Exclusive Q&A: 'Animal Kingdom' Mama Grizzly (and Golden Globe Nominee) Jacki Weaver

[caption id="attachment_26998" align="aligncenter" width="500" caption="Sony Classics"]Jacki Weaver in Animal Kingdom[/caption]

"True Grit" cowgirl Hailee Steinfeld may be getting pegged as the 2011 awards circuit ingénue, but there's another actress in her race -- one on the other side of a generational gap -- who's just as new to Hollywood.

That would be "Animal Kingdom" star Jacki Weaver, whose blistering performance as the evil matriarch in a Melbourne crime family has positioned her to be a potential surprise winner in the always hard-to-predict Best Supporting Actress race.

The 63-year-old Weaver, an Aussie theater vet, has never appeared in an American film, yet this weekend she'll rub elbows with the movie industry's biggest stars at the Critics' Choice and Golden Globes awards, with an Oscar nomination almost sure to follow.

We sat down with Weaver, a quiet and charming woman who couldn't be further from her onscreen grandmonster in "Kingdom" (on DVD and Blu-ray Jan. 18), as she landed stateside on the ride of a lifetime.

[caption id="attachment_27000" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Sony Classics"]Animal Kingdom[/caption]

Did you have any idea when signing onto "Animal Kingdom" that it might lead you down this path?

No idea at all, it's come right out of the field, really unexpected. I'm so thrilled for [director David Michod], I think he really deserves it. I think he's an exceptional filmmaker, a natural storyteller.

What would it mean for you to be an Oscar nominee?

It would be so unreal. It feels like I’ve gone to another planet to [have won Best Supporting Actress] at the National Board of Review. I just finished a play with Cate Blanchett, Chekov's "Uncle Vanya" in Sydney, and she was waiting in my dressing room with a bunch of flowers, and she said to me, "I want you to realize this one is really prestigious. I can't express it enough how brilliant it is to win this one." I did kind of know that it was a good thing to win, but to have Cate say that…

Would you look at a nomination as a pinnacle in your career?

It wasn't on my agenda, but the thing about getting important awards is it makes the adventure of your career have a little more possibility. I think just what's happened so far is already making the opportunities more interesting, even though I'm at the twilight of my career of like 48 years. But I’ve always been happy with my career, I’ve never regretted the fact that my generation didn’t come to America and do the pilot season. All the kids now do that.

Are you already fielding offers from Hollywood?

I'm getting a few. I've also been getting inquiries from casting agents that I'm going to go and have meetings with when I get to L.A., people wanting to represent me. It's so amusing. I keep signing my emails "Bewildered."

You're heading to the Golden Globes this weekend -- anyone you're looking forward to meeting there?

I doubt he'll be at the Globes since he doesn't have a film up this year but Quentin Tarantino did say that "Animal Kingdom" was one of his three favorite films of the year, which was amazing. I'm always shy when I meet people I admire so I wouldn't be able to say anything rather than, "How do you do? Love you! Bye!" But I'm crazy about the Coen brothers, I’m crazy about Sean Penn. I love the usual suspects like Susan Sarandon, Meryl Streep and people like that. But as I said I wouldn’t have anything to say except, "G'day, I think you're great."

[caption id="attachment_27004" align="alignright" width="220" caption="Sony Classics"]Animal Kingdom[/caption]

You're an actor and it is of course your job but it's just striking how different you are from your "Animal Kingdom" character. Do you enjoy playing the villainous or the morally bankrupt?

I love it. I live for my work, apart from my family who come first. And I live to tell stories and pretend to be other people, it’s something I’ve been doing since I was 3 years old. Maybe it's because I’m intrinsically bored with myself, and I find other people more interesting [laughs]. The more different they are, the bigger the challenge. The more interesting it is working out what makes them tick and giving them flesh and blood. And I play a lot of characters that aren't like myself at all. I don't play many characters like myself. Oh I don't know what I am!

You're getting all this acclaim in the U.S. now – has your profile raised in Australia as well?

No, I’m so well-known at home I think they think of me like a piece of comfortable furniture that's always been around that they’re not going to throw out. They too I think have gotten pretty excited. They’re saying "It’s about time this happened to her!” as though I’ve been hankering up to it, but I haven't really, I've been pretty content . But now my opportunities will probably be wider and even more interesting. I can buy some new shoes [laughs].

There are so many Australians that make it in Hollywood. What makes you guys such great actors?

Maybe were just bullshit artists [laughs]. Con men. But having just having done a play with Cate Blanchett, I've got to say, she's possibly the most brilliant. Everyone's in love with her, she's amazing.

With all these opportunities coming your way, is there is one kind of role you'd really like to do?

I can't think of a specific one. I'd love to play an American because I’ve done it so often at home, I’d love to see how they read me as an American here. I think I'd get away with it because everyone does. Simon Baker… I could play his mother in his TV show ["The Mentalist"]! [laughs]