Parker Posey

By
Photography Craig Mcdean

Published September 25, 2016

Parker Posey is known, legitimately, as Queen of the Indies, but does that even cover it? Her presence in the films of the Sundance generation is indeed majestic and crucial, both elevating the films themselves, including Party Girl (1995), Richard Linklater‘s Dazed and Confused (1993), Noah Baumbach‘s Kicking and Screaming (1995), and Greg Mottola’s The Daytrippers (1997), but also linking them as pieces of a whole, a canon. Within the films, though, her performances have the quicksilver kiss and danger of mercury. She is often hilarious and always unpredictable—whether as the chaotic basket case who imagines she is Jackie Kennedy in The House of Yes (1997), the kooky heroine of Hal Hartley’s Fay Grim (2007), or the boring ditz in Christopher Guest’s masterpiece Best in Show (2000). It’s a breathlessly exhilarating thing, watching her, sensing that she too has no idea where the performance could take her.

Which is perhaps why she has found such a comfortable home within Guest’s troupe of brilliant improvisational comedians. They make for the perfect co-conspirators, and Guest’s premises—like this month’s Mascots, on Netflix, in which Posey and the gang play competitive mascots—an invitation for her best work.

Posey was born in Baltimore and raised in Louisiana and Mississippi, but one can hardly think of her, or her pal the artist, actor, and musician John Lurie, as anything but through-and-through New Yorkers. In July, just as Posey’s second film with Woody Allen, Café Society, was opening in theaters—on the way is a caper film with director James Oakley, The Brits Are Coming—the two Big Apple icons talked about summer in the city, about running errands, and auditioning for Woody.

 

PARKER POSEY: Hi, John.

JOHN LURIE: Parker!

POSEY: Sorry if it’s loud. I’m getting a bubble tea. [laughs]

LURIE: You’re out on the street?

POSEY: Well, I’m actually on the sidewalk. I just saw the Woody Allen movie today. I’m doing all this stuff that I could’ve done last week, sporadically. Where are you? Are you on your island?

LURIE: Yeah, I’m on my island.

POSEY: Where is it again?

LURIE: I’m not saying. It’s a secret.

POSEY: Oh, okay. [laughs] Are you painting?

LURIE: You don’t get to ask me questions.

POSEY: I’m sorry. [laughs] I’m sorry I missed you when you were in New York. In January I had all these resolutions. One was to join social media, which I did—and I started writing a book. So I’ve been absorbed in that.

LURIE: What’s the book?

POSEY: I guess it’s kind of memoir writing. It’s an adult coloring book as well. [Lurie laughs] I’ve done a lot of crafts in my day. I learned how to do pottery, yoga … and I just wanted to share and talk and write. It felt really good to kind of find my voice and say stuff, and to be funny, hopefully. I don’t think my agent really gets it.

LURIE: This is your acting agent?

POSEY: No, he’s a lit agent, and he’s also a neighbor. I have a country house and an apartment in the city and two mortgages, which is crazy. And I was beginning to think that I’m going to have to sell the farm, you know?

LURIE: Oh, so you’re selling the farm?

POSEY: No, I’m not.

LURIE: Wait, hang on, we’re supposed to be talking about the movie Mascots, right?

POSEY: Oh, okay. We could talk about that, but this is Interview magazine; we can just, like, have a conversation. I could hang up now, and they’ll print what we said so far.

LURIE: And that was it? And that was enough?

POSEY: [to someone else] My pants are ripped in the back? Oh. Thank you very much. [to Lurie]  I have a rip in my pants now.

LURIE: Wait, you’re on the streets in Manhattan, and someone just told you that you had a rip in your pants?

POSEY: [laughs] Yeah. My underwear is hanging out. Okay. It’s flower-pant Monday. I have these flower pants that I got at a flea market in L.A. They’re cotton; they’re so comfortable. I’ve had them for years, and I patched them, and, well, I think I’m going to have to patch them again. The rip isn’t too bad now, but when I start walking, it’s going to get worse, John.

LURIE: [laughs] I don’t know how I can help you from here.

POSEY: You can’t. There’s no way. So did you get to see Mascots?

LURIE: Yeah, I saw it. It seems like these movies are fun to do.

POSEY: I guess they are fun. I mean, its own kind of fun, right? You get an outline. All the dialogue is improvised on camera, so everything is dependent upon chemistry and instinct and not being scared, finding your own space in your own world that you are creating for Chris [Guest]. And he gives a lot of space for that. So I got to dance in this a little bit.

LURIE: That’s right. Is that you doing cartwheels towards the beginning of the movie?

POSEY: That’s me!

LURIE: With the armadillo head on? I was sure it was a stunt person because there was a mask on.

POSEY: Oh, thank you so much! I’m so flattered.

LURIE: I’m kind of jealous. You’re really doing that?

POSEY: [laughs] Totally.

LURIE: Wow.

POSEY: I know.

LURIE: [laughs] You should’ve taken the mask off then. I just assumed it was a stunt double doing that.

POSEY: I did take the mask off. But I don’t know if the camera was rolling then.

LURIE: Oh, it’s really like that? You don’t know even know if the camera was rolling or not? That was impressive.

POSEY: Thank you. But we can’t talk about the end.

LURIE: We can’t talk about the end?

POSEY: About my character! I don’t want readers to know … It doesn’t matter now though, does it? I wanted to dance as the armadillo so badly. And I still had to come up with how she would move, what her routine was. I worked with my friend Jack Ferver, the performance artist, and the choreographer Ryan Heffington, who came in to do all of the mascots. I had a lot of say. I wanted Gary Numan music. I wanted Laurie Anderson strangeness, early electronica, and a kind of steampunk thing. And, you know what, I could still do it. But I’d get in trouble if I go on the road as an armadillo. I might get run over, John. I might get run over.

LURIE: [laughs] Did you guys have to work out together, you and [co-star] Susan Yeagley?

POSEY: Oh yeah. Because she’s not really a dancer, she was really stressed out. We rehearsed, and she just burst into tears. She’s like, “I have two left feet. I can’t.” But I love her so much. We had such great chemistry and such a good time, and that’s the other thing. You get so close to these people that you’re acting with. Some of these scenes last, like, 15 minutes. And it’s so disappointing when you see the final cut. You bring so much of your life and your story, and then it’s just whittled away, you know? Chris likes his movies to really fly, to leave the audience wanting more—which is the rule of comedy. So his movies are kind of short. I like a three-and-a-half-hour documentary. I like Frederick Wiseman, Grey Gardens [1976] … I’d love these movies to be so much longer than they are. You should see what Jane Lynch and Ed Begley Jr., and Michael Hitchcock and Don Lake come up with, by the minute. They’re just improvising. It’s like watching a quartet. And everyone’s fucking funny! It’s so wonderful to watch that. I could watch it for hours.

LURIE: Do you all go and watch dailies?

POSEY: We did on [Waiting for] Guffman [1997] and Best in Show, because we were on location. But on this, everyone just went home, so we didn’t have that. But when you’re on set, you kind of sneak in and watch Jane Lynch do a moose howl, or … What sound does a moose make?

LURIE: I don’t know. [laughs]

POSEY: It was like a honk. I don’t know.

LURIE: I don’t think moose make any sound. Do they bellow?

POSEY: [laughs] Maybe. She gave the moose a sound, and it was so strange and funny. I’m surprised it wasn’t in there. And people need that now! You want to see Jane Lynch make a moose sound to liven up our days, you know?

LURIE: Have you ever seen a moose?

POSEY: No, I haven’t. Have you?

LURIE: Only once. It was amazing. Up in Massachusetts or New York somewhere.

POSEY: Were you out in the wild?

LURIE: No, I had a house I used to go up and paint in the summers, up in Stephentown, New York. I was driving back from visiting somebody in Albany; it was just twilight. I sort of heard it and thought, “What is that?” There was like a boom. I slammed on the breaks, and it was right in front of me … Gigantic. When I was up in Maine doing Fishing With John, I thought we’d see moose all the time, but I never saw one. I’ve never seen a bear either. Have you ever seen a bear?

POSEY: No, I haven’t seen a bear in person. I’ve seen deer. I have lots of woodchucks on my property. And bluebirds. Foxes.

LURIE: So there might be bear.

POSEY: Yeah, there are! But I don’t think really big ones would live in that area. I like bears. I like bear people. I like bear-type men.

LURIE: There’s a place where they have bear clubs. Do you know about this?

POSEY: Of course! I went to one with a girlfriend of mine … What a happy bunch of adorable, loving gay bears. I hope I don’t get in troublefor saying that.

LURIE: Yeah, I wonder. [laughs] I can’t tell anymore.

POSEY: They’re going to come for me. Are you kind of a bear guy?

LURIE: I don’t know what that is. Does that mean just hairy?

POSEY: It’s like hairy and … nice? Like, a bit soft.

LURIE: No, I don’t think I’m a bear person.

POSEY: I don’t think so either. You’re more of a lounge lizard.

LURIE: That would be one thing you could say. [both laugh] Should we talk about acting?

POSEY: Do you want to talk about acting?

LURIE: Well, I was wondering if you ever did anything that was really hard to do.

POSEY: Oh John, you don’t know! It’s all, like … Yeah, it’s hard.

LURIE: No, I mean, I don’t mean to insult it like that. I know that with the fishing show people went, “Oh, that looks like it was so much fun and so easy,” and I was just like, “You must be out of your fucking mind.” It was so hard.

POSEY: [laughs] There’s so much that’s left up to chance, right?

LURIE: There’s so much to do, and so much that can go wrong.

POSEY: I love Fishing With John so much.

LURIE: That was great to do.

POSEY: You should have a website that sells it.

LURIE: Sells the fishing show? But Criterion does it, so … yeah.

POSEY: That’s amazing. They’re a big deal.

LURIE: They’re a great company. If everybody was like Criterion, my God, we would have so many good movies. I mean, it’s just the business of this stuff that stops me from doing it, because the people are so creepy.

POSEY: I would love to do something like Fishing With John. Did we talk about Agnès Varda when we were in San Francisco? Are you a big Agnès Varda fan? 

LURIE: We talked about her. I didn’t know who she was, and I made a note, and I never looked her up.

POSEY: You would like her. There are documentarians and then there are storytellers. We have a lot of stuff now where we don’t really see the spirit or the essence of the person in the story, which is what you did in Fishing With John.

LURIE: Is it weird for you to do something that’s for Netflix that won’t be in the theaters?

POSEY: I haven’t really given that much thought. It will be in the theaters for a few weeks.

LURIE: Oh, it will?

POSEY: Yeah. But it had a different feel than a studio. There was one huge marketing day with pictures and video of all the mascots, and I was like, “Wow, a lot of people are working here.” We’ve got, like, 50 people just in the publicity department. And that’s kind of what we’re up against—it’s a lot more people around making decisions. I mean, everyone was nice; it just wasn’t the intimacy we had on Waiting for Guffman. That’s changed. I can see why you don’t want to make movies.

LURIE: Well, it’s not that I don’t. I mean, there are so many things I want to do.

POSEY: You can make something with your iPhone.

LURIE: What I want to do more than anything is just avoid any creepiness from here on out. Like, if I put out a book, if I put out another album, if I make another TV show … I’ve dealt with enough crap. It’s just all out of balance somehow.

POSEY: Yeah. It’s overshadowed, the art. We’re in a really argumentative, black-and-white-thinking culture right now. There’s not a lot of time to take things in. I mean, I loved your paintings, and you’re doing that. You’re like, “I’m going to paint, and if you like it, you can buy it.” That was so inspiring to me [laughs] and inspired me to get to writing. I made an app this year that’s really silly and fun, kind of silent-film-like. I did it with my friend Jack [Ferver] and Vinny DePonto, a magician, but he prefers “mentalist,” and [multimedia artist and director] Rob Roth.

LURIE: How was the Woody Allen film? That’s your second one with him?

POSEY: Yep. And I just saw it. I was a little breathless from it actually. It’s very romantic, and Kristen Stewart and Jesse Eisenberg are just so lovely in it. And no one can write like him and portray these very grown-up feelings in this way. It’s gorgeous to look at. Vittorio Storaro shot it, and this is the first feature he’s shot in digital, and what he did with the digital effects is stunning. It looks like a painting. Didn’t you meet Woody Allen once?

LURIE: Yeah. I was actually going to be in one of his movies.

POSEY: When was this?

LURIE: Oh, it was the ’90s, the first Gulf War. It started that day. When was that? ’91? But then it didn’t happen. Did I tell you this story?

POSEY: I think you did but I, of course, don’t remember.

LURIE: It was after Down by Law [1986]. I got all this attention and I had an agent, but I wasn’t really interested in acting; I was just doing music. I was taking the first vacation in my life and my agent said, “Woody Allen wants to meet you.” And I said, “Oh, can you send the script?” They said, “No, nobody can see the script.” I said, “I’m out in Long Island.” “Well, you’re going to have to drive back in.” And then you go, and you’re in this gigantic room—I mean, the size of a basketball court. And it’s everybody you can think of, people like Chris Elliott, Penn & Teller … There are hundreds of people in the room, and you know who everybody is. And you wait and wait and wait. And then they call you into this little room the size of a bathroom, and it’s him and the producer and the casting director, Juliet Taylor. And they’re talking to you at the same time. So I pay attention to Woody. He says, “Well, we’re going to make this movie, and we think it’s going to be really interesting, and thank you for coming into see us.” And that’s it. And then they usher you out. So two years later, I get another call from my new agent, “Woody Allen wants to meet you,” I said, “Oh forget it. I’m not going to bother.” I told him what happened last time, so they got me this private meeting up in his apartment. And I wait out in the foyer [laughs], and I go in, and they’re all talking to you at the same time exactly like the time before, and he says, “Well, we’re going to make this movie, and we think it’s going to be really interesting, and we just want to have a look at you, thank you for coming, bye.” I’m like, “You know what? Don’t ever call me again.” And I start to walk out because I no longer wanted to have anything to do with him, and I am sure it was because of this that they gave me the part.

POSEY: [laughs] And what was it?

LURIE: They wouldn’t tell me what the part was, and I ended up having this thing with my eye, and I had to go to the hospital, so I couldn’t do it.

POSEY: I broke my ribs before I worked with Woody. Wow. That’s a really funny story. What was the thing with your eye?

LURIE: I had a sinus infection, and then they went to drain it, and the guy punctured something in my eye so I almost lost my eye. So then I’m in the hospital, and I get those—remember Merlin Olsen flowers?

POSEY: Mmhmm. [laughs

LURIE: The tiny metal thing of flowers—with a little note from Woody: “So sorry you’re sick. Maybe we can work together another time.”

POSEY: Aw.

LURIE: I had my friend come and take a photograph of me with the IVs in my arm, looking as sick as possible. I turned the photo into a postcard with a line on the back and sent it to him. It said, “Dear Woody, wish you were here.” [Posey laughs] I never heard from him again.

POSEY: [laughs] I’m sure he loved that.

LURIE: I don’t think so. I saw him at a Knicks game once, and his face sort of lit up in recognition, and then he quickly looked away. Anyway, this can’t be in there. 

POSEY: When are you back in New York?

LURIE: I don’t know. I’ll stay here for as long as I can. It’s unbelievable here right now. It’s just so gorgeous.

POSEY: So nice. Well, call me when you come back.

JOHN LURIE IS A GRAMMY-NOMINATED MUSICIAN, ARTIST, AND ACTOR, WHOSE WORK HAS BEEN EXHIBITED AT P.S. 1 CONTEMPORARY ARTS CENTER IN NEW YORK. HE LED THE GROUP THE LOUNGE LIZARDS AND WROTE, DIRECTED, AND STARRED IN THE TV SERIES FISHING WITH JOHN.