Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Patty Clarkson's 2010 Triple: Cairo Time, Easy A and Shutter Island

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Patty and the NYC premiere
this summer
Earlier this month I met with Patricia Clarkson to discuss another fine year in one of the most pleasurable of modern character actor filmographies. Hers. I was waiting for the right opportunity to share it with you, and since Cairo Time is out on DVD, Academy voters are busy weighing the various Best Actress options, and today is Patty's 51st birthday, it was high time.

Through an unfortunate scheduling snafu I was less prepared when I met her than I am accustomed to being. I apologized with a wee warning that I'd be winging it. I bring this up because, as many of will remember, I have closely clocked her career. She came in at #2 in my 2005 countdown "Actresses of the Aughts" (yes we should revisit that list now that the decade has wrapped) and because I just want to share the unedited transcript. She was just so delightful to talk to. The punctuations and descriptions are my own of course to convey the flavor of the conversation. Happily, she's as vivacious and fun to interview as she is to watch onscreen.

Our conversation started by chatting about the NYC premiere of Cairo Time this past summer.

Nathaniel: Really enjoyed the movie. We didn't get a chance to talk afterwards at the banquet but you seemed very buoyant and happy that evening.

Patty: Yes. It was very nice night and it had been a long journey with the film. So... just up until then my mother and sister were in town. It was just a wonderful night to share it with my friends and my family [pause] ...and strangers.


Nathaniel: Strangers like me sitting at the corner table. But it was wonderful to see you carry a whole movie for change.

Patty: It's a nice thing. It's rare. You know, I've been the female lead in a few things but it's rare to really kind of carry a film -- especially for me but it's even rare for women in general. We're always sharing top billing with somebody, you know what I mean? Or we're often the supporting people. It's beautiful that Ruba [Ruba Nadda the writer/director] wrote a film with a woman, almost 50, in the lead. That's how she wanted it. I'm very thankful to her for that always.

Patricia as Juliette.
Nathaniel: This character ["Juliette" in Cairo Time] has a really slow burn. I mean the character arc is very gradual.

Patty: Very! So gradual. It's really truly one of the most deceptively difficult parts I've ever played in my career. Not only because you're in every frame and you're shooting every day all day. But emotionally, oddly, it was... [her voice trails off thinking of the work]. It's a very, very quarter-inch by quarter-inch slow burn progression.

Nathaniel: In a situation like that do you have to have a lot of trust that the editing, for example, would bear you out since there's not that one scene? If you compare it to something like Far From Heaven where you can play a hairpin turn in the character that's just so devastating.

Patty: Right. Well that's also such a more forward character. This is... she [Ruba] wrote a very passive protagonist -- I found it very beautiful -- a very setback reluctant, for lack of a better world, woman at times. Antithetical to me and often to many characters I've played which are very forward and very gregarious and very present. This is a woman who is reserved, truly reserved. But I still think lovely and approachable in her own way.

Nathaniel: One thing I loved about the movie was the costume design.

Patty: Beautiful dresses, yes.

Nathaniel: They went along with the gradual arc so well. And the resolution of the movie -- those final scenes are just beautifully played.

Patty: Oh, thank you. It's the courage that Ruba had to really trust that those scenes would work, that they'd stay with the film and take this very, very subtle intimate --no bells and whistles! -- film and be around for the end and have the payoff. Most of the people I've seen have gotten it. They took the journey and were moved and transported. So...

Patricia & Alexander Siddig in the final scenes of Cairo Time

Nathaniel: Would you reteam with Alexander Siddig when you could let 'er rip more?

Patty: IN ANYTHING! There will be a sequel to Cairo Time. And it's just me and Alexander on a train. I've already written it. Ruba doesn't know about it but I've written it. And neither does Alexander.

[Much laughter]

Nathaniel: Speaking of actors who you don't get to get to see do leads enough...

Patty: He's such a beautiful stunning man. Ruba's next two projects are with Alexander and me. He's the lead in Ruba's next movie in Jordan, a beautiful story of a man whose daughter goes missing. And Ruba has another film for me that we'll shoot next January, a year from now. It's very exciting.

We're going to keep going with Ruba. [Laughter]

Whatever Patty Works... is magic
Nathaniel: Speaking of writer/directors... you've done two films with Woody Allen.

Patty: Yes, yes. I have high hopes for him; lovely unknown man.

Nathaniel: [laughter]

Patty: You know, it's an actor's dream to work with him and he doesn't disappoint. It was wonderful and I loved those parts that I got to play. Vicky Cristina Barcelona wasn't a large part but what was there was lovely and then Whatever Works was such a delicious divine part.

Nathaniel: You were the highlight.

Patty: Well... (giving credit away) Marietta! It's kind of a part I dreamed of playing, you know, just a big broad great southern lady.

Nathaniel: With Woody, you hear all sorts of contradictory things about him on the set. Some actors say he never speaks to them.

Patty: He's easy going but he's not chatty. This is why I really adore him. It's a very indulgent business; we are coddled and pampered so much. Woody just doesn't do that. It's all about the work. He doesn't care about your personal life. You show up. He wants you to be professional, know your lines, know what you're doing. Do your homework. He shows up and starts shooting at 9 AM, ready to go. He doesn't want drama. He doesn't want any of that. It's all about the work. I love that. I love that way of working.

Nathaniel: When you have to do a part that's heavily exposition as some supporting parts are, like in Shutter Island.

Patty: Yeah?

Nathaniel: How much of a challenge is that? It seems to me, from an outside perspective as I'm not an actor, that that would be both less rewarding and more difficult.

Patty: Well, Yes. At times it can be. But, remember, here I am. I'm working with Martin Scorsese who is divine and Leo... the two of them. They're a match made in heaven and they really make the best of an expositional circumstances. And it actually turned out to be, like, a real ride I had to take with that character and with Leo. And the cave. And my really ugly schmatte dress! And my wig!

[Much laughter]

You know it's like 'AAAAAHHH TROLL LADY!'

"People tell the world you're crazy and all your protests to the
contrary just confirm what they're saying."

It was -- it ended up being surprisingly difficult in good ways. It did challenge me. Leo is a deeply committed and passionate actor. And so is Marty. Both of them are like powerhouses coming at you. There's nothing laid back and cool and simple and easy. It's like [makes whooshing noise]... it's a conducive environment to do good and hopefully great work. It is about about the work also. With great directors, it always is.

Nathaniel:  High Art.

Patty: Great director.

Nathaniel: Lisa Cholodenko is having such a good year.

Patty: Beautiful year, yeah. I just saw her the other night at the Gothams.

Nathaniel: Her first couple movies, like High Art, were heavy and this one is really light and funny.

Patty: Although it's incredibly moving.

Nathaniel: Did you know she had that in her?

Patty: Yes, of course. She's just gifted. Great directors can just do anything. She has a marvelous sense of humor. She's very intelligent and I think she can -- because even in The Kids Are All Right there's pathos. I mean, there is. It's nuanced and hysterically funny but there is, you know,  still depth of emotion that will always be in her work.

Nathaniel: You yourself have a real gift for comedy. One of the things I would love to see you do, if they even made them anymore, is a rapid fire screwball comedy.

Patty: OHMYGOD. I  dream of that. You know,  I dream of standing in a room in a smart sexy suit or sitting on a couch with my legs crossed chatting with George Clooney... rapid fire. Yes! [laughter]

Nathaniel: You get to do little hints of that but I would love a big screwball.

Patty:  I do but I haven't done a kind of great balls-out real romantic comedy.

Tucci & Clarkson with Liza (!) at a Cairo Time event two weeks ago.

Nathaniel: You were a highlight of Easy A this year.
Patty: We had so much fun, Stanley and I.

Nathaniel: You have great chemistry.

Patty: We do. Stanley and I have known each other for so long. We're very close in a really great way. We just have a cool friendship, we do. And we're able to modify it slightly and bring it on as, like, a  married couple or whatever. We can take our friendship and mold it into what we need it to be whether that's for Blind Date or Easy A.

Nathaniel: I find in a lot of movies, a lot of times, the parent/child thing... you can't always see how the child would come from those parents.

Patty: Yes.

Nathaniel: And in that movie. You and Stanley were just -- it's like you genetically gifted all of your humor to her.

Patty: [Laughter]

Easy Mother and Grade A Daughter
Nathaniel: Because she had that same sort of lively...

Patty: Well, she is -- Emma Stone is sublime. You know, I hate this expression but she is a star. She is in the best sense. She's so beautiful and so multi-talented. She can do drama, comedy, action -- she's doing Spider-Man now. She's just really on her way and she should be. She should be. She's one of those new fabulous girls and she deserves to be.

Nathaniel: In terms of your public persona... do you get recognized a lot?

Patty: It depends on the city. If I'm in New York, oh god yes. If I'm in New Orleans oh god yes. In LA , yes. If I'm in Omaha, no. [Laughter]

Nathaniel: You've played such a wide range of roles. What do you think the perception of you is, generally?

Patty: I think it's shifted somewhat. [Reconsidering...] You know, I don't know.

Nathaniel: You don't think they come to you with any preconceived notions?

Patty: No. I think... Like in New York. It's like "oh, we love you. You're a New York actor." It's lovely. They claim me. 'Claim away, honey! As long as I keep working.'

I think people just think of me as, you know, just an actor. They're very flattering and complimentary most of the time. I'm trying to think -- I  don't think anybody has ever come up to me and said "I don't like you" but there's always tomorrow.


Nathaniel: One of my favorite parts of yours in Elegy.

Patty: Ohhhh, Isabel Coixet. Look at the extraordinary directors I've worked with! She's a stunning woman. She speaks five languages. She's a genius. She's one of the smartest people I've ever met and I have really smart friends. Like Rich Greenberg who is a genius. But she's one of a kind. I love that film. It's kind of taken on a different life, a new -- well, it doesn't have a cult following exactly but I have had a lot more people talking to me about it now than when it came out.

Nathaniel: It's one of your fullest characters I think. You were just giving us a lot of information about the character's life in a handful of scenes. Are there any other roles you wish would be rediscovered?

Patty:  You know, I wish more people would see Blind Date. I know it's not for everybody but I love that film. I don't know if you've seen it?

Nathaniel: ... that one I haven't so I'm a little embarrassed that that's the one you name-check.[Laughter]

Patty: Noooo. You'll see it at some point. You can rent it. I hope people rediscover that. That's the one I hope for.

Nathaniel: I think the first time I saw you in a lead was [forgetting...] oh god...

Patty: The Dying Gaul.

Nathaniel: The Dying Gaul!

Patty's first top billing

Patty: Beautiful film. [Craig Lucas] is a sublime man. Deeply gifted, beautiful writer, and beautiful eye. He should be writing and directing. It's a wonderful film and that's been discovered in some ways. More people have seen it and say 'I love that movie... it's got that strange title...'

Nathaniel: Yeah, you had to prompt me too.

Patty: Yeah. But oh that white bikini. oh my god. [embarrassed high voice] WHOOOOO!!!

[laughter break]

Nathaniel: What's next for you Patty?

Patty: Not a white bikini !!!

[more laughter]

Nathaniel: Oh come on, you look pretty great in that dress in Cairo Time.

Patty: Beautiful dresses. What's next for me? I just did another movie with the Easy A director. This is a movie starring Mila Kunis and Justin Timberlake [Friends With Benefits]. And a small part in Lone Scherfig's new movie called One Day starring Anne Hathaway and Jim Sturgess. I play Jim's dying mother. It's me doing British which is very intimidating in front of entire British cast and crew. I thought 'oh my god  I am going to be dying by the end of this character.' 

But it's good to be frightened at 50 and it's good that people keep upsetting the apple cart.

Nathaniel: It was a pleasure to talk to you.  Thanks for bearing with me.

Patty: You didn't seem to be winging it.

Nathaniel: Well I've been watching since High Art.

Patty at the New Yorker Festival in October.

And with that we said our goodbyes.

Did you see Patty's triple this year? It's actually a quadruple as she had a role in Legendary but that one, alas, slipped by me. Which was your favorite of her recent roles? If you haven't seen Cairo Time, queue it up. But just make sure to turn off your phones. It's one of those movies that requires your full attention, all the better to appreciate Patty's careful modulation of that slow burn arc.

But then, you should always pay close attention to Patty's work. She rewards audiences again and again.

Leonardo DiCaprio Stanley Tucci



par3182 said...

at least you didn't blurt "kim basinger" when she mentioned blind date

excellent work; i'm sure actors must love being interviewed by you

OtherRobert said...

Really interesting interview. I've barely seen any of the films you two discuss (only Shutter Island, Far From Heaven, and Vicky Cristina Barcelona) but you make me want to see them all. I know you were winging it, but it was great to see an interview that didn't mention Pieces of April. That would have been an obvious place to go thanks to that Oscar nomination and the interview is richer for not taking the obvious route.

Michael said...

She's fun! And if she did a screwball comedy with Clooney with the rapid fire dialogue I would literally melt. That's a new fantasy/obsession, so thanks for that!

ChrisD said...

Wonderful interview Nathaniel thank you. When is she going to win her Oscar? I am getting a bit impatient. She is SO deserving. Cairo Time hasn't been released in the UK yet but my favourite Patty film is The Station Agent-she was brilliant as always. She was also genius in my fave TV show Six Feet Under(&rightly rewarded with two Emmys). Could someone cast her&Meryl as sisters in a great drama?

Robert Hamer said...

I remember the first time I really noticed her in a film, was Far From Heaven. The only thought running through my head during her big scene, when she shows her true colors to her dearest friend Cathy, was "Oh my god, who IS this woman?!?"

I've been a fan ever since.

Jonathon said...

Where's this woman's Oscar? IT'S CATHY'S BEST FRIEND, DAMMIT!

/3rtfu11 said...

Patricia Clarkson is so undervalued – she’s our Judy Davis without the real life bitchiness. – Great interview, love.

Bryan said...

I would love to see Patty wrestle with a Melissa-Leo-in-The-Fighter kind of role. I think she could blow it out of the water. And maybe Oscar would notice...?

And yeah, her scene in Far From Heaven was devastating (in a good way).

fbh said...

Thank you so much for this interview (and that it!). I have such a crush on this woman. Her talent and beauty just permeates through the screen.

Happy Birthday, Patty!

I've been following this woman since High Art and I can't get enough. Please watch Blind Date, it is fantastic! Not for everyone, but worth the watch. Plus, more Stanley Tucci chemistry. I agree that her character in Elegy is one of my favorites.

Just to add in one more role that wasn't mentioned in this interview: THE STATION AGENT, such subtlety and restraint, I still want to know more about this character.

fbh said...

Had to come back to add how enchanting she was on the few episodes she did of Frasier, especially the very last one when she's cooking for Frasier's father, Martin. She tells a really corny joke, but gives it that coy, coquettish delivery that she has mastered over the years.

James T said...

Very enjoyable interview. She proved herself to be lovely once again.

Caden said...

They never give her enough screen time. I think that's why one of my favorite roles of hers was as Ruth's batshit sister on Six Feet Under, since she could play a recurring character.

joy said...

Great interview. I just watched "Cairo Time" yesterday without knowing it was her birthday. It's now my fave performance of Patty and one of my three fave performances of year. I really want to see he reteam with Alexander Siddig.

AnthonyDC said...

I met her at MGM's 2003 holiday party. Such a modest, charming, and kind woman in-person. She seemed on the Oscar cusp a little while ago... I hope it comes back.

lylee2 said...

What a great interview, and what a lovely woman.

It's looking more and more as if "Cairo Time" will be my #1 movie of the year, something I would never have predicted. (The only film that could possibly displace it is "Somewhere," which I'm seeing later today.) She and Alexander Siddig were just *such* a pleasure to watch together, and the last few scenes moved me immeasurably. They both deserve Oscar nominations which, sadly, they have no chance of getting.

Anonymous said...

Patricia Clarkson = LIFE

Kurtis O said...

Delicious. I imagine that if I were to interview her, I'd be incapable of NOT smiling. Even reading this, I was all grins.

Tom Steele said...

She's one of my three favorite living actresses--consistently interesting, always has a real grasp of her character. She can do no wrong. Great interview, Nat!

Anonymous said...

Great Interview. I wish Stanley Tucci got Patty in that movie he's doing with Meryl and Tina Fey. Patty could be Meryl's sister, and Lisa Kudrow could be Meryl's daughter or something like that.
Make it happen, people.


/3rtfull -- interesting comparison Judy Davis & Patty.

robert -- yeah, she's phenomenal in that role. But you must see High Art.

George P. said...

Ooh, I became a big fan of hers this year because of Cairo Time. I think the first movie I can recall seeing her in was either The Station Agent or Pieces of April. She really did have a great one this year (although I haven't seen Legendary), and I plan on catching some of her earlier films (such as High Art and The Dying Gaul) soon.

I managed to catch Whatever Works and Blind Date (it was available for free on Sundance On Demand earlier this year) this year as well, and those just added to the wonderfulness of Ms. Clarkson in my mind. =)