In Focus

Parker Posey: A Reliably Independent Woman

By Ellen McCarthy
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, May 18, 2007

There it is, 15 minutes in, the Parker Posey money shot. She's in a tub, the camera's cockeyed. A pack of cigs and a fat glass of wine lie by her side as she winds up the crank on an old-timey viewfinder, flipping through still shots of an orgy. She's exasperated, ridiculous.

You are mesmerized.

Because that's what she does, our singing, dancing queen of the indies. She makes the absurd entrancing. She charms by holding up a hand mirror and flashing back visions of our most ludicrous selves. The Jackie O worshiper seducing her brother. The frigid, braces-wearing yuppie violently castigating a pet store clerk. The meanest mean girl humiliating high school newbies with whipped cream and a bullhorn.

"What are you looking at? Wipe that face off your head. . . ."

Ohhh, good times.

They were all good times, actually, even when they seemed a touch demented, sort of sad. Like Fay Grim, Posey's woman in the tub and the lead character in the film of the same name. (See review on Page 36.) She's a beleaguered single mom who carries the same sack of groceries around for the first five scenes of the movie and winds up traipsing across the globe looking for her runaway husband and getting sucked into international espionage. Of course she does; it's an art-house comedy. And a Parker Posey flick.

Here, listen to how Posey once ended an interview with National Public Radio: "Thank you. I hope I made sense."

Those lines could make a perfect epitaph someday. An apt, ironic headline for an actress who's both reliable and unexpected. Clever and flighty. Endearing and abrasive. Who has shot a manic 50-odd movies in the past 15 years and in the process trademarked such a singular brand of erratic quirkiness that she has become an adjective. ( "That's a Parker Posey role." "We're looking for a Parker Posey type.") Who seems, always, to be equal parts toddler, teenager and neurotic, luminous lady.

"It's like, it's like, God. Ask me another question," she stutters in response to an inquiry about the plot of "Broken English," her second movie of the summer, due out in June. (For the record, it's about a hotel manager in New York struggling with relationship issues.)

Posey sounds as if she has just spun around 10 times and landed in a giggling heap on the ground. Which is maybe how she feels, actually, having just gotten off a plane in Los Angeles and trying to squeeze in a quick phone interview during the drive to CNN's studios, fulfilling her obligation to promote a movie that won't be seen in major megaplexes and won't have the benefit of a prime-time ad campaign.

It's a familiar drill along the path she has chosen. Or the one that has chosen her. This life as indie royalty wasn't something Posey plotted long in advance. The daughter of a car dealer dad and chef mom in Mississippi, she fell into acting after being rejected from the ballet program of a prestigious arts academy. It clicked, and she went on to the drama school at a state university outside New York City. Her first gig was on the daytime soap "As the World Turns." (A part she got, she says, despite auditioning in grungy clothes and no makeup -- "That was such a lesson: Try to be yourself as much as you can.")

But in the meantime, the independent-film scene in New York was booming. So it was the work she got, doing readings, showing up for auditions, making friends with folks like Hal Hartley, who directed "Fay Grim" and its predecessor, 1997's "Henry Fool."

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