SCOTT SIMON, HOST:
A lot of men might like to get a letter from Mary-Louise Parker. She's written more than 30 to some of the men who've been important in her life - grandfather she never got the chance to know, her childhood priest, a Hollywood accountant, a man who will one day love her daughter. They're all in a new book, "Dear Mr. You." This is the first book by Mary-Louise Parker, the Emmy, Obie and Tony Award-winning actress, who joins us from New York. Thanks so much for being with us.
MARY-LOUISE PARKER: Thank you for having me.
SIMON: The book begins with a very powerful letter that has a matchless salutation, Dear Daddy.
PARKER: My father - he was bigger than - and is bigger than life to me. And he loved words, and we used to send poems back and forth in the mail and go and sit in bookstores together and talk about books and read books. And he informs everything I do, everything I say, really.
He was my hero. He still is.
SIMON: Do you hear him?
PARKER: I do. I picture him. When I got the hard copies of this book, I put it in the closet. I just couldn't really bear to open it because I felt like if he can't see it, I almost didn't want to see it myself. And then I finally opened it, and, you know, when you're so connected to someone you just know in your bones exactly what they would say or what they would do or their face, in repose, how it would sort of reflect back at you what you'd done. And I got to see that, and it made me - it really fortified me, even though I couldn't physically hand it to him.
SIMON: He was a soldier in the Pacific.
PARKER: He was a veteran of three wars - Korea, Vietnam and World War II, he was.
SIMON: And did he brim with, I think in your letter you called them, if only's.
PARKER: He was constantly dreaming and constantly thinking of other people and how he could do things for other people and make them happy. And he thought like a writer. He thought like a poet, and he was pretty magical.
SIMON: I hope you had a chance to tell him all that.
PARKER: I told him all of it. (Laughter) I did. I can't say there's probably been a father who was more validated by his daughter. And I just found a book because I got all of his books when he died, and there was a letter that I'd written to him inside the book. And so I got to open it and see it because he kept every little letter, every little - he kept all the ticket stubs from my plays on Broadway and...
SIMON: Oh, my gosh.
PARKER: ...You know, I never felt like I had to seek the attention of other people because I was so fulfilled by both my parents, especially my father - and understood by him. He understood my acting and my writing and my sense of humor. It's really a gift. And not that he wasn't without difficulty. You know, soldiers from those wars, they weathered so much, and there was no one waiting when they came back to help them. So he suffered a lot, and we suffered a lot as well with him.
SIMON: Well, that - it's beautiful to hear you talk in this way about your parents. And then, of course, in addition to reading the book, I did the general biographical search. And you've told interviewers that you were not a happy child.
PARKER: Well, it's funny because I have a sense of shame in admitting that because I feel, certainly, I was provided for and so much luckier than most people will ever be. And it's just, I think there are certain people who are just a little bit more sorrowful. And I was just a darker child. And I wanted to be a sunny child, but I just wasn't. And some of it was from keeping watch over my father and his moods and things like that, but it certainly isn't for want of love or being provided for because I've, you know, I've seen enough of life to know how lucky I am and how bountiful my childhood was.
SIMON: A love letter you have in here, "Dear Abraham." It's a loving letter to a person in a profession that I think doesn't get a lot of love letters. He was an accountant, apparently.
PARKER: Yes. I love Abe.
SIMON: Well, he had to give you pretty bad news, didn't he?
PARKER: He did. He told me I was broke. I had no idea. I was so out of it I had no idea. I was so hungry the day I came into his office. And he asked me if I wanted anything to eat, and I was too embarrassed to say yes. And I ended up sleeping on his couch, which everyone in the office, to this day, remembers. Someone told me the other day, I was the person who brought you the pillow (laughter). Yeah, I was 22 years old or something like that, and...
SIMON: Twenty-two, broke, hungry and exhausted, it sounds.
PARKER: And newly broke because I had no idea. I was so blithely unaware before that.
SIMON: How did he help you? What do you owe him?
PARKER: He had such affection for me and I for him. He would come on his day off with me when I lost my passport. He would talk to me when I was lost about what I was going to do next. And he was very, very attentive to my parents. And he just looked after me. And he would, you know, he'd throw a box of Kleenex at me and tell me to shut up or - he's just hilarious. There's not really anyone like him. And I told him the other day, I said, Abe, you know, people read your letter. They really like it. Someone told me they cried. And he went, ah, shut up. And he hung up on me.
PARKER: Then he texted me later. He was, like, I love you. He's so great.
SIMON: Do you write letters that aren't for publication?
PARKER: I am so freakishly obsessed with my stationery, embarrassingly so. I love writing letters. I love receiving letters, and my heart breaks a little bit when I tell them my children they got mail, and they're sort of nonplussed. But I make them write letters and thank you notes. And now that they've seen their thank you notes, because they're getting to be very good letter writers also, in other people's houses, I say, look, she hung that up. That meant something to her. Or they put that on the bulletin board, and so they get it. It does matter to people when you take the time to consider them and put that onto paper. It's certainly the way to win me.
SIMON: Mary-Louise Parker's book, "Dear Mr. You." Thanks so much for being with us.
PARKER: Thank you so much. Thank you for having me.
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