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Christal Smith

Christal Smith

Posted: June 18, 2009 03:41 PM

Whatever Works With Woody: Patricia Clarkson on Head Scarves, Being a Girl Scout and Loving Two Men at Once

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Whatever Works is a black comedy featuring Larry David as Boris Yelnikoff, an eccentric and very grumpy self-proclaimed genius who comes home one night and finds a young woman (Evan Rachel Wood) begging for a place to stay. He takes her in for the night and eventually marries her. The title of the film is his philosophy for finding happiness. Patricia Clarkson plays the young girls' Southern mother, Marietta, a walking cliché of teased hair and outfits matching her bright pink nail polish. Marietta comes to New York searching for her long lost daughter and at the same time finds herself the toast of the New York art scene when her family snapshots are "discovered" in a particularly Allen-esque twist.

Clarkson is perhaps best known for a recurring role she played on the HBO drama Six Feet Under. Among the MTV demographic she recently ascended to near superstar status after a short but hilarious bit as Justin Timberland's oversexed mom in a Saturday Night Live Mothers' Day sketch that would make Madonna blush.

CS: This is actually your second Woody Allen film
PC: First was Vicky Cristina Barcelona, it was a small part and I knew that going in, and then eight months later he sent a letter to offer the part offered this part and my head almost fell off....I mean for women as we age in this biz, comedic parts are so few and far between for us we're either predatory women or the mother, [and] the comedy is derived from places I find unappetizing ....but this humor comes out of the character...she is a stereotype, a cliche and then you start to see shades.....

CS: Backtrack a sec...he sent you a letter?
PC: He sent a letter to offer the part and it was beautiful, lovely, funny, and handwritten.

CS: So you're saying you never had to audition for him?
PC: I had never that famous Woody Allen thing where you stand and he takes a Polaroid and then you leave.

CS: You call him Woody?
PC: Yes....I do....I feel comfortable around him in some ways, I don't know him well but I call him Woody, yes.

CS: So of course my knee jerk reaction when I first saw the film about a neurotic New Yorker who marries a woman several decades his junior was to think it was autobiographical but I learned it was actually written for Zero Mostel 30 years ago? What do you think he was waiting for?
PC: Sometimes films are kismet; you have to wait. I think he really had to have Larry to do this and it was just the right time. You never know what caused him to take it out of the drawer and re-think it...but that's Woody's psyche. [Allen since admitted in interviews that his impetus was to beat the impending writer's strike last year and he needed a script that was ready to shoot.]

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CS: Maybe that's one of the reasons the scenes seem to be particularly long...
PC: Huge! And you can't stop ... you absolutely have to be prepared; you have to be a girl scout. You can't shoot a page here and there, and you have to be able to improv and he likes you to shake it up and it's a way of making you organic and ready, inside and out.

CS: So the night before the first day of shooting, how was your stomach?
PC: Thank god I did Vicky Cristina and I knew Woody; I had a lot of lines and I knew he wants that clean, clear master... every night you are shooting with Woody is a school night.
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CS: Let's get to one of my favorite aspects of the film: your wardrobe! Did you have a say in Marietta's choices?
PC: To some extent yes; but Woody is a clotheshorse -- I think people think he is casual, but no, no -- the way a character dresses is vital to him; with Woody it's the body, it is the way you move... So it's a very physical experience with Woody and he really has a big say in costumes.
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CS: I especially appreciated Marietta's use of headscarves.
PC: We wanted that; they are swinging! Those scarves were key [to her transformation].
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CS: Marietta at one point shacks up with two lovers. Just how does one woman successfully please two men at same time?
PC: I never co-habitated with two men at once but I have certainly been in love with two men in my life so I know that feeling and I incorporated that. I just touched and squeezed [them both] a lot and it was delightful.

CS: There are several fantastical elements to the film and I thought one of those was to see Marietta's family snapshots end up in an art gallery. We, the audience never get to see them, but do you buy that such photos could garner such extreme artistic recognition that they end up in a gallery?
PC: You are first to ask that. I actually think true art is the discovery really is serendipitous and I think it says more about her than anything else Woody wrote. She had this eye this view but she succumbed to the traditions surrounding her as a specific Southern woman in a specific place. I don't think it is not impossible or truly fantastical for her to really have a true gift. I loved that facet of her and I was thankful for another complicated dimension that made you question her and art and where art comes from and who defines art; is it the artist or the art we fall in love with?

CS: Speaking of fantastical, I'd be remiss if I didn't ask you...
PC: Oh God, what?

CS: Saturday Night Live.... how in the world did you manage to act as if having sex with your son's boybandmate was normal?
PC: First I said no....but I think they're brilliant and Justin (Timberlake) and Andy (Samburg) are the nicest boys and they are so yummy.... I got call on a Thursday and we shot on Friday (with Susan Sarandon) and just to wear that purple outfit alone -- those big momma pants and the headband -- it was too fun. And I got to meet the SNL cast! I got to meet them all and I just got star struck. I loved being backstage -- it was so thrilling.

WHATEVER WORKS opens June 19.

Follow Christal Smith on Twitter: www.twitter.com/csinla