Patricia Clarkson on age, being sexy and the joy of not settling down

"I'm in my heyday!"

In the opening scenes of new Stan series, Gray, Patricia Clarkson gently holds a cat, squeamishly asking a teenage neighbour to help her the administer medication. She runs a small coffee shop in a tiny town and enjoys crafting. To the undiscerning outsider, she’s completely unremarkable – almost invisible.

By episode’s end – and as the series unravels – we discover this meek, middle-aged exterior hides a steely spy on the run. Patricia’s character Cornelia Gray is smart, she’s vicious and she’s wildly sensual.

“I said she’s very sexy, but you saying sensual is even better,” the actress says with an open throated laugh as she chats to The Weekly over Zoom from a hotel room in the UK. “You’ve made my night! I’m sitting here in my robe, but I should be here in underwear and a bra.”

It’s rare, we say, to see women over a certain age being celebrated as sexual beings on screen. Yet it’s perfect that Patricia Clarkson – who has spent her whole career pushing the boundaries of what is expected of women at any age – is breaking the norm.

Lydia West and Patricia Clarkson in Gray

“Well yeah,” she says with a shrug. “But this is the thing, Ruba (Nadda, Gray’s director) wanted this. Ruba was like, ‘Patty has a body. Put her in underwear, put her in swimsuit!’ I was like, ‘Ruba! I’m already up at 6am, are you going to make me do sit-ups at 5.45?’ But I did!

“Wait till you see where we go. Get ready. There’s a scene on a roof darling, I do something topless, down the line. And my mother and father? I’m just not sure if they’re going to watch, but I’ve already warned them.”

“It’s sad that we have talk about that it’s rare. But it is, and it’s the truth. (Gray co-star) Lydia West is stunning. But I’m more the object of sexual desire. We’ve inverted things here. There are scenes I have that are shocking. They are some of my favourite scenes I’ve ever done in my career.

HOLLYWOOD, CALIFORNIA - NOVEMBER 04: Patricia Clarkson attends the 2022 AFI Fest - "She Said" Special Screening at TCL Chinese Theatre on November 04, 2022 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic)
Photo by Axelle/Bauer-Griffin/FilmMagic

How old is Patricia Clarkson?

At this, 64-year-old Patricia breaks into another hearty chuckle, her delight at subverting expectations clear. It’s made her a subject of tabloid headlines over the years – not that she’d planned to do so.

Google Patricia Clarkson and you’ll find a slew of articles on her “shock” proclamation that she’s never wanted to get married or have children – and that it’s allowed her to have freedom in her career.

“I mean, come on,” she chuckles. “I’ve been sitting here sipping a glass of Sauvignon Blanc because I ain’t putting kids to bed! I’m loving life!

“I love other people’s children I truly do. But I have been able to be a good sister, a good aunt, a good great aunt. I’ve been a good daughter; I’ve been a good girlfriend to many remarkable men in my life.

“It’s alright to be a straight woman, unmarried, no children, no partner. It’s alright because I find comfort in my life and myself. What I do know that it’s kind of weird and sad that it’s 2024 and we still have to talk about it.”

What she would like to talk about, is the opportunities that are coming her way at this time of her life.

BEVERLY HILLS, CA - JANUARY 06:  Patricia Clarkson  poses at the 76th Annual Golden Globe Awards at The Beverly Hilton Hotel on January 6, 2019 in Beverly Hills, California.  (Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage,)
With her Golden Globe for Sharp Objects in 2019. Photo by Steve Granitz/WireImage

After making her film debut in Brian de Palma’s classic 1987 mob drama The Untouchables, Patricia – or Patty as she refers to herself – has established an incredible career as a character actress; mainly in film but also on stage and the small screen. She’s run the gamut from Southern matriarch to drug-addled German lesbian in her 30-something years in the industry. But it’s now she’s enjoying herself most.

“I’m in a heyday,” she says. She’s recently wrapped filming on Lilly – the biopic of trailblazing American activist Lilly Ledbetter who fought for equal pay. “It’s difficult to play your heroes, but I survived,” she says of the movie which will release later this year.

In 2022 she won plaudits for portraying New York Times editor Rebecca Corbett, whose work would expose Harvey Weinstein in She Said. That same year she filmed Monica, the story of a trans woman who returns home to care for her estranged ailing mother.

“It was a brutal journey, brutal,” she says of the critically lauded film which took almost decade to find funding. “(But) I thought ‘well, Patty, you’re going to sink or swim. And it’s okay if you sink. But what if you swim?’ And that’s how I feel right now. I want to take on the most challenging things I can do.”

Gray, now streaming only on Stan. 

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