Patricia Clarkson has played just about every type of woman possible across her nearly 40 years on-screen, but there is a certain type of woman she's exemplified: The complicated mother. The actress (whose own mother was a Louisiana politician) has portrayed mothers of every stripe, and in all of their emotionally-complex dimensions, in films like The Pledge and Dogville and The Station Agent and Easy A, to name but a few.
For her performance in 2003's Pieces of April — playing Joy, the cancer-stricken matriarch of a dysfunctional family — Clarkson received an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress. "Being nominated, and being in that room, and being with all of those remarkable people," says the actress now, "that was all fabulous."
Her newest film is Monica, and the latest complicated mother role in her coterie is Eugenia. Years ago, Eugenia disowned her daughter, Monica (Trace Lysette), who is trans. With Eugenia's health failing, Monica returns home to reconnect — despite Eugenia no longer recognizing her.
Clarkson was shooting the HBO series Sharp Objects — playing one of her most twisted takes on motherhood and earning an Emmy nomination for it — when she was sent the script for Monica. She'd met Italian filmmaker Andrea Pallaoro years prior and they had expressed interest in working with one another. When the script arrived, "I said yes by close of day," Clarkson says. "I loved this film. I absolutely loved everything about it."
The films that have most inspired Clarkson throughout her life run the gamut, with an emphasis on performances by women she admires. Below, the actress shares with A.frame five of the films she's most awed by.
Directed by: George Cukor | Written by: John Van Druten, Walter Reisch and John L. Balderston
When I was young, I was obsessed with Ingrid Bergman and Lucille Ball, but Lucille Ball was television. Everybody thought they were the opposite ends of acting, but they weren't. They were truth in comedy and truth in drama, and I was obsessed with both of them at the same time. And I was obsessed with Gaslight.
It might be why I never married. I'm not kidding you. Ingrid Bergman was exquisitely beautiful physically, but it wasn't that. I felt every ounce of her. And that was rare in that day and time, because I would watch old films with my mom and dad and my sister sometimes. But I remember seeing Ingrid Bergman and saying, 'My God.' I was haunted by her performance.
Directed by: Blake Edwards | Written by: Blake Edwards, Tom Waldman, and Frank Waldman
And then, as a teenager, as I got a little older, I was obsessed with Peter Sellers. My father and I used to sit and get popcorn and watch everything Peter Sellers did, but I remember The Party. And we would laugh so hard, oh my God. My father and I used to watch that all the time. I was obsessed with Peter Sellers.
Directed by: François Truffaut | Written by: François Truffaut and Suzanne Schiffman
Small Change, I saw that as a young adult. I took a class, and I'd never quite seen a film that looked like that or felt like that. He captured those children. I thought they were so true, so amazing, so remarkable. It made a deep impression on me.
Directed by: Martin Scorsese | Written by: Paul Schrader
There were so many big Hollywood films that I loved when I was in my 20s, and when I started in the industry. Taxi Driver, of course. I remember the rawness, and the beauty. It was an effortless brutality that lived right in front of your eyes. It was so truthful, but not indulgent. It was just so alive, as though these scenes had never been ever said before or shot before. De Niro, Harvey Keitel, you can never quite take in them enough. I could watch it tomorrow and I would still be overwhelmed by their power.
But that's the brilliance of Martin Scorsese. Everything is so present, so fresh, so raw. Scorsese still inspires all of us as actors. I mean, every frame of The Irishman is acting gold. And having worked with him now [on Shutter Island], even just for a scene — although that scene took a long time to shoot because that's Marty. I was like, 'What day are we on? I'm still in this cave.' He just loves actors, and it's a beautiful feeling.
Written and Directed by: Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert
There are so many films that I'm inspired by now. You know why? Because there are so many stunning women who lead them. And to see Michelle Yeoh and Jamie Lee Curtis, these two powerhouses, in one film is pretty f*****g amazing. The world is changing, and women, we can own the night. They prove that.