Patricia Clarkson Talks Ageism, Nudity and More at Miami Film Festival

Courtesy of Miami Film Festival
The Hollywood Reporter's Tatiana Siegel (left) and Patricia Clarkson

The ‘House of Cards’ and ‘Sharp Objects’ star cracked jokes and discussed changes in Hollywood in a Q&A session after she received the festival’s Precious Gem Award.

Patricia Clarkson on Monday said that following the allegations of sexual assault leveled at Kevin Spacey, House of Cards had to undergo drastic rewriting. 

The actress, who played the character Jane Davis on the Netflix original, sat down for a Q&A moderated by The Hollywood Reporter's Tatiana Siegel at the Miami Film Festival to discuss her time on the show. Clarkson said that the Spacey debacle meant that her role, along with everyone else's on set, required change. However, she said the much-needed rewriting led to an "incredible" final season.

"I had an extraordinary time on House of Cards," the actress told THR. "There was the glorious Robin Wright leading all of us and all these great writers, and it ended up being an incredible last season."  

Clarkson, also known for her work in such films as Shutter Island and The Untouchables, received the festival’s Precious Gem Award. In addition to talking about her time on the Netflix political drama, she also discussed her career highlights and working in the nude with stars like Bradley Cooper.

Clarkson started the Q&A by reminiscing on the speech class in her youth that inspired her to pursue acting professionally. Education, she said, was crucial to her career. From Louisiana State University, Clarkson made her way to Fordham and then to the Yale School of Drama, where she met actors and other talent who became her mentors. 

After describing her university days and education, Clarkson shared anecdotes from her professional career, from finally meeting Clint Eastwood after he had cast her for The Dead Pool to working with Leonardo DiCaprio for the first time in Shutter Island. When Martin Scorsese put Clarkson and DiCaprio in a scene together, the actress said she was in disbelief.

“There’s one scene in a cave with Leo. And I’ve got this all in my head, ‘I’m in a cave, with Leo. I’m in a cave with Leo,’” Clarkson said, sparking laughter from the fest audience. “I hadn’t even read the part. I just knew that I was going to be in a cave with Leo.” 

Working with both DiCaprio and Scorsese, Clarkson said, were just some of the career high points. She said, however,   that a turning point in her acting was High Art, a film directed by Lisa Cholodenko in which she played a “German, lesbian heroin addict.” Up to that point, Clarkson recalled, she had been playing mothers and wives, but the 1998 film allowed her to do more than that. 

“It just takes that one part, that one director who looks inside and sees you and sees that you are capable of something that's even surprising to you,” the actress said. “That one part shifted my whole career.”

Clarkson also talked to the fest audience about working with Cooper on the Broadway rendition of The Elephant Man. She said working on the Broadway show was one of the few times that she has done nude scenes. Though she joked about being naked with the A Star is Born actor every night of the show’s run, Clarkson said she thinks nudity can be essential.  

“Sometimes I do think that nudity is essential to take the character to a different place,” she said. “Nudity is always difficult. It’s never easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. It should be essential.”

Going on to discuss her award-winning performance of Adora on HBO’s Sharp Objects, Clarkson said that some of the best portrayals come from within the actor. She explained that in order to truly portray her homicidal character Adora, she needed to love her. In connecting so deeply with Adora, Clarkson said she believes there’s an aspect about the character that will never leave her and vice versa. 

Challenging roles like the Sharp Objects antagonist are just what actors need when they get older, Clarkson said. Complex characters encourage actors to push beyond their limits and find new ways of strengthening and flexing their acting muscles, she asserted. Additionally, it’s those same roles that show others in the industry that older actors are more than their age, she said.

When it comes to ageism and misogyny, practices upon which Hollywood was founded, Clarkson said she thinks she’s seen the most upward movement during her career within the past year, and added that she’s witnessed more and more demand for female-driven projects. 

“They want women,” she said. “We do great things when we all come together.”

Clarkson closed off the Q&A session with her downtime plans, which include spending quality time with her dog and getting rest. She also ended by declaring how she’d like to work with DiCaprio again, perhaps in another cave, which brought yet another round of applause and laughter from the audience.