The Sunday Conversation: Parker Posey

Parker Posey, 42, joins the new second season of Showtime's "The Big C" in the recurring role of Poppy Kowalski, who meets the much younger Adam (Gabriel Basso) in an online cancer support group.

You say that your career has come full circle, and by that I gather you mean independent film. Did you leave independent film? Weren't you making independent films on and off all along?

Once something is said about you, you're kind of locked into that. [Being nicknamed] the indie queen was like, it's hard for me in the studio system to be considered for Hollywood movies because they have said she's too independent. It's not that I'm too independent, it's that I'm associated with these kinds of movies and I'm not mainstream, instead of just like, "Oh, yeah, I could see her playing that role." It's how you're perceived instead of what the material is. Because the movies aren't coming from the writer-director, the creative person. I just did an HBO movie with Philip Kaufman and you go, where have you been? He said, "Trying to get movies made."

He's making them on TV. You're talking about "Hemingway & Gellhorn" coming out next year, right?

Yes. But because there isn't that support system in our culture, in the movie business, of really nurturing our artists, like Philip Kaufman, and saying, "What are you interested in? What would you like to portray on film?" It's more like, "How is this going to be sold? And will enough people see it, so we can please our bankers?" That's what took the independent film scene away. It became co-opted by that system.

Oh, anyone can make a movie — I'll just pick up a camera and shoot something and I'll make $10 million. I'll do something for cheap, and you have these genre films capitalizing on a trend that doesn't really have any substance. But it's youth cultured, and it's loud, and it's not why I got into movies. I wasn't down South going like, I really want to be a vampire one day, although I was in "Blade: Trinity." It was my first movie with Triple H, my second movie ["Inside Out"] is coming out in September. Isn't that great? I've done two movies with Triple H, a professional wrestler, who's a doll.

"The Big C" has several independent film stars, Laura Linney, Gabby Sidibe and you. You worked with Laura in another unusual TV project for the time, "Tales of the City." Is that what drew you to "The Big C"?

John Lyons cast me in "Tales of the City" to play her friend that she grew up with, Connie Bradshaw to Laura's Mary Ann Singleton. And Showtime did the second TV series and PBS did the first. It was a six-episode TV special with Olympia Dukakis and Chloe Webb and all these great actors. I hope TV starts to bring back the epic drama. Like "Downton Abbey." It was so beautiful, and it was subtle. It's almost like sitting down and watching a good book. I hope cable goes more in that direction, because when I started watching the cable channels, before I started on "The Big C," I would turn the channel and it was like, oh, there's that actor with his pants down, or, oh, there she is with her shirt off. It's so kind of overshocked, just to get people to stop in their tracks and watch the show. But it doesn't really hold my interest.

I think people love "The Big C" because it's dealing with something that's grown up. It's really generous in its intentions, which is to give people with cancer something to watch and relate to and be light about. I respect that.

Did Laura bring you into the cast?

I ran into her in the street. I gave her a hug, and we talked a little about the business and the show and she's like, "It comes from a good place, and you should do our show." And I was like, "I'd love to."

Michael Engler, who's one of the producers, when they were coming up with the idea for Poppy, he said, "You came up as a potential character. We were thinking about a Parker Posey type. And then someone said, 'Well, why don't we just ask her?'" It was kind of serendipitous.

Tell me about your character.

Her name is Poppy Kowalski. She has a father with cancer. She has a bit of arrested development. She has emotional problems, of course. She's fun. I got to act with Gabe and basically act like a 15-year-old, which was a lot of fun. I hope that when I'm 60 I get to act like a 15-year-old. I love "Harold and Maude" and those people who get older and still have their youth.

There's a scene in the promo on the website of you and Gabe sitting at a table at a restaurant and you're laughing hysterically. It looked like it came pretty easily to you.

Yeah, I hadn't played a laugher in a long time. That humor is a defense for her pain. Gabe is 16, so on set, he really is laughing all the time and rolling his eyes. He did a lot of, "You've got something on your shirt," just really super silly. That was a lot of fun. Most people in their jobs I would imagine can't go to work and act like a 15-year-old and call it work. I can. So it's really a privilege.

You started your career in TV, on "As the World Turns." Most of the television you've done has been edgier — like "The Simpsons" and "Boston Legal" — and over the last decade you've done more of that. What's drawn you to television?

When I did "Boston Legal," it was such a great experience. David Kelley was super nice. I remember meeting him several years ago, before "Boston Legal," to talk about television, for him to get to know me a little bit. He said, "When you ever feel like doing television, come my way." I went to "Boston Legal" two or three years after that and did three or four episodes. It had great, great energy. James Spader had just done "Secretary" and a couple of years had gone by and he'd been waiting for more interesting roles. He looked at me and he said, "All the character work is in television. That's where you'll find the great characters." And I know he had a hand in creating that amazing performance, which was highly original and smart, like super-duper wicked smart. And you could tell that he was really entertaining himself. I think when you can have a collaborator like David Kelley and you can get those writers there to really find your voice, you've got a great job.

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