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Parker Posey on Suicide 

Wednesday, Jul 15 2015
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A blond Parker Posey emerges from the bathroom of her suite at the Fairmont Hotel in a long, navy handkerchief dress with her best gay friend Jason in tow.

"You know Jason, right?" she asks, taking my hand. I shake my head no. "Oh, I thought you would."

Parker Posey, Jason, and I pile into the backseat of a Lincoln Town Car, headed for Industrial Light and Magic's screening room in the Presidio. The actress seems to be fighting fatigue after a long day of interviews, following months of press junkets, premieres, and screenings of her new movie, Irrational Man, which opens July 17.

Posey is all talked out about the film. After a question about whether her improvisational background in Christopher Guest films such as Waiting for Guffman helped her survive Woody Allen's rehearsal-free set, the actress pushes back.

"Let's talk about you," she says. After getting grilled on everything from whether I've read John Lahr's Tennessee Williams: Mad Pilgrimage of the Flesh to whether I've ever been to the gay resort city of Provincetown, I push back and return to Irrational Man.

In the movie, Posey plays an unhappily married small-town college chemistry professor named Rita Richards, who attempts an affair with suicidally depressed philosophy professor Abe (Joaquin Phoenix), who's on a quest for meaning in his life. The theme feels very au courant.

"I think it raises an issue of the culture," the actress says. "I think you're right on about that. In this time, does life have meaning, if it's just something on an iPhone, an image that we just scroll past? We're in those times where I think suicide is more popular than it's ever been. We're getting more and more disconnected from each other and the here and now, and interacting with one another. I have that hope that it stirs this kind of dialogue in the culture. So yeah, that was exciting to be a part of that." 

She was also glad to work with Woody Allen, whom she describes as a "classic storyteller" and "the minotaur in the maze," and with Joaquin Phoenix, whom she describes as "very watery." In Posey-speak, this means "instinctual.

"Like he's malleable and protean and his essence as an artist is so slippery," she says. "You can't define him. He's a master in his image and just in himself." 

Posey was offered the role after Allen's longtime casting director, Juliet Taylor, approached the actress and introduced her to the director. It's not uncommon for Posey to be pursued by filmmakers.

"I have auditioned," she confides, "but I don't get cast from the auditions that I audition for. I think with independent movies, they know that I love film and they know that they can get me a script through a friend and they know that I'm game for low-budget movies. But also, it's nice to have parts written for me and to be the one [feigns snoring] to play them."

Maybe that's why she's earned the title "Queen of the Indies"?

"I don't know what you mean by that," she jokes. "Where did you hear that? I'm really dissociated from it. It was disappointing because I thought that when I was called that, it was like, wow, my parents were really impressed by that because they were impressed by what's in a magazine. So it was, 'OK, good, our daughter's doing well,' but it didn't really guarantee any kind of part. So I was called that, and as the whole thing kind of crumbled ... yeah ... I don't know ... I feel lucky, period. I just blah, blah, blah ..."

I am losing Parker Posey again. I inquire whether I could ask her about Party Girl. But Jason distracts her, whipping out an iPad to take a photo of them. "Wait, get our friend in here," Posey graciously offers. "Wait, what did you want to ask about Party Girl?" she inquires, her attention divided.

"You shot Party GirlFriskThe Doom GenerationBasquiat and The House of Yes within a two-year period," I say. "If you're a gay man, coming of age in the '90s, these films are your Bible — your five books of Moses, if you will. They're so ..."

"Rich," she says. "That's true. What can I say? The gays have good taste." 

Twenty years after Party Girl, Posey's standout portrayal of Rita Richards in Irrational Man may just keep the actress in the lavender limelight for another two decades.

"Being in this movie, I've started to receive more scripts," she says. And, with playful mispronunciation, "Oh, hair we are."

The Town Car stops and Posey emerges, surveying the ILM Screening Room. The actress ties a navy and green paisley scarf around her neck, steels herself to be interviewed about the film once again — this time onstage in front of a large audience — and disappears with Jason inside.

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Joshua Rotter

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