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Patricia Clarkson’s Craft Shines in ‘Cairo Time’

26 Oct, 2010 By: Billy Gil

Clarkson and Siddig in Cairo Time

Actress Patricia Clarkson has a knack for playing complicated and often-unsympathetic characters who are rendered so real you can’t help but feel there’s a reason to every one of their actions. Whether it’s been as a manipulative drug addict in a reoccurring role on “Six Feet Under” or as a mother whose caustic nature is mirrored by the cancer destroying her body in Pieces of April, for which she was nominated for the best supporting actress Academy Award, Clarkson has never shied away from difficult roles.

Her latest is as a woman waiting for her husband’s delayed arrival in Cairo who embarks upon an unexpected romance with an old friend of his (Alexander Siddig) acting as her guide, against a vibrant Egyptian background, in MPI/IFC’s Cairo Time, on DVD ($24.98) and Blu-ray ($29.98) Nov. 30. Clarkson took time out from acting as a judge for the London Film Festival to speak with me.

What drew you to this project, and what generally draws you to specific films?

Clarkson: I'm drawn to the script first and foremost. I really think a script begins and ends with its content. With Cairo Time, it was the lack of words that drew me, oddly. There was the still simplicity of the script and a character I really haven't played before. I'm always looking for something that will take me in a new direction and truly challenge me. I'm looking for something that's going to transport me and wile me.

IndieFile: Your roles often encompass women who are quite difficult in an unflattering way, while other times you have played more angelic, wifely roles (The Green Mile). To what do you attribute that?

Clarkson: I don't know, I guess maybe the character for me comes first. We seek what we want. I want to play a complicated character, I am drawn to women that are complicated — whether they’re sympathetic or unsympathetic doesn't matter to me.

IndieFile: Your career seems to have been on an upward trajectory for the past 15 years or so. Do you think the rules of Hollywood have changed or are changing for women over the age of 40 and 50?

Clarkson: We keep hoping. I mean, look, I think Hollywood will always have a certain amount of ageism. In essence it will always be a youthful medium, but I do think independent film has helped radicalize and shaken the industry. With the rise of independent film — even though right now it's in a different place, with a lack of distribution — I do think with the rise of independent film, people realize, oh, there is an audience, and these films are incredibly exciting, and these films take people to a different place when you allow women of a certain age to carry them and when those characters are really truly a large part of the film and are integral to the film and are the most colorful part, and not secondary. That's what's shifting I think, hopefully. It's still somewhat difficult.

IndieFile: Even as you’ve starred in more mainstream Hollywood films, your career still seems at least in part devoted to independent film — I’m thinking of movies like this one and Blind Date. Is that something important for you to maintain?

Clarkson: I don't really care about the labels, independent or studio. I do love making independent films, obviously. It's given me a great career path. High Art really shifted everything for me, really placed me into the independent film world. But it was just serendipitous. I just walk into this audition and I didn't know it would really change my life in this single film. It can happen. That's what we always dream of happening, and I was one of the lucky ones that it did. But I didn't set out thinking, oh my goodness, I’m going to make independent films. But I did get swept into this independent film world that I am very much proud to be a part of. I have more opportunities in the independent film world, and I'm drawn to a lot of directors that work in that world. But I do like making studio films. Don't get me wrong.

IndieFile: What’s a film of yours on DVD that you think people who enjoy your work should check out?

Clarkson: I've done so many beautiful films. I want people to see Blind Date. It didn't have a wide release. I want people to see Elegy. I think there's a beauty and power in these films, and maybe not a lot of people saw them. And I loved working with these directors. Married Life, a beautiful film I did with Chris Cooper and Pierce Brosnan and Rachel McAdams. It's got a beautiful style and some people have really found it on DVD lately.

IndieFile: Regarding Cairo Time, how was it filming in Egypt? Had you been there before?

Clarkson: No, I'd never been to the Middle East, I'd never been to that part of the world, so it was sort of art imitating life, my character experiencing this city for the first time. So it was an awakening, a once-in-a-lifetime moment. I was there for seven, almost eight weeks, and I fell in love with the city. I think it's hard not to. I miss the Nile. I recently saw the American Ambassador to Egypt, I saw her in Cairo and in New York, and just we just talked about the power of the Nile and the power of Cairo. The Cairenes who worked on the film will always be a part of me in some ways because it was just a beautiful experience from beginning to end.

IndieFile: Did you do anything special for the Cairo Time DVD?

I have mixed feeling about actors being on DVDs. I love commentaries, I love the extras that come with the DVD, but this movie is so quiet and reserved, I love the fact that Alexander and I aren't a part of it. It's [director] Ruba [Nadda] and the DP talking about this canvas and this completely different world we were a part of. It's such a delicate, quiet film.

(The Cairo Time DVD/Blu-ray also includes an alternate ending, making-of featurette, Toronto Film Festival Q&A and short films by Nadda.)

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