Patricia Clarkson’s publicist handed her the phone a few minutes after her appearance on The Today Show with Megyn Kelly. If you watch the segment online, Clarkson is chatty and ebullient. More so than Sally Potter and Emily Mortimer, the director and co-star, respectively, of their new movie The Party. When I told her that our 2009 interview at the San Francisco International Film Festival was canceled due to a schedule change, she said, still giddy from her morning television high, “Many years later, here we are for The Party, baby!”
Clarkson is that rare actor who enjoys charming journalists as much as she enjoys talking about the work she’s promoting. In The Party, she plays April, one of several characters in an ensemble piece. The movie starts at Janet’s (Kristin Scott Thomas) and Bill’s (Timothy Spall) London flat. They’re throwing a dinner party to celebrate Janet’s victory in a political election. With this win, she will become a muckety-muck in the prime minister’s cabinet. Although Clarkson insists that The Party is not a play, it looks and sounds just like one.
A group of people gather together for an evening during which they confess secret resentments, desires and hostilities. Because Potter chose to film it in black-and-white, the lack of color adds an additional layer of claustrophobia. The characters are all confined in a very tight space for the duration of the story. Clarkson explained why Potter made that decision, “Sally said, ‘Aren’t people even more colorful in black-and-white? Because you really see them. You see them etched and nothing gets in the way.’ ”
April is an acerbic friend of Janet’s. Clarkson describes her character’s place in this world. “The backstory you don’t know is that she’s a literary manager and she’s led a similar life to the one that I have. She is a woman who has never conformed to society, never married, never had children. She doesn’t believe in that conventional way of life. She is the truth teller. She’s brutal, opinionated, intelligent, complicated.” And she’s in good company.
Janet’s cooking dinner in the kitchen and exchanging texts with her lover while Bill greets the guests in the living room. Jinny (Emily Mortimer) makes an announcement that, after months of in vitro fertilization, she is now pregnant with triplets. Her wife Martha (Cherry Jones) is as surprised as she is dismayed by the news and tells her the relationship is over. Clarkson reiterates Potter’s “Today Show” comments, “Sally said, ‘I think what I want to believe is that I’ve written women who really exist.’” The actress herself thought of these women as “biting, and cutting, and cold, and dark, and mysterious, but yet we can be heartbreaking and loving.”
Clarkson says that the seven actors bonded very quickly on and off set. “After I would insult and tell the brilliant Cherry Jones, ‘You’re a first-class lesbian and a second-rate thinker,’ we’d go and have wine that night. Who we are as actors, the seven of us, we have similar resumes, similar lives in this industry. We bonded very quickly.” She laughed and added, “We are people we would want to hang with.” They are, enviably, people we’d all like to hang out with.
The Party, now playing at the Century San Francisco Centre 9 and the AMC Dine-In Kabuki