Patricia Clarkson

Patricia Clarkson

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!

That was my first Patricia Clarkson experience, and I was
hooked. It was one of my favorite nights in the
theater, especially with your rages onstage and
the way you burst out with
“F-f-f-f-f-uck!” as if your whole
body was possessed by that word. So I was very happy
when on a recent Six Feet Under Sarah, your
character, was a little drunk and at one moment
just blurts out really loud, “Fuck!” And I
thought, Oh, there it is. That’s the
“fuck!” I’ve been waiting for since
Raised in Captivity!
Sarah on Six Feet Under shared several traits
with Raised in Captivity lady: volatile,
unpredictable. Yeah. Definitely.

I keep all the Patricia Clarkson episodes of Six Feet
on my TiVo because they’re the
most lively.

[Laughs] Well, you know, [Six Feet
executive producer] Jill Soloway, she wrote
the episode that I did early on, and she just wrote a
hell of an episode for me, you know? I just kind of had
to show up, and she just wrote this beautiful
episode—funny, and you know, she’s just
a wonderful, wonderful writer.

Sarah is the crazy sister that it’s nice to have
visit, but you don’t want to have her
living in your house.
Yeah, you really don’t. So I would just kind of
pop in here and there and cause havoc and leave.

Since you’ve worked with some of our greatest
contemporary openly gay playwrights, I wanted to
ask: Who’s more eccentric, Nicky Silver or Craig Lucas?

Oh, wow. That’s the $64,000
question—million-dollar question these days.

OK, then. So tell me a fun Nicky Silver story and then a
Craig Lucas story.

Oh, there are just too many. They have similar
qualities. They’re both passionate and
high-strung like me. I think that’s why we get on. So
there is a cross-section there. But they definitely have
their own [laughs] set of quirks. And you know,
these enormous strengths. I love them both dearly. I
have no objectivity when it comes to them because I
just adore them and have so much admiration, and having now
done quite a few Nicky Silver plays and this movie with
Craig, I don’t know. I just can’t be
objective about them. I just love them.

Had you not met Craig before you did the movie?
Well, I knew him just through the New York theater, but
I didn’t have the relationship with him that I
have now.

The reason I put them together is because I always get
the impression from both of their plays, and now
Craig’s movie, that they just have a
completely different way of looking at the world, that
the world they live in is somehow much more
interesting than the world that I live in.

Definitely. And they’re very different
worlds. The Craig Lucas world, of course, is very
different from the Nicky Silver world. But it would be
interesting to cross those two, to
put—hmmm—Craig Lucas’s characters in
Nicky Silver’s world. They might explode.

I think they would.
They are unique. They have truly their own voice. And no
one else has it. And it remains theirs, and I value
their voices deeply. I was just talking to Nicky the
other night—he has this way of capturing the comedic
and the tragic, the comedic and the poignant, in a single

Exactly. The Dying Gaul also has something in
common with Six Feet Under, in that both
are dealing with the fact that we’re all
mortal and somehow have to face up to that fact. Did
doing The Dying Gaul make you think about
the afterlife and what might be awaiting us on the
other side?

[Meekly] I hope it’s good.

One more movie we have to talk about: We always think of
you as being the cool, hip actress in the cool,
hip roles, and then Todd Haynes’s Far
From Heaven
comes out and you’re the prude.

I know! Yes. That is really me. [Laughs]
No! [Quietly] As I lift my skirt over my

Was Eleanor based on anyone you know?
She’s clearly a character I differ from greatly,
but that of course is why you want to do it, and to
act with Julianne Moore, and get to know Todd, who is
remarkable. I was just thrilled to be a part of that film.

And you got to wear all of those great dresses!
Oh, please. The clothes were crazy. And you know, they
define you, and they do a lot of the work for you. It
was just one of those great experiences.

I think Eleanor needs to meet Greta.
Oh, if Eleanor could meet Greta—oh, my
God! Oh, divine—if Eleanor could meet Greta.

That’s what we need to do: Get all of our great
gay writers together to combine all of those great
Patricia Clarkson roles and write one play. And
you can play all of the parts.

Yes. [Laughs] O-o-oh!

Anything you want to tell Advocate readers about
Good Night, and Good Luck [which is
about the downfall of 1950s red-baiting Senator
Joseph McCarthy]?

No, just, it’s a beautiful film.
It’s interesting that it’s going to be
coming out just as [Congress is] about to vote on the
Patriot Act.

Because as we all know, McCarthy was not just looking for
Communists—he was also looking for homosexuals.

And you know, I think we have to remember the
past so we don’t repeat it. I hate to say it,
but it’s an important film, and I’m incredibly
proud to be a part of it. It’s a beautiful,
elegant, eloquent film.

Any of the films
we haven’t talking about that you think
Advocate readers should go out and rent on DVD
right away? I really loved The Safety of
[written and directed by out filmmaker
Rose Troche], and I think it’s a film that people
should rent. I just think it’s a great
character study, and A.M. Homes [who wrote the
short-story collection on which the film is based] is one of
the greatest writers in our country today. I think
it’s just a wonderful, evocative film, and
maybe it didn’t get its due.

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