In the winter of 1997, the late Richard Corliss labeled Parker Posey in Time magazine the “Queen of the Indies.” Nearly 20 years later the venerable actress continues to “ornament” smaller, fascinating movies with her eccentricity and charm. Her latest role (which she claims is a “real marker" for her) is in Woody Allen’s Irrational Man as Rita, a martially disenchanted college professor who pines for Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), a fellow colleague. In conversation Posey reflects on the trajectory of her career, the pangs of being an actress in modern Hollywood, and why she may ditch acting and open up her own gardening business.
How long have you been acting?
Over 20 years. I’m tired. [Laughs]
Is it time for a break?
I feel like I’ve survived it, this industry. It’s really tough, being an actress. So, you gotta be really lucky. To do this part in Irrational Man, I feel really lucky about that. Timing…it’s all about timing.
Has it become easier the more you do?
No, because you don’t get some parts that you want and you feel right for. When you don’t get work and directors don’t want to work with you, then you feel like you’re not good at what you do.
Rejection is part of the game, no?
I wouldn’t call it rejection, but it is.
What would you call it?
Insecurity. Because even though I was on the outside being rejected for parts, I wasn’t really conscious that that was exactly what was happening. And that made me really insecure about what I do and being good and maintaining a career.
So how do you get out of that?
Living a life. Doing things that make you happy. Good friends. Cooking. Cleaning. Things that settle, you know, that are grounding.
I got a place [in] upstate [New York] over 10 years ago. I did a commercial for Pepsi and some Hollywood movie. And I invest my money and sell property in upstate New York. So doing things to the landscape, planting trees, doing gardening.
These are grounding things for you?
Yes, I love it, I love it. So finding that was great. And now, I think I’m going to turn it into a business. So I don’t have to play parts I don’t have to play and do jobs I don’t want to do.
Unlike your part in Irrational Man.
So, you’ve heard about actors meeting Woody Allen, right?
Just the stories.
Mhm. I like to travel and I had been invited to the Krakow Film Festival for about five or six years, and so I finally said yes. I went with my friend Jenn Rough, who’s an editor. And we’ve been collaborating on this script by a writer named Noah Bushell. I had also been emailing Camille Paglia and we were talking about ideas for a movie and how to self-create and get your own work started, which everyone has to do now. So if the machine can’t get a job for you, they’re like, “Why don’t you just get your friends together and make something?” I want to work with directors! I come from the independent film scene, very auteur…
On Wikipedia, they call you the Queen of the Indies.
I want to be guided by a director. I want to rely on a director. So, just kind of wrapping my head around how to change with the times. And when I went to Poland I was in a kind of suffering place.
What were you suffering from?
I was really nervous about my career. I was really scared that I was out of style with the times. And it’s not – it’s a very real thing. I’m of a certain age, I’m a woman – the movies that are popular now, it’s not the same. They don’t include me. So, I went to the Toronto Film Festival with a friend and I wasn’t in any of those movies. I had worked so hard in the ‘90s in the independent film community. So, on a Krakow jury was Juliette Taylor, Woody Allen’s casting director. She saw me, I think she felt I was the right temperature for this movie. They work closely together, because he doesn’t like to meet actors. But I met him — you have one hand shaking and the other foot out the door. They tell you it could last less than seven seconds; you could still get cast even if it’s not that much time.
How long was yours?
Probably like three and a half minutes. A few weeks before I went to Krakow, I was on a run with my dog, and I saw Page Six from the Post and there was Joaquin Phoenix saying, “I’m about to do the Woody Allen movie.” I was like, “Oh god, I would love to work with him; he’s my favorite. And Woody Allen, of course, why haven’t I been in a Woody Allen film? Oh God.” So, when I met Woody in his office on 60th and Park, and he’s like, “Oh, Juliette thought you were right for one of the parts in my movie shooting in Newport with Joaquin Phoenix.” And I was like, “Oh I know, I saw in the Post. He’s so soulful and he’s got such an amazing quality! And he’s one of my favorite actors, God! I’d love to work with him. And I think it’s great, it’s so great that the two of you are gushing about him.” And then he goes, “Uh oh.” And we started laughing.
Was there a “Woody” moment on set?
He does this a lot: He comes to set and goes, “What are we doing today?” He’s made a movie a year for 40 years. It’s like an old hat. He likes to keep things loose and easy. It’s great when directors do that. He came up to me the first day and said, “What I wrote isn’t very good. If you think you want to add anything, just feel free.”
That’s what I’ve heard he says to everyone.
And then he’ll say it again in another scene. And then you’ll be like, “Oh, okay, sure, if I feel something, I’ll say something or add something.” Or just fill in the space. And I did that once, maybe a few times, and he said, “That’s terrible.” I heard him scream – well, he doesn’t scream, but I heard this, like, “UGHHH, THAT’S TERRIBLE!” [laughs] And he just started laughing. The feeling like you’re terrible is just part of it. “Yeah, you can’t say that.” I’m like, “I’m so sorry. Well, luckily it’s my last movie and I’ll never work again, please forgive me for forgetting how to act.” That’s the vibe.
Do you have to identify with characters to play them?
Of course, yeah, how could you not, right?
I don’t know. I doubt Al Pacino identifies with Tony Montana.
I worked on this movie called Price Check, and it was a big part and we were shooting the movie in like 18 days. She was this woman who worked in sales for the grocery store business. Manipulative corporate monster woman.
Which I assume is not you.
Not me. So, there’s this acting teacher that I had who’s a coach, who’s like a Merlin character. His name is Harold Guskin. He coached Kevin Kline in A Fish Called Wanda. And I asked him to read the script. And I asked him, “Where’s her heart? How does she love? She’s so messed up.” And he’s like, “She has no heart. She’s an awful woman. She’s a terrible woman. Don’t think about it. She’s a devouring monster.” The movie’s really funny, but no one saw it. I approached Irrational Man with the heart, and where she is in her life, and if she’s happy, if her heart is happy, if her desires are being met. But some people don’t approach life like that. Everyone has their own thing.
From Dazed and Confused to now — has your career panned out how you thought it would?
Nope. I feel so blessed because I’ve had a risky career, and I’ve always been told that.
Why would they tell you that?
Because there are just things that I couldn’t do and wouldn’t do that were either too boring to me or meaningless, and I’d rather be with friends or take a pottery class or do something that’s grounding. But as I got older, just do everything you can. “Yeah, go do the spot on New Girl, do the guest spot on The Good Wife.” You know, these parts are just not satisfying to me. And going to Hollywood and taking meetings that are empty as well, that don’t amount to anything.
Where have you had to try to find value?
See how tricky it is out there. But this movie’s a real marker for me and my career. Marker for Parker, is that what you just wrote down? [laughs]
I love it. Lately, I’ve been loving nature and getting my place ready to share. I have a really big property. And I really am thinking of another business to sustain myself.
The idea of you not acting is strange.
But you know the game.
Not like you do.
Actors get jobs not based on whether or not they’re right for the part, they get it based on how much their last movie made. And then there are also agents and managers. I got this part because I went to Poland and I happened to be right for it. But Woody’s also a director who can cast whoever he wants.
The trick is to find more of those parts.
I feel like a gambler, and it’s great. I love the independence of my life, and the luck involved. I guess that’s valuable to me. It’s mystical. I love it.