Jacqueline McKenzie

Australia’s much loved leading lady talks musicals, movies and Russel Crowe's "goofy" side


The Water Diviner actress is more than a little bit smitten with her director and co-star, Russel Crowe. And who can blame her? After only six days at the box-office, Russel’s directorial debut was hailed the highest grossing Australian film of 2014 and has since taken in an impressive $14 million in ticket sales. The World War I drama has also scooped up 9 AACTA award nominations, including best film, best original screenplay and best lead actor.

We recently sat down with Jacqueline to chat about her childhood love of musicals (and Barbra Streisand), her turn in the director’s seat and just how “easy on the eyes” Russel really is.

Coming from a family of lawyers, what drew you to acting?

At the age of about seven, I found a love of singing. I would sing along to my mum’s record collection, which just so happened to be Shirley Bassey, early Barbra Streisand, Maria Muldaur and Melanie Safka. The songs just happened to be all so dramatic! You could hear the tears in their voices, the rage, the fun… I sung along to those songs on a loop. Then, the West End original recording of EVITA arrived… [and] Les Misérables followed that. The character singing was always telling a story. Without knowing it, I was acting from a very, very young age (and I’m still a big fan of musicals!).

Your role as Eliza in The Water Diviner – a mother grieving the loss of her three sons – must have been emotionally demanding. How did you prepare to play her?

Russell and I met, talked about the world, exchanged research and rehearsed the scenes. He shared his vision with us all, was very clear, and very specific – like the best directors out there. The read-through was key for me. It moves the process from a cerebral one to an active one – allowing instincts to kick in. It’s a chance to hear all the different voices, feel the pace of the piece, and give us a really good sense of what we’re in and how we, as actors, can best serve the story.  The read through with Russell was amazing. Almost everyone was there [and] it was moving, funny and warm – a great launching pad for us all.

The Water Diviner saw you re-united with Russell Crowe 23 years after you appeared together in Romper Stomper. Was it just like old times?

I loved being on set with Russell. He’s a truly great actor, he has command [and] he’s a great storyteller – he was 23 years ago and he is now. He’s also very easy on the eye, and that hasn’t changed either. He’s funny in that burst-out-loud-laughing kind of way. He’s goofy and dry at the same time. He’s super intelligent, [and] has a kind of sixth sense with people and how they tick (be afraid!). If anything has changed (and I think this is a change in me, not Russell, I’m more relaxed these days!) it’s that I find him much funnier in person than I did way back then. He is one funny, funny man. Oh, and he played Javert! And he sings in musicals. What’s not to like?

We hear you’re donning a director cap for the upcoming feature, King: A Street Story – any chance you’d follow in Russel’s footsteps to act in and direct a film?

Maybe I’ll play a small role in it. But there are other actors out there more suited to lead roles than I am! I want to best serve the story. Russell was the perfect choice for Connor, whether he directed it or not. His heart is in every frame. Watching him direct and being directed by him was very inspiring. He surrounded himself with an extraordinary crew, he trusted them with his vision and together they worked tirelessly to realise it.  And I loved that he cast Bastoni in a Turkish speaking role. Steve Bastoni rocks.


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