Patricia Clarkson wraps up three films, turns to Broadway

Patricia Clarkson recently completed two other films, including "Learning to Drive" and "October Gale."
Patricia Clarkson recently completed two other films, including “Learning to Drive” and “October Gale.”
(Luis Sinco / Los Angeles Times)

Patricia Clarkson is holding court in a suite at the Chateau Marmont, her favorite haunt when the New Yorker is staying in Los Angeles.

“It’s comforting,” said the petite 54-year-old actress on a recent warm afternoon. “There is an extraordinary history here.” And joining her on this trip is Isadora Duncan, her “little nutball of a dog,” whom she adopted earlier this year. “I am a dog fanatic,” she said loud and proud.

Clarkson — who earned a supporting actress Oscar nomination for her turn as an acerbic mother dying of cancer in 2003’s “Pieces of April” and won Emmys in 2002 and 2006 for her performances as the free-spirited Sarah on HBO’s “Six Feet Under” — is in Los Angeles to chat about her new film, “Last Weekend,” which opens Friday.


In the indie drama from first-time filmmakers Tom Dolby and Tom Williams, Clarkson plays Celia, the rather manipulative matriarch of a dysfunctional family who decides to have a reunion at the wealthy family’s house on Lake Tahoe. But the well-planned weekend doesn’t turn out quite as Celia has planned. Chris Mulkey plays her calm, loving husband, and Joseph Cross and Zachary Booth are her rather spoiled, embittered adult children.

Clarkson also recently completed two other films, including “Learning to Drive,” which is set for the Toronto International Film Festival. The comedy-drama reunites Clarkson with director Isabel Coixet and Ben Kingsley, with whom Clarkson worked on 2008’s “Elegy.” The second film, “October Gale,” is also showing at TIFF this month.

And in December, she’ll return to Broadway after a 25-year absence in the revival of “The Elephant Man” with Bradley Cooper and Alessandro Nivola. The three performed “Elephant Man” two years ago at the Williamstown Theatre Festival in Massachusetts. HBO announced this week that she is in development for a new drama series, “Elisabeth.”

Though you began your film career in big studio films like “The Untouchables,” you’ve become the queen of the indies. Do you gravitate toward indie films because the characters are more complex?

No. I haven’t sought out any of these parts. They come to me.

Ruba Nadda [the director of “Cairo Time”], I didn’t know her. I got a call that a young Canadian filmmaker wants me to be the star of her film. I said, “Fabulous.” She flew to New York.

Tom Dolby came to me.

I sat down with Tom and Tom Williams in Cafe Loup in New York City — my neighborhood haunt. I sit in my one booth there. That is where all my projects begin.


The lake house used in “Last Weekend” is the estate featured in George Stevens’ multi-Oscar-winning 1951 classic, “A Place in the Sun.”

It’s interesting. Cinema makes everything look much larger. The house is quite a modest house for a Lake Tahoe mansion. It is the views and the light that are the most memorable.

The house is an intrinsic part of this woman. Clearly, this house has meant so much to her. The film is about a woman who realizes she has to let go of everything in her life. At the end of the day, it is just a house.

Though she has a prickly relationship with her two sons, her husband seems to adore her.

Thank God she loves her husband. Usually women like this are having marital troubles. That is what I found refreshing about this story: She still has a great relationship with her husband. I think he has learned to deal with Celia in the most perfect way. He has figured out how to be a great husband to her.

You won two Emmy Awards for “Six Feet Under.”

Do you know how many episodes I did? Seven. I would come in once or twice a season. I don’t like playing any one character for an extended period of time. It doesn’t set well with me.

So that’s why “Elephant Man” is a limited engagement. Still, 25 years is a long time to stay away from Broadway.

I did Blanche in “A Streetcar Named Desire” at the Kennedy Center exactly 10 years ago. It felt like Broadway! But I was also doing so many films and just didn’t know if I wanted to be back on stage. I was fighting it, and then Bradley Cooper came to me about playing Mrs. Kendal. It’s hard to say no. Apart from just being a beautiful man, he is such a great talent, and talent is so wooing. And Alessandro Nivola, who plays the doctor. First of all, I get to look at them, but I also get to act with them eight shows a week. I am the luckiest damn gal.