Patricia Clarkson Changed Herself Completely For ‘Last Weekend’
A handful of siblings and their significant others gather at their wealthy parents’ home in Lake Tahoe for a weekend of awkward arguments, divulged dark secrets, and a couple of near-death experiences in Last Weekend, the debut feature by co-directors Tom Dolby and Tom Williams. The film stars Patricia Clarkson and Chris Mulkey as the parents, with the rest of the ensemble filled out by young stars on the rise: Zachary Booth (Damages), Joseph Cross (Lincoln), Alexia Rasmussen (Proxy), and Fran Kranz (Cabin in the Woods).
We spoke to Clarkson in a roundtable interview about questioning whether she could handle the role of Celia, the role taking a toll on her, being opinionated on set, working with her younger co-stars, and more.
Your character in the film says, “30 years ago, I could have never imagined my life turning out like this.” How about you, Patricia Clarkson?
Patricia: You know…be careful what you wish for. I think the life I have now is very close to the life I hoped for, which is very moving to me. Is it perfect? No. I’m 54 and I’m working like crazy, and it’s a struggle sometimes, but I think my life is pretty great. I’m quite happy with where I am now.
Your character takes a lot of crap from her family, and represents a mother’s struggle in a way.
Patricia: I always play mothers, but I’m not a mother myself. I have sisters who are mothers, I have a mother who is very much present in this world. But I think Celia was a bit of a tough “yes” for me, which is good for me. She was a complicated woman. Unsympathetic. I thought, can I do this? Can I enter this woman’s world and shift my sight? I had to change the way I viewed her life, and suddenly when I entered her world I realized, she’s right! [laughs] That’s all I needed to know. She’s right! That’s what I had to come to. I don’t care what anybody else says; she’s right!
Was that discovery a surprise to you?
Patricia: Yes. When I was preparing for this and we got to Lake Tahoe I was thinking, “I’m not prepared for this”. I don’t look like Celia. I’m not a west coast person. I had to become more malleable, more loose and odd and different and lose my edge. I had to lose my lipstick, my tight skirts. I was like, “She doesn’t wear heels?” [laughs] It’s a really massive character. It really ate my lunch. It took a toll on me, and that’s a great thing. The metaphor of jumping off the pier was a little bit of my own metaphor. I didn’t know when I’d come of for air with this character. I just jumped. I had to just jump.
I had Tom and Tom–“Tom Tom” [laughs]–these two beautiful men on either side of me. They’re different men, but they’re both family men. Both very kind and fiercely intelligent. They each had me in different ways throughout this character. And I had these exquisite young actors who are just so beautiful and lovely.
With this being the two Toms’ first film and you with all this experience behind you, what was the working process like? Was it a lot of sharing on your part?
Patricia: Oh yes. I was opinionated as Patty, and as Celia I was even more opinionated! [laughs] I was a little tough, but sometimes the character invades your space, and Celia’s invasive. She knows what she wants, and then she has nothing, which is heartbreaking to me. What is she left with at the end of the day?
She asks Malcolm if he thinks that they’re good people.
Patricia: Can you imagine asking yourself that? Have you ever asked that to your family? “Am I a good person?” You have to come to a very specific place in quite a long, complicated life to say, “Are we good people?” But finally she’s able to ask that question. She wouldn’t have even had the thought of that question, but she finally finds the words and is able to articulate. She had what she thought was a full life, but maybe it wasn’t so full.
Judith Light plays your neighbor, and there’s that scene where she confronts you about selling the house. You don’t receive her with any defensiveness. It’s a beautiful scene of acceptance and forgiveness.
Patricia: That was the breaking down of Celia. That was charting when her cells start to reinvent. I remember for that scene I said, “Tom, she has nothing to lose.”
Your interactions with Joseph are so venomous.
Patricia: Joe is tough. That scene where he grabs me got really tough. Some of that was so close…He’s an intense actor. We had to go there, enter that world. We had to.