Scroll To Top

Patricia Clarkson

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 Untouchables? 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.

Any 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 Under on my TiVo because they're the most lively. [Laughs] Well, you know, [Six Feet Under 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. [Silence]

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. [Laughs]

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 moment.

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 head...

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 Objects [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.

30 Years of Out100Out / Advocate Magazine - Jonathan Groff & Wayne Brady

From our Sponsors

Most Popular

Latest Stories Editors