Parker Posey is a darling of many things: “indie films” as they once were, New York City’s West Village neighborhood, magnificent vintage style, and enviable timelessness. Throughout her three-decades-long career in film and in recent years, television, Posey has remained delightful, clever, and captivating on screen. She first caught our attention in a string of playfully daring independent films: Party Girl (library dance anyone?), House of Yes (is there a single human not wildly riveted by her brilliance as the demented Jackie O?), and of course her long tenure as part of the Christopher Guest crew (Waiting for Guffman, Best in Show, et al).
One might say we’re now having a Parker Posey renaissance, with her first Woody Allen film Irrational Man having come out this year, and another one with the director on the way. Also slated to open next year are projects with Guest and other collaborators. It’s a pretty sweet career trajectory. And her trajectory is quintessentially New York with its nuance and character, gumption and aplomb. From darling to icon, Posey has never lost view of the city as both her home and her muse; and New York has never lost view of her as its chicest heroine.
You’ve said you almost quit acting because you felt the independent lm movement go away from you. Having lived and worked in NYC for so long, have you felt the same sentiment about the city—gentrification as the Hollywood treatment?
Never thought of gentrification in the city as getting the Hollywood treatment, but you can look at the culture that way for sure. A movie gets “the Hollywood treatment” when it invents events that aren’t true in order to make the film more viable commercially. The movies are glossy and slick and inflated. Have I noticed people looking more glossy and slick and moneyed? For sure! My fantasy of New York City had its roots in the antithesis of that, so it’s strange to meet 26-year- olds who have had botox and casually talk about aging, with no awareness that a woman twice their age is listening.
How has New York changed for you, for good or otherwise?
The city has changed a lot but it’s still New York City. My friends are creative and we have those conversations all the time. But there are still neighborhood places I go to that I went to 20 years ago. I still feel like a New Yorker. I go out to Brooklyn. I went to this party called “The Loft” and danced with people who could really dance like no one’s watching. It’s a roaming party that’s been going on since the 80s and the DJ plays house and disco and I had a hangover of feeling connected to the diversity of the city for a few weeks. I don’t want to forget that and be a crank. People still ask for directions despite their iPhones. There’s still the New York attitude of spontaneity and strong opinions that will always be there. Neighbors in my building strike up conversations about plays or shows they liked or didn’t like. I still find my experience there to be open and energized. But then, your favorite cobbler has left the neighborhood because he couldn’t afford his rent and just when the two of you started to get along, he’s gone.
It doesn’t get much more New York than Woody Allen… It was my luck that I was in Poland at the Krakow film festival with Juliet Taylor and [I] was right for this role. She’s been his casting director for 30 years, I think. I was in the right place at the right time. I met him on a Thursday in his office and we chatted for about five minutes and the next day I got 20 pages of the script. He’s such a brilliant writer and I always felt I belonged in his movies so I was relieved to belong.
Do you consider yourself generally more rational or irrational?
I’m rational but I’ve been attracted to irrational men.
Was the nickname “Queen of the Indies” a blessing or a curse?
I think when you’re called something publicly, and there’s fame around it, there’s a stigma attached. When I was called that in Time magazine, the independent film scene was then being co-opted by the studio system, which wasn’t in my control. I thought the community would be supportive, but back then I didn’t have the awareness of how disposable our culture would become—with the rise of PR and internet gossip taking more attention from viewers than storytelling in cinema. The rise of the celebrity. The rise of reality TV. The culture just changed. But I wonder if my early career having been so idealistic artistically made me seem too counter culture. I remember hearing feedback from a studio at the time, for a small part to play Matt Damon’s wife, that I was “too indie.”
What does that mean?
Well, now we have the word “brand” so it wasn’t “on brand” for me to be in a Hollywood movie, which just shows how branding the culture has become. What didn’t happen was my brand having any kind of value to financiers. There’s some numbers page that shows what actors are viable commodities and what actors aren’t. Nowadays you go on a set and you meet the rest of the cast the day you start work. The independent way was truly collaborative and intimate. Movies being cast without chemistry between the actors is so crazy to me.
The business of indie films has changed so much since you started acting. If you could look into the future—say five years—what will the indie lm landscape look like?
Historical bio films will probably still be popular. Movies based on true stories. We may see European movies with American actors get more attention because great actors are attached to great filmmaking and it’s easier for real filmmakers to get financing over there.
A lot of folks might say New York ages you, but I think it makes us younger in many ways. What are your thoughts?
I think New York makes us younger, too! You’re out walking, first of all, engaging in your surroundings and staying curious. Did you see the documentary on Netflix, Advanced Style, about women over 60 who have original style? It was fantastic! I felt older in my 30s because I wasn’t as comfortable as I am now. And you really do stop caring about what people say because it won’t matter on your deathbed.
You starred alongside Joaquin Phoenix and Emma Stone in Irrational Man. How important is it to create rapport with your co-stars?
I hung out with Joaquin for a day before shooting and met Emma at the camera test and immediately felt a kinship. I think the actors in a Woody Allen film are humbled by the opportunity to work with such an auteur, a real master of the craft. One day on set I looked at Woody in his hat and tailored khakis and thought, wow, the progenitor of auteur/actor filmmaker is right there, almost 80, and he’s still doing it, still inspired, still has a lot to say. Woody always says he just casts the right actors and he has that intuition that great directors have in knowing who will work well together.
By Rebecca Carroll · Illustration by Stefan Knecht