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Patricia Clarkson Talks New Projects, “Motherlover,” Lars von Trier And The “Perks” Of The Movie Business

Patricia Clarkson Talks New Projects, "Motherlover," Lars von Trier And The "Perks" Of The Movie Business

The very first thing we heard Patricia Clarkson say, at the opening press conference given by the jury of the 2013 Marrakech Film Festival, was that at that point in the proceedings, all they had actually been doing was drinking. At which the collected luminaries including Jury president Martin Scorsese, Marion Cotillard, Park Chan-Wook, Paolo Sorrentino, Fatih Akin and Amat Escalante all laughed, somewhat sheepishly, and everyone kind of relaxed. 

Clarkson, outside her reputation as a versatile and completely committed performer, has that rare and welcome ability to laugh at herself and the world, and it makes her, as we discovered when we met her, an almost flirtatiously charming interviewee. Along with a small group of international journalists last week, we had the pleasure of chatting to Clarkson about the “perks” of her job, spanking her fellow jurors, her upcoming roles and what exactly she thought of Lars Von Trier-gate at Cannes two years ago.

So after a week of watching small art films back-to-back, have you still any love for cinema?
Hah, well you do begin to question… because you’re inundated! But I get to see all these new actors and directors and it moves me. And the jury… juries take on their own dynamic. I’ve previously done London, Sundance and Tribeca, so it’s always unique, but this has been a great jury. Everyone is very respectful and quite poetic! There are a lot of poets on this jury. [She is particularly asked about fellow juror Fatih Akin, the Turkish/German director] Oh, I love him, he’s like a boy! I feel like you have to school him, you have to spank him–he’s fabulous. Passionate and rambunctious and everything great directors are.

You have famously never married, not had children, yet many of your roles cast you in that light…
It’s all I ever play, because everyone my age is either married or divorced! …My parents married 61 years ago, and I’ve had strong relationships, like marriages in their way, but it’s not for me. No pressure for marriage or children, I think I was born without that gene. I knew it at a young age.

But I actually just had an extraordinary experience playing a mother–to Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer–in “Learning to Drive.” The movie is me and Ben Kingsley, and we just finished shooting it and hope to have it ready by Berlin. It’s directed by Isabel Coixet, a beautiful story by Katha Pollitt that was published in the New Yorker ten years ago. And I’ve tried to get this made for the last 8 years…it’s about a middle aged woman, a book critic, a hardcore New York intellectual whose husband walks out on her. But it’s very funny and moving and she learns to drive (New Yorkers don’t drive!). It’s really about a woman learning to love and be alive in a different world. It’s very funny and Ben Kingsley is… perfect.

Whether or not the women you play are married, there’s a wealth of diversity in your work. What criteria do you look for when choosing your projects?
I think it usually begins with the part or the filmmaker. I’ve been willing to do small parts, but if the script moves me, makes me laugh or takes me to a place I do — or don’t! — want to go… I’ve worked with so many different filmmakers at this point in my life, so I never know where I’m going.

And it’s why it’s been very hard for me to commit to a TV series. I did “Six Feet Under” and everyone assumed I was a regular on that, but I never had a contract. I did six episodes in four years, and I’d get a call asking am I free on some date, and I’d make myself available– very like a film project–because the writing was extraordinary. I don’t like schedules, I don’t like to know where I’m going.

Speaking of your television roles, can we expect a return of Tammy One to “Parks and Recreation”?

Oh God! If they can bear her! You never know. With TV you can never tell if you’ll get that call. You hope to go back. They’re all geniuses on that show, starting with Amy Poehler, and Nick Offerman— they’re the most gifted group of comedians I’ve ever been in a room with. Ever, in my life ever. The. Whole. Crowd. But it’s not home to me, the half-hour sitcom. I’m not that, I’m not funny that way, they have the facility for that, they all seem to have the born with that. But I loved being there: it’s a thing to behold and I just soaked it all in.

Surely you know you’ve been pretty funny in the past?
Oh, I can be funny in a different context, and I hope “Learning to Drive” is funny and I’ve done comedy — “The Station Agent,” “Pieces of April” — but I guess that’s a darker humor.

And how about the Lonely Island “Motherlover” video?
Ha! Oh, it was great for me, to get a call to be in this video with Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake and Susan Sarandon–it’s a follow up to “Dick in a Box,” which I loved. It’s tame in its own way, but we had a great time doing it, I really like Andy Samberg and I went on to work with Justin in “Friends with Benefits,” and I got to “see all of him”… There are perks in this business: he’s a beautiful man. Anyway it went viral, 50 billion hits or something! I’m proud of it. It’s funny and insightful and well crafted in its own insane way. It’s great to just step out of my own milieu, my own cozy little place and just say, “What the hell?”

There’s a Scandinavian focus here this year and you have worked with both Lone Scherfig [“One Day”] and Lars von Trier [“Dogville”]
But they are very different people and different directors. I had a wonderful time with each one of them and it took me on a journey, each film… and, of course Lars is Lars. It’s a complicated thing, to speak of him. [We ask about the Von Trier Cannes scandal from 2011] I think it’s horrible and unfortunate. And they were right. Cannes was right. He cannot speak that way; its sinful. He can’t, its sinful and they did the right thing. Sadly.

Outside of “Learning to Drive” you’re also involved in YA adaptation “The Maze Runner”?
Yes, they’re kinda cool — 3 installments and I’m really more in the following movies, so I just come in at the end of this one. I’ve just come in as this Machiavellian mastermind with really great hair, and an amazing lab coat and she’s just… ice. It’s a nice character, we’ll see where it goes.

And what else will be occupying you 2014?
Well, I did this film called “Cairo Time” with Ruba Nadda, who’s a Canadian director of Palestinian/Syrian descent and the next film I do with her is called “October Gale,” with a female lead character. It’s antithetical to… a very different character than the one I played in “Cairo Time”–it’s an acton film, it’s tough and we start shooting April 1st in the hills of Toronto. We have, oh, I can’t say yet but two beautiful actors: one very famous but his deal is not made, and one very hot up-and-coming actor. Perks!

And I may do something in February, but I’m not signed on yet. And then I do “The Elephant Man” on Broadway, which I did with Bradley Cooper a summer and a half ago and finally, also with Alessandro Nivola — he plays the doctor, I play Mrs Kendall — all three of our schedules have worked and we go up in September.

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