July 5, 2009 in Features

Her South is rising again

Bennett Sumner The Washington Post
 
Associated Press photo

Patricia Clarkson
(Full-size photo)

Patricia Clarkson always seems to be playing wives and mothers, even though she is neither in real life.

From her recent comedy stint as Justin Timberlake’s mother in the “Saturday Night Live” skit “Mother Lover” to her role as Chris Cooper’s wife in the 2008 drama “Married Life,” her characters have required a wide range of attitudes and emotions.

When she read the script for Woody Allen’s new film “Whatever Works,” she immediately felt a close connection to her character, Marietta – yet another mother, this one in search of her runaway daughter.

“I couldn’t dial the phone fast enough,” Clarkson says. “I literally would have had to have been on Mars with the astronauts or on a mission somewhere not to accept the part.”

In the film, Marietta moves from small-town Mississippi to New York in search of her daughter (played by Evan Rachel Wood).

Once the two are reunited, Marietta discovers her true identity as an artist and fully embraces a new, free-spirited lifestyle, becoming part of a menage a trois and trading her hot-pink dress suit for an edgy bandanna and black leggings.

“My family is Southern, and I’m very sensitive to Southern characters,” the New Orleans-bred Clarkson says. “And you know, the keenness of Woody Allen is he took this stereotypical archetypal Southern woman and transformed her.”

On top of her Southern roots, Clarkson could relate to Marietta’s Big Apple experience. At 19, she moved north to study theater at New York’s Fordham University.

“I was just a nice Southern girl who left home,” she says. “New Orleans is a much more cosmopolitan city than where Marietta was from, but (moving to New York) was a rude awakening in many ways. It was a looser, more open way of life than I was accustomed to, and it just felt less structured.”

Marietta’s over-the-top personality and complex emotions made her an exciting character to play, and Clarkson says she found her “genuinely funny and genuinely sexy, which is difficult for writers to do, especially for a woman in her 40s.”

Like Marietta, Clarkson remains a Southern lady at her core. She admits to almost calling Allen and Larry David, who plays a grumpy older man whom Marietta’s daughter bunks with, “Mr. Woody” and “Mr. Larry,” a Southern sign of respect.

“Just like any Southern girl, I’m always searching for a gentleman,” she says. “Justin Timberlake and (‘SNL’s) Andy Samberg are young gentlemen; they are very nice boys. And Larry and Woody are just slightly older nice boys.”

The birthday bunch

Actress Shirley Knight is 73. Musician Robbie Robertson is 66. Singer Huey Lewis is 59. Actress Edie Falco is 46. Actress Kathryn Erbe (“Law and Order: Criminal Intent”) is 44. Rapper RZA is 40.


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