Ever since Parker Posey's first memorable film role—a mean-spirited high schooler in Richard Linklater's Dazed And Confused—the actress has been a fixture in independent films, often playing a self-absorbed, somewhat acerbic sophisticate with a vulnerable streak just wide enough to redeem her in the audience's eyes. After recent turns playing the dry-witted comic relief in Blade: Trinity and Superman Returns—and more nuanced leading roles in Fay Grim and Broken English—Posey is taking her first shot at a sitcom with Fox's The Return Of Jezebel James, created by Gilmore Girls mastermind Amy Sherman-Palladino. Posey plays a fastidious children's book editor who convinces her wayward sister Lauren Ambrose to serve as her surrogate mother. Posey spoke with The A.V. Club about the rhythm of sitcoms, the flow of her career, and what it's like to be a New York social butterfly.
The A.V. Club: You went through a long stretch doing either character roles in big studio movies or ensemble work in Christopher Guest's films. But lately you've done two feature leads, and now a leading role on a sitcom. Are you moving to the point in your career where you'll only do leads, or will you still take on a supporting part?
Parker Posey: My first lead role was probably Party Girl in 1994. And then I did The House Of Yes. But that was back when directors of independent movies could hire actors. They could get a million-dollar movie financed. It's kind of changed in the last 10 years. Early on it was much easier to play leads, but now independent movies are being co-opted by the studio system, and they want bigger names to guarantee more audience and more numbers.
There's a chart… I don't look at anything on the Internet about any of this, but there's a chart that shows how many millions of dollars a movie starring me will cost, and how much it will make. And a lot of the financing comes from business people who look at those numbers. It's shifted. I did two million-dollar movies a couple years ago, Broken English and Fay Grim. And I guess Personal Velocity—that was a three-character piece, but I was a lead in my section of the story. And that was seven years ago. I still get to work in independent film. I usually play character parts in Hollywood films. That's kind of how my career has taken shape. It's good.
AVC: Back when you were being referred to as "The Indie Queen," did that hype bother you, or did you enjoy the fact that it may have given you more opportunities?
PP: Well it didn't really come with a credit card to finance movies, did it? [Laughs]. I was around New York at a time when independent cinema was at its peak and became kind of popular and mainstream. It got some hype, culturally. After that, studios started to have independent companies within their studio system, and they found bigger stars willing to do new material. That's kind of what it's turned into.
AVC: You're a Southern girl, right?
PP: Mississippi and Louisiana. And I think I have family from Arkansas. My dad recently reminded me that my grandfather's cousin was Lefty Frizzell.
AVC: Was moving to New York a strange transition?
PP: I guess I've lived here for… Twenty years? I went to college when I was 18, to SUNY Purchase. And I started out as a dancer, ballet. When I got onstage and started dancing, I loved it, so I was up for the energy of the city. Also I've got a country house, so I can get in touch with my Southern roots by going upstate. I've got a little pond. I've got some grass-eating carp in there. And my gardener said I could have some crawfish in my pond if I wanted. [Laughs.] I move so far from Louisiana to get property that has a pond, and then someone asks if I want crawfish! I love bayou life. I had a friend who had a lake house, and my cousins and I would go water-skiing on the bayou. The green of it, I kinda miss. I didn't realize how much I missed it until I had it again.
AVC: The Return Of Jezebel James is set in New York City. Do you know people like the character? Do you have friends in publishing?
PP: No, I don't. I've met writers before, and I guess I have been around that world a little bit. And this is my second editor [role], so I do know a little about it. It's children's book editing, which is very different from adult books. [Laughs.] So to speak.
AVC: How long ago did you shoot the series?
PP: We shot the pilot a year ago, and then they had to decide whether or not it was going to get picked up, and then the production moved here in September and wrapped in November.
AVC: Do you know whether you're going to be able to do any more?
PP: I don't know. These things go on TV and they see if they catch any buzz, if people relate to it. Then they decide what to do.
AVC: Is it hard to plan your career with a TV commitment hanging out there?
PP: No. I have a movie I'm doing in April. I kind of go from job to job. I worked on the show from September to November, so that was a pretty good chunk. And then I moved apartments, from the East Village to the West. That was the beginning of this year. And now I'm getting ready to do a movie in April, Mitchell Lichtenstein's new movie. He directed Teeth. Demi Moore and I are playing sisters.
AVC: You started out in soap operas, correct? Is there a big difference in preparation and performing style between soap operas, indie films to sitcoms?
PP: There's a lot of exposition on soaps. I was 21 when I was on As The World Turns, and I had to do a lot of explaining of other people's drama, because that's what they gave the kids on the show to do. So even though I had a storyline, mostly I remember having to memorize things that were really complicated. You know, like phone calls where I was explaining what was going on. [Laughs.] Some of the directors let me have fun with it and kind of make fun of it while doing it, but others took it very seriously. So soap opera is very different from a more realistic story like you'd see in independent cinema, and it's very different from something like Blade 3 or Superman Returns. I kind of go all over the place. If something comes up, I'll mull it over. I play a part because I relate to it, whether it's Josie And The Pussycats or Jezebel James. I like to make sense of a character in whatever genre I'm acting in. That's fun! That's fun for me. [Adopts mock-enthusiastic voice.] I'm an actor, so that's fun for me! [Laughs.]
AVC: Was Jezebel James shot in front of a live studio audience, or with a laugh track?
PP: It's what they call a hybrid show. We'd get the script, we'd rehearse on a Monday, and then on Tuesday we'd do a network run-through, which was fed live to the network in LA. Then Wednesday we'd pre-shoot the office scenes because Amy wanted those to be in one take, with a SteadiCam. Then Thursday we'd have camera blocking, and Friday we'd shoot in front of an audience. So it was both.
AVC: Were you aware of the audience? Did you try to pace the dialogue so there'd be room for live laughs?
PP: It's not exactly like a play, but you do feel like you're onstage, 'cause there's a set. And you walk out and you do your scene. But you also have three cameras that are rolling back and forth as you're acting. And we make changes with the blocking as we go. So the audience is there as an audience, and they're also watching your rehearsal. It's not exactly theater. But I do love theater. That's where I got my training. I went to school for it. Mainly I love working on good writing.
AVC: With Amy Sherman-Palladino, you're dealing with a lot of fast-paced dialogue. Did you enjoy that?
PP: There's a certain energy to it, right? It's very screwball, kind of old-school in a way. People talk really fast. It's madcap. You're just talking to be talking. So you have to make sense of someone who'd do that, and come up with all sorts of things to get into the character. She's distracted, not grounded, because she's a children's book editor. For TV, it's a complicated piece.
AVC: Are you hopeful that you'll get to come back to the character?
PP: I don't get too attached. We'll see what happens. I'm fine either way. I'll find something to do.
AVC: Looking down your résumé, it's obvious that you'll try anything. You've done TV, movies, theater, commercials, music…
PP: I learned how to play mandolin for A Mighty Wind!
AVC: You were also a guest judge on the first season of Project Runway.
PP: That's right! I was doing a play at the time called Hurlyburly and I was playing a fashion photographer, so my publicist called me and said, "Would you like to be a judge on Project Runway?" And it made sense to me at the time. I'm pretty fascinated by reality television since it's such a big part of our culture right now, and I wanted to see what was going on there. I got my hair done early in the morning, at like 7—I didn't know it was going to be that early—and then I did the play at night. I had a perm for the play, because it takes place in the early '80s, but I dressed like a '70s fashion maven for the judging. I was pretty worn out by the end. Then I went to the theater, had a nap, and did a show that night. I like going into different worlds and seeing what's backstage, ya know?
AVC: Do you think of yourself as a fashionable person?
PP: I don't, really. I'm an actor, so I like costumes. But fashion is very popular now. Really overly popular. It's like New Age music in the '80s, or art. And then independent film. Now everyone's a fashion designer. It's had a big effect in New York, in our culture. I was just doing an interview with a girl who's 25, and she says that everyone she knows is a fashion designer. She's like, "Where do you get your clothes?" Why do they ask that? Everyone's asking that. You go to these things and people always want to know what you're wearing, instead of what you're reading, or what you're thinking. [Laughs.] I find it really weird. I was doing the red carpet thing for the Independent Spirit Awards, and all the paparazzi were going, "This is so much more chilled-out than the Oscars!" But I've never been to the Oscars, so I have nothing to compare it to. It didn't seem chilled-out to me! They went, "What are you wearing?" And I was like, "My shoes are made of bark, my dress is made of grass, and my coat is made of air." They said, "Where'd you get it?" and I was like, "It's from heaven." And it was total—crickets. Crickets! No response, no irony. It's really weird to be taken seriously for what you're wearing. It makes me want to wear a uniform.
AVC: Can you take advantage of the brief time you have on camera to say something other than what you're wearing? Or do you feel like you have to play the game?
PP: Well, there are always actual fabulous, famous people to talk to, so they're not really listening anyway. You get to have fun. You get to joke about it. But it can be very strange.
AVC: On this year's Oscar red carpet show, George Clooney derailed Regis Philbin by asking him about Notre Dame basketball.
PP: That's the way to go. He's got class. I think it's great how people avoid the questions. And I think it's weird that—I mean, was it always like that, or does it just seem like it's gotten crazy? Now everyone wants to know what you're wearing. It just seems a little much. [Laughs.] You wanna know what I'm wearing now?
AVC: What are you wearing now?
PP: Yoga pants and a cotton shirt! And I'm wearing a headband. Okay, now I'm being a smart aleck.