Note: The word “indie” will not be used in the following introductory paragraphs about Parker Posey. When the word’s usage cannot be avoided, a small picture of Jim Jarmusch will appear instead.
Parker Posey sits in a beige hotel suite, looking like a picture drawn by an obsessive Parker Posey fan: hair wilder than in her films, mouth set to ‘quip’ position. A quirky sweater is involved. She is tolerating a press day for her latest film, Personal Velocity, an triptych in which she does not play an abused woman or a pregnant teenager. Her co-stars run those bases, but Posey steals the film in the unshowy role of Greta, a twenty-eight-year-old Manhattan book editor struggling with a phalanx of issues: loyalty to her father, fidelity to her husband, attraction to other men, personal ambition.
In 2012, when some club launches “Night of a Thousand Poseys,” the drag queens will revel in Posey’s “Queen of ” period Mary in Party Girl, Darla in Dazed and Confused, Jo in The Daytrippers, Libby Mae Brown in Waiting for Guffman but they will probably leave Greta Herskovitz alone. That is a good thing. It is Posey’s most human and subtle characterization yet, a turning point.
Maybe it’s appropriate, then, that Posey is sitting in this beige hotel suite in an almost visible state of flux. In this interview, she talks about sharing neuroses with Greta, the status myth and who’s to blame for the cinematic crap stream, and otherwise. Michael Martin
Greta is a very Parker Posey character: another articulate, slightly brittle urbanite. Do you think you’ve been typecast?
I guess I am, because you just told me that. Daytrippers wasn’t like that, Waiting for Guffman wasn’t like that, Party Girl . . . I don’t know. I don’t really think Greta is really brittle. I like to play people who aren’t perfect. I like conflict in a person. And I have dark hair, so I play dark parts. If I were a blonde, it would be different.
What was your take on Greta’s infidelity?
It’s about being in your twenties, in almost a pretend marriage. Like you’re repeating the pattern of your parents, living an idea. What I liked about Greta’s infidelity is how because I’ve certainly done it she keeps the two narratives distinct in her mind: the narrative of her marriage and the narrative of her affair. But the story isn’t really about a character who’s unfaithful. Rebecca [Miller, director of the film] described it this way: Greta thinks she’s really moving forward, but she’s actually moving backward. She’s being a little destructive. I can relate to that.
Her guilt. And how she edits herself. She’s saying one thing and thinking another. She’s not really comfortable in her own skin. There’s a contradiction, a conflict, a certain removal of herself from her life. Also how she starts out working as a cookbook editor. She’s not appreciated for her mind, for her talent. And how she’s such a loser now.
You think you’re a loser?
There are certain insecurities that she has that I have. Have had. Do still. I mean, even now, it’s just like [throws hand up in the air to signify beige hotel suite or world at large] . . . the talk, the attention, you get paid, you do this movie, and people aren’t going to see it anyway.
I just saw Spring Forward [a 1999 film about park workers directed by Tom Gilroy and starring Ned Beatty and Liev Schrieber] a couple nights ago. It was a fantastic movie. Liev Schreiber was incredible in it. I can’t believe it didn’t get supported and that people didn’t see it. I didn’t even go see it. All of that is in my head right now. I’m just a bit self-deprecating, which I think Greta is too.
Does Greta use men, or do they use her?
She’s sexually repressed. She’s really unaware of her sexuality, so it makes her infidelity a natural thing. That’s what I like about the movie so much. It doesn’t judge these women. It doesn’t say, “Oh, Delia is a slut. She gives a guy a handjob in the back of a truck. And Greta’s a whore because she cheats on her husband. And Paula’s from a broken home and desperate.” They’re learning, they’re experiencing, they’re changing, they’re transforming. They’re really alive.
The scene where Greta masturbates in the bathroom is the closest you’ve come to an explicit sex scene. Do you prefer not to do sexual material, or is it not offered to you?
Listen, I just want to work like everybody else. Well, not like everybody else. Do you know what I mean? It’s not my job to be aware of how I’m perceived. I was happy that I was doing a character I felt I knew.
You’ve done thirty films and not a single sex scene, which for an actress who was in her twenties in the ’90s has to be some kind of record.
I won’t sell my tits. I just don’t do it. It’s cheap. It’s a trend. It’s fashion. In a hundred years, after the war comes and we’re all wearing, like, masks, when it’s really bad, we’re going to look back at this time and be like, that was the Roman Empire. This country didn’t know what it was doing, it got so involved with itself, so grandiose, so tacky, so mindless.
Honestly, the executives that would be in charge of casting someone like me don’t consider me desirable. It’s probably because of my breast size. And those are the people who make the decisions. It’s executives on some kinds of movies; on other kinds of movies, it’s the director.
I think it’s safe to say you’re desirable.
Well, I don’t know what to say to that. It’s so weird. I’m still so on the fringe. I’m still trying to get jobs, still auditioning. People think that I’m just loaded down with indie scripts and great material that I’m just waiting to do. But that doesn’t happen. There’s a lot of crap.
Do you think a movie written by and predominantly starring women is still considered a risk?
Probably. Isn’t it stupid? If you’re going to put crap out there, people will pay to see crap. If you put good movies out there, people will have to see good movies. And the corporations are responsible for that. I mean, if they were putting out women’s movies, people would get tickets to see them. They’d have to see them, and they’d have to talk about it.
As you’re reading other scripts, how do the female characters compare to those in Personal Velocity?
Oh, God. They’re either dumb and sexy, smart and bitchy or young and rundown. It’s all a perversion of some kind of whore, really. It’s terrible. They’re not even real people. They’re fooling around and cocktailing. Or showing people how hard her guy has it in trying to date her. So tough and sassy!
You see a first draft of a script, and you think, “This is really sweet. It has heart. I think a twelve year old and a ten year old will be able to watch it in their house in the suburbs somewhere and laugh about it.” Then the rewrites come, and they’ve made the guy a drunk, the daughter an addict, and they’ve sensationalized something that could have been so nice.
Who’s to blame?
The media. The men. [pause] And the women. We just don’t respect the emotional life as nuanced. It’s a problem of our culture on a number of levels. How we sensationalize people in film really affects how people see themselves, how girls are going to act when they get to the age of twenty-five . . . [sighs] Anyway, I’m totally tooting my horn.
You know, yeah. Fuck it. I have a lot of complaints.