- The Washington Times - Friday, March 7, 2003

Patricia Clarkson isn't ready to declare her independence from independent films. The strawberry-blond actress, best-known for challenging projects such as 1998's "High Art," suddenly is attracting the kind of attention that could land her more work in mainstream Hollywood films.
The recently wrapped 2003 Sundance Film Festival awarded Miss Clarkson a special jury prize for her performances in a trio of art-house movies: "All the Real Girls," "Pieces of April" and "The Station Agent."
Now she is filming just the sort of big-league film that growing clout can win an actor, "Miracles," a Disney dramatization of the life of "Miracle on Ice" Olympic hockey coach Herb Brooks. Miss Clarkson plays the coach's wife.
Still, the actress has little intention of abandoning the indie scene. It has been too good to her, and never better than over the past two-plus years.
"Great parts for women in studio films are few and far between," Miss Clarkson says during a phone interview earlier this week from the remote set of "Miracles" in British Columbia. "That's the system, and you can't really fight it. The independent film world doesn't have to play by those specific rules."
Indeed, Miss Clarkson's career is an ongoing refutation of the notion that there are few good roles for women today so long as you don't mind making a lot less than $8 million per feature.
Her latest film, "The Safety of Objects," opens today, and it's the type of complex part Miss Clarkson regularly attracts. She plays Annette in the ensemble piece, a single mother of two lurching between a romantic life and her duties to her children.
The 43-year-old actress delights in the opportunities independent films afford her.
"The great directors that work in that world have come to me and offered really wonderful parts [for] complicated women who aren't 25," says Miss Clarkson, whose voice exudes a husky sexuality more and more directors seem keen to tap.
"Safety," an intermittently satisfying drama, takes a long and by now rather familiar look at suburbia and the emotionally repressed lives concealed behind its reassuring facade.
The suburbs "are really gold mines" for rich subject matter, she says. "They're a world unto themselves."
Though some may find its view of suburbia old hat, she insists the film "rings true" and examines its characters through a nonjudgmental lens.
Miss Clarkson also starred in 2002's "Far From Heaven," a role that won her the New York Film Critics Circle nod for best supporting actress.
A New Orleans native, the youngest of five sisters, she began acting at 12 and later entered the Yale School of Drama.
She played a smattering of theatrical roles on Broadway and off before making her film debut playing the wife of Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in 1987's "The Untouchables."
"I was quite naive, or ignorant," she recalls. "I was thrust into this big-time movie world."
She credits director Brian De Palma for making her transition to cinema as painless as possible.
"You never forget your first time," she quips with that throaty laugh.
Since then, Miss Clarkson has dashed from film to television and back again.
She flirted with regular TV work with the 1991 sitcom "Davis Rules," co-starring Jonathan Winters and later, the short-lived "Murder One" in 1995.
She has no plans for steady television work, though she collected an Emmy last year for a guest stint on HBO's "Six Feet Under."
"I'm a little claustrophobic," she says. "There's amazing television [out there], but I kind of love doing an array of characters. I like never knowing what I'm dong next. It's a blessing and a curse."
If there's a downside to working in more commercial mainstream features, it's that she must resign herself too often to unimaginative casting as "the wife" or "girlfriend." She played the warden's wife in "The Green Mile," for example, and Timothy Hutton's love interest in 1988's "Everybody's All American."
She's hoping that with growing visibility will come more opportunities to get out of the house and some more glamorous parts.
"There's a little more cache to my name now, and I'm gonna ride it as far as I can," she says, laughing.
Along with the new prestige, she understands, come commensurate expectations.
"There is a little pressure, but I try not to map things out," she says.
Like many to whom professional success has come late, she thinks she may be better equipped to keep it in perspective now that it has arrived.
"I haven't been doing big, huge films. It does take time. In a way, maybe it's better happening now."

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