x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

Jacki Weaver lauds quality of films at Abu Dhabi festival

Acclaimed Australian actress Jacki Weaver says she is incredibly honoured to act as president of Abu Dhabi Film Festival's Narrative Feature Competition.

Jacki Weaver has managed to find the time to act as president of Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s prestigious Narrative Feature Competition jury. Mohammed Al Neyadi / The National
Jacki Weaver has managed to find the time to act as president of Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s prestigious Narrative Feature Competition jury. Mohammed Al Neyadi / The National

Abu Dhabi // She has one of the busiest schedules in Hollywood but Jacki Weaver has found time to act as president of Abu Dhabi Film Festival’s prestigious Narrative Feature Competition jury.

The 66-year-old Australian actress is in huge demand after Best Supporting Actress Oscar-nominated roles in both the crime thriller Animal Kingdom in 2010 and last year’s romantic comedy-drama, Silver Linings Playbook. She has also just finished filming on Woody Allen’s latest work Magic in the Moonlight.

Nevertheless, she was eager to preside over the judging panel for the US$100,000 (Dh367,290) Black Pearl award.

“I was incredibly honoured when they asked me to be president of the jury so we had to juggle a couple of things around,” she said. “I have to cut my visit here slightly short, as I have a film happening in Puerto Rico with John Cusack.

“But I love film festivals as you just get to watch films all the time. I think in the nine days I will be here I will get to watch 18 films.”

She has been thoroughly impressed with the festival. “It’s a great celebration of films. It gives the chance for a lot of smaller films to be noticed.

“It gives kudos to things that might have passed under the radar. It gives attention to performances from young actors and works by young directors who probably find it very difficult to get distributors.”

Her fondness for festival events comes from the fact that, in some respects, she owes her Hollywood career to the Sundance Film Festival in the United States.

“It was never an ambition of mine to work in Hollywood, simply because of modesty, I suppose. It was never on my agenda, even though I’ve been a professional actor for 51 years.

“But I guess the ball starting rolling with Animal Kingdom, which won the jury prize at Sundance Film Festival. People started talking about my performance at Sundance. From then I got nine awards, but the big one of course was the Oscar nomination, then it really took off.”

At first she was incredulous about her new-found success.

“Suddenly after five decades of being a quite contented actor in Australia, I started to get all these scripts. I kept thinking it was some kind of elaborate hoax.

“Then of course, when I got the second nomination, an old-time journalist told me, ‘You know what this means? It means the first one wasn’t a fluke’.”

Naturally, Weaver feels being cast opposite De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook has been the zenith of her career so far. “It was amazing. For my generation, and I guess generations that follow me too, De Niro is the man.

“I’ve had him on a pedestal for at least 30 years. And to suddenly be told I have to play a very loving wife to him, I had to give myself a talking to and say, ‘Do not be overawed. This is not Robert De Niro, this is the husband you love’.”

Weaver says De Niro did not live up to his somewhat fearsome reputation.

“De Niro was a dream to work with. He was generous and kind and a true gentleman. And of course, a master of the craft. Just to watch him work was a privilege.

“I’m sure he could be frightening, but I saw no evidence of it, except when he was acting.”

She is keeping tight-lipped about which film she thinks will win the Black Pearl Award.

“I don’t know that it’s ridgy-didge – that’s an Australian expression meaning honest – for a judge to talk about what film they like. All I can say is that there are some great films in the selection.”

hberger@thenational.ae