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A portrait of the actor Patricia Clarkson
Andy Parsons

Patricia Clarkson: ‘What we tolerated in the late ’80s – oh my God!’

We meet everyone’s favourite Clarkson to chat about being a chameleon, Time's Up and her new film ‘Out of Blue’

Written by
Anna Smith

Whether you discovered her in ‘The Station Agent’, ‘Easy A’ or ‘Sharp Objects’, chances are you love Patricia Clarkson – or ‘Patti’, as the Louisiana-born actress calls herself. Exuding warmth and just a hint of eccentricity, she kicks off our chat by wolfing down a protein bar while complimenting me on my choice of footwear. (‘So cute! I love black patent. You can wear it anywhere.’) But it’s the 59-year-old’s latest role that’s really intriguing: in Carol Morley’s ‘Out of Blue’ she plays Mike Hoolihan, a blunt New Orleans detective on a murky murder case. So, over to Patti: ‘All right – I’ve finished my protein bar. Here we go, baby!’

How did ‘Out of Blue’ come about? 
‘My agent said to me in hushed tones: “Patti, I think you’re going to get an offer on this amazing Carol Morley film. It’s a loose adaptation of a Martin Amis book.” I adore Carol and knew her films [‘The Falling’, ‘Dreams of a Life’]. We were supposed to meet for 30 minutes in LA, and three hours and some bourbon and whiskey later, that was it.’

Did you see elements of Mike in you?
‘I don’t look or seem like Mike, but I knew that character lived in me. I’m a chameleon. Mike exists in a factual, cool, detached, untouchable world and I’m very tactile, gregarious and outspoken, but there is a part of me that is unfussy, quiet. I just had to find that.’

‘I’d never equate what I dealt with with the people who’ve suffered sexual assault’

Which of your past roles is most important to you?
‘Playing Greta in [1998 indie] “High Art” changed my whole life. It made people realise that I’m a character actor. Then I had “Pieces of April’ and “The Station Agent” [ both from 2003], even “Cairo Time” [2009]: this quiet, elegant lady. They weren’t the easiest parts – look at “Sharp Objects” where I play Adora, this brutal, mentally ill woman. I had to find the humanity in her.’

And, of course, you were in TV show ‘The Equalizer’, back in 1986 at the beginning of your career.
‘Oh my God! [Claps her hands in glee] I made lifelong friends with Tony Shalhoub on that.
I played a bride who was kidnapped at her wedding and he was the terrorist who kidnaps her. We became friends then. I worship him.’

What’s changed for actresses since those days, and since Time’s Up?
‘When I was younger it was: “Let’s have drinks in my hotel!” or “Hey, wanna come away for the weekend with me?” What we tolerated in the late ’80s – oh my God! But I’d never equate what I dealt with with the people who’ve suffered sexual assault. These women, and some men, suffered real brutality from certain men in our industry.’

So what’s the future?
‘I don’t think there’s going to be a lot of women having drinks with producers in hotel rooms.
I think that’s over. I think that’s very good.’

‘Out of Blue’ opens on March 29. 

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