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One Day

People In Film | Patricia Clarkson

Patricia Clarkson: An Essential Character

Lone Scherfig’s romance One Day focuses on the emotional ups and downs between Emma (Anne Hathaway) and Dexter (Jim Sturgess), a young couple who meet as students and friends in 1988 and end as something so much more years later. But while Emma and Dex are the film’s focus, other characters, like Dexter’s mother Alison Mayhew (Patricia Clarkson), are essential to the story and to the couple’s future. In some ways, Clarkson’s character provides the film’s moral center, if not simply its moral that “one day” is all we have. In One Day, Clarkson adds psychological depth and emotional color to the film, without in anyway detracting from the main drama. It’s a role that Clarkson has perfected –– a character actor that is essential to the film.

Between New Orleans and New York

Clarkson with her mother and father

Born in New Orleans on December 29, 1959, just a few days before the sixties began, Clarkson would grow up to represent two worlds––the refined and honorable south of her youth and the cultural sophistication of her life today. Born into a household of a strong mother––her mother Jacquelyn (Brechtel) Clarkson is a local politician ––and four smart, successful sisters, she did not lack for role models. Clarkson later joked to theHollywoodInterview that her poor father, Arthur ("Buzz") Clarkson, a public health administrator, “lived in a house of six women and two female dogs. I mean…but I think he kind of loved it! …He has male grandchildren now, so the estrogen count that he had to live with has petered out somewhat.” And while she grew up proud of who she was, she also delighted in being other people. “Since the time I was 13 or 14 when I was first involved with theatre, I really just loved transforming,” She recounted to Screenwize, “I loved entering another character and taking that journey – entering a different life for a while.”

For Yale And Theater

While she preformed in high school, and then studied drama at Louisiana State University, and then later Fordham University, Clarkson’s drama career really began when she entered the MFA program at Yale’s School of Drama. Her skill in capturing characters was certainly honed through her appearance in the school’s productions of plays like “Twelfth Night", "The Misanthrope," and "Pacific Overtures." But she got even more experience through her day-to-day class exercises. “I spent three years acting against type, which stretched me and shaped me and made me malleable and pliable,” she told Screenwize in 2009. “After playing classic leading lady roles like “Hedda Gabler” as an undergraduate, I got to Yale and wore more fat suits and wigs than you can imagine. I played the Bard in “Pericles”, and I played a 300-pound woman, and I shared a fat suit with Dylan Baker.” Ready to play skinny (or fat), she took to the New York stage, receiving high marks for her performance in such works as the 1986 staging of John Guare’s "The House of Blue Leaves" and the 1989 staging of Richard Greenberg’s "Eastern Standard."

Character Actor And Beyond

Clarkson in High Art

In 1986, Clarkson began her film career playing the wife of G-Man Eliott Ness (Kevin Costner) in Brian DePalma’s 1987 The Untouchables. Her smoky voice and radiant good looks brought her plenty of small roles in both television and film. She appeared regularly on TV dramas like “Murder One” and “Law and Order.” In 1987, she was cast opposite Clint Eastwood in The Dead Pool. That same year, her career changed for the better when first-time director Lisa Cholodenko cast her to play the ex-model, heroin-addicted German lesbian lover in her 1998 drama High Art. While such a role could’ve easily slid into a “Saturday Night Live” caricature, Clarkson molded the woman’s eccentricities to create an empathetic human figure. Robert Ebert noted in his review, “Patricia Clarkson succeeds in creating a complete, complex character without ever overplaying the stoned behavior (she's like Fassbinder's Petra von Kant on heroin instead of booze).” Clarkson told the Hollywood Interview a decade later, “That film changed everything for me. … I loved the part, although I’m not German, I’m not gay and I’ve never even smoked pot! But Lisa Cholodenko had faith in me that I would transform and that I understood Greta in some way.”

The Queen of Sundance
From High Art, Clarkson established herself as one of America’s most distinctive actress. In 2001, she received an Emmy for her memorable work on the HBO series “Six Feet Under”, and the next year she was presented a New York Film Critics Circle award, as well as the National Society of Film Critics award, for her turn as the gossipy neighbor in Todd Haynes' sumptuous period piece Far From Heaven. Then in 2003, she became the unofficial Queen of Sundance, starring in a record four features at that year’s Sundance Film Festival: Thomas McCarthy’s The Station Agent, Peter Hedges’ Pieces of April, David Gordon Green’s All The Real Girls, and Michael MacKenzie’s The Pig and The Baroness. Even the Sundance Film festival attempted to make her title semi-official by presenting her with a special Jury Award that year. Her work in Pieces of April brought her further recognition the next year when she was nominated for best supporting actress for her part as the chronically ill mother. And while it was an ensemble piece, The Washington Post’s Ann Hornaday declared, “Pieces of April belongs, wholly and completely, to Clarkson, who delivers Joy's mordant asides and withering observations with a flawless balance of tartness and vulnerability.”
Big Films, Small Films, Character Part, Film Star
For Clarkson, there seems to be no film (or part) too big, or too small, that her presence can’t improve. In recent years, she has popped up in big Hollywood fare, like Shutter Island, Easy A, and All The Kings Men. Likewise she’s graced the casts of smaller films, like the George Clooney-helmed period piece Good Night and Good Luck––which Salon’s Stephanie Zacharek said she “played with delightful sharpness––the Danish director Lars Van Trier's much celebrated avant-garde drama Dogville, and Ira Sachs’ chamber quartet Married Life. In Ruba Nadda’s 2009 Canadian romance Cairo Time, Clarkson took the lead as a woman who finds love unexpectedly in modern Egypt. The critical reception to her performance as a film star was summed up by David Lewis writing for the San Francisco Chronicle: “Cairo Time confirms two things that hardly need confirming: The Egyptian capital is a breathtaking metropolis, and Patricia Clarkson is one of the best actors in the world.”
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