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Marcia Gay Harden

‘Pollock’

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You encounter at least a dozen Lee Krasners in the two-hour span of Pollock. They’re all played by Marcia Gay Harden, but she keeps exploring Krasner — the wife of painter Jackson Pollock — and finding fresh ways to illuminate her. There’s the matter-of-fact broad talking trash with her hands, the art-world doyenne wagging her chin, the artist in her own right suffering unsentimentally. As handled by Harden, each facet gleams.

The actress grew up a Navy brat; she got hooked on drama at an ancient theater in Greece, made her stage debut in Munich, and started her film career with the Coen brothers’ Miller’s Crossing (1990). The path leading to Krasner began when she starred on stage opposite Ed Harris, Pollock‘s director and star, in Sam Shepard’s Simpatico. ”I was always hoping we could work together again,” says Harden, 41. ”Long story short, he was holding auditions for the role, and I didn’t necessarily knock on his door, but I sort of sat in his driveway and honked, you might say, through my agents and anybody I could.”

On the subject of honking, it must be said that the power of Harden’s performance owes much to her accent, a bold nasal squawk of old Jewish Brooklyn. This isn’t just one of those oft-heard tales of a thespian’s painstaking impersonation; after doing her research, Harden sat down with a vocal coach and scored the whole script phonetically. ”To use the painting metaphor, it gives you the canvas,” she says. ”In owrdah to tawk like her, I have to breathe in a certain way, and the sound starts coming out, and everything comes off of that.” In marital screaming matches, theoretical debates, and tough-love pep talks, Krasner used her voice as a blunt object. On screen, Harden treats hers as a fine tool, using the words themselves to discover the force beneath.