Animal Kingdom features an outstanding ensemble cast portraying characters that run the gamut of the moral compass from Australian acting icon, Jacki Weaver, who plays Smurf, the deceptively sunny matriarch of the family, to international screen star, Guy Pearce, who plays an honest detective seeking justice for a cold blooded murder, to 17-year-old James Frecheville making his big screen debut as “J,” the naïve young nephew who moves in with his estranged family and finds himself in a world that is far larger and more menacing than he could ever imagine.
We sat down with Jacki recently at a roundtable interview to talk about her villainous performance in Animal Kingdom. A highly respected stage and screen actor with a slew of industry awards, she has been at the forefront of the Australian entertainment industry for over four decades, both on screen and on stage, and has starred in many seminal Australian films including Picnic at Hanging Rock. Jacki talked to us about why the moral ambiguity of her character makes it such an interesting story, what it was like working with David Michod, and how she kept it real, shifting effortlessly between normal, sweet and lovable one moment to monstrously cold and callous the next.
Welcome to the Melbourne underworld, where tensions are building between dangerous criminals and equally dangerous police. In Animal Kingdom, a menacing character-driven crime drama written and directed by David Michod, the Wild West is being played out on the city’s streets in a modern version of gangsters versus renegade cops. Following the death of his mother, 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) goes to live with his estranged family – a deceptively sunny grandmother, Smurf (Jacki Weaver), her hardened criminal sons, Pope (Ben Mendelsohn), Craig (Sullivan Stapleton) and Darren (Luke Ford), and Pope’s business partner, Barry ‘Baz’ Brown (Joel Edgerton). Before long, he finds himself naively navigating his way through this criminal world caught between family loyalties and the police who want his uncles dead or alive, including a senior cop (Guy Pearce) who attempts to lure “J” into the police fold.
We sat down with James and Sullivan to talk about their new film. James told us what it was like playing the young and impressionable “J” and to be cast opposite such an established Australian cast for his feature film debut. Sullivan, who plays the speed-addicted and volatile Craig Cody, described how he was attracted to the project by the caliber of script and cast and how he collaborated with Michod and his fellow actors to work out the unusual family dynamics and idiosyncratic behavior of his character.
Animal Kingdom evolved over a nine-year period inspired by writer/director David Michod’s fascination with the colorful, criminal landscape of Melbourne and a strong desire to film the city in a way that it’s rarely viewed. The film tells the story of 17-year-old Joshua “J” Cody (James Frecheville) who, following the death of his mother, must navigate his survival between a violent criminal family (Ben Mendelsohn, Joel Edgerton, Luke Ford, Jacki Weaver, Sullivan Stapleton) and the detective (Guy Pearce) who thinks he can save him.
Winner of the Grand Jury Prize for World Cinema at the 2010 Sundance Film Festival, Animal Kingdom is smartly written, confidently directed, and features an outstanding ensemble cast. We sat down with David to talk about his new movie. He told us what inspired him to write the sprawling, multi-layered Australian crime story, how he assembled such a top-notch cast, and why it was important to make a crime film that took itself seriously and had a genuine and palpable sense of menace running through it.