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Popcorn & Prejudice: A Movie Blog

Seattle Times writer Moira Macdonald muses on moviegoing. Email Moira: mmacdonald@seattletimes.com.

March 4, 2009 at 5:42 PM

Ladies and gentlemen, Patricia Clarkson!

May I just say that I love Patricia Clarkson? (Well, I’m going to say it anyway; don’t know why I’m asking.) The smoky-voiced New Orleans native, who’s on screen this week in “Phoebe in Wonderland,” has been quietly stealing movies for a couple of decades now; a unique presence with a remarkable gift of clarity, as if she can see her characters’ complex souls. Though not unnoticed by Hollywood (she received an Oscar nomination a few years back for playing a dying yet sardonic mother in “Pieces of April“), she mostly turns up in supporting roles in small gems — “The Station Agent,” “Lars and the Real Girl,” “Elegy,” “Married Life,” “Far from Heaven” — and has a way of making you wish the movie were about her character. In “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” last year, just one brief, heartbreaking scene (in which her middle-aged character talked about regret) did the trick. (Obviously Woody Allen loved her; he cast her in his next film.)
I interviewed Clarkson at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2003, the year of “Pieces of April” and “The Station Agent” and, though that was dozens of actor interviews ago, remember it well. She had a warmth that’s rare in such situations, and a gentle modesty that’s even rarer. And she ordered (very, very politely) a glass of half orange juice, half cranberry juice — which sounded so delicious I had one myself later, and which I occasionally enjoy to this day. Actors have unusual ways of leaving their mark, onscreen and off.
I went through YouTube looking for a Clarkson clip and found this one, with one of my other favorite actors, Robert Downey Jr. It’s from “Good Night, and Good Luck,” another gem of a movie, and needs no introduction. She’s barely in the movie, and yet look how much she conveys in this scene, with few words.

We’ll see more of Clarkson later this year, in Allen’s “Whatever Works” this summer and Martin Scorsese’s thriller “Shutter Island” in the fall. I can’t wait.

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