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The actor: Molly Parker, who began her career on Canadian television while still in her teens, and has worked steadily in movies and on TV both at home and abroad for the past 20 years. In America, Parker is best-known for playing in-over-her-head widow Alma Garret on HBO’s Deadwood, though she’s also guested on such series as Dexter and Party Down, and will soon be seen in NBC’s version of John Grisham’s The Firm. Recently, Parker starred in Bruce McDonald and Daniel MacIvor’s Trigger, playing an aging rock star who tries to reconcile with her ex-partner Tracy Wright over one night in Toronto. (This was Wright’s final screen appearance; she died of cancer shortly after filming was completed.) Trigger is now available on DVD.
Molly Parker: It was a gift; just a gift. It was a profound experience. Hard to talk about, almost, without sounding reductive, because it was amazing, really sad, really moving. On a personal level, it offered me an opportunity to work with my friend, and this woman who I really admired and respected. I knew the whole time we were doing it that these were the last moments I would get to spend with her, so that brought a kind of present to the making of that movie. On a more personal, creative level, because we pushed the movie into production very quickly, knowing Tracy was sick—probably a year earlier than we had anticipated—we shot it in probably nine days, over five consecutive weekends, and it was sort of crazy. I’ve never made a film quite like that. I hadn’t worked on that indie level in a long time. It was so great and so fun to be unconcerned with the outcome, but just to be able to be free. It was a real joy, on many levels.
The A.V. Club: Trigger depicts a relationship between musicians who came up together and had been creative together, but then grew apart as friends and artists. Is that something you’ve experienced?
MP: Absolutely. As you get older, you’re able to see how people come into your life, and regardless of whether they stay for a long time or a short time, there’s something to be learned. Particularly those relationships that start when we’re young, when we’re teenagers or in our 20s, when we choose people or are attracted to people based on something intuitive. There’s some quality about them that is familiar yet different, or something we wish we could be but don’t know how to be. You could say that we’re less self-aware in our youth, and as we get older, we become more self-aware, so maybe it’s only later that we can see what we were doing, or why we were attracted to certain people. With young people, a lot of that stuff gets played out without any self-awareness. For me, part of what this movie is about is how little we change. We go away, and then we think we change so much and grow so much, but then you see your family or the people who knew you when you were young, and often they’ll be like, “Yeah, you’re the same. You’re kinda exactly the same.”
AVC: Trigger is also a love-letter to Toronto. You spend the whole movie wandering from one part of the city to another.
MP: That’s Bruce McDonald. He’s a Toronto filmmaker, and he loves this city. This is his place. And he shoots it really well. He loves the rock ’n’ roll underbelly of Toronto, and he likes to expose that.
Twitch City (1998-2000)—“Hope”
MP: Both of these projects involved the same people. In the case of Trigger, Bruce McDonald directed it, and Daniel MacIvor, a great Canadian playwright, wrote it. Tracy, myself, and Don [McKellar] and Callum [Keith Rennie] were all actors in Twitch City. Don McKellar, Tracy’s husband, wrote Twitch City, and Bruce McDonald directed it, and Daniel acted in Twitch City. That’s how I met all those people. There’s a similar sensibility, because it’s the same people, just 15 years later.
Twitch City certainly has elements of that Toronto indie spirit that Trigger contains. That was the first time I ever worked with Tracy. She was playing the Cat Woman roommate we had, and we did this scene, her and Don and me, in the kitchen. I didn’t know her very well, and we did this really deadpan scene, and she turned around, picked up a fork, and she was just stabbing this carton of milk, and it was squirting out all over the room, and I was so amazed and shocked. She was funny and so surprising as an actor. And she freaked me out. [Laughs.] All these years later, when Bruce approached me about doing Trigger, I was mostly wanting to do something with her.
AVC: As strange as Twitch City is, it’s still fairly realistic about what it’s like to be in your 20s and wanting to explore the crazy side of life before you have to grow up and be responsible.
MP: Yeah, this was probably my character’s first place away from her parents’ house, so she’s like, “Sure, I’ll live in the closet.” [Laughs.] Yeah, hilarious. But that’s kind of what my early 20s felt like, just out there on your own trying to figure it out. I always had really wild and crazy people in my life, so Twitch City didn’t seem that strange to me. You just rolled with it back then. And there was a point in my life where I wanted to live in a closet. [Laughs.] I thought that could be a good space, small and contained.
Deadwood (2004-06)—“Alma Garret”
AVC: We interviewed John Hawkes a year ago, and he described how driving up to the Deadwood set was like traveling back in time.
MP: That’s true. As I’m sure he told you, we shot on this ranch where they shot High Noon and some Elvis Western. Gene Autry’s ranch. From where I live, I would take the 210, which is this freeway in the foothills above Los Angeles, and it’s really, really beautiful, and pretty deserted. By the time you’d get to Santa Clarita, the studio itself was all that was there, and by the last season, we had four or five blocks of Deadwood built. Sometimes I would go to work at 4 a.m. and it would be dark, and you would walk down the center of the street when nobody was around, and there were these white owls that lived up high in one of the sets, and they would be swooping around. You’d feel transported.
And the costumes… our costume designer, Janie Bryant, who went on to do Mad Men, it was her first big thing, and she was young, and so talented, and she made the most incredible costumes for me and for everyone. Plus the guys were just filthy dirty all the time. The place smelled. We shot it in the summer, and we had real animals there every day. By the third season, that place stank. [Laughs.] I was pregnant in the third season, so I have particularly strong memories of it, because when you’re pregnant your sense of smell is exaggerated. Awful, just awful. So you could get a sense of being in the lawless place. In a corset.
AVC: Since Deadwood was canceled abruptly, do you feel you have unfinished business there?
MP: I’ve let it go. Like everyone, I would’ve liked to have done another season. Had we known, and had David Milch known, it would’ve ended a little bit differently. But it is what it is. Can’t go back, can’t go forward. On the other hand, I met so many wonderful people working on that show. The actors and writers, and David particularly. And John. John and I just did a little independent movie together in Dallas that should be coming out this year, called The Playroom. At least that’s what it was called when we made it.
Swingtown (2008)—“Susan Miller”
MP: Now that’s one project I really would’ve liked to have seen go on, because I loved doing it, and I also felt it was about to get really interesting. We’ve worked our way through the “to swing or not to swing” blah-blah-blah, and I think if that show would’ve been allowed to live, what it would’ve explored was the liberation, for lack of a better word, of both the women and the men. They were coming into their own. At its heart, that’s really what that show was about. I think that’s where it would’ve gone. There were ideas that she was going to go to college and end up at the same college as her daughter.
There were many things about that show I loved. I’m interested in characters who go through some kind of rebirth, that we get to watch and see unfold. I think television at its best allows for that much more than film does. It’s a longer format, more plot-heavy and character-based, and it allows for this unfolding of a life. I loved Swingtown for that. I thought it could have been wonderful. But y’know, it was just in the wrong place.
The Wicker Man (2006)—“Sister Rose/Sister Thorn”
AVC: What do you make of that movie’s reputation as a camp classic?
MP: You don’t mean the new one, you mean the old one.
AVC: No, the new one.
AVC: You haven’t seen the YouTube compilations of Nicolas Cage screaming?
MP: What? No! I’ll have to look.
AVC: When you were working on the film, were there any warning signs that this would be the fate of the film?
MP: It was such an odd thing, and I don’t know how to talk about it without… [Pause.] I’d have liked… [Pause.] I have been intrigued by… [Pause.] I guess what I had hoped for was that Neil LaBute would have a take on the original that would be interesting, given the films he had made before. I don’t know what else to say. [Laughs.] It’s really odd, isn’t it? A very odd thing. I liked working with Nicolas Cage. I liked that a lot. He’s a very interesting man, and a pretty bold actor. He’s certainly done some great work in his lifetime. But I’ll check out the YouTube thing.
AVC: Just type in “Ah! The bees!”
MP: Oh no! [Laughs.] Look, we knew getting into it that it was going to go one way or another. It was either going to be really inspired and really great, or… it wouldn’t. [Laughs.] But it wasn’t going to be mediocre.