Patricia Clarkson

She seduced us as a German lesbian junkie in High Art, upbraided us as a prudish neighbor in Far From Heaven, and made us giddy as eccentric Aunt Sarah in Six Feet Under. Now she’s messing with our minds as the wife of an unfaithful bisexual in The Dying Gaul. We caught up with the New Orleans native after she returned from a visit to her recovering hometown



Patricia Clarkson: You know I’m from New
Orleans. I was just down there seeing my family. I
went down there for a week. I went from the Venice
film festival to New Orleans. It was like two floating
cities. I was like [spoken with nervous laughter],
“Oh, my God.” It was an odd occurrence.

The Advocate: What was it like being back there?

It was devastating but also comforting to see
them, and they’re all fine. I have a very
extended family down there— aunts, uncles, cousins,
nieces, nephews—but they’re all alive.
Some of them have suffered; some of my cousins and my
aunts have lost everything. But my immediate family, they
suffered some damage to their houses and they’re
displaced, but they’re alive and OK, you know.
It’s heartbreaking and fills me with rage at
times that it took so long for our government to show up.

What was your sense of the spirit of the city?
My mother’s councilwoman of the French Quarter,
of District C, so my mother probably [works] longer
hours than anyone I’ve ever known in my life,
and that spirit is still in her. She’s 70 and
you’d think she was 25. The city is her life,
it is her blood. She bleeds New Orleans. She’s
like, “We’re going to get this French Quarter
up and running. We’re going to get people back
into the homes”—you know what I mean? And I
think that [spirit] is there. I met with a lot of cops
and fire workers and EMS and just people that were
around the city. And you know, people love the city
and they want it back. And so, hopefully, it will come back
sooner than later.

We think that gay folks have a special relationship with
the city and that the city has a special
relationship with its gay folks.

Oh, definitely. My mother was just honored by
the gay association down there. New Orleans has a very
large gay community. It’s just a wonderful,
integrated city.

Everybody is just a part of the scenery in New Orleans.
Everybody. You know, I’m in New York.
I’m a big old liberal, and I love New York,
it’s a great city, but New Orleans is the most
integrated city I’ve ever been in in my life.
It is truly a diverse city, and it really, really
honors it and celebrates it. That’s not to say there
aren’t troubles—it’s not
perfect—but it’s a real strength of the city.
If I weren’t an actor, I’d probably be
still living there. [Laughs]

Speaking of acting: Let’s talk about where your
big gay following probably starts, which is
High Art. Did a lot of people think you
were a German lesbian heroin addict after that movie
came out?

Yes, some people. And I thought to myself,
Don’t people remember me as Mrs. Ness in The
? And then I realized, Well, probably
not. [Laughs]

They aren’t very similar, Mrs. Ness and Greta from
High Art.
No. It was odd to me that some people thought that I was
this German actress that they had hired for the movie.
[But] you know, I am malleable, and it was flattering.

interesting encounters with lesbian fans?

Many. Many. Yes, it was incredible. It was
absolutely joyous. And flattering—deeply
flattering. And not only was I able to be a part of
this beautiful film, I have [out writer-director] Lisa
Cholodenko now as a very dear friend and someone I
hope to work with the rest of my life.

Your first film role, in The Untouchables, was as
a wife, and you’re playing someone’s
wife in both Good Night, and Good Luck and
in The Dying Gaul. But really, you’re
never just playing the wife. You’re always
like the wife with the twist.

Yes. That’s hopefully why I do the parts.
And certainly in Dying Gaul, Elaine is not just
a wife. [Out playwright and screenwriter] Craig Lucas
is just a masterful writer. This character is so
complicated—it’s really probably one of the
most complicated characters I’ve ever played.

It’s very hard to figure out what’s going
on in her mind.
And that’s kind of why I wanted to do
it—other than the obvious, that it’s a
great script with great people involved. It unsettles
me—that’s always just where I like to
be, you know, what I like to do.

It’s a major twist in the film that you seduce
Peter Sarsgaard via instant-message chat on a
computer, pretending to be his dead male lover
speaking from the other side. But in real life you
don’t even have a computer. Why is that?

Oh, you know, I have a cell phone, an answering
machine, a fax, voice mail—it’s just
enough to answer to right now. I have access to use other
people’s computers if I need something desperately,
but I just kind of can’t handle another piece
of technology. I don’t know why. I like a fax.
I like to make a phone call. And that’s what I like.
[Pauses] Eleanor [her very proper character
from Far From Heaven, set in the 1950s] would
be very proud.

I noticed that Dying Gaul had been produced
onstage at the Vineyard Theatre in New York City,
and it was at the Vineyard that I saw you do Nicky
Silver’s play Raised in Captivity in the
mid 1990s, with Anthony Rapp.

Oh, my God! You saw me in Nicky’s play!

Tags: Commentary