Patricia Clarkson is back in the awards race again thanks to her chilling performance as Adora, mother to Amy Adams‘ character on “Sharp Objects.” The role earned Clarkson wins at the Golden Globes and Critics’ Choice Awards on top of a SAG Award nomination. She is expected to earn an Emmy nomination this summer after winning two Emmys for “Six Feet Under.”
Clarkson spoke with Gold Derby senior editor Rob Licuria back in December about what appealed to her about “Sharp Objects,” the influx of women’s stories in media and her extensive awards history. Watch the exclusive webchat above and read the complete interview transcript below.
Gold Derby: Patricia Clarkson, you play the fascinating Adora on “Sharp Objects.” Before we get into the nitty-gritty, I really would like to know, what was it specifically about this role that really piqued your interest and wanted you to return to HBO?
Patricia Clarkson: First, I love HBO. I love working there. It was a privilege to be on “Six Feet Under” and to return to a place I now feel is home. That was a plus, but it always begins with the writing, with the character, and also the other characters. You’re not acting alone so I was drawn to Gillian Flynn’s beautiful writing. My interest was piqued. I, fortunately, had not read the novel. I had read other Gillian Flynns but I’d never read “Sharp Objects” and when they made me the offer, I wanted to talk to Gillian and I said to my agent, “Wait, wait, wait. Let me first read the novel,” and so he called back and said, “Patty will have a conversation but she’s gonna read the novel quickly.” And she was like, “No, no, no. Don’t read the novel.” I only knew Adora in this incarnation. I only knew her in this drawing, so I came at Adora with fresh eyes.
GD: It seems like an obvious question to talk about female-centric stories like “Sharp Objects” and others like “Big Little Lies” and “Orphan Black,” “Handmaid’s Tale,” but I wanna drill down ‘cause you’ve probably been asked this a lot of times. It’s so interesting especially with what’s going on in the world right now. Drilling down, in this current culture and especially around female empowerment, did that in any way inform how you went about tackling this role and female stories, why are they so prevalent now? Why are we all so drawn to them?
PC: I think, finally, the MeToo movement has caught people. It has swirled inside and I think now executives, studios, they realize that we need to tell more female-centric stories. We don’t have to be Wonder Woman. We don’t have to be heroic people all the time. We can be really screwed up and difficult and unattractive. We can be all these things. We can be all the things that men can be and we’re just as interesting. That’s what’s beautiful about “Sharp Objects” is it is about deeply and sadly dysfunctional women but it’s three women at the center and in particular, one being Amy, but when women are at the center, we’re winning. It’s a good thing. When we are the center of a project, it’s a good thing. I think executives want to do the right thing. I think not only is it politically correct, it’s cool. I think it’s empowering for a male executive to say, “My next project, written by a woman, directed by a woman, starring women.” You automatically get the best seat at the table. It’s a great thing.
GD: It’s really cool because obviously about 15-20 years ago we went through a stage where on television we saw a lot of antiheroes and they’re all men, Tony Soprano and “The Shield.” And now we’ve gone into this whole other new direction which is so fascinating for anyone. It’s a different perspective. Hopefully one day we’ll get to a point where it doesn’t matter necessarily what your gender is or your sexual orientation or your race but at this point in time, it seems that women are very much a focus on TV and it’s very exciting. Even though you’re playing one on TV, a very complicated, unusual woman, do you find that when you’re watching television or watching films that you’re very drawn to these new characters?
PC: Oh, absolutely. It’s thrilling. I think it’s been a banner year for women on television, in film. I’m overwhelmed. I don’t know how I’m gonna vote for the Oscars this year. I’m an Academy member. There are so many choices. It’s just lousy with great performances in all of this year. It’s an embarrassment of riches but it should be. It shouldn’t be an exception. It should be the rule. We should always just have an abundance of great female characters in our living rooms. We just should.
GD: Yeah, it should reflect what the world is. I know that you and Amy were familiar. You knew her prior to taking on the role. How do you both prepare for this very complicated dynamic between these two characters?
PC: It’s such a dark and painful process that I was fortunate to have someone like Amy who is a consummate actress but she also has a sense of humor and is a workhorse, knows the scenes that some days were just gonna be brutal. We had each other’s back. I think the important thing — I spoke about this the other day — I think it was important for me never to judge Adora, to never stand in judgment of her, to find what I could love about her. With Amy, we both knew we were playing these really damaged and forlorn and deprived women in ways, which is really not a place you often wanna be. But it’s also why we’re actresses and it’s what we wanna do. We wanna go to the place that scares us most, that frightens us the most, that we’re not sure what we’re gonna be able to do. I wasn’t sure as I progressed in this part where it would go and I tried to just literally take it one day at a time.
GD: That’s so fascinating because obviously, you’re such a seasoned actor. You’ve been working for a long time. You’ve got a great resume behind you and yet, you take on a role like this, it just looks so obviously challenging and you touched on this that you do have to find a relatability, don’t you? Otherwise, how do you get into a person that you can’t relate to?
PC: I think it’s essential that we see the best in the characters we play. We let other people judge them. We let other people be mortified or horrified or disgraced by their behavior but we have to do our best because I think if we don’t come with an open heart to a part, we’re not gonna give it everything we have. It’s honestly probably if not one of the most difficult characters I’ve ever played and I knew it and I had the bonus of having these extraordinary actresses around me, not just Amy but many, many others and Jean-Marc Vallée, who was a powerhouse of a director. But I had great writing, too. In order to honor and validate these great writers that worked on the show, I had to bring whatever I could.
GD: I’m really conscious of not trying to give away too many spoilers in case people haven’t seen it yet, although it’s been out for a long time and you can Google it. There’s a big reveal obviously towards the end of the episodes about your character. I think we could probably focus more on the whole thing of abuse and neglect. You’ve said this in previous interviews that abuse and neglect is so cyclical and trauma repeats itself. How challenging is it to play a person suffering with that kind of trauma and yet on the surface she just looks completely like everything’s cool but it’s obviously not?
PC: That was what drew me to take on Adora was the dichotomy, the sheer lightness and the sheer darkness and sometimes simultaneously or within split seconds of her scenes and her being. I had to do my homework as Adora. I had to come very prepared. I had to come free and that’s what Jean-Marc really helped me with. So very much a freedom of spirit, a freedom of emotion, a freedom in my body. That’s what was essential. I was lucky that I had the wind at my back, so to speak. I needed everything I could get with Adora.
GD: Does it help that Jean-Marc directed all of the episodes? He did that for “Big Little Lies.” He directed the whole thing so it’s one vision for the whole project. What does that mean to you?
PC: I thought it was essential. I thought it made the show what it is. it was a man who knew exactly what he wanted. He had this brilliant DP, Yve, that is just one of the loveliest men I’ve ever met. We just went to work every day and every day we knew what the circumstances were because by the time we got to even Episode 2, 3, by 4, we were flying. By 5, 6, 7, 8, you’re into Tennessee Williams meets [Eugène] Ionesco, [Jean-Paul] Sartre and Eugene O’Neill all whipped into one. You’ve got all of the greatest, darkest playwrights in this haunting and beautiful miniseries.
GD: You’ve played all kinds of characters over your career with all kinds of backgrounds but playing something like this, to me, would, I think, be a challenge and I’m wondering how do you do it? Do you shed the skin and move on or does it stay with you for some time?
PC: Sometimes I get very emotional when I talk about Adora because it really was traumatizing at times. I, of course, let her go but I did something I’ve never done. I never went home to New York as Adora. I never went back into my apartment as Adora. I stayed in L.A., we shot in Ukiah, we came back here. Even when I had time off, I never went home. Never. So I kept her close and I kept her right here. I went to Georgia for a little bit but mainly I kept her right here in Los Angeles in that home that was all built. I had those nails and when I finally got to shed the nails and undergarments I wore, just her hair and her shoes and her dresses… It’s a strange thing to admit, I think about her often. I do. She’ll never leave me as long as I live. That makes me sad and yet okay. I just know it. She’s gonna always kind of be with me. That’s just who we are and what we are as actors. We have certain characters that just never leave us.
GD: Yeah, absolutely. You’ve been so prolific on stage, in film and TV. Can you pinpoint what’s the best thing about working in all three mediums?
PC: I think it challenges you vocally, emotionally, physically, intellectually in ways that are good for us as actors. It’s good for us not to get too comfortable in a medium. I had been doing so much film and I hadn’t been onstage and when Bradley [Cooper] asked me to do “Elephant Man,” I was frightened. I hadn’t done theater in so long but I knew there was something that was missing in me. I hadn’t exercised that part of my being in my body and also what a beautiful way, you’re acting with Bradley Cooper in “The Elephant Man.” I think it takes you and television and is just so concentrated and is so demanding in ways and film, depending on what size budget, it’s all these ways that open you. At the end of the day, it is all about creating a character and the medium doesn’t matter, but it does shift us when we go through separate mediums and I think it’s important as actors that we don’t get too comfortable. I’m 58 and I’m trying not to get comfortable.
GD: It’s never too late. I was looking back on your awards history ‘cause we’re Gold Derby, that’s what we really, really care about is the awards stuff. You’ve had nominations in stuff like “High Art” and “The Green Mile” and “Far From Heaven” and “The Station Agent.” “Pieces of April” was your first Oscar nomination. I think you were also nominated by the Hollywood Foreign Press on that one. You won Emmys for “Six Feet Under,” such a great character, and you’ve been Tony-nominated for “The Elephant Man.” So when you think back to all your awards history, it’s pretty cool. What’s the one thing that comes to mind when you say, “Yeah, that is gonna stay with me. I love that memory”?
PC: I think taking my dad to the Golden Globes, I’ll never forget him being on the red carpet. That will always stay with me. That was a very, very special night, bringing your dad as your date. My dad is divine so it was beautiful. He was knocked out. My father is a quiet, funny, droll man and it was a rare treat to have him on a red carpet. It will always stay with me.
GD: That’s beautiful. One day I hope my daughter might take me to the Golden Globes. You never know. Finally, winning for “Six Feet Under,” that was a really important prize in your career at that point in time. I can’t remember if you were at the Creative Arts Emmys.
PC: I was. I was at both of them. I did accept my Emmy at both. The first one was so shocking. It was the last award of the night and I thanked the audience that I did not receive this award alone because it was literally the last award of the night. But it was so shocking to me. I couldn’t even really walk in my dress but I didn’t care because I thought I’d just be sitting. So I had a little struggle to get up to the podium. And then the second one was so shocking. I remember I was with my manager at the time, Scott, and he nudged me. He said, “Patty, go up.” It was just shocking. I’m still to this day a little shocked.
GD: Winning two guest actress prizes for a role is so unheard of. That’s insane. Really, really cool.
PC: Alan Ball is brilliant. Aunt Sarah is just one of those characters. It was all on the page. It honestly was all on the page and it was just sheer heaven. It was copious amounts of lines. It was so many lines but once you got those, it was sheer heaven. Franny Conroy, Kathy Bates, that great cast, wow, and great directors that they had.
GD: Good times. Well, look, we hope to see you on the Golden Globes red carpet again very soon and possibly the Emmys next year. Good luck this award season and thanks so much for talking to us.
PC: What a treat, thank you so much.