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Jacki Weaver on Shelly’s loyalty to Donald Sterling




Jacki Weaver on Shelly's loyalty to Donald Sterling

SPOILER ALERT: This article discusses the fourth episode of FX’s “Clipped,” “Winning Ugly,” now streaming on Hulu.

Jacki Weaver had always wanted to play Lady Macbeth. In an interview with The guard, the celebrated Australian actor shared her desire to play the role, with the caveat that because she was in her 70s, she may no longer be in the role. But now, with FX’s “Clipped,” Weaver gets an opportunity that comes close to that: She plays Shelly Sterling, the wife of a modern-day Macbeth, in the power-obsessed, narcissistic land baron Donald Sterling (Ed O’Neill).

Still, the actor is annoyed by the comparison when it is put to her.

‘I went into this thinking that Shelly deserved everything she got – that she was just as bad as him. … But in a way, she is a bit of a victim,” Weaver said in an interview. “Shelly, deep down, really loved Donald, and she put up with all this nonsense from him. I would have killed him.”

This week’s episode of “Clipped” rewinds the timeline of some of the characters and examines their lives years before a viral TMZ tape exposed Clippers owner Donald Sterling’s racist beliefs to the world and engulfed the NBA in scandal. As Shelly begins to distance herself from her husband in 2013, the series follows the Sterlings back to 2006 – a time when their marriage almost failed.

The flashback begins as the two real estate moguls fight a housing discrimination lawsuit. That’s before Donald enters another legal dispute with a former mistress that closely resembles his later relationship with V. Stiviano (Cleopatra Coleman). Tensions between the Sterlings reach a fever pitch and Shelly orders Donald to leave their mansion.

“She was so ashamed of that stage. And she wasn’t someone who was outgoing and wanted to be the center of attention,” Weaver says. “She came from that generation where you were high school sweethearts and you stuck together no matter what. You can understand the humiliation. I would have died if it were me.”

The breakup comes at the insistence of Shelly’s girlfriend, Justine (Harriet Sansom Harris – “one of our best actresses”, according to Weaver). Recently divorced herself, Justine appeals to Shelly’s conscience and offers an optimistic vision of a post-Donald life: “I ditched the bad guy, and I’m here to tell you that life on the other side is much less stressful is.”

“Justine was a true friend and made sure she left,” Weaver said. Then she comes up with a more tempting theory. “I think she had a little crush on Shelly.”

Jacki Weaver, Ed O’Neill and Cleopatra Coleman in ‘Cut’

Of course, Shelly didn’t go through with a divorce. ‘Cut’ sees her continuing to clean up after her husband’s mess (with faithful Justine still by her side). Shelly has become smarter in dealing with her husband’s infidelity, but her wealth and complacency can blind her to the seriousness of some situations. After Donald emerges as a national villain in the media, Shelly eagerly attends a Clippers playoff game, where she is promptly recognized and booed from the stands. After a loss, the players are confronted with the unwelcome sight of the owner’s wife hitching a ride on the team bus and pulling away from her husband. Shelly gives an ignorant smile to all the distraught athletes as they board the plane.

“It was a right thing to do. But she was desperate,” Weaver says. “There’s something sad about it, because her whole life is that team. … She is genuinely shocked when someone calls out that she is racist. She is genuinely hurt when none of the young men talk to her.”

Unlike her co-star Laurence Fishburne’s preparation to play Doc Rivers, Weaver did not meet the person she plays prior to filming “Clipped.” It’s understandable, given the series’ often unflattering portrayal of her. But Weaver still worked on improving her performance, listening and re-listening to tapes of the real Shelly.

“She saw herself as ladylike. She never swore – unlike myself, she never swore,” Weaver says. “And she had a slightly hoarse voice. My voice is usually very light. So I talked into my chest some more. Every now and then I would drink some half and half to get the sound.

‘Clipped’ has received some criticism for casting certain roles, particularly basketball players, with actors who don’t bear enough resemblance to their real-life counterparts. In her own career, Weaver has learned that lesson about playing a figure that audiences may already be familiar with.

“I played a real person in Australia many, many years ago. She had been a friend and she stopped talking to me because she hated the way I played her,” Weaver says. ‘Her mother-in-law stopped me in the supermarket and said, ‘Why did you make her look so ugly?’ I didn’t think so!”

A compatriot Weaver is fond of: her co-star, Cleopatra Coleman. Although their characters are at odds throughout “Clipped,” Weaver has nothing but praise for Coleman’s portrayal of V. Stiviano. It’s a performance that has stuck with her and given her a new perspective on one of her neighbors.

“Cleo gives you empathy for her. That’s an honor for her when she reads it. She knows she’s not all bad either. She’s just a poor woman who came out of nowhere,” Weaver says. “I live in West Hollywood, and she still wanders around with her visor on every now and then. The real one, I mean. Not Cleo.”

The first four episodes of “Clipped” are now streaming on Hulu, with new episodes premiering every Tuesday.