Jacki Weaver AO has been a household name in Australia for decades. Her many devoted fans would remember her performances in Stork (1971), Alvin Purple (1973), Picnic At Hanging Rock (1975) and Caddie (1976). Throughout her celebrated career, which includes two Academy Award Best Supporting Actress nominations for Animal Kingdom (2010) and Silver Linings Playbook (2012), Jacki Weaver has long cherished the place that the LGBTQI community holds in her heart. So how does she feel about her status as a gay icon?
“Going right back to the early 70s when I was very close to Richard Wherrett, the gay community has been very close to my heart most of my adult life. I mean, I’m not in the same league as Kylie when you’re talking about an icon… but maybe I’m a minor icon,” she chuckles.
As an ally of our community, there is no better way to begin our conversation than by reflecting on one fateful night in Sydney at the legendary Les Girls.
“I was fascinated, whenever someone sees female impersonators for the first time, it’s really fascinating. I shouldn’t have been allowed in, I was only 15, but my boyfriend was Bryan Davies and he had his own TV show. We must have looked like children! Carlotta was the star of the show, and she was so beautiful and so spectacular, but all the girls were gorgeous you know, they were stunning. I’ve loved drag ever since. My husband and I go to drag shows… we used to go to Stonewall in Sydney, and we go to Hamburger Mary’s here [in the US] where Jackie Beat often performs.”
Fast forward to the 1980s, and like so many in our community, Weaver tells us she was not left untouched by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
“I lost quite a few friends to AIDS in the 80s. Being diagnosed with HIV in those first few years was tantamount to a death sentence. We lost a lot of fantastic young men in those days. I still have quite a few friends who are HIV-positive, but thankfully they live very well and full lives.”
“I was asked to do Animal Kingdom 10 years before we actually did it, and I was very happy with my career. I used to work in the theatre almost all the time. Between Animal Kingdom finishing shooting and it coming to Sundance, I was in six different plays… I was very content with my career. There was a sort of narrative going around that I was this tragic out of work actress, but nothing could have been further from the truth!” Jacki adds with a refuel chuckle. “My life changed enormously. I never expected to have a career in America starting at the age of 63!”
In the decade since Animal Kingdom, Weaver has appeared on Broadway in Uncle Vanya with Cate Blanchett and countless other stage appearances, all while her career in Hollywood has continued to go from strength to strength.
After so many years in the business, I was curious to ask what was the biggest difference between stage and screen.
“On a practical level, when you’re making a film, you usually only have to remember three minutes of dialogue at any one time, whereas on stage you have to remember three hours worth. Stage is really satisfying because you have the relationship with the audience, and when you are wanting to create a story by pretending to be someone else, that relationship with the audience is a wonderful thing. Film is a lot more involved… it’s a lot more of a social medium, where everyone’s contribution is pretty equal. I haven’t been on stage now for six or seven years, but honestly, I think I would be a bit scared of it now.”
“I’m proud of the film because the LGBTQI community has been close to my heart for many years, and I think it tells a beautiful story, a love story basically. It’s about forgiveness and acceptance, and it’s just heart-breaking when her son dies.”
Directed by renowned Canadian filmmaker Thom Fitzgerald, Stage Mother successfully explores a narrative that too many of us can relate to – about how family can be so quick to disown us the moment we ‘come out’, and how that rejection or simple fear of rejection can often lead to much bigger crises.
“I think there are still parents around like that who do feel so uncomfortable around their gay children that they do disown them,” Weaver reflects.
Despite exploring such personal and fraught terrain, the film is also an exuberant drag comedy, that in 2020 when many of us are so desperately missing our nights out, brings us back just that little closer to those magical and safe night-time spaces. For Weaver, working on the film took her back to those nights spent as a 15 year old girl in Sydney, in awe of Les Girls, and the undeniable star of the show – Carlotta.
“Interestingly in Stage Mother, Jacki Beat is the only actual drag performer, and I think she is wonderful in the film. She not only has a great singing voice, she is also very funny. But all the other actors had never done drag before. Even Maya Taylor, who is a trans woman who was so great in Tangerine, she had never done drag before… but everyone seemed like such seasoned drag performers.”
“The first time I saw Stage Mother was in January at the Palm Springs Film Festival”, Weaver recalls. “It was a packed cinema with, I don’t know… 800 or 1000 people I think, and it was a huge hit. They were standing at the end and cheering and stamping. That’s the kind of reaction it deserves, and it’s a shame it’s not going to get that kind of release in Australia, because it’s the kind of film that I think people would like to watch together.”
We’re interrupted by an authoritative voice telling me that the interview will end in two minutes. I take the opportunity to ask Jacki if she has anything she would like to say before our conversation ends.
“I have this wish… this idea of this young person going to see this film with one or both their parents, and then finding it easier to come out to them. That’s a little fantasy I have.”
Stage Mother is out now