Jacki Weaver: ‘I can be a cow, but I had a very polite English mother who taught me to be kind’

Father Stu sounds very intense. Did you meet the woman you’re playing in real life? And what was the overall preparation like for this role? TimDelaney

I didn’t meet her as she had died. Usually, I do a lot of research. In this case all I did was read the script and use my imagination. I liked the fact that even though it’s a “faith-based film” it’s still cheerful, irreverent and unpreachy.

Who’s your favourite son – Mark Wahlberg [with whom she co-stars in Father Stu] or Bradley Cooper [Silver Linings Playbook]? bumble1

I love them both. Mothers shouldn’t favour one child. I’ve had lots of prominent children: Emily Blunt, Melissa McCarthy, Elizabeth Debecki. That was a real stretch, because she’s 6ft 3in and I’m less than 5ft. We did a film together [Widows] with Steve McQueen – he’s divine, I loved him – and Elizabeth is so tall he couldn’t get us in the same shot, so she had to sit down.

You were having a great career pre-Animal Kingdom, but that film launched you into Hollywood. How satisfying was it to suddenly have that kind of success ? hhhhssss

It was amazing. It was an enormous but pleasant shock. I had been in about 70 plays and done about 15 films and lots of TV in Australia, and I was perfectly content. So when, at the age of 63, Hollywood came to me, I was gobsmacked. It’s been wonderful – 12 years later and I haven’t stopped working. Every day I’m filled with wonderment.

I’d always been such a snob about Los Angeles. I’ve been going to New York every year since 1972 – a theatre town, I just love it. I thought: Oh no I don’t wanna know about LA. But now I’m a complete convert. I hate the traffic but I love the weather and the way of life. It’s to do with age, too. I couldn’t do another winter in New York; it’s so cold. I didn’t see snow until I was 40. It happened in New York: it was 1am and we looked out of our hotel window and I said: ‘What’s that?’ and my husband said: ‘Snow! You wanna go outside?’ So we went and played in the snow in the middle of the night in New York. It was wonderful.

Thanks for being fabulous for ever. How do you stay so nice? Sothernwombat

Oh look, I can be cow. I had a very polite English mother and I was taught to be kind and polite. But occasionally I get cross with people being unkind. I get a bit worked up about politics, which I try to keep to myself.

But it was example. My dad was a gentle soul, too. He was a lawyer, but also a social worker: a really kind person.

I hear people say that the movie business is cut-throat and I’m sure that some people are, but that’s just the way in every profession, isn’t it?

Jackie Weaver, centre, in Silver Linings Playbook with Robert De Niro and one of her ‘prominent children’, Bradley Cooper.
Jackie Weaver, centre, in Silver Linings Playbook with Robert De Niro and one of her ‘prominent children’, Bradley Cooper. Photograph: Jojo Whilden/The Weinstein Company/Allstar

If you could go back to early in your career, what advice would you give yourself about roles and the arts? chrisp748

I’ve been acting since I was 15. This November, I’ll have done 60 years. I think I would tell my little self not to take criticism too much to heart. Learn from it but keep your chin up. An actor’s life is, by definition, one of constant rejection and you’ve just got to try not to get discouraged. I’ve seen some really good people fall by the wayside because their hearts couldn’t take the constant knockbacks.

I was lucky enough to have parents who took me to the theatre and cinema from an early age. It’s good to be a good audience as well. I think you should see as much as you possibly can. You can only learn from it.

My mum was a war bride – she came to Australia in 1945, when my dad was in the air force. I was born in 1947. My grandfather came to live with us and when I was three he took me to the theatre and I can clearly remember thinking: that’s what I want do; I wanna be that person.

It was Dick Whittington in Sydney and starred a wonderful actor called Jenny Howard. And she had principal boy legs. In those days, they had girls playing the male parts and blokes as the ladies.

One of the things about never having done a soap opera was watching my colleagues who did making a killing every Christmas by flying over for panto season in London. They’d be paid wonderful sums of English money. But I never got to do it. Still time? I dunno: it’s 12 shows a week, because you do two a day.

Do you have a favourite period in Australian film production across the last 60 years? If so, which films or creative people stand out for you in that time? KingArchieRice

I’ve got no steadfast opinions on the Australian film industry. I was part of it in the early 70s when it was having a renaissance with people like Tom Burstall and Peter Weir. But then there was a hiatus for me with no films. So I can’t speak with authority. But from what I hear it’s healthier now than it’s been for ages. I don’t like naming people because I’m scared I’ll leave somebody out. But there’s Joel Edgerton and his brother, Nash, and David Michôd and Mirrah Foulkes and a director called Ivan Sen I’m really keen on. We’ve got lots of fantastic young directors.

What would you change about the Australian film industry? ClareHoey

I would like the government to give it more money. To give all the arts more money. Here we go, don’t get political, Jacqueline … But the government should subsidise the film industry in a much bigger way, and it would pay them back! It’s proven in America when you give tax breaks to the film industry it pays you back threefold.

As well as some really good film-makers we have really good film schools. Everyone likes to say Australia punches above its weight. And when you think there’s only 26 million of us I think that’s probably fair.

What are some of the important differences between working in Hollywood and in Australia that you’ve felt? shyamijala

I love film crews. I’m insane about them. I’m one of those actors who just loves hanging round with them – grips, production design, set dressers, camera department – I love them all. I’ve worked in Japan, Hungary, Germany, France, Canada, Puerto Rico. And the interesting thing is that film crews are fairly similar the world over. They’re all hardworking, goodnatured, enthusiastic. The Germans are slightly more efficient. If you’re on time in Germany, you’re late.

Weaver in Animal Kingdom with Ben Mendelsohn, left, and Luke Ford.
Weaver in Animal Kingdom with Ben Mendelsohn, left, and Luke Ford. Photograph: Maximum Films/Allstar

Loved Animal Kingdom – what was it like being the authoritarian of the family, and does being a matriarch come naturally to you off screen? 25Aubrey

No. I couldn’t be more different from that character. We are diametrically opposed. She is a horrible, vile psychopath who plots to murder her own grandson. I’ve got a grandson and I’ve never tried to kill him. I haven’t got the murdering instinct. And I’m not really a matriarch, either. I always think of someone grand who commands respect and gets people to do whatever they want. I’m afraid it’s not me. I wish it were, sometimes.

Do Americans – their ears unattuned to non-American accents – ever mistake you for being British or a New Zealander or Canadian? Is it often enough to get on your nerves? Haigin88

Americans usually think I’m English. Never New Zealand. And even though it’s only a three-hour flight from Australia and I’ve been there many times and have friends there, there’s no way I can do a New Zealand accent. It is very different from an Australian accent if you’ve got an ear for it, and if there’s one thing New Zealanders hate, it’s being mistaken for an Australian.

Sometimes, Americans get a shock when they hear me speak as they assumed I was American. I’ve even been accused of putting on an Australian accent. I do get irritated when they talk about a British accent. I say: you’re talking about maybe 20 different accents. As well as Northern Irish, Scottish and Welsh. I can do cockney, and north country, because my grandfather was from Cumbria. I’m not so good at the West Country – all that “Raaaah raaah raaah” stuff. I’m not so good at Welsh, I always sound as if I’m from India. My Irish isn’t bad and I can get away with Scots.

You are close to your brother, Rod. How important has family support been in shaping your career and keeping you grounded? Do you think you would have been less successful without it? randomguydeaustralie

I am very close to my brother, Rod. I love him. He’s a barrister in Sydney. He once put up the money for a one woman show I was in a few years ago. He’s always been very supportive, as were my parents, though they were never pushy. From when I was a little child I think I was quite eccentric and pretended to be other people. So it was a foregone conclusion what I would do.

Are you going to ever come to London to do a play? I think you’d make a stonking Lady Macbeth. Katewashere

Thank you! I’ve done so many English plays and I’ve been offered quite a few gigs in England but it’s never quite worked out, which is crazy. In my 30s and 40s I was very keen to play Lady M but I’m too old now. My husband, Sean Taylor, has done three plays in London. We’ve been married 20 years and I always say he’s the best actor in the family. About 10 years ago, we were in a production together of the wonderful, filthy Joe Orton play Entertaining Mr Sloane about a brother and sister who are both fucking the same young man. We got great reviews. One of them said: “Weaver is wonderful, but Taylor is heavenly.” I framed it. That was credit where it was absolutely due.

Mark Wahlberg, left, and Weaver, in Father Stu.
Mark Wahlberg, left, and Weaver, in Father Stu. Photograph: Karen Ballard/AP

Can you still finish this line: “Minerva, by her southern seas”? Reynardo

It’s from my school song! I can’t remember the next line, but it was more than 50 years ago.

Vegemite or Marmite? Haigin88

Oh, Vegemite. Marmite’s too sweet. Vegemite is saltier and more robust.

I loved Secret City – any more series in the works? What was it like working on the show? ID5884238

I really enjoyed that! We shot in Canberra. It was the only time I’ve acted with my husband on screen. I was his boss and had to sack him and we had an almighty fight. The crew loved it! I don’t know if there’s going to be another series, but my character kicked the bucket. So I wouldn’t be in it, unless I came back, like in a soap, as my own twin sister.

I thought Perpetual Grace was an absolute standout, which Netflix dropped after one season. How did you rate it? MuMoir

Me too, I loved it. we had a great time doing that. I was married to Ben Kingsley, who was an absolute sweetheart. We filmed that in Santa Fe, some of it on the ranch where the dreadful Rust tragedy happened.

When I was a wee lad of eight or so, I saw an episode or three of a totally captivating sci-fi TV series. I mainly remember the vibe of it, which was mysterious, a bit scary, but perhaps also spiritual? The bush, big boulders, the Dreaming … and even though I was just a small boy, I remembered you. Did you enjoy working on it? AntonD33

Oh, love this one! It was a series called Wandjina! for ABC, all shot in the outback, which was unusual in the 60s. It was about the spiritual nature of our own Indigenous folks. I loved it. I was 18 when we made it and my character was 12. I was small with a baby face; the only giveaway were my breasts, which they used to bind up. I remember I did used to get quite a lot of fanmail from England, which we all found very amusing because it was from little boys of 10 or 11, thinking I was their age. So whoever asked that question must be a chap in his 60s! Ha!

Father Stu is released on 13 May.