La Femme Parkita:
Parker Posey Adds Paris to Indie Kingdom
by Tony Phillips
“It’s kind of like jumping into water,” Parker Posey explains of the acting process, before taking a beat, then adding, “or drowning.” The refreshingly rumpled and bed-headed actor is up early, talking about her two new releases: Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim and Zoe Cassavetes’ Broken English. Before she enters the room, her director Hartley explains what I’ll come to think of as Posey’s continental drift, a phenomenon that sometimes happens even when the cameras aren’t rolling — see our discussion of Party Girl — but that ethereal flightiness is part of her charm. “You have access to her about five minutes before the take,” Hartley explains of Posey’s method, “and then you half as much two minutes before the take. The last minute before the take you don’t have any access to her. She’s gone.”
At first blush, her Fay Grim and Broken English appear to have nothing in common. The former picks up the chaining-smoking, single mom from Woodside, Queens a decade after she first appeared in Henry Fool and blows her out through Paris, Istanbul and Berlin for an off-the-wall espionage romp while the latter is an intimate relationship comedy in which a thirty-something single New Yorker who ends the encroach of marriage and children happening all around her by hooking up with Melvil Poupaud, the hottie from Francois Ozon’s Time to Leave. But Posey sees more similarity than difference.
“I follow a man to Paris in both movies,” she points out. “These movies got their financing right at the same time. They were both shot in digital. Zoe’s movie took three years to get its financing, Hal’s movie was more like ten years, but I shot Hal’s movie in January and Zoe’s movie in May.” And then Posey points out what might not be obvious about these two films that couldn’t be more different in tone. “They’re good companion pieces,” she says, “they played in San Francisco back to back and they were great together.”
But give her a minute and she’s comparing Grim to Superman, flying over the rooftops of Paris instead of Metropolis. It’s tempting to look at these companion pieces as the by-product of solid career planning: Posey wanted to fully explore the American in Paris theme and so assembled these two projects to work through that idea. A more calculating take would be now that last summer’s Superman Returns check has cleared, the actor Time Magazine dubbed “Queen of the Indies” has decided to resume her reign with a more international border. But both theories are wildly off base.
“I don’t have one of those careers where I call my manager and say this is what I want to do,” Posey explains, “I just kind of wait for whatever feels right and comes my way.” Still, Hartley points out what a careful reader the actress is, ringing him up to talk about scenes, and leaving page numbers from the script on his answering machine. When asked if she was surprised by the CIA becoming a major plot point in Fay Grim, Posey responds, “I don’t actually read from that place. The family and the story and this world that he’s created can expand in that way so that’s really cool.” When pressed on the issue of fear, Posey rants, “Why would I be scared? Do I look scared? Have I ever been scared to work?”
Probably not. Since hightailing it out of Laurel, Mississippi, to attend SUNY Purchase, the 5’5” actress who takes her namesake from 1950s paragon of chic Suzy Parker, has not been shy about work. She’s starred in over 30 films since 1994, the year she was saddled with the “Queen of the Indies” sash. She’s also appeared in bigger budget Hollywood fare like You’ve Got Mail, the aforementioned Superman flick and the Scream franchise. She’s not afraid of acting on stage, either, and has wracked up impressive New York theater cred with revivals of Hurlyburly and The Fifth of July. Even television doesn’t scare her. She was nominating for a Golden Globe for her turn opposite Shirley MacLaine’s makeup maven Mary Kay in Hell on Heels and as we speak she’s waiting to hear if her new pilot, a comedy about surrogate parenthood entitled The Return of Jezebel James, gets picked up by Fox. “I can even carry a tune,” Posey says, pointing out that she toured with her Mighty Wind cohorts.
And though she claims that two films in which she follows a man to Paris and a baby mama drama on the way are entirely coincidental, it makes one wonder what’s going on in the love life of the person famously linked to editor Thomas Beller and rocker Ryan Adams. Posey balks at the question, but then employs all the shooting time recently clocked in Paris as her answer. “You have to be strong to do Paris on your own,” she begins after a healthy pause, “everything’s so beautiful, but if you’re alone it’s just like…at least bring your dog.” Posey didn’t bring hers, but adds, “I took her to Berlin. I could take her anywhere. That was amazing: she could go to bars, restaurants, shopping malls.”
When I enquire about Gracie’s current hair color, Posey balks again. “Green?” she asks, mortified. “Who told you that?” When I explain that I saw her and her poodle in front of the GNC on 15th Street, she dodges. “I have a doppelganger. Seriously, I have a doppelganger. Some woman in Brooklyn was like, ‘You live in my building.’ No, I don’t. And she went, ‘Yeah, you do, you’re the actress right?’ Uh-huh. ‘You live in Brooklyn, you live with my friend. I’ve seen you there.’ And it’s not just Park Slope, it’s all over the world.” But Posey’s got an even better shaggy dog tale. When asked for some clarification about a Snoopy that surfaced in a May New York Times profile of her, described as “frozen midflight in the branches, Superman style,” Posey giggles.
“Like most New Yorkers I know,” Posey explains, “the buzzer in my building is not working and people have to call from downstairs. So instead of wadding up my keys in a sock and throwing them down for someone to get in, I found a little Snoopy keychain and so I put my keys in the Snoopy and the Snoopy goes flying out the window. So the night before I did that interview, I threw my Snoopy keychain out the window and it landed in the branches, and I kept throwing things out the window all night to try and get the keys. I threw a purse. I threw a pillow. And then I thought I’ll worry about it tomorrow. I called my super, Juan, the next day to help me get it out and he left them in the mailbox. So yeah, the Snoopy key chain...I had a fish at one point. We all have to do what we have to do to survive.”
Perhaps it’s a further dodge on the boyfriend front, but when I ask her about recently playing gay in the last Christopher Guest film For Your Consideration, she becomes capricious. “I love the lesbians,” she whispers, “I love the gays. That’s not really something people really come out and say, but I do.” But as quick as it began, she drops whimsy and goes for hard sell. “By the way,” she asks, “are you watching That Big Sketch Show? My friend Craig Chester is one of the producers and writers on that and it’s very funny, so get the word out. It’s called That Big Gay Sketch Show and it’s on Logo. It’s very, very funny.”
Dog, check. Gay best friend, check. And then she’s off on another tangent, perhaps. “Pocket Gay Friend?” she asks. “They’re like Pocket Gay Friend,” this time she sings the title from one of Chester’s sketches. “And then this little girl is like, ‘I want a Pocket Gay Friend’ and there’s like this little gay down in her pocket and he’s like, ‘You look fab,’ And she’s like, ‘Thanks, Pocket Gay Friend!’” She sings the title one more time for good measure, and then adds, “It’s really fun because it’s the first sketch show with the gays making fun of the gays.” When I ask her if she has any plans to appear, she almost yells, “No, I don’t have any plans to pop up on that. It’s not even picked up. No, that’s why I’m talking about it, trying to get the word out. It’s good and getting critical support, but I don’t know how that stuff works. Doesn’t every one just watch YouTube?”
It’s hard to imagine Posey cruising YouTube, not with the workout she just gave her passport. She describes Paris thusly: “During Fay Grim, it was just Croque Monsieur and a corporate hotel across from the Gare du Nord. And raining. And beer. Then our wrap party, for some reason, was held in a really big nightclub. It was like a dance floor the size of this table,” she says, rapping the tiny oval table she’s seated at, “but at eleven o’clock, a thousand people showed up to get their dance on. It was Cuban music and it was really crowded. Everyone was dancing. And I was like, ‘I can’t believe it, we can’t just hang out and just talk and not have to be so loud?’ Then someone said, ‘Let me get you a drink’ and half an hour later I was jumping around. And then suddenly it’s 4am and we gotta go. We gotta go to Istanbul.”
The thing she remembers most about that city is a trip up the Bosporus organized by the Turkish mother of a girl who worked the Fay Grim production office. “There were these men who came and one was a history teacher and the other worked at the airport. So the woman who organized this trip was like, ‘They want to talk to you.’ So we went down to talk to them and they said, ‘How do you like our country?’ I said, ‘This is the nicest place that I’ve been.’”
“Turkey is so nice, and the people are so kind. And the textiles there are beautiful. Any conversations I would have about Turkey it was like, ‘Oh, you have to go,’ but anyway, then these guys asked, ‘Do you think Istanbul could be an art capital like Venice?’ Yeah, I think it could, you know, politically what’s going on there, it’s like, before I did the movie, Turkey was in the news a lot for the European Union. It’s divided. I mean, there are people there who want it to be an art capital, and then there’s this football game with 40,000 people. There are just a lot of crazy people. And all this antiquity. They can’t dig anywhere because there’s a whole world under the ground. It’s like, ‘We decided to dig here 25 years ago and we found Jesus’ friend’s stone rings underground.’”
But enough about Jesus, what would Parker do? When asked if she likes watching herself, Posey replies, “Oh, God no!” When posited with the scenario of Party Girl popping up late at night, she’s still firm. “Even on cable,” she says, “I change the channel. If you saw yourself…it’s horrible.” Still, perhaps there are more sequels up her sleeve? “People are having sequel questions because there’s so many sequels now,” she says, “if your kid liked Shrek One, go to Shrek Two. Shrek Three, you can have them all.” But Fay Grim notwithstanding, sequels in the indie world are still relatively rare. When it’s suggested that she will, of course, reprise her role as Kitty Kowalski in the Superman franchise, she doesn’t see that as such a forgone conclusion. “I don’t have to come back,” she explains, “the villains from the last one didn’t come back.”
Okay, enough beating around the bush. Party Girl II? “Of course,” she replies, “I mean, I wonder where she is now? That’s one of those movies where I think I was called an annoying brat in The New York Times and that’s when I stopped reading about myself. But I, um, yeah, what was I going to say? Party Girl, annoying brat, sequel…oh, it was like at that time, I loved that Party Girl didn’t have this crazy message. It’s such an easy movie. You put it in and listen to it, great soundtrack. Dance around. I like to dance around and watch movies. I used to love to do that when I was little. Girls will just get up and start dancing, dress up and have fun. Sometimes these independent movies have a lot to them, so it’s nice that it could be kind of light.”