Oz pic 'Animal Kingdom' draws Stateside attention

Jacki Weaver has enjoyed a 48-year career in acting, mostly in Australia, starting out playing girl-next-door roles and graduating to what she calls “mum-next-door” parts.

“I get the roles Sally Field would play in America,” Weaver says.

That’s what makes Weaver’s turn as the Melbourne mob matriarch in “Animal Kingdom” all the more striking. Playing the bleached-blond Smurf, the sociopath leader of a family of thugs, Weaver fashions a Ma Barker for the 21st century, a monster masquerading as a cheery suburbanite. It’s a role that Sally Field most definitely has never played.

“The temptation was to make her a wicked witch out of a Disney animated movie, but (writer-director David Michod) really held me back,” Weaver, 63, says. “He wanted it to be a gradual realization for the audience to see how bad she really is.”

Weaver’s Smurf has a peculiar way of keeping her sons in line, kissing them on the lips with embraces that last just a little too long, telling them, “I’ve been around a long time, sweetie.”

“It’s a small gesture that speaks reams about the power she has over her sons and the inappropriateness of it,” Weaver says. “They don’t have a handle on appropriate behavior in just about every sphere of life. Yeah, it’s pretty creepy watching those kisses.”

Though, interestingly enough, Weaver adds, not every part of the world found that to be the case.

“Apparently when the film opened in Rome, nobody was a bit phased by the kisses,” Weaver says. “There’s a lot more physical affection in Europe between mothers and sons.”

Weaver is currently performing in the Sydney Theatre Company’s production of Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” opposite Cate Blanchett and Hugo Weaving. It runs through Jan. 1, making it difficult for Weaver to return to the States during award season.

But though she can’t be here in person, Sony Pictures Classics, which distributed “Animal Kingdom” in North America, is making sure Weaver isn’t forgotten, sending out T-shirts adorned with Weaver’s face and the inscription: “You’ve done some bad things, sweetie.”

“They sent me one,” Weaver says, laughing, “but I don’t think I’ll be wearing it to the mall. It’s such a horrible picture.”

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