Patricia Clarkson showed up to the Hamptons International Film Festival Friday afternoon looking and sounding like an ambassador for an overlooked demographic: actresses who have gotten smarter, better and perhaps sexier with age.
"At 54, I do think better than I did when I was 30," Clarkson said, speaking before an audience at the Bay Street Theatre in Sag Harbor. "It's one of the few professions where you can't outgrow it. You just get deeper into it."
Dressed entirely in black, from her lacey-shouldered top down to a pair of knock-em-dead stiletto boots, Clarkson spoke with film critic Thelma Adams. The actress was the first in this year's series of live interviews at the Hamptons festival, "A Conversation With...," which also includes Hilary Swank and Mark Ruffalo.
Clarkson spoke briefly about "Learning to Drive," a comedy-drama co-starring Ben Kingsley, which is playing at the festival. For Clarkson, a prolific actress if not a marquee name, the film is the latest in a string of small-budget, character-driven projects -- including "Pieces of April" and "Cairo Time" -- whose box-office potential is far from guaranteed.
"When you work in independent film so much, as I do, I like to think that they're all really so much a part of me," she said. "Doing a tiny film with Stanley Tucci, 'Blind Date,' I think four people saw it. But I'm seriously so proud of it."
Clarkson touched on several milestones in her long career, from her first film, Brian DePalma's 1987 crime-drama "The Untouchables" (she played the wife of Kevin Costner's Eliot Ness), to her breakthrough role as Greta, a decadent heroin addict, in the 1998 art-house hit "High Art."
Though her profile has steadily risen since then, Clarkson said she frequently turns down television offers out of a fear of commitment. "I'm claustrophobic and it's very hard for me to be penned in," she said. "I've never married. I don't like to know what's coming next. I'm a very free spirit." (She is, however, about to appear on Broadway in "The Elephant Man" with Bradley Cooper and Alessandro Nivola. She said rehearsals begin Monday.)
After taking several questions from the audience, Clarkson closed her talk with a statement of purpose. "I think it's important that we have women in film other than Meryl Streep," she said. "Maybe not stars, but they're film actors. And they do movies. And they look" -- she gestured to herself -- "like this."