Changes in Hollywood give Parker Posey pause
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We’re nine minutes into the interview with Parker Posey, and I’m up to my third question. She doesn’t so much reach the end of a train of thought as she comes up for air. It’s pretty great and a little unsettling.
You know Posey from “Dazed and Confused” and “Party Girl,” from “Best in Show” and “Waiting for Guffman,” from memorable guest spots on TV shows such as “Parks and Recreation,” “The Good Wife” and “Louie.” She appeared in so many small hipster films in the 1990s she was crowned “Queen of the Indies,” although it seems counterintuitive to the very notion of independent film.
Posey has one of her best roles in recent years in Woody Allen’s “Irrational Man,” in which she plays Rita, an unhappily married professor who dreams of running off to Spain with a deeply troubled teacher played by Joaquin Phoenix. (“Even if he [committed murder], I’d still run off to Spain with him,” says Rita.)
On a recent visit to Chicago, Posey spoke passionately about the state of the business, her love of acting and why she almost quit the business.
“In the 1990s, I basically just said ‘yes’ to everything,” says Posey. “I was in my 20s and I was insatiable. Did you feel the same way?”
“You worked a lot, right?”
“It was that kind of time in American culture, right?”
“And then the movie business changed and it was all about the corporate culture, and we had the rise of Gawker and this cult of fame and gossip and reality television and it’s kind of a new mythology in a way … it’s very strange to me. As an actress, you want to keep a mystique, but people want to know the gossip. In a way it’s provincial, you know? Like we all live in a small town. All the gossip upstages your body of work …”
When Parker Posey pauses — she’s passionate to the point of reaching out and lightly grabbing your wrist as she makes a point — I ask her about almost retiring from acting.
“I had this reputation for being connected to independent cinema, and yet my worth — it’s very much like the Occupy movement. My number wasn’t high, but I had the talent, I could do the job.”
(Note: I’m not sure what that means either, but Parker Posey is just getting warmed up.)
“I’ve missed acting [that involved] storytelling. … I would guest star on the these TV shows, but it doesn’t satisfy me to do a TV show, yet I wasn’t even reading movie scripts, I was just not getting the material sent to me, so I left a bigger agency and now I’m with a smaller agency, because what happens with the bigger agencies is they’re like studios … and I was like, I need other career options because where do I fit in?
“Because I’m not an ‘SNL’ actor. I mean, we’ve seen comedy move to a really broad direction, and you can look back at actors through the decades and say like, ‘Oh yeah, that was kind of the style then …’ Like Dustin Hoffman who was so distinctive and talented, and Judd Hirsch, and Brooke Adams, and Genevieve Bujold, and JEREMY IRONS, and we’re not in a movie culture right now that has an open door to a certain kind of male or a certain kind of woman. There would barely be a place for actors like that if they were coming up today.”
There’s been much talk lately about how actresses of a certain age aren’t even considered to play the leading role opposite actors of their generation.
“You can only imagine the rejection of being told I can’t play Matt Damon’s wife in three scenes of a Hollywood movie because of the politics of Hollywood,” says Posey.
Dead-on point. (For the record, Posey is all of two years older than Damon.)
For maybe the first time in all the years I’ve been talking to actors who are promoting a film, I’M the one who has to bring up the movie.
“I was going to bring you to that,” says Posey. “I got lucky in that there was a part in his movie that was small enough not to need a big star and I was the right essence at that time to play this woman, so with all of the stuff that I just described I feel so blessed and I see how lucky … how much luck it really takes and so yeah I’m sorry if I’m being too intense but … I’m playing, this is a great Woody Allen character. … I thought a lot about [the actress] Sandy Dennis when I started working on it because I didn’t know what kind of movie I was going to be in, if it was going to be a heavy Woody Allen movie or a light Woody Allen movie. …
“Woody Allen is the last man standing. I’d look over at him and he’d be standing in his khakis and hat, and think, ‘He’s the last man standing, the last man who’s got something to say.’ Are you kidding? This movie is off the charts. It’s amazing.”