Whether by name or face, most people will immediately recognize Patricia Clarkson. For those who aren’t familiar with her 30 year career that has garnered Oscar and Golden Globe nominations and several Emmy wins, Clarkson fought her way to Hollywood greatness from the ground up, through theatre, film and television, she’s brought unconventionality to the mainstream. The latest in her iconic catalog is her run as Jane Davis on House of Cards and Ava Paige in The Maze Runner series. She first breached the limelight with High Art, and some fifty variegated roles later, she has tackled characters in everything from All the King’s Men, Six Feet Under, Jumanji, Green Mile, Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Parks & Recreation, Far from Heaven, Lars & the Real Girl, Easy A, and her award winning performance in Pieces of April. Approaching her sixth decade, her latest and seemingly most complex role is Adora Crellin on HBO’s hit series Sharp Objects, alongside Amy Adams. For this role, Clarkson has recently been nominated for 3 awards, including Golden Globes, SAG and Critics Choice.
Based on Gillian Flynn’s [Gone Girl] debut novel and directed by Jean-Marc Vallée [Big Little Lies] the eight-episode series centers around journalist Camille Crellin’s [Adams] return to her hometown of Wind Gap, Missouri, to investigate a string of murdered young girls. She bounces to and fro seedy motels and her mother’s mansion, where Camille’s mother, Adora [Clarkson], is a looming fixture who presides over the house (and the town) with no displays of empathy or affection for her firstborn--while smothering her teenage half-sister in front of her. They all are forced to grapple with demons of the past, which include the death of Camille’s younger sister, Marian. Plunged into the past, Camille, who battles alcoholism, self-cutting, and isolation, doesn’t readily take to reuniting with her family--and Adora doesn’t make the emotionless reunion any less strenuous.
There’s an element of elegant warfare to Clarkson’s every nuanced move as Adora, building so much visceral tension in nearly every scene, viewers stagger into each moment with uncertainty of what’s beneath the surface. Adora and Camille share the loss of Marian, but little else, and Clarkson and Adams together create a weird kind of dynamite that feels like it could go off in your face at any moment. Clarkson brings Adora to life with as much glamour and elegance as torrential hideousness. It’s electric to watch.
At Chateau Marmount, her home-away-from-home, Clarkson sat down for a conversation over wine and fries, and revealed a rapport as easy and light as Sharp Objects was difficult and dark. View full article in Rogue’s Issue #9.
Throughout all of the characters you’ve played you bring an intrinsic old-school grace. With Adora, how did you balance being glamorous and ominous simultaneously?
I’ve had similar shades of Adora in other things I’ve done. I played Blanche Dubois in Streetcar at The Kennedy Center 2014, and the muscle memory I have from that is what comes roaring back to the surface in this role. I sensed it when I began to talk to Gillian [Flynn], and she started to tell me really the depth and the breadth of this part and I could feel something rising in me and I thought, I have to go back to that Blanche space, that fragility--bringing grace to the monster. Because Blanche has a monster in her. People have to remember that she’s ferocious and extremely fragile. It destroys your life when you play that part, you never really recover from it and everybody who’s ever done it knows. It’s the Blanche language that you speak.
To go back in with this kind of character was something I was frightened of, but it’s the very reason I said I should do this, because I didn’t say yes at first. I debated. Amy Adams really wanted me to do it and I was flattered by that, I worship her and think she’s an amazing, beautiful, wonderful person who I also love as an actress. And you have Jean Marc Vallee who is brilliant and powerful and then you have Gillian and Marti, and all these great writers--who could say no? It’s a testament to how beautiful the writing is and everybody around it.
Adora brought me back to Tennessee Williams which is very hard to do, I mean, he’s Tennessee Williams! Something had to shift in me. On a more serious and larger note, this series is about abuse, generational abuse and that it is often transferred. It is often passed on. And you’ll realize what Adora came through and what she’s been through herself. As this progresses, you are going to be surprised by what is revealed. Oh and also I was given these long nails for Adora, you can see it in some shots, the nails kind of changed me--once I put those talons on. I’d never worn artificial nails, then I wore them for five months.
Sharp Objects is spearheaded by women, including Marti Noxon, [MAD MEN] and Jessica Rhoades from Blumhouse [GET OUT]. What’s your perspective on HBO being a forerunner for diversity and inclusion centralized on women?
How many times have women been supporting roles? We’ve been supporting men all our lives as actors. Most of us in this industry have been supporting. I don’t regret that in any way. I think what we’re realizing is that equality is not only cool and politically correct--it’s a financial boom. I think the rise of women superheroes and women who do good are all fabulous for our culture … and now expect it. The more important leaf is that women are centralized. We are no longer tertiary, we are central. We are the main event. And that’s what we have strived for. We need all the women-centric stories in between. The rise has lifted women with a crane. We’ve just soared. We have the hottest films lately. The time has come and it’s long overdue--and it wasn’t worth the wait! It shouldn’t have taken this long. We rise on the shoulders of women who have been abused. But, I hope they too will be able to get up and come back into the fray. I think at the end of the day, we’re standing taller, but we’ve paid an enormous price and we’ve sacrificed a lot of estrogen along the way.
When you speak of a shift in you for this role, can you elaborate on what you mean by this? What shifted in you?
I could feel it as I started to speak to [the cast] and then when I was on the set I suddenly had to be Adora. Even though there are parts of me that are adora-Esque, I grew up in New Orleans even though it’s not southern, there is a southern belle quality to people I grew up with. Even though I grew up middle class, I know that strata in New Orleans.
It’s a shift, it’s an emotional shift I had to make to not cheat Gillian, to not cheat Marti and Jean Marc and Amy, to not cheat people from the truth of this character, the light and the dark. Sometimes in Adora’s … in some of these scenes, it’s on one breath, she shifts, and she is mentally ill, as you will realize. So I had to access the part of me that has portrayed that before. I go back home to New York and become someone else--I let that go. You know, I didn’t have a chance to really reflect on Adora. Now that I’m in the middle of all this press, now I have to really think about her, it’s disconcerting at times when I think about what I had to do...but I look good doing it [laughs].
What was it like inhabiting that headspace--the mental instability? How did you prepare for her?
I guess I came to her how I’ve came to every part I take on, it’s always the emotional life that is most important because the Emotional will lead to the physical. The Emotional as in how the character lives, breathes, sees themselves--is also the emotional life of the character, what the character wants others to see. Adora has a rather stunning facade in her town, so it’s figuring out what is important to this woman, how deep is her love. But I think once you find the words… Adora has a lot of words, she has the most words, she has monologues which matter. You know words matter, these days.
I didn’t know everything. When I took this part I had never read Gone Girl or Sharp Objects, and Gillian was so happy I hadn’t. I said I only knew Isadora in screenplay form, I only knew her adapted. She was so happy about that, Gillian. What was best was I didn’t have it indelibly planted in my head where she was going. I just took every episode from where Adora would take this episode.
How do you reset and regroup after playing a role like that?
The strongest Identity I have is in my home, is in New York. I love living in New York. I’m from New Orleans. My strongest identity is those two towns. My heart is still in New Orleans, because I was born and raised there and my whole family is there and I am very close to my family. It’s interesting that I play so many damaged and fractured, fragile, tormented women and maybe that’s why, because I actually know what it is to have an extraordinary home life. I mean nobody has a perfect childhood, but I have wonderful parents who are still alive, they’ve been married for 64 years, they were high school sweethearts--we had a wonderful middle class upbringing. I was a cheerleader. I had a very American upbringing and I had a cool and progressive Southern house. My mother got into politics and ran the city of New Orleans so I had a powerhouse of a mother and an exceptional father and so I come to these very damaged characters with a very different perspective. I don’t think we have to be tortured to play torture, but you have to understand what it’s like to feel tortured.
Maybe why I survive it is I come home to a very well-rounded life. I have beautiful life in New York City, with extraordinary friends and people in my life and a dog I love. I have exceptional people around me whom I love dearly. That’s what gives me balance.
You’ve been at this awhile, what were some of your tougher times as an actress?
How long do we have to talk, haha! Well I mean, I had to survive them. I had a very good start and then I hit a roadblock in my 30’s. I had to get through it and I had to make very big decisions. And I suddenly was forced to do things I didn’t want to do. I had survive so I had to do a cable movie here and there that I didn’t want to do. Actors are survivors. I had to do some not so great things in my life, but I’m still here. I did a photo shoot with you guys today and how hot was that?!
What informed how you navigate the industry?
As an actress, once you get a taste of what’s good, it doesn’t fade. It’s a longing, it’s a thirst.
You become a vampire, you need blood--you need the right blood. And so you are hungry for the good things. I was fortunate in that, when I was 34, I was offered an independent film called Married Life with Chris Cooper. We shot in Danville Kentucky. It was the most fun. We had $3,00,000 and my whole life changed and I said, oh this is where I want to be.
Do you think going the independent route gave you longevity?
The independent film world is not age driven, it’s talent driven. As long as they feel you have something to offer, you’ll do well there. When was a young girl I did not care about doing film, I wanted to be Ellen Terry, I wanted to be one of the great leading ladies of the theatre. I wanted to be Dousa, those were my aspirations. I studied theatre at Fordham. But then I got to Yale and I started studying ibsen, and the first jobs I had were in theatre. The theatre informed me. It made me the actress I am. I think you should be able to do everything.
What are some skills you have that few people know about?
I know how to sail a boat! I’m a very good archer. Also I did synchronized swimming when I was younger.
What are your thoughts on aging in Hollywood and how the focus is put on women aging and not men?
I just think it’s important that, as we age in this business, whatever women choose to do to themselves, that’s their business, and I don’t condemn or condone any particular decision--whether it’s surgery, botox or wearing zero makeup--it’s our body, it’s our choice. When we require to look good, we look good--we look our best. When I am on a red carpet, I take it seriously, when I’m at a photo shoot, I want to look good....and if I’m playing a glamorous character like Adora, I’m going to try my best to look that way. It’s a very glamorous part and then it’s also hideous and beyond the pale. Once people get to episode 7 and 8...it gets real.
Photographer: Maarten de Boer
Stylist: Victor Blanco
Makeup: Jo Strettell @Tracey Mattingly
Using Anastasia Bevery Hills
Hair: Richard Collins @Starworks
Writer: Heather Seidler
Location: Dream Factory LA
Assistant: Sarah Portillo