Patricia Clarkson remembers the moment her name was read off at the 76th Academy Awards. She was up for Best Supporting Actress, which was presented by reigning Best Supporting Actor winner Chris Cooper. "That was fabulous," Clarkson recalls, "being nominated and being in that room and being with all of those remarkable people."
But her standout memory of the night came hours earlier on the red carpet.
"You know who I have a standout memory of is Joan Rivers," the actress tells A.frame. "I had on diamonds that night, and I said, 'Everything I'm wearing, Joan, even my underwear— Everything together costs more than the movie.' And she found it so funny. I love Joan Rivers. So, I remember talking to her, and she was very kind to me. I don't know why that sticks with me."
Clarkson received her nomination for her performance in the independent family drama Pieces of April, in which she plays the perhaps oxymoronically named Joy, the judgmental and cancer-stricken mother of estranged problem child April (Katie Holmes). The film marked the directorial debut of Peter Hedges, and Clarkson brought him and his wife, Susan, as her dates to the Oscars. ("That was kick-ass to get to do that as a big thank you to him.")
This year marks the 20-year anniversary of Pieces of April. The film unfolds over one disastrous Thanksgiving dinner, hosted by April at her run-down New York City apartment. The emotional climax of the movie sees Joy hitching a ride on the back of motorcycles to make it to dinner — which is the first scene Clarkson recalls when thinking back now.
"That guy was so damn hot, and I thought, 'Can art and life come together? Can you just take me home? Screw the scene, let's just go!'" Clarkson chuckles. "It was so sexy and fun. I hadn't been on the back of a motorcycle holding onto a man in a while, and I was like, 'This is how life should be.'"
Anniversary or not, Clarkson hasn't actually sat down and watched Pieces of April in who knows how long. "I can't go back and watch that," she demurs. "I see pieces of it, and I feel fortunate. It has a warm place in my heart, because I loved doing that film. I was very thankful to be given that beautiful part."
It's kismet, or something of the sort, that two decades later, Clarkson's newest movie also tells a story of an ailing mother reconnecting with her estranged daughter. The film is Monica, starring Trace Lysette as a trans woman who returns to her childhood home for the first time in years when she learns that her mother, Eugenia (Clarkson), is dying.
"When you're going to these incredibly dark emotional places, the body does not want you to go there. The body is going to put up barriers. And as you can see, I could not have any kind of filter or barrier in any way," the actress says. "It's a long walk to a set when you're about to do these scenes, because the road is endless."
Joy in Pieces of April and Eugenia in Monica are "very, very, very different characters," Clarkson points out. But she knew immediately that she needed to play both roles. She said yes to Pieces of April within "a day or two." When Andrea Pallaoro, the director and co-writer of Monica, sent her the script, she said yes the same day.
"Peter Hedges is a very different director from Andrea, but they are both very emotional and deeply, personally connected to these two stories," Clarkson muses. "They fought hard to get these movies made and gave up so much of their lives to get them made. They were unrelenting."
Different as they may be, "These films," she says, "they are linked inextricably in so many ways."
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