Patricia Clarkson's Sensual Role in 'Married Life' Patricia Clarkson didn't start getting substantial parts in films until about a decade ago, and now she has more work than she's ever had. Scott Simon talks to Clarkson about her latest movie, Married Life. She says playing a "sexual, sensual" character is a rare opportunity for a woman in her 40s.

Patricia Clarkson's Sensual Role in 'Married Life'

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Patricia Clarkson often plays the character who provides the key dramatic turn in a story, the confident neighbor in "Far From Heaven," the sister in HBO's "Six Feet Under," the doctor in last year's "Lars and the Real Girl."

In her new film, "Married Life," her first of many coming out this year, it's kind of reworking of a 1940s melodrama with Ms. Clarkson playing Pat, whose straying husband, Harry, played by Chris Cooper, has decided the best way to spare his beloved spouse the pain of losing him is to kill her.

(Soundbite of movie "Married Life")

Ms. PATRICIA CLARKSON (Actress): (As Pat) Well, you I shouldn't.

Mr. CHRIS COOPER (Actor): (As Harry) Eat, drink, and be merry, my dear.

Ms. CLARKSON: (As Pat) I'll taste everything, I promise darling.

SIMON: We're delighted to have Patricia Clarkson in our studio. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. CLARKSON: Oh, thank you. I'm happy to be here.

SIMON: Why did you want to play this role?

Ms. CLARKSON: Well, you know, I've done quite a few period films…

SIMON: That was on this list of questions I have before me…


SIMON: …this period in particularly. Yeah.

Ms. CLARKSON: But, yes. But I found that Pat was a truly kind of sexual, sensual character and winning, and sporty and complicated, and you know for women in their 40s, those are rare opportunities and I had to seize it and…

SIMON: You're not in your 40s, though.

Ms. CLARKSON: I just met you, but I love you.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: There's a wonderful scene that you played just with your hand, simple, in the middle of the night reaching for Chris Cooper's hand.

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes. But that's the beauty of this.


Ms. CLARKSON: This film is surprising, you know, and it's kind of these smashing of genres, you know, the melodrama, the thriller, the dark comedy, but it's a testament also to Ira's direction. You know, he had this…

SIMON: He's the director?

Ms. CLARKSON: Ira Sachs is the director, and that's also the reason I wanted to do this film and just there's some very simple, I find eloquent scenes in this movie. And I was really quite thrilled to be a part of it when I was offered it. And then the bonus of Chris Cooper in it, I must say.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Right. And well we should mention terrific cast, including Chris Cooper…

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes. Oh yeah.

SIMON: …and Pierce Brosnan, and Rachel McAdams.

Ms. CLARKSON: Rachel McAdams, yes.

SIMON: Yes. Well, let's get to the Chris Cooper part now.

Ms. CLARKSON: Well, you know, I've known Chris for quite some times. We're dear friends. And the very first movie I ever did, independent film I ever did - you know, I'm queen of the independents. But the very first one I ever did was with Chris Cooper. We called "Pharaoh's Army."

SIMON: Right.

Ms. CLARKSON: A beautiful, little film shot in Danville, Kentucky for $350,000 and that was 1995, and he's a magnificent man, and so a lot of the homework was done because I have such an emotional connection to him as a friend. But I just also adore him - and Pat truly does adore Harry - and so that came easily. I think she really - she likes Harry. I think she struggled with love for him, and I think that's what's maybe kind of beautiful about this film is I think these are two people who maybe actually have real love at the end of the film after 25 years. But they go through a lot to get there.


(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARKSON: And I have to drink a lot - well, we won't get into - we don't want to spoil anything.

SIMON: When you work with Pierce Brosnan…

Ms. CLARKSON: Mm-hmm.

SIMON: A lot of James Bond jokes?

Ms. CLARKSON: No. He was so funny, yes. I mean he's so dashing and kind and gregarious and he…

SIMON: Fairly willing to play the cad in roles too.

Ms. CLARKSON: Well, that's - I mean he's remarkable in this film, I think and, you know, he's a consonant actor.

SIMON: What does that mean? What are the qualities that you think add up to that?

Ms. CLARKSON: I think it is an actor that is willing to truly expose themselves and truly reveal secrets. I think playing characters is wonderful as an actor, but I think at the end of the day you have to be willing to go to those really difficult places. And to me, that's why as actors hopefully we just get better and better and better because we just continue to peel the layers off, and that's what I hope to always be doing.

SIMON: I mean do you always have to play a character with whom you feel some commonality?

Ms. CLARKSON: Oh, no, no. I mean it's always about playing facets of yourself and letting those facets come through, but I think at the end of the day it's - whether it's high comedy or high drama, you have to kind of be willing to look bad.

SIMON: What are some of the differences between making an independent film 13 years ago for $350,000 and making other major studio productions you've been in or increasingly the independent films are becoming major productions.

Ms. CLARKSON: Well, it does come down to time and money and a trailer and lunch and actually having, like, a catered lunch, which on a lot of independent films, you know, it's a struggle. But I mean independent film, there are many strengths, and they do fortunately outweigh the deficits. And I mean, I think it is a powerful medium, independent film making because it is organically intimate and it's where I'm comfortable too. It's got a certain speed, and you really have to know your stuff because you don't have a lot of time and you don't - you can't waste time.

SIMON: Mm-hmm.

Ms. CLARKSON: And a lot is required of you. But I do like making big films also, don't get me wrong. Oh, I like making studio films also. It's just a different experience, but you - but at the end of the day, it's always about the work. And at the end of the day, when you're in the middle of a scene with someone, that's why you're there.

SIMON: But you - but in independent films you don't tend to do the same scene over and over again the way you sometimes will in, let's say (unintelligible).

Ms. CLARKSON: You don't have the luxury of as many takes, no.

SIMON: You've got three films coming out with the directors Stanley Tucci, Woody Allen, and Martin Scorsese.

Ms. CLARKSON: Well, no, I haven't shot the Scorsese, that's what I shoot next - in about a month and a half, yes.

SIMON: Okay.

Ms. CLARKSON: But yes, I think I've died and gone to heaven. Yes.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Well, it's Stanley Tucci - the newest is very well…

Ms. CLARKSON: Oh, Stanley. Yes, we just had our film at Sundance and he's amazing. Yeah.

SIMON: Yeah. Allen, he's been on our show, Woody Allen just a few weeks ago.

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes, yes.

SIMON: And Woody Allen volunteered the fact that he - on set, he'll refer to people as the actor.


SIMON: He does some - is that how?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. CLARKSON: No, I mean you know, there's all - there's so many myths about Woody, but the truth is…

SIMON: He gave us a few.

Ms. CLARKSON: No, I know.

SIMON: Yeah, yeah.

Ms. CLARKSON: But, you know, like he won't speak to you. He's, of course, feels that - he spoke to me quite often on the set and - but he really does know what he's doing. He really is quite remarkable, and I had a wonderful time on his set. And he, you know, he keeps it, the joint is jumping on Woody Allen. You know, it's - you can improv, you can really go from A to Z, you can take it as long as you hit the points, you can say the lines he's written, but you better make them your own or you can squish it and whirl it and wing it and ding and you can do whatever you want as long as you're hitting the right points and you know, you can really mix it up and he likes that. And I love a director who likes to be surprised and is not set in their ways and, you know, Stanley is similar. And so that's why it was quite dreamy to work with the two of them pretty much back to back.

SIMON: Do you find it's a natural temptation of people to cast you as one kind of…

Ms. CLARKSON: I think I had that problem more in the past.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. CLARKSON: Ever since this film I did, "High Art," people have viewed me in a different way, which is fantastic, so they'll see me as crazy now, which is much closer to right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Now this was - I didn't see it, but this was the Ally Sheedy film?

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes, I play a heroin addict, but it just kind of shifted things, you know, perception is everything and once you kind of shift the - you know, the way people perceive you, and all it takes is one moment or one part. And I was fortunate when that opportunity came along.

SIMON: Forgive me for not remembering this, but you were on "Frasier?"

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes, I did three episodes of a woman he - one of his little dating arcs. I had a dating arc I think they referred to them, yes.

SIMON: That's a very distinguished roster of actresses (unintelligible).

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes, oh no, I'm gee-to-who, yes, I have a t-shirt. I was one of the "Frasier" girls.

SIMON: You're working so much. Is it nice to have these big roles come to you when you've been around enough to appreciate them, let me put it that way.

Ms. CLARKSON: Oh yes. No, you're, you know…

SIMON: As opposed to being 22 or 23.

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes. I mean, it's difficult being 28, but…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: No, and you handled it with such graciousness. I think you can speak for women in their late-20s everywhere.

Ms. CLARKSON: Yes, women in their late-20s everywhere, I'm there for you.

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. CLARKSON: Of course, I'm more appreciative. I've been in far more fox holes. I've been in far more trenches, and I'm exhausted…

(Soundbite of laughter)

SIMON: Yeah.

Ms. CLARKSON: …and thankful.

SIMON: Patricia's Clarkson's new film, "Married Life," will be released nationally March 21. Thanks so much for being with us.

Ms. CLARKSON: Thank you so much.

(Soundbite of music)

SIMON: You're listening to WEEKEND EDITION from NPR News. I'm Scott Simon.

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