Tuesday, May 21, 2024

Movies: Patricia Clarkson (Learning to Drive) on Lily Tomlin (Grandma): “She’s my hero. I worship her.”


“How fabulous that we have two films opening that are driven by women who are more than 50,” Patricia Clarkson told me Wednesday morning at a breakfast event at the Crosby Street Hotel to celebrate Clarkson’s new film, “Learning to Drive,” which opens Friday. The small room was film with women from the creative arts and the media. And the other film Clarkson referred to was, of course, Lily Tomlin’s “Grandma.”

With her long flaxen hair, the actress looks like a mixture of 1940’s Hollywood glamour and Southern belle sass. She was born and raised in New Orleans and occasionally there’s still a hint of a drawl. Gracious and charming, Clarkson circulated among the table to talk to as many women as she could. In four hours she would be taking off for the West Coast for talk shows to promote “Learning to Drive,” which co-stars Sir Ben Kingsley as her driving instructor.

Guests at the breakfast included, from the film, actress Sarita Choudhury and director, Isabel Coixet, along with Jacki Cruz (“Orange is the New Black”), designer Nicole Miller, Anne Chaisson (Executive Director – Hamptons International Film Festival) and Julie La’Brassiere (Chief Executive – BAFTA New York). .

Clarkson said of Lily Tomlin, “It’s interesting that we’re leading these two films and they’re opening us together on a weekend,” she laughed. “She’s my hero. I worship her.”

Someone came over and congratulated Clarkson, who told the woman she recently been honored at the Deauville American Film Festival this year. The woman also complimented Clarkson on her appearance on the Today show with Kathy Lee Gifford and Hoda Kotb.

This was Gifford’s first time back since her husband’s death and she gave a huge emotional monologue. Clarkson went on after that. She finessed it as gracefully as she does everything. Clarkson told Kathie Lee, “I just want you to know – first of all – I never married probably because I’ve never met a man like Frank… I met him once and I found him to be the most gracious, beautiful man.” After that she segued into talking about the movie.

Clarkson is persistent and a take-charge person. The day before at press roundtables, she told journalists that “Learning to Drive” had been an obsession for nine years, since she read the New Yorker essay on which the film is based. During the press event someone next door started hammering on the wall disrupting everyone’s concentration. Clarkson walked next door and made them stop working until after the press event was over. She told me she felt bad for we reporters, who she described as “nice, smart, fun people.” No wonder journalists love her.

I asked Clarkson about “Tallulah,” the movie she hoped to make about actress Tallulah Bankhead, who was like her from the South. “It’s a beautiful script. It’s a really, really fun script.” She called it “a slice of a moment in time” when Hitchcock was making “The Lifeboat” and during the time she was being hounded by the head of the morality commission in Hollywood. There’s also a young lover, a young beautiful woman in a story that’s fact and fiction in the manner of Bennett Miller’s 2005 film “Capote.” Clarkson called it “very funny, very sexy, very naked.” Clarkson added of Bankhead, “She loved the ladies, she liked men too but she loved the ladies.”

Bankhead was notorious for not wearing underwear during the shoot of “Lifeboat” and she had to climb a ladder to get into the boat so everyone got a good view.

Clarkson told me Hitchcock saw Bankhead’s vagina and famously said, “I don’t know whether to call hair or make up.”

“She was great. She was funny and her mind was brilliant.” But it’s a big movie and Clarkson said they needed a star director to raise $10 million. “But I can raise five million, which is a miracle.” At that point she graciously got up to mingle and pose for photographs with guests. “Use the flash and point up,” she told everyone.

Photo c2015Showbiz411 by Paula Schwartz


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