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THE PERFORMANCE

Special to The Times

“Intimacy is seductive,” says husky-voiced Patricia Clarkson. “It’s at times what I remember most about films; those moments I feel I should not have witnessed.”

Clarkson has back-to-back films coming out that specialize in such moments: Woody Allen’s “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” with Javier Bardem and Penelope Cruz next week, and “Elegy” with Ben Kingsley (and Cruz again) on Friday. In “Elegy,” Clarkson plays a successful businesswoman and longtime occasional paramour to Kingsley’s professor and cultural critic. The two have some highly charged scenes, emotionally and sexually.

“I read it and said, ‘I love this.’ There’s not a lot there, but what’s there is choice,” she says of her role in “Elegy.” “She’s devastated not only because of the loss of a relationship she took to be, in her terms, perfectly defined, but the can of worms it opens. I . . . said, ‘I’m there! I’m ready to get naked with Ben Kingsley!’ ”

The actress, now far removed from her New Orleans roots, speaks by phone from her Manhattan loft. She graduated summa cum laude from Fordham University before earning a master’s at Yale. There’s plenty of tigress in the tank, as when she purrs at the mention of Bardem or when she describes working so closely with Kingsley.

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“He’s very kind and very -- he’s formidable, also. He isn’t touchy-feely, although I had to do both of those things with him,” she says wickedly of her “Elegy” costar.

“We shot the scene where we’re making love the very first day we shot,” she says and then mimics their introduction: “ ‘I’m Patty and these are my breasts. And, my goodness, hello, sir! And Ben!’ ”

The actress, who had already racked up an array of well-known directors, was thrilled to work with Spain’s Isabel Coixet (“The Secret Life of Words”).

“She has this buzz about her that is powerful amongst actors,” Clarkson raves of Coixet. “She is truly charismatic. . . . Passionate and formidable . . . she’s an elixir.”

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With her close collaboration with actors, Coixet seems miles from the famously detached Woody Allen.

“He sent me a lovely note.” She knew it would be tough to squeeze Allen’s film in, but how could she refuse? “I was shooting ‘Elegy’ and this movie with Stanley Tucci [“Blind Date”], and I was like, ‘Oh, my God . . .’ but it’s Woody Allen. He had me at the note. . . .

“He and Isabel are very different people but the great directors are all very present. Woody knows when something’s right. He hears it, he feels it, he knows it.”

She laughs, then adds that they’ve already reunited: “I just did a movie for him in New York with Larry David, playing this crazy Southern woman.”

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Between stints with Allen, Clarkson squeezed in “Shutter Island” for Scorsese: “My friend said, ‘Patty, once you can say “Woody-Marty” back to back, you can’t ever complain about anything again.’ ”

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Where you’ve seen her

Patricia Clarkson made her film debut in “The Untouchables” and has been in such major fare as “The Green Mile” and “Good Night, and Good Luck” and indies including “Lars and the Real Girl,” “The Station Agent” and “High Art.” She won two Emmys for “Six Feet Under” and was nominated for an Oscar for “Pieces of April” (2003). She has eight movies scheduled to be released in 2008 and 2009.

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