Emmy Watch: Parker Posey on channeling Ruth Gordon in 'Louie'
Between now and June 28, the deadline for Emmy voters to submit nomination ballots, EW.com will feature interviews with some of the actors and actresses whose names we hope to hear when nominations are announced on July 18.
Parker Posey has played her share of whimsical characters. So when Louie first met Liz — with her bangs and braids and vintage looking dress and bookstore job — it was tempting to assume that she would fall into the manic pixie dream girl bucket and exist only to bring Louie out of his slump with her quirky ways and optimistic outlook.
But this is Louis C.K. He was never going waste our time with a bland superficial “type” fit for an Apple commercial. In her four-episode arc on FX’s Louie, Posey used her arsenal of talent and the material written and directed by C.K. to bring Liz to life and subvert the expectations of audiences who expect the cute girl in the bookstore to be a certain way, especially on television shows.
EW got the chance to speak with Posey about her theories on Liz and the brilliance of Louis C.K.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: Liz was just a great character who kept evolving and challenging our expectations. Do you have a scene that sticks out for you?
PARKER POSEY: All the scenes were so different. Actually, the way he approached playing her was to show her kind of different in every scene. She’s much more complicated than she appears at first as someone who just works at the bookstore. And I guess the first time we see her kind of bust out into this complicated woman who has a past and pain and a near death experience and a mother that didn’t care for her when she has cancer kind of comes out as she’s just walking and talking to this guy on the street. She couldn’t get a drink and it comes spilling out.
What do you remember about that day?
We shot that just a few times, maybe three or four times. I did that speech as if I were talking to a ghost. So there’s no one in the shot with me, and I’m kind of talking to myself. Louis was behind the camera in front of me, but I was talking to him as if he were a ghost…as if I were seeing a ghost beside me. She’s someone who is haunted. It probably took about 40 minutes to shoot. It was a monologue that was a few pages long but it happens very quickly. We also shot that before the more mellow scenes. There was also a great full moon that night and there was a reflection of it in a car. We got a shot of that really quickly and then we moved on to the scene in the vintage clothing store.
How do you see Liz?
She kind of changes throughout and then by the end, when you see her on the roof, it’s then that we realize that this woman is haunted by something. This is a human being who has exposed herself, and has been maybe seen by someone else and now has to close the door and shut down. That’s just one interpretation that I was playing with. But there was also one that she’s an addict.
How do you think she relates to Louie?
She’s this woman who sees that there is a big something missing from Louie that she wants to show him. So the walk in the night is about that light that’s missing. The moments are fleeting for her and she’s a fleeting moment in his life. So I wanted to play with that because I knew the arc of her. But people were really surprised because that little bit of information moves so quickly that she has cancer.
You’ve played a few characters with a hint of Liz in the past, but did you have any specific inspirations?
I was thinking about Ruth Gordon in Harold and Maude and that kind of life affirming moment. When you connect with someone how you act and how you are. And there’s an energy. It’s a really cool little moment for me to work as this archetype of a free spirit that I thought I’d be playing in films my whole career. I thought I’d have a career playing women in the vein of Ruth Gordon and we’ve seen that type almost disappear. All of a sudden I got to bring that kind of natural, optimistic, troubled free spirit to a television show. I’m glad I got to portray it.
What’s it like working with Louis C.K. on material that he wrote?
He’s just as talented as Woody Allen. There was no improvising. Those were the words that were on the paper. I dropped a word once and he’s like “you have to say that word there, it actually means something.” And I’m like “ok…” But I love good material and I was really happy to play a part like that. I kind of grew up in the indie world and now that sort of writing and material is on television. Louis C.K was able to make it happen. His producers don’t bug him. He’s able to go into his cave and write exactly what he wants to write and there are no decisions made by committee and you have a singular voice and everyone’s like “oh my god! We love this.” This is what’s missing. This is the voice of an archetype that all these men and women can relate to.
What is the landscape of material like right now? Are you finding this sort of complexity elsewhere?
Everyone’s a lawyer and carries a gun. I told my agent “I can’t play those parts! Do people see me with a gun?” Actually I did do that on The Good Wife, but I feel like people will just laugh at me. And my agent was like “no one is going to laugh at you Parker.” And I’m like “I kind of want them to.” There’s something so humorless about these things. The Good Wife is witty but for the most part there’s something really strange and robotic going on with material right now that has me very upset and yearning for more complexity in writing and in material like what Louie does.
Why is that?
I think we’re in conservative times. I think the material that we see right now is way to see how conservative these times are right now. Like what is produced, and how we pigeon-hole characters, and their lack of complexity and breadth. It’s all that stuff that Steven Soderbergh was talking about. It’s just become so homogenized. This is our strongest medium for showing living, breathing human beings and I think we’re starving to see that.
Do you think the critical acclaim for shows like Louie might open up the door for more unique voices to get that sort of freedom?
I hope so. I hope that sensibility comes alive all the time. He’s a real throwback to Hal Ashby and Woody Allen and John Cassavetes and all these influences that made me want to act. Their material was very natural, very real, very witty, and heartfelt. But I don’t know. I really don’t know.
Follow Lindsey on Twitter: @ldbahr.