Why Actress Patricia Clarkson Loves Her Life

The Cairo Time star talks about shooting nude scenes, her best and worst health habits, and life as a single, 50-something woman.

Medically Reviewed by Louise Chang, MD on September 02, 2010

Award-winning actress Patricia Clarkson has played characters ranging from Elliott Ness's wife in the 1987 The Untouchables to the Vicodin-addicted Aunt Sarah on the HBO series Six Feet Under. A native of New Orleans, she now lives in New York. WebMD the Magazine caught up with her over the summer and asked her about the loves in her life: acting, Manhattan, healthy food, what she describes as some "remarkable" men, and her latest movie.

You've acted in Shutter Island, Vicky Cristina Barcelona,and Six Feet Under. Most recently, you play a magazine editor who flies to Cairo to meet her husband only to fall into a brief love affair with his personal body guard in Cairo Time, by Toronto director Ruba Nadda. As a woman who's never married, how much did you relate to your character?

I've certainly had extraordinary relationships with remarkable men in my life and I value each and every one of them. But I don't know if I've ever had anything that mirrors the affair in the film. I don't think I've ever fallen for a boyfriend's friend. But, the night is young!

Do you like your character in this film?

Oh, she's a beautiful, lovely character. She's kind of a woman I would like to be. She's very different than I am. She's a very quiet, spare, insular woman and … I'm more gregarious than Juliette. I'm a more demonstrative person. But that's the beauty of this character -- that it's not me. And that's what I love about acting. I like becoming someone else.

You've won dozens of awards, including two Emmys, and you were nominated for an Oscar in 2004. Is acting therapeutic to you?

Absolutely. I mean, it's rigorous. I do a lot of intense, emotional parts, but they are oddly invigorating. [Acting] fills me with great joy and it fills me with great joy to work.

What disease or condition would you most like to see eradicated in your lifetime and why?

Cancer. You can't be alive today and not know somebody who's suffered cancer. And hopefully they've survived it, but lots of people don't. I think it would be a miracle.

What's the one thing concerning your health you wish you'd done as a child?

I probably shouldn't have been in the sun so much as a child. I realize that now. I grew up in New Orleans. I grew up in the water, I went to camp. I never used sunscreen as a child.

What's your best health habit? Your worst?

Eating breakfast religiously. It's so good for the body and I never, ever, ever go without breakfast. Ever. I can't function without breakfast. [It's usually] organic cereals and rice milk. Sometimes oatmeal. [My worst is] French fries. I dip them in mayonnaise. And bourbon! I try to eat and drink both in moderation. But, you know.

You've been in a few movies with nude scenes. As a woman in her 50s, how do you stay comfortable with your body in the midst of the perfect-body craze of Hollywood?

I am comfortable in my body. I think I look pretty good. If the scene is integral to the movie, I don't think of [it] as a nude scene, I think of it as an extension of the scene or the character.

How do you feel about aging? Is 50 the new 40?

I don't know if I think of 50 as the new 40 … But I think I'm comfortable with my age. I think women do struggle with age and maybe I have tried not to. I don't think I have a career that's based on my looks, even though I've had to play some very, very attractive women.

When do you feel the most beautiful?

When I'm laughing with people I love. Whether it's one person or a group. 

Are you a health nut, in a health rut, or do you fall somewhere in between?

I think most people probably think of me as a health nut. I really, truly believe in eating organic whenever you can. I don't really have any vices … I love healthy food. I really do. It's actually the food I crave. I don't eat dairy. I walk a lot every day … I work out occasionally [laughs] … and yeah, I don't eat bad things. I'm good about that.

Of the five senses, which do you value most and why?

Probably my sense of smell. There's nothing better than something that smells good. [Laughs] It's sexy, it's invigorating. It's pleasurable. When something smells good it's a great thing. I love lavender, I love vanilla. The scent of fresh soap on a man is just fabulous.

You're one of Hollywood's most sought-after actresses, which adds up to very busy schedule. What do you do for relaxation?

Being in New York is a vacation. I love being home and I love going out to dinner at night. That's my favorite thing to do. That's what I find relaxing.

Is sex overrated or worth all the hype?

Sex is a great thing. It's important to an individual, to a relationship. I think sex is an important part of life. A very important part of life.

What makes you happy?

Other people. I find happiness, I find joy in the people I love and care for in this world. I love commiserating or reveling or talking forever. It just makes me happy if we're having dinner or we're sharing an event or we're talking about a great article that we read or we're talking politics. I love to talk politics. I like to talk politics more than anything.

If you were recovering in a hospital and could have anyone, from any era, recovering next to you, who would it be and why?

I would probably pick the great actor Peter Sellers. I think he'd be the best of both worlds. I think he would be intelligent and funny.

Is the best part of your life in front of you or behind you?

Oh my God, I hope in front of me. It's been a great life, but I hope it's going to get even better, personally, professionally. I'm very happy right now and I hope it continues.

Where do you see yourself in 10 years?

I don't think my life will be dramatically different 10 years from now. And I hope it's not. I hope I'm still personally and professionally happy, but [that] I've learned a little something. Hopefully I'm a better person 10 years from now.

Do you still think you'll still be working at the same rate?

Well, I hope! Oh my goodness. That would be swinging -- 60, and to be still going strong!