At about the midway point in my recent interview with Parker Posey, she said something that almost broke my heart: “I think there’s…this idea of me, that I’m weird.” She was speculating about why she hasn’t been cast to do as many bigger movies recently. And I tried to counter by trying to explain that, while she has the magical ability to make a movie get to the right amount of weird, she herself was charming and funny and just the perfect amount of loopy. I’ve not only adored the work of Parker Posey for the nearly 25 years she has been a screen actress, but I’ve enjoyed the impact she’s had on indie films about women. You see, Posey and I grew up together—not literally, of course, but she and I are almost exactly the same age, and she appeared in Richard Linklater’s DAZED AND CONFUSED in 1993 (for those less familiar with film history, that’s the year between RESERVOIR DOGS and PULP FICTION), a time just after college when I was consuming every movie I could get my grubby little hands on—old and new—and the indie film movement was exploding.
And Posey was right there at the forefront, or at least near it, in early works by Hal Hartley (she’s played his creation Fay Grim in three films, including this year’s NED RIFLE); Rory Kelly’s SLEEP WITH ME; playing the quintessential free-spirited New Yorker PARTY GIRL; in Noah Baumbach’s KICKING AND SCREAMING; Gregg Araki’s THE DOOM GENERATION; Greg Mottola’s supremely funny THE DAYTRIPPERS; Linklater’s SUBURBIA; Julian Schnabel’s BASQUIAT; Mark Waters’ THE HOUSE OF YES; Jill Sprecher’s CLOCKWATCHERS; and a whole host of improv comedy masterpieces from director Christopher Guest.
Posey made her way into larger-scale working, including Nora Ephron’s YOU’VE GOT MAIL, SCREAM 3, JOSIE AND THE PUSSYCATS, BLADE: TRINITY, and even SUPERMAN RETURNS—nary a winner among them. Of the filmmakers mentioned in the previous paragraph, many of them are considered auteurs, and there aren’t many of those any more, at least not on film. But in more recently year, Posey has sought out such collaborations on the small screen with highly memorable appearances on “Inside Amy Schumer,” “New Girl,” and an unforgettable turn on “Louie.”
One of the movie-making world’s last true auteurs is Woody Allen, and it’s actually somewhat astonishing to me that Posey and Allen haven’t working together before this week’s IRRATIONAL MAN (the two are also slated to start shooting Allen’s next movie later this summer). In the film, Posey plays Rita, a college professor who is one of two women (the other being Emma Stone) who has an affair with a newly hired lit professor, played by Joaquin Phoenix. I had a chance to sit down with her in Chicago and talk about walking that find line between genius and improv nightmare. I found Posey delightful, with a terrific sense of humor and a keen insight into all things. If she is weird, she’s my kind of weird. Please enjoy my interview with the lovely (and newly blonde) Parker Posey…
Capone: Hello. Lovely to meet you.
Parker Posey: Hello, Steve. Nice to meet you.
Capone: Wow, your hair is so blonde.
PP: I know.
Capone: For fun or for a role?
PP: It is [for a role] now.
Capone: I saw an interview with you recently, and your hair was covered, but I could see bits of blonde hair peaking through.
PP: I had a turban on. I went to the Cannes Film Festival with the movie, and my friend designed my dress, because Cannes is a pretty big deal, and I wanted to wear something that she made, and she told me I should dye my hair to match the dress, and I did.
Capone: So the hair’s an accessory to the dress.
Capone: I always identify you with New York, so I have to imagine that being in a Woody Allen movie had to be one of those things that you almost don't dare to dream of doing because you want it so badly.
PP: Yeah, I think it’s true for every actor I know.
Capone: Especially New York actors.
Capone: I actually was shocked that you hadn’t worked with him; I thought you had. It seems so obvious after seeing you in this.
PP: You know, I met him for BULLETS OVER BROADWAY, and I met him on SHADOWS AND FOG—this was 20 years ago. So I met him in the ’90s. It was a very different time then. We’ve seen American cinema become global, with the rise of European financing. so now lots of movies in the way they’re financed and the way they’re put together has an international cast or investors that approve of casting choices.
Capone: There’s a longer checklist of qualities you have to have to get hired.
PP: Yeah, yeah. I got so lucky, because he can do whatever he wants, and there are so few directors that can. We don’t support the auteur in this country, so it felt like college in a way, like a masters class of the form.
Capone: What do you remember about that initial meeting? Did you get a sense of what he was looking for?
PP: Well, I knew that Joaquin was going to be in it, and I knew that I would play a teacher. I felt like Joaquin and I would be a really good match, because I feel similar to him. I just relate to him, and Emma too. I wasn’t sure if I was the one he was looking for, but the synchronicity and randomness leading up to it—[Allen’s casting director] Juliet Taylor and I were at the Krakow Film Festival in Poland on the jury, and she got to know me a little more. So it just happened.
Capone: The way I’ve heard it works is once you get hired, then you get your script pages from them. Do you remember anything about your character upon reading it for the first time that you latched on to and said, “I can do that. I can build on that”?
PP: It was all of it. I got the material and I felt like he wrote it the night before. It felt like my voice, and it was so effortless.
Capone: Even thought he probably wrote it 15 years ago. I know he has scripts and idea in drawers.
PP: On notecards. He just writes it down.
Capone: Do you remember anything in particular that appealed to you about Rita?
PP: Yeah, I think the desire of her, of feeling trapped, I want someone to leave with. I don't want to do it alone. I can’t leave alone. It just felt so Russian to me. It felt Chekhovian. “I have to work here and I can’t go to Moscow.” It’s just classic to me. I loved that, that yearning, that suffering, and that strength.
Capone: You and this character are the most interesting thing in this film to me, because she has the weirdest arc—she starts out desperate and damaged, and as the film goes on, she pulls it together. Each time we see her, she’s a little more mature and composed and seeing things clearer. Usually it goes the other way. By the end, you and Emma are in the same place, at least about this man.
PP: Well, the fantasy is hers. It belongs to her, and that’s wonderful. Even though he’s sleeping with a student, the fantasy belongs to her, and I think the portrayal of that is so touching to me, because I think it’s so touching of how we yearn and how we love. She doesn’t really see him. She doesn’t know how dark he is. And then this perspective to be like, “Oh well, at this time in my life, my desires exceed reality.” I could get over that. When you don’t have much time, it does something. It accelerates. I’ve seen the movie maybe one-and-a-half times, because I left during Cannes. I don’t like watching myself, and I don’t read anything. Well, I do read!
Capone: I know what you mean. You don’t read reviews. I got you. You mentioned before how the current state of cinema doesn’t really support auteurs any more, but you do.
PP: When I can, yeah.
Capone: Woody included, because now you're going to make another movie with him, but I was lucky enough a couple of months ago to finally get to meet Hal Hartley for NED RIFLE, which you’re in. You’ve worked with him several times, Richard Linklater, Noah Baumbach.
PP: 20 years ago! Rick, 20 years ago. It’s been 20 years. I don’t know if they would be able to cast me today, even if they wanted me for a part. It’s just how the system works.
Capone: But what you have been doing lately is shifting mediums. You were on Amy Schumer’s show, you were on Louis CK’s show. Those people are auteurs too, especially Louis. The stuff you did with him in those first two episodes in particular are amazing. Those are my favorite two from that season.
PP: He’s very ’70s. We’re cut from the same cloth. We value the same kind of intimacy and humor in material, like Bob Rafelson or John Cassavetes or Stanley Kubrick. He’s layered. I did a benefit reading for his kids’ school. We did it me, Marisa Tomei, Nathan Lane, Louis CK, Mike Daisy, Mario Cantone, in a tiny theater that’s now shut down. It sold out in five minutes. I’m like, “Why aren’t we doing this every week?” It was the best cast. It was incredible. So yeah, I do something like that. Frank Whaley introduced us and asked me because his kids go to Louis kids’ school. You just do these things because you want to see what other people are creating. But the director-auteur hiring the actor? Not anymore. It doesn’t happen. Now, it’s the comedian-writer making an auteur of themselves—casting an actor and writing for an actor like Louis did for me. So that’s the name of the game now. That and genre films.
Capone: You’re coming full circle now. The last few times I’ve seen you in things, it’s made me remember how good you are and how much I missed you. And it hasn’t really been that long.
PP: You’re so sweet. I’m feeling that from other journalists too.
Capone: I remember seeing PARTY GIRL in the brief time I lived in New York, and it profoundly moved me. I wrote it down in my notes: “Every time I see you in a movie, the movie is made a little cooler than it was before.” And then I see you in this Woody Allen film, and I’m reminded of your abilities.
PP: Thank you, really. I’ve felt that about other actors too. But why is it so strange, though? Because I think there’s also this idea of me, that I’m weird.
Capone: I think you make a lot of the films you’re in the necessary amount of weird. I don’t think it’s you, though.
PP: Don’t you know we’re in conservative times as far as tolerance for weird?
Capone: In certain respects, absolutely. But there are always going to be movies that would benefit having you in them. I’m so excited that you’re Woody’s new “It” girl now. Do you know anything about the next one?
PP: Yeah, but I can’t tell you anything [laughs].
Capone: We know some of the people that are in it [Blake Lively, Kristen Stewart, Jesse Eisenberg, Bruce Willis]. We’ve seen that. When do you start shooting?
PP: In August.
Capone: Can you say where you’re shooting?
PP: I don’t know.
Capone: You’re not sure if it’s in another country?
PP: I don’t know if I can tell you [laughs].
Capone: Working with him on this film, was there anything about his process that you were surprised by, even though you’d probably have heard from other people how he is?
PP: At a certain level, I thought about jazz a lot.
Capone: Which is funny, because this film doesn’t have a traditional jazz soundtrack.
PP: There’s an improvisational looseness and a focus at the same time. With the expectation of, “We’re going to get this in one take.” So that’s already a level. I thought about, this is the maestro. This is a real master of the craft, right? Classic. So you can trust everything. His ear is so subtle. He does it all. Did you see a movie called THE FRONT with Zero Mostel.
Capone: I love that movie.
Capone: At the time, that was one of the only thing’s he ever acted in that he didn’t write or direct.
PP: It’s so good. And like he’s so charming and so funny. His wit is so natural. He does it. It must be frustrating for him.
Capone: Why do you think it’s frustrating for him?
PP: He and Joaquin, it was really great to see them together. They would run to meet each other halfway after takes and stuff. They were so connected. Joaquin is amazing.
Capone: He’s a very soulful guy, and it comes across in everything he does.
PP: Exactly. It’s why I got the part. It’s exactly how I described him. Woody was like, “Oh, I hear Juliet brought you in because she thinks you’d be perfect for this part with Joaquin Phoenix.” I was like, “Oh my god, he’s so soulful.” They’re both idiosyncratic, the two of them. We all are.
Capone: It works though. It’s a nice, mellow movie most of the time.
PP: It brings me back to thinking about music. Joaquin, I guess, would be harmonizing with Woody’s band or something.
Capone: In the scenes with you and Joaquin, the sexual tension is so funny—you’re sexual and he’s tense.
PP: It was very loose that day. With this movie in particular, I was always like, “Do I have it? When I’m going to talk, when it comes out, is it going to have the right tone?” It’s a really subtle thing. When I read that scene on paper, it really made me laugh. I see it on screen, and see that it’s something else. So he directed me a little bit in that scene, and just said, “Just the tiniest bit of irony. That was right. We’re going to have to go again because the sound wasn’t very good.”
Capone: What was the direction?
PP: What was the line? When I said, “I thought you’d never ask.” He said, “Just the tiniest bit of irony.” Then he walked away. This is like, he listens. He’s a listener and he can play jazz. So what he’s listening for is a subtle thing, and his expectations from having worked with all these great actors over the years, I was feeling like humble pie a little, because I don’t feel I’ve had the opportunities to work at a certain level on really good material as much as the actors in the ’70s and ’80s. They were so much better than we were. You know what I mean?
Capone: Absolutely. Thank you so much. It was so wonderful to meet you.