For Jacki Weaver, ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ finally computed

Jacki Weaver plays the peacemaking matriarch of a fractured family in "Silver Linings Playbook."
(Ricardo DeAratanha / Los Angeles Times)

Jacki Weaver is a big star in her own right in her native Australia. She works constantly, doing movies, TV series and major stage productions. But you’d never know it listening to the merry way she enthuses about her American costars in “Silver Linings Playbook.”

“I think you people should have knighthoods,” she says about Robert De Niro, who plays her character’s husband in David O. Russell’s off-kilter Philadelphia-set romantic comedy. “He should be Sir Robert De Niro, Lord of Greenwich Village.”

To portray Dolores Solitano, the distaff side of a loving couple married for 40 years, she had to overcome her reverence and climb into bed with the icon. She describes the reaction of herreal-life husband, Sean Taylor. “He was jealous.” But not because his wife was in bed with another man. “Because he’s an actor and he loves De Niro so much, he’d like to have been in bed with him.”


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In the movie, which also stars Bradley Cooper and Jennifer Lawrence, Weaver plays the saucer-eyed, peace-making mom who holds her combustible, football-loving family together with the hot trays of crabby snacks and “homemades” she whips up on Philadelphia Eagles game days. “I’m treading on eggshells,” she says of her character. “Because I want things to be good for both of the men in my life, and both of them have got serious problems.”

She’s referring to the bipolar condition and rage that challenge Pat Jr. (Cooper), and the obsessive-compulsive disorder and anger-management issues that plague Pat Sr., who has lost his job and become a sports bookmaker. But far from being bleak, the tone of the movie is fresh and rollickingly funny — a feat for which she credits her director.

“You never know what’s going to come at you when you work with him,” she says of Russell (“The Fighter,” “Three Kings”). “He stands as close to you as he can get without being in the shot, and he’s always springing something. You have to be ready to go off script, which is legitimate, since he wrote it in the first place. It’s a bit heart-stopping at times, but it’s also very stimulating.”

The Sydney-based actress’ life took a turn after winning a raft of critics’ awards and an Academy Award nomination two years ago for her role as the sociopathic matriarch of a crime family in the Australian film “Animal Kingdom.”

“My entire life changed enormously,” she says. “I can’t believe my good fortune.” She recently completed a horror movie, “Haunt,” shot in Utah, and will soon tackle the dramatic feature “Parkland,” named for the Dallas hospital that received the bodies of President Kennedy and his assassin, Lee Harvey Oswald (Weaver will play Oswald’s mother in a cast that includes Billy Bob Thornton and Paul Giamatti). “I never expected that I’d get to work in America, and suddenly I’m getting sent scripts all the time and meeting young directors.”

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Though “Silver Linings” evokes a very specific American milieu in its depiction of working-class Philadelphia, Weaver sees that as no impediment to global appeal. “I think the secret is family, which we can all relate to, and sport, which in most cultures takes on a religious aspect.”

Asked her favorite scenes, she defers to her costars: “I get goose bumps just thinking about it,” she says of De Niro’s emotional plea to Cooper to seize the moment after the dance contest finale.

But she’s eager to share one of her off-screen achievements: “I’m not great at math, but when they were shooting that dance contest scene [in which Cooper and Lawrence’s characters have to score a five to win a major bet] with the judges holding up score cards, I kept thinking, ‘That doesn’t average a 5.’ They kept rehearsing it, and finally I said to the producer, ‘That’s a mistake — that doesn’t average a 5.’ And he went, ‘Oh, my God!’ There were 300 people in the ballroom, and no one else had noticed it. So they altered the cards.”

Had the scene been botched, it might have detracted from the movie’s emotional denouement. “So I saved the film, really,” she laughs. “I’m very proud of that.”


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