Two days ago, the perpetual-motion machine known as Parker Posey was on a red-eye from Los Angeles, having wrapped a guest-starring stint on the TV series Boston Legal; four days from now, she will be on a flight to Paris, to shoot her role in Broken English, the feature debut of cinematic scion Zoe R. Cassavetes. One-half-hour ago, Posey was sipping a pineapple soda in the backyard garden of Mud Coffee; one-half-hour from now, she will crave a coffee-infused bubble tea from Saint’s Alp Teahouse. But at this particular moment, the dainty, hyperkinetic actress is content to sun herself on the steps of her East Village building, let her bichon-Maltese mix, Gracie, roam the block, and savor the unfamiliar feeling of sitting still for a few minutes. “You’re catching me in the middle of work, so I’m a little spacey,” she says in a breathy voice that hasn’t completely shed its southern twang. “I won’t remember names or faces, but I will remember where I live.”
You don’t have to look as far as Gawker Stalker and its continuous stream of overzealously reported Posey sightings (She was speaking in baby talk to Gracie on 12th Street! She was making out with some dude in Kim’s Video!) to appreciate that the 37-year-old downtown icon is suddenly everywhere again: Since finishing her run in last year’s Off Broadway revival of Hurlyburly, she has somehow found the time for a recurring TV role, an enigmatic Pepsi commercial (which saw her tangoing with Jimmy Fallon), and a steady supply of film projects, including Fay Grim, Hal Hartley’s follow-up to Henry Fool; Christopher Guest’s awards-season satire, For Your Consideration; and—oh, yes—a little picture called Superman Returns, while apparently attending every Bikram-yoga class south of Union Square.
To the would-be workaholic in question, it’s just a typical year in an otherwise typical acting career. “There have been periods of my career that I haven’t worked for a really long time, like seven or eight months,” Posey says between drags on an American Spirit cigarette. “I feel like I’m coming up. I’m in the air again, in a certain way. That’s all.” But at this point in a film career that spans fifteen years and more than 50 movies, it’s hard not to notice that Posey is still landing the same kinds of roles—the leading lady in the obscure indie gem or the supporting player in the big studio project. And it’s hard for her not to notice it, too: “I might as well be starting my career now, as far as Hollywood’s concerned,” she says.
That underlying restlessness has always motivated Posey, who originally embraced acting as a means of escaping her upbringing in Monroe, Louisiana. Richard Linklater, who cast the actress as Darla, the sadistic hazing queen of Dazed and Confused (“All right, you little you freshman bitches. Air raid!”), remembers the neophyte Posey as a dedicated performer who hung around the set long after her commitments to the film were complete. Three years later, when the two reunited for SubUrbia, she was grappling with being too much in demand. “She walks in and she goes, ‘You people are driving me crazy! You’re working me to death!’ ” Linklater says. “And I was like, ‘Parker, I haven’t even seen you in a while. You’re driving yourself crazy. You don’t want to do it, don’t work.’ ”
If Posey’s unparalleled aptitude for finding work can garner more attention than the work itself, perhaps it’s because her formative performances, in films like Party Girl and Waiting for Guffman, are still the credits that shine brightest—a phenomenon that Posey recognizes but says doesn’t bother her. “It keeps me up at night,” she says sarcastically, pretending to pound the keys of a giant imaginary typewriter. “ ‘Dear diary, why do they always focus on my early work? Nobody ever wants to talk about Personal Velocity. And why do they all think I’m wacky?’ ”
Well, it might have something to do with the sight of her pounding the keys of a giant imaginary typewriter. Or her semi-sincere suggestion that there should be a 24-hour cable channel for documentaries (“Shoah all the time. A little less noise, more information, for the kids, please”).
There may also be a clue or two somewhere in this exchange between Posey and her neighbor, Chloë Sevigny, initiated when the husky-voiced Big Love star shows up toting a heavy bag and some of Posey’s misdirected mail:
POSEY: Are you limping?
SEVIGNY: No, I just have, like, a thousand pounds hanging on my arm.
POSEY: Oh, I thought you had a blister.
SEVIGNY: I’m trying to figure out how to get into Depeche Mode tonight.
“She’s the coolest, isn’t she?” Posey gushes as Sevigny disappears into her downstairs garden apartment.
What looks like wackiness to the untrained eye is actually, in the estimation of a certifiable comic genius like Christopher Guest, the spontaneity that is crucial to the success of his improvised films—the mark of the perfect supporting player, who knows when to yield a scene to other actors and who can just as easily elicit laughs without saying anything at all. “When someone acts like they’re listening and isn’t really listening, that’s what it looks like: ‘Look, hey, I’m listening!’ ” says Guest, whose new movie casts Posey in a film-within-a-film about a family celebrating Purim in Georgia in the forties. “But when she does that, it’s not pushed—she’s actually listening. And, at least for me, it’s just mesmerizing.”
“Parker, you’re driving yourself crazy,” said Richard Linklater. “You don’t want to do it, don’t work.”
And every so often, that spontaneity gets her noticed by the directors of $200 million superhero epics—particularly when such a director seems as blissfully screwball as she is. “When I was young and first hearing the name ‘Parker Posey,’ I just thought it had to be fake,” says Bryan Singer, who cast Posey in Superman Returns as Kitty Kowalski, the gal pal of Kevin Spacey’s villainous Lex Luthor (see David Edelstein’s review). “I didn’t realize she was a person until I started seeing her in the Guest films.” Singer originally conceived of Kitty Kowalski as a traditional gangster’s moll, but after two weeks of shooting with Posey, and cultivating an appreciation for her “hidden intelligence,” he gave her a more redemptive story arc. “I knew that she could make the character more sophisticated but could also inspire a change in the character,” he says. “In another life, she could be Lois Lane.”
She may not be the girl who gets whisked off into the sky by the dashing Brandon Routh, but there’s something equally heroic about Posey’s ability to keep such a relentless schedule without changing her fundamental nature. And at the end of each adventure, she will faithfully return to that part of the city where the manic spirit she personifies is always in need—the Manhattan neighborhood that has defined her, and which, in equal measure, she has come to define for the last five years. “There’s just more mental energy here,” she says. “I’d miss the pop-up-book randomness of it all.”
So saying, she scoops up Gracie and deposits her in her knockoff Louis Vuitton carrying bag (complete with photo-I.D. tag that reads GRACIE POSEY) and declares to her beloved dog, “Let’s go take a bath.” She pauses. “Not together, of course.”