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The versatile Ms. Clarkson RICHARD CROUSE FOR METRO CANADA September 10, 2009

patricia-clarksonIn the TIFF entry Cairo Time, a magazine editor played by Patricia Clarkson finds herself in Gaza falling for a man who isn’t her husband.

It’s a romantic drama about self discovery and just the kind of role we’ve come accustomed to seeing Clarkson play — serious and complicated.

Her best known work has a weight to it that seems to come naturally to her. Perhaps it is her deep voice or the fact that she’s never really played the ingénue, but I always associate Clarkson with capitol “S” serious films. According to her, I’ve got it all wrong.

“I think most people see me as much darker, more serious and possessing a certain gravitas, when I’m really quite insane,” says the New Orleans born actress.

She chalks up her onscreen image to — what else? — acting. “I go where I need to go. If I need to look glamorous or spiffy or young, or battling cancer, or a drugged-out hippie type, it hopefully will be projected in my face. That’s the beauty of acting. It’s not about hair and makeup; it’s about being malleable.”

That pliability has paid off handsomely in many of her lesser known films.

In High Art, Clarkson plays Greta, a forgotten actress who once starred in Fassbinder films. She’s a drug addict so far gone she actually falls asleep during sex. It’s a colourful, theatrical performance, but Clarkson carefully avoids the clichés of playing a junkie.

On a happier note is Simply Irresistible, a screwball romantic comedy in the vein of 1930s musicals. In this charming film, Clarkson plays Lois, a wisecracking secretary.

“If you need anything call me,” she says to her boss, “although I don’t know how to do anything except buy clothes.” She’s a decidedly earthbound character in this fantasy about a chef whose guardian angel gives her a gift that turns her food into the ultimate aphrodisiac.

Darker than Simply Irresistible is the creepy horror film Wendigo. Promoted as a cross between The Shining and Deliverance, it plays with classic horror conventions — city folks in the country pitted against psycho rednecks and the supernatural — but does so in a unique and compelling way. As usual Clarkson shines as the NYC mother thrown into a situation she doesn’t understand.

These, and her other 40 plus film credits, prove that Patricia Clarkson is as versatile as she is malleable.

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