it. I think Silver Linings is a really authentic piece of life. I’m old enough to know that life is hysterical one minute and tragic the next. I think everyone’s life is like that. You have your moments of hilarity and you have your moments of anguish, often side by side. I think that’s what’s so good about Silver Linings because it’s so truthful. You’re crying one minute and laughing the next.

Woody Allen does that too, doesn’t he?

Yeah, yeah. I just finished a Woody Allen film. That was in the south of France. That was pretty good.

What do you get to play in his film?

I don’t think I’m allowed to talk about it. It hasn’t even got a name yet.

They never do until they come out. Blue Jasmine was untitled until very recently.

It’s got an acronym name. It’s called Woody Allen Summer Project 2013 so the script always says WASP 2013.

Is it like we hear where you only get your own pages?

Yeah, that’s true. That’s true.

One of the Australian films that did cross over was Picnic at Hanging Rock. What are your memories of that?

Well, that’s a long time ago. That was nearly 40 years ago, 1974. That was an idyllic shoot. That was in remote bush about two hours drive from Adelaide which is in a state that’s sort of in the middle of Australia down the bottom. You do know that Australia is the same size as America. A lot of Americans don’t know that. It’s as far from Sydney to Perth as it is from New York to L.A. but there’s a state down the bottom and that’s where we shot Picnic at Hanging Rock.

Then Hanging Rock is actually quite a fair way away from there, probably 800 miles, near Melbourne. We shot some of it at the actual rock but most of it was shot in Adelaide.

How many Oscar parties did you go to this year?

I will tell you, as you know there are so many awards, I would have done about 25 red carpets.

But on Oscar night, when everyone has their party after?

On Oscar night, we went to the Vanity Fair party. We went to the Madonna party. We went to the Governor’s Ball and we were going to go to one other but we were too drunk. Elton John’s party, we were going to go to that.

Three is still impressive. Doesn’t the Weinstein Company have one too?

Oh, we went to the Weinstein one, yes. Sorry, Harv. Yeah, we went to that one too and the first Oscars we went to about six or seven parties. The hardest part is just getting yourself from one to the other. We were in a queue outside the Sunset Tower for about half an hour, a queue of cars. We would’ve been better off walking. It’s always such a relief that the ceremony’s over because when you’re nominated, you’ve got to stay sober because you might have to make the speech and you’ve got to keep doing the speech in your head because you don’t want to forget it, especially your jokes. When the name’s announced and it’s not you, you feel this stab of disappointment that is just a split second and then a huge, warm rush of relief that you don’t have to make the fucking speech.

Does anyone ever get to hear the speech you didn’t get to give?

No, I don’t do it for anyone. I want it all to be a surprise and I kind of rewrite it a little bit every day.

But once you haven’t won, does anyone get to hear it for good measure?

No, no because I’ll save it up for the next time.

Fred Topel is a staff writer at CraveOnline and the man behind Shelf Space Weekly. Follow him on Twitter at @FredTopel.