On Character Choices, Dating,
And Women of Today
Inside Hollywood With...
With her hair draped over one eye, Patricia Clarksons
beauty harkens back to the days of Hollywood glamorous stars such as
Veronica Lake; Veronica Lake was a star during the 1940s and epitomized
Hollywood glamour. Courtesy Photos
ou can be sure if Patricia Clarkson is in a film, you will
be treated to a performance that is sheer perfection. Her approach to
acting is both unique and compelling as she imbues her characters with
her own quirky, but organic interpretations. With her Veronica Lake**
hairstyle, harkening back to the days of Hollywood glamour, Clarkson
lights up the screen with her mega-watt smile, and intriguing on-screen
presence. This Louisiana native is not just another beautiful
southern belle. She is highly educated, having attended Louisiana
State University, Fordham University, and eventually graduated
from the Yale School of Drama with a Master of Fine Arts.
She acted in some of the most enduring classics including: Electra,
Pericles, Twelfth Night, The Lower Depths, The Misanthrope, Pacific
Overtures and La Ronde.
Robert Downy, Jr. and Patricia Clarkson in a scene
from Good Night, and Good Luck." Courtesy
Patricia Clarkson plays a doctor in Lars,
and the Real Girl. Courtesy Photo
Patricia Clarkson and Alexander Siddig in a scene
from "Cairo Time." Courtesy Photo
Clarkson's stage training informed her screen
work as evidenced by her characterizations in the following films, some
of which go back to the 1980s: The Untouchables, The Dead
Pool, The Green Mile, Far from Heaven, Pieces of April, The Station
Agent, Good Night, and Good Luck, Lars, and the Real Girl, Cairo Time,
Elegy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Shutter Island, The East, and Friends
with Benefits. Equally at home on television, she has appeared in
many episodic programs including: Tales from the Crypt, Law &
Order, Murder One, Wonderland, Frasier, Six Feet Under, and Parks
A sweet film about two people in a profound
lifes transition. Photo: Broad Green Pictures
Once again, Clarkson delivers a compelling
performance in her latest film, Learning to Drive, which co-stars
the iconic Sir Ben Kingsley. Directed by Isabel Coixet,
the script, written by Sarah Kernochan, revolves around Wendy,
a very successful book critic whose husband has just left her for a
younger woman. She wants to learn how to drive and hires a driving instructor
named Darwan, played by Sir Ben Kingsley, who endows his
character with a magical life's force. This is not a soapy adventure,
but one where each of the characters emerges stronger as a result of
their experiences with each other. The supporting cast includes: Jake
Weber, Sarita Choudhury, and Grace Gummer.
Clarkson recently sat down with a select group
of journalists and the following has been edited for content and continuity
for print purposes.
Look at you! You look beautiful!
Clarkson: I just did a television spot. My hair, make-up
and dress - it's all wasted on you, right? (Laughter Alluding to
the fact we are print journalists.)
We just interviewed Sir Ben and had a great time.
What was it like working with him?
Clarkson on shooting a nude scene with Sir
in "Elegy:" "I loved working with him on 'Elegy.'
I don't know if you remember us from that film, but I got very
intimate with him." Courtesy Photo
Clarkson: He's the consummate actor the consummate
professional. He's an actor's actor. There's no one like him in the
world. I know him well and consider him a personal friend. I loved working
with him on Elegy. I don't know if you remember us from
that film, but I got very intimate with him. Let's just say that once
I know him well and he knows me well. (Laughter)
(They did a nude scene together.) And, that was our first day of
shooting. (She sings) "Getting To Know You."
It was a great way to break the ice and I can't think of a more intimate
way to break the ice. (Laughter) So, it was just a dream to work
with him on this movie, which has been a passion project of mine for
a long time. I could not have done without Sir Ben and Isabel.
You are known for working on quirky material and
are not particularly interested in films that are just "commercial."
What is the genesis of this material?
Clarkson: It's based on an essay from the New
Yorker. I just found it so tragic and funny and true. I'm 55
but at the time I read it, I was 45. I'm now thankful that we
couldn't get the financing, director, or a co-star when I was in my
40s, as I needed to be in my 50s to properly play her. What I love about
the script is it's very mature. It's a beautiful story about a profound
adult friendship. The lines can always get slightly blurred with a straight
man and a woman, but in the end, the real truth prevails about their
What drew you to the character of Wendy and how
would you describe her?
Clarkson: This is not a story about a woman finding
herself. My generation of women is the first generation to have it all.
Our mothers made great sacrifices. We're able to have jobs, partners,
lovers, spouses, and children adopted or surrogate. Wendy
is a woman who forgot to look up and forgot to appreciate what she had.
She had a wonderful husband and a devoted daughter, but the divorce
upset her apple cart. This is not a woman who is use to dealing with
emotions. She comes at everything from the head up and suddenly she
has to come at everything from the gut.
There were some knee-slapping moments,
and would she have slept with that guy?
Clarkson: I never thought of it as knee slapping. I
see it as a more emotional film, even though it's funny. But I guess
I don't see Wendy as comedic. I see her as angry and mercurial
and that's what I love about her. I also love this yin and yang of their
relationship. I love this fiery New Yorker and this beautiful
devout Sikh coming together in this smelly little car. As far
as having sex with him? The tantric sex? Please! (Laughter) I
can't wait for my old-fashion southern father to see that. (Laughter)
My father is a very amazing cool man. He's a liberal, but he's still
an 80-year-old southern man. (Laughter)
Pictured here as Captain America, Clarkson
on having simulated Tantric sex: "Having Tantric sex with
Matt Salinger, J.D. Salinger's son, doesn't get any better."
How was that Tantric sex scene with Matt Salinger?
Clarkson: That was tough. What man do you get to come
in for one scene get naked and simulate Tantric sex? (She
laughs) I mean, would you do that? (Much laughter) Would
you? (more laughter) My God. I've made three men blush. (referring
to the journalists) But really, having Tantric sex with Matt
Salinger, J.D. Salinger's son, doesn't get any better.
How did you introduce the film?
Clarkson: When we finished the film, we brought it to
the Toronto Film Festival. We didn't do any pre-screenings, but
that first big screening brought the house down. Sir Ben and
I got a ten-minute standing ovation. We thought: "Oh my God.
What happened?" We had the same reaction at the premiere in New
York in front of hard-core, discerning New Yorkers. I couldn't
watch the film because now we were in New York territory.
Do you drive?
Clarkson: My father taught me how to drive at sixteen.
So, yes, I drove in New Orleans. But, after living in New
York for over 30 years, I slowly became this New Yorker
and lost the ability to drive. I dated a man who lived in the country,
so I would drive his Subaru ooo sexy. (Laughter) He was
very sexy. Enough about that. (Laughter) I would drive country
roads, and those are easy. But, as it got closer and closer to this
film coming to fruition, I realized my fear. I could get a tiny bit
"Method*" when I want to, so I was specifically not
driving or thinking about driving. I saved it all for the film to connect
to where art and life merge.
Clarkson on doing her own driving: "Driving
through Manhattan was difficult." Photo: Broad Green
Clarkson's fear on driving over the Queenborough
Bridge: To Sir Ben: "..If we don't make it over the bridge, I've
loved every minute of my life with you." Courtesy
What was the scariest moment for you in the car?
Clarkson: Driving through Manhattan was difficult
and I was actually behind the wheel, but driving over the Queensborough
Bridge, I looked at Sir Ben and said "I adore you. Hold
on. I promise I will get you to the other side, but if we don't make
it over the bridge, I've loved every minute of my life with you."
How did the casting of Meryl Streep's, daughter
Grace Gummer, come about?
Clarkson: There's an interesting story about Grace.
I met her at a premiere almost six years ago. I have an odd sixth sense.
I knew she was Meryl's daughter. I walked up to her and I looked
at her and said: "If and when I get this movie made called Learning
to Drive, I want you to play my daughter." Six years later,
I said: "Grace, I want you to play my daughter."
Do you have a memorable moment during the shoot?
Clarkson: A memorable moment... I'll tell you the most
memorable moment, and it's not about the shooting. Gabriel and
Daniel Hammond now run Broad Green Pictures. I found out
that these two young men are in their 30s. (PR rep enters to whisk
her away and she says:) "Hold on. This is a great group."
(Laughter) I found out that they were interested in doing Learning
to Drive, so I met Gabriel for dinner at my favorite
restaurant in New York. We sat in my booth and for three hours
we never talked about the movie . We talked about our lives. He talked
about his mother who passed away. We talked about love. We talked about
the world. We talked about everything you can imagine, but never talked
about the film. At the end of dinner, he said, "I'm going to make
this movie." I'll never forget that as long as I live.
You're a single woman. How do you meet men and
have you ever had a blind date?
Clarkson: First of all, I've never really had a blind
date to be honest with you.
You're not missing anything. (Laughter)
Clarkson: It's not like I could go on "OK Cupid."***
(she whispers) You mean Patricia Clarkson is on "OK
Cupid?" (Laughter) I don't know if that's cool or sad.
You know, like she's advertising. All her personal info is now online.
I would be on that site if I weren't an actress. I've been on some very
crazy dates and maybe they weren't blind, but I wish I had been. (Laughter)
Do friends try to fix you up?
Clarkson: Oh yes. I've had a fix-up. Usually, it's a
person I've met. Recently, I started dating a man who I had met when
I was in London doing The Elephant Man. It wasn't a blind date,
but sort of a fix-up.
One more question. You studied at Yale. Do you
have a specific technique for developing a character and what do you
look for first?
Clarkson: I'm the opposite of Wendy. The emotional life
of the character has to come first. So, I begin to explore how much
of my true emotions are there because I like to keep it as true and
pure as possible. I marry the emotions of a character to my emotional
life so that it lives deeply and organically inside of me. Usually,
when I pass on a project, it's because I couldn't find the emotional
life of the character it didn't awaken in me, so I realize that maybe
that role isn't for me. Also, it's important that I do my homework and
come on set prepared. Everybody has been working sixteen hours and I
don't want anybody on the set waiting while I find my inner self and
find an emotion.
Thank you. It's been so much fun.
Clarkson: You guys are divine!
*Method acting is a technique actors use to create the
thoughts and feelings of their characters.
** A glamorous movie star during the 1940s.
*** A popular dating website for singles