Patricia Clarkson on How She Finds a Character and Why She Doesn’t “Dwell on the Script”

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“I cling to one thing the character has said, and I think of it all day. And once I feel the emotional life, then I start to look at the words.” – Patricia Clarkson

Emmy Award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson first gained recognition from a series of impressive performances in Far From Heaven, HBO’s Six Feet Under, Dogville, The Staton Agent, and Sharp Objects. In just a few short years she became a go-to actress for powerful performances in key roles.

Perhaps her greatest acclaim has come for her performance in the celebrated HBO miniseries Sharp Objects as Adora, a role which she won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress — Series, Miniseries or Television Film. She recently was interviewed by actress Michelle Williams (her co-star in The Station Agent) for Variety.

During the interview, Williams asked Clarkson how her thinking about a role evolves over the course of a production. Clarkson answered:

What’s most important for me is — with enormous respect for writers — not to dwell on the script. The lines will come. It’s most important that I have an emotional center of this character. That I know the character’s demons and angels; you’re going to need both at the drop of a hat. And a director can’t help you with that often. I call it walking the part. I cling to one thing the character has said, and I think of it all day. And once I feel the emotional life, then I start to look at the words.

With Adora, I realized that I couldn’t really think too far out with her. I had to take her in an unusual way as an actor. I had to take her one day, one week, one episode at a time. It’s very emotional for me to talk about it because the depth of where she goes is unforgiving and unforgivable. So the night before, I tried these dark journeys I was on; I’d stay as high as I could. It’s odd. I tried not to sink because I knew so much was coming that I tried to stay almost vain about her, keep the vanity about her until I got on the set and then let it all fall. Some people would say it’s a French way to work.

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