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Parker Posey on ‘Price Check,’ Sundance and the State of Independent Film

Parker Posey on 'Price Check,' Sundance and the State of Independent Film

Parker Posey is clearly no stranger to the Sundance Film Festival. Over the years, films like “Party Girl,” “The House of Yes” and “Broken English” all made their debuts in Park City, helping Posey gain her unofficial title as the “queen of indie.”

She’s back again this year with Michael Walker’s “Price Check,” where she takes on a monster of a character in Susan, an intensely ambitious new boss in the marketing department of a grocery store chain. Susan wreaks havoc on the life of Pete (Eric Mabius), a family man struggling to balance work and home while making enough money to support his wife and son. It’s yet another great role for Posey, who characteristically nails the film’s mix of dark comedy and of-the-times drama.

The ever-charming actress sat down with Indiewire the day after “Price Check” premiered to talk about the film, her relationship to Sundance, the state of independent filmmaking and why it’s not always be great to be the “queen of indie.”

So how many Sundances is this?

You know what, I haven’t counted. I think maybe seven or eight. I think?

Over how many years?

I’d say 16 years.

What stands out to you as having changed the most over that time?

It’s so different. Our culture has changed so much since the early ’90s, you know?

And so has this festival.

This festival brought in the popularity of other festivals, you know? So now in the independent cinema when you used to just go to the theater to see indie films, now there’s kind of a movement of different festivals popping up in different cities. You go with your friends, you go volunteer… There’s how many volunteers, 1,200?

Something like that.

It’s an experience to share with a group of people, which is pretty cool.

I’ve always likened it to summer camp.

Yeah, or Burning Man! I just have this really funny image of all the volunteers having this other experience. Something close to what Burning Man is [laughs]. But seriously, there was this woman I met yesterday in a kitchen backstage. This is her sixth year coming here. She’s in her sixties, she had grey hair with a purple streak. She’s made friends. It’s a whole scene. You guys have your own scene, and the actors do, too. And I was on a jury a couple years ago and that was a whole other thing. It really feels like an institute, which it is.

You’re here this year with “Price Check.”

Yes. And it comes back to my beginning because it’s a real independent movie. It’s less than $1 million. It took 18 days to shoot. I think to do a proper independent movie, in my experience, it takes 22 or 23 days to shoot. That was “Party Girl” or “House of Yes.” But now with the digital camera, the budgets have gotten smaller and the days have gotten shorter.

How does that affect your process? Digital camera or not, acting stays the same.

I think when you work like this, it’s very risky. But I just thought the script was so good. It’s compelling. It’s about grown-ups. It says something about our culture. It says something about men and women. It has a singular voice of a writer and a director. He had this idea because his all of his friends were turning 40 and having to make compromises in their lives… Okay, I have to compromise. I have kids. I have to support my family and what my wife wants.

While Eric Mabius’ character represents those issues, your character is almost the opposite of that. She refuses to compromise and is intensely and selfishly ambitious.

There are roles out there and women out there that are fascinating to me and there are things in our culture that I see that I want to express. It’s my passion to express that. I wanted to look what’s happened in our culture and look at these women and look at what they get away with. What does a woman in power look like? And this character is great in a lot of ways. She’s getting what she wants, but what kind of person is she on the inside? I was talking about this in the Q&A last night, but I was talking to people about their bosses in these high-power jobs and their corporate jobs. And people talk about their bosses having personality disorders. Whether it’s depression or bipolar…

They almost have to give up their entire life outside of it.

It becomes their life. It became my character’s life. She makes it her life and defines herself by that. She’s in a fantasy. That’s another thing that’s so much fun to play: A full-blown narcissist.

These kind of roles seem much more present within the indie film world. You’ve done both  studio films and indie films; do you prefer the latter because of the larger variety of roles for women?

I’m trying to work in studio movies, but they won’t hire me. I get feedback from my agent saying, ‘She’s too much of an indie queen.’ And then on the other side, my name doesn’t get the financing to do a movie over $1 million. And I’m called ‘the indie queen.’ So it’s really a challenging path because I know so much about the indie side of the business. Because I grew up in it. It’s like I’m back in junior high here at Sundance. There’s John Cooper and Trevor Groth and we all grew up together, you know? But it’s different times. And this stuff gets projected onto me. People are like, ‘You’re here every year, you do so many indie movies.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I did ‘Broken English’ five years ago.’ It’s just not the same. Our culture’s not the same.  Independent film and the way people go to the movies in the theater. Maybe it got oversatuated. I don’t know, what do you think?

I think that definitely is a part of it. It’s also a very different economy.

The mystique has been lost, I think. There’s a lot of copying.

What’s your strategy with coping with these changes?

You manage your attachments and your expectations and you’re just grateful for having a job and that you’re sustaining yourself in these times that are in trouble.

Well, perhaps things will evolve into something more positive.

It has to. I think people are upset. I don’t want my movie to be judged on how much money it makes. This is a great country. Where are those values of those pioneers? Where are those values? They aren’t in the film industry anymore. Where’s the responsibility? The arts aren’t subsidized. You see what the culture focuses on and it’s disturbing. As easy as it is to be nostalgic in these times and come here and bemoan the old indie days…

You’re hosting the Sundance Awards this weekend. Are you excited about that?

I really am. I just know what a special time it is for filmmakers to have their movie here. But isn’t it crazy that there’s so much talent and people can make these incredible movies and we may not see them? I hope that the internet becomes a new way to curate these movies somehow.

What are you working on next?

I know, really. You’re like, ‘Don’t be such a downer, Parker.’ I am gonna do the Louis CK show at the end of February. I love him. I can’t wait. Then I’m doing a play that starts at Yale Rep in March. And yeah, I’m looking for a paying job.

I’m sure it will work out.

I hope so! It has so far. I’m blessed.

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