Not surprisingly, Clarkson has had great success playing Southern women -- most notably in the original Off-Broadway production of Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain -- and she returns to her roots again in Woody Allen's new film, Whatever Works, opening on June 19. In the movie, she plays Marietta, an uptight married Southern matriarch who follows her daughter (Evan Rachel Wood) to Greenwich Village -- and evolves into a try-anything artist living in a ménage a trios after being transformed by the openness and allure of life in the Big Apple.
"Woody is a big 'ole Yankee, but he got it right," says Clarkson. "I'm very sensitive about Southern characters and getting them right, but women like Marietta do exist, so you have to embrace it." In fact, she jokingly adds that she might also embrace the more sexually liberated side of her character. "I'm thinking of trying it myself -- never say never" she says, before quickly pointing out that she's hasn't had a relationship with two men under one roof. "I had two delicious actors (Oleg Kupa and Conleth Hill) that I got to kiss. But it is a set and it is acting; it wasn't like I spent all day in bed with these men."
While Allen's low-key directing style is legendary among actors, Clarkson says it's really a quiet gift. "You have to know your character with Woody," says Clarkson, who co-starred last year in Allen's hit comedy, Vicky Cristina Barcelona. It's like theater. You have to be able to do very long takes. You have to be prepared. You cannot be lazy. You have to know how to improvise. It really prepares you in this deep, subtle way for the journey."
Clarkson's theatrical roots meet her movie work again soon in the upcoming Main Street, directed by Tony Award winner John Doyle and written by the late, great playwright Horton Foote. "It was a beautiful experience making the film, and working with Ellen Burstyn, who is one of my heroes," says Clarkson, who plays Willa, one of the small town residents whose life is changed by a stranger who comes to town. "Willa is absolutely 100 percent the polar opposite of Marietta. It's great for me to play two vastly different Southern women. One woman uses curlers, one doesn't. That's a big Southern distinction."
Clarkson's steady work in film and television for the past decade (including her Oscar-nominated work in Pieces of April, and her acclaimed turn in HBO's Six Feet Under) has unfortunately kept her away from the theater. "Pretty much every single friend of mine is angry at me because I haven't done a play," she says, before adding with a sarcastic flourish "But I say, who cares! This is my life and I've got movie work!" But all kidding aside, Clarkson promises to return to the boards very soon. "I will absolutely be doing a play within the next year!"