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June 17, 2007 E-mail story   Print   Most E-Mailed


Parker Posey's secret? 'It's all hair and shoes'

She's curt on her acting chops, but her broadening work speaks for itself.
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(Myung J. Chun / LAT)

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By Mark Olsen, Special to The Times

PARKER POSEY'S prodigious work ethic finds her frequently pitching in extra help on lower-budgeted productions. She fetched coffee for Billy Kent, the director of one of her recent films, "The OH in Ohio," and made the call to get Heather Graham on short notice for an unbilled part after another actress had dropped out. Posey also suggested and snagged Justin Theroux for a part in her new film, "Broken English."

"There's no precious preciousness to it," she said of her willingness to get things done. "I like getting involved. 'I'll take care of it.' It comes from independent film, I got used to it — there's tape on the floor, pick it up. It's just an awareness you have, like peripheral vision when you're rollerblading in traffic. It comes from being on a lot of sets."

"Broken English," which opens Friday, follows the recent Hal Hartley film "Fay Grim" into theaters, and both movies use the spark of Posey's whirligig presence to motor their action. In particular, "Broken English" seems to mark another turn for the actress, bringing a newly plumbed depth and tempered emotionalism to her work. Also marking a change in her career will be "The Return of Jezebel James," Posey's first role as a regular on a television series. (The show will air midseason on Fox.)

The debut feature of writer-director Zoe Cassavetes, "Broken English" follows the romantic and emotional misadventures of a New York City woman and the path to self-discovery that eventually leads her on a fanciful trip to Paris with much comic effect. Following the premiere of "Broken English" at the Sundance Film Festival, Variety called Posey's performance "pitch-perfect."

Ensconced in a prime corner on the patio of a fashionable Hollywood hotel recently as the end of a long day of promotional appearances neared, Posey — who radiates a heightened sense of self awareness, a meta-understanding of herself — suddenly seems to drop any pretense of constructed persona, the interview-ese of publicity.

"When I'm just here to talk about myself, it's just not fun. It embarrasses me. It's silly, it makes me feel really…. " And now comes one of the disconcertingly long pauses that frequently punctuates her manner of speaking. The only word she eventually finds to express her discomfort is a simple and soft "ugh."

Dubbed "Queen of the Indies" by Time magazine 10 years ago, Posey has been somewhat living in the shadow of that title ever since. Her early films, including "Dazed and Confused," "Party Girl," "Kicking and Screaming," "The House of Yes" and "Clockwatchers," made her something of a turn-of-the-century archetype for the caustic, cynical, whip-smart modern gal. She has since racked up a filmography of more than 50 titles, including four films for director Christopher Guest. She was nominated for a Golden Globe for her role in the TV-movie "Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay."

Posey, 38, deflects any implication that she is entering some new "mature" phase of her career by noting how fluky she still finds it when she's cast in anything at all.

"There's this perception that I have all this control," she said, "as if the roles that I've done I've chosen. It's a weird thing people have, this idea of actors, like I've been actually waiting for a long time to 'do something like this.' But I don't have control over any of that. I read something and I get cast in it or I don't."

A balancing act

THOUGH she is still largely associated with the world of independent film, Posey has for some time also been appearing in mainstream Hollywood fare. She brings unexpected zest to such roles as a vamped-up vampire in "Blade: Trinity" or as Lex Luthor's softhearted moll in "Superman Returns."

"Hollywood jobs," she noted, "it's a different thing, it's how you make your money. You don't make money doing the independent films. So if you haven't had a paying job in a while, you're lucky to even get a part and make your paycheck for the year. So I average like a Hollywood movie a year and however many independent films as well. It's a good balance."

"The Return of Jezebel James," executive produced by Amy Sherman-Palladino and Daniel Palladino, best known for "Gilmore Girls," follows a children's book editor (Posey) who reconnects with her estranged sister (Lauren Ambrose) when she recruits her sibling for a surrogate pregnancy.

"I've had TV deals," Posey recalled. "I had a holding deal. I had a 'Parker Posey Pilot' once, and they said, 'We like the pilot, we just don't want to do it with Parker.' "

According to Sherman-Palladino, it was Posey's unexpected range which made her want the actress for the part. "To me the thing I was excited about is there's this sort of untapped — not that Parker hasn't tapped it, but I think America hasn't tapped into the fact that Parker is truly an actress, not just this sort of bouncy, loopy, indie comedienne. This girl's got deep, deep, deep, skills."

Not surprisingly, Posey initially avoids discussing her own acting technique, her process, as they say, by noting dryly, "It's all hair and shoes."

She sparks to a question, however, as to whether her deeply felt performance in "Broken English" as Nora, an unmarried 30-something woman in New York City, might have something to do with similarities to Parker Posey, unmarried, 30-something woman in New York City. "I don't know if she's the most like me. I was saying that for a while."

Following another ambiguously long pause, she continued. "It's easier to work on a character based on where the tragic flaw is, where the pain is and the fear. And then it's what is on top of that. Like Kitty in 'Superman,' she is kind of blind. Nora too. I like playing people who aren't seeing what everyone else is seeing about them. You know what Nora is, you know where her trouble is, it's written all over her, but she doesn't [see it]."

Across the increasing breadth of her career, rather than Posey heading toward the mainstream, there is a way in which the mainstream, by the sheer gravitational pull of her charisma and plucky charm, may finally come to her.

"I equate Parker with Katharine Hepburn," says Sherman-Palladino. "She was a woman who really cut her own way through the industry and sort of forced the industry to come around to who she was and appreciate that. I think to us, Parker is the new Kate Hepburn in that there's always something really interesting going on there."


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