Patricia Clarkson asked director Nadda, “Are you sure you don’t want me to get naked?”
CAIRO TIME written and directed by Ruba Nadda, with Patricia Clarkson, Alexander Siddig and Tom McCamus. A Mongrel release. 88 minutes. Opens Friday (October 9). For venues, times, and trailers, see Movies.
Spend 30 seconds with patricia Clarkson and you grasp the awesomeness of her performance in Cairo Time.[rssbreak]
As Juliette, the woman who has an affair while waiting for her diplomat husband in Egypt, she's quiet, contained and grounded - a woman with no edge, as Clarkson describes her. In person the superb actor is a wired, irrepressible bundle of energy that's all over the place.
"I'm a fiery person, easily ignitable," she says bouncing up and down in a chair at the Intercontinental Hotel. "I am not Juliette. I can get reserved at times, but mostly I'm demonstrative and gregarious and not really subtle. So I had to shape-shift for this and realign my molecules."
Clarkson is the reigning queen of indie movies, happy to play in small films, always memorable no matter what she does, whether she's playing the German drug addict Greta in High Art, the judgmental neighbour in Far From Heaven or the aging mistress in Elegy.
"Greta was out there - she was so wild," she recalls with a smile, "but it changed everything for me because it opened people's eyes to what I can do. I was playing suffering wives and WASPy parts, and I might look a little WASPy, but I'm the least WASPy person alive. That part really cracked the egg for me, because people said, ‘If she can do that, she can do this and this and this.'"
Despite her impressive resumé (she got an Oscar nom for her role as a cancer-stricken mother in Pieces Of April), Clarkson continues to work with first- and second-time directors and has a particular affinity for female filmmakers.
"How lucky I am. There are so few women directors, but I've worked with the best of the best: Lisa Cholodenko [High Art], Rose Troche in The Safety Of Objects, Isabel Coixet [Elegy] and now Ruba [Nadda, her Cairo Time director] - they're flawless."
Nadda's challenge was keeping the hyper Clarkson contained enough to play the very chilled Juliette.
"I have the metabolism of a hummingbird, and with Ruba I couldn't have any nectar," Clarkson says of the process.
"Ruba and I are wired. We're kindred spirits. She understood that I had to rearrange myself for this. It's an interesting thing to change in this way. With this role, there's no accent, no wig, no funny voice, no trauma. The biggest thing I have to do in Cairo Time is order a cup of coffee. I remember asking Ruba, ‘Are you sure you don't want me to get naked?'"
She did have to bare all as Ben Kingsley's long-time girlfriend in Elegy, and she recalls that shoot with a laugh.
"Ben and I had to get intimate very quickly. We met and said hi one day and the next day we were naked. I said to him, ‘God, Ben, you got me into bed fast.'
"When it comes to roles," says Clarkson, "I don't like to repeat myself."
As a result, she has one of the most varied filmographies of any female actor on screen right now. And though she loves her women directors and supports them with outstanding work, she's not entirely sympathetic to female actors who get stuck in a rut.
"You can only be what you do in this business," she says pointedly. "When women say to me, ‘I'm tired of playing dumb blonds,' I say to them, ‘Then stop playing dumb blonds.' If they say, ‘I don't want to do TV,' I tell them, ‘Then stop doing TV.'"
But don't believe for a second that she wants to stay in her own rut, defined by small, character-driven stories.
"I'd love to work with Kathryn Bigelow," she says, her face brightening. "I thought The Hurt Locker was amazing, and I love that she makes big, male movies. I want her to put me in a movie and let me blow things up."
Additional interview clip
On being female and aging in the movie biz: