NEW YORK — These days, actress Patricia Clarkson finds herself being recognized on the streets of New York more frequently, which isn’t surprising, considering her burgeoning film career. But increased visibility has its pitfalls.
“You realize, ‘God, I need to brush my hair before I go out of my house!'” she quips. “But it’s flattering, it’s very flattering. And I can’t complain. I’m not like George Clooney. I don’t have hordes of young girls screaming, ‘Ahhhh’ after me.”
In the past two years, Clarkson has earned critical acclaim for her comically poignant roles in films such as “The Station Agent” and “Pieces of April.” Born in New Orleans, the youngest of five daughters, she studied theater at Fordham University and the Yale School of Drama before making her film debut in “The Untouchables.” And she’s been busier and busier ever since. This fall alone, Clarkson appears in “Good Night and Good Luck,” “The Woods,” December’s “All the King’s Men” and “The Dying Gaul,” which opens Friday.
Written and directed by Craig Lucas and based on his play of the same name, “The Dying Gaul” presents a kind of modern-day Greek tragedy set in Hollywood. Peter Sarsgaard plays Robert, a young screenwriter who sells his work to studio executive Jeffrey (Campbell Scott) and in the process becomes very friendly with him and his wife, Elaine (Clarkson), forming the kind of complicated triangle that ensures power-driven entanglements and black-hearted consequences.
Clarkson’s ability to imbue her characters, no matter how kooky or misguided, with an aura of sympathy made her ideal for the film’s darkly tinged nature. “One of the reasons that Patty was such a good choice was because she refuses to play what I call a ‘negative choice,'” explains Lucas. “She always plays through the positive, that this person is doing the best they can at that moment to make their life better. It’s never judged. It’s never arbitrarily cruel.”
That’s not to say the experience was all fire and brimstone. In fact, Clarkson relished the opportunity to inhabit Elaine’s wealthy, well-groomed world. “It’s nice to play someone attractive, well-dressed and well tended to. But it’s not important to me — obviously, look at the characters I’ve done.”
And the fact that she spends much of the movie clad only in a white bikini was yet another bonus. “It’s nice to see a woman of a certain age in a bikini, you know? Not that that really ultimately means anything, but I think it just continues to shake things up in some ways,” says the lithe 45-year-old.
But there was one person who made her slightly anxious about her lack of coverage.
“We date,” stammers a blushing Clarkson on her relationship with co-star Scott. “I was more nervous about him seeing me in a white bikini than anybody. I think sometimes it’s easier to be naked than wear a bikini. I did a few sit-ups the night before. And I hate sit-ups,” she continues, letting out one of the deep-throated, head-thrown-back laughs that punctuate practically every other sentence of her conversation.
It is one of the many ways in which Clarkson expresses her lust for life. “She communicates without words frequently,” says her co-star Sarsgaard. “Like when she wants to tell you she loves something … sometimes I feel like Patty wants to actually eat you!”