Interview with Patricia Clarkson of Phoebe in Wonderland

Patricia Clarkson opens today, March 6 as Miss Dodger in Daniel Barnz' film, Phoebe in Wonderland co-starring with Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Bill Pullman and Campbell Scott. The film opens in the following cities: Los Angeles, New York, Atlanta, San Francisco, Washington DC, Chicago, Boston, Miami, Dallas, Philadelphia and Seattle.

Women & Hollywood: What was it about the Phoebe in Wonderland script that made you want to work on the film?

Patricia Clarkson- There was something about Miss Dodger that I thought was unusual, unique, genuinely eccentric, mystical and fantastical and I couldn't quite figure it out at once. It intrigues me when I really have to delve into a character and I just got excited about it.

W&H: Alice in Wonderland is a seminal book for girls. This is what girls dream about when they are little.

PC: Yes it is. I remember when I first encountered Alice in Wonderland. I can't remember the exact age but it mystified and captured me. We did do a little play of it at Girl Scouts or something but I didn't play Alice (I can't remember what I played) but I remember being upset at not playing Alice.

W&H: Miss Dodger created a safe place for Phoebe while she was struggling in so many other aspects of her life. Why is that so important?

PC: I had several teachers who took me into my theatre life which really opened up a whole new part of my world and changed me. In 8th grade I started doing theatre and I remember it was as though I had taken a trip to a foreign land that I had never seen before yet felt completely at home. I remember feeling a genuine wave of happiness and of feeling complete. I had a wonderful teacher in junior high who guided me and another in high school who shaped me. Then I went on to study and have had many mentors at Fordham and Yale. I have had the great fortune of having had remarkable teachers guide and illuminate me.

W&H: There is a scene in the film where Felicity Huffman as Phoebe's mom Hillary is talking with you because she is struggling to figure out what is going on with her daughter and you tell her point blankly that she is perfectly normal in your class. She is almost jealous...

PC: That I am symbiotic to her daughter. That I have found a wave length because I get her. We are kindred spirits and I think that's hard on any mother if there is a person who connects with your child in a way you don't.

W&H: That's one of the interesting things about this film. Here's a mother, an accomplished woman, desperately struggling and it reveals some of the hard things about being a mom which a lot of movies don't address.

PC: Yes it does and I think there are some tense and stunning moments in the film that are unusual for film. There's the whole fantastical element which I think Daniel (Barnz- the writer and director) did a beautiful job of integrating into the film which is an especially difficult thing to do with no time and no money.

W&H: How do you explain the fantastical elements?

PC: You take this journey of Alice in Wonderland -- Phoebe in Wonderland - a little girl who retreats into her own world. It is quite specific and fascinating and very much a part of the film. This film is defined sometimes by those flights of fancy.

W&H: I found the characters quite well written and not stereotypical. How do you search for your characters?

PC: I read so many scripts and I'm offered a lot of stuff and I think I'm better at seeing something immediately in the script. So when I read Pheobe in Wonderland I called my agent and said this is really beautiful and I want to be a part of it. I knew. It wasn't filled with these terrible cliches even though it is a movie that you might think has been done before but never in this way.

W&H: When you are deciding to take a movie does the budget play into your decision?

PC: Sometimes more so now. My guerilla filmmaking days are fewer and far between. There was some money with this film. It was still tight but I felt it had enough.

W&H: You've played such a diversity of women- you don't really play the "girl". That must be conscious. Give us some insight into how Patricia Clarkson picks what she does?

PC: Sometimes it's dictated by necessity as I get older. Fortunately I can pick and choose. I have the freedom and advantage but I'm drawn to scripts. I'm looking to shake things up, and you're right I don't play the classic girl. Elegy is kind of classic. That's as classic a woman as you get down to the nudity. But then I turned around and did this, and I play this crazy character in the next Woody Allen film, and then in the fall I have a movie called Cairo Time which is the most classic woman I have ever played on screen. A real leading lady. It's about mixing things up and keeping myself interested. I gravitate towards things that spark me and I don't know what that is.

W&H: You just mentioned Cairo Time- what's that?

PC: It's a beautiful independent film. I am the star. The director is a woman name Ruba Nadda, a Canadian filmmaker. The male lead is a Canadian actor Alexander Siddig. With everything from Miss Dodger to Woody Allen, first and foremost I am drawn to the actual project. As much as I love Miss Dodger I was drawn to the whole script and the fact that Elle Fanning, Felicity Huffman, Campbell Scott, and Bill Pullman were also involved. I knew I'd be in great company and that I'd better bring my A game.

W&H: 6% of films and 10% are directed by women, what is your opinion on those statistics?

PC: I think it's a catch-22. Not enough women are given chances so less women are directors. It's a male dominated industry. There's no way around it. We have to keep trying. We have to forge ahead. It's an ageist industry also, but hey, I'm 49 years old and I've got more movies than I know what to do with. Sometimes you have to try and not be a part of the cliche. You have to keep fighting to break through and this industry benefits from women writers and directors. It's important that people in our industry seek out female writers and directors and make it a pet project of theirs.

Cross posted on Women & Hollywood