New Orleans native Clarkson makes strong impact in The East

Promoting her new film, The East, Patricia Clarkson, the Oscar-nominated, Emmy-winning actress from New Orleans, was delighted to hear a voice from the Bayou State.

The New York-based actress is especially proud of The East, a Shreveport-shot thriller that tells an intense story about anti-corporate vigilantes and the young woman who infiltrates their secretive collective. The movie opens Friday in New Orleans and June 28 in Baton Rouge.

Despite the 350 miles between Shreveport and the hometown she loves, Clarkson said, she enjoyed working in Louisiana. “It’s always nice to be, if not in New Orleans, somewhere near,” she said.

Clarkson got her Oscar nomination, as well as Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild, Critic’s Choice and Independent Spirit nominations for her performance in 2003’s Pieces of April. She won Emmys in 2002 and 2006 for her work in HBO’s Six Feet Under. In The East, Clarkson portrays the coolly amoral boss at Hiller Brood, a private spy agency that protects the interests of mega corporations in the U.S. and abroad.

The movie’s script helped convince the actress to accept the role. Clarkson holds Batmanglij and Brit Marling, the film’s co-writer and star, in high esteem.

“Zal and Brit are such a winning combo,” she said. “They’re so talented, so smart, so delicious. And they happen to be great human beings. Their talent and their integrity are synonymous. That’s why I took this film.”

The actress had not seen Batmanglij and Marling’s 2011 Sundance success, Sound of My Voice, before she signed up for The East.

“But I had this remarkable conversation late one night with Zal,” she said. “I had the same feeling then that I had when I first met Tom McCarthy (The Station Agent), the same feeling I had with Lisa Cholodenko (High Art).

“It’s that feeling you get about this first- or second-time director. It’s the way they talk about making a film. It’s about their approach and vision. I thought to myself, ‘This young man knows what the hell he’s doing!’

“And Brit is stunning. It’s astonishing how truly beautiful she is, inside and out. I’m thrilled to know both of them. I hope to work with them the rest of my life.”

Despite the relatively small amount of time she’s on screen, Clarkson makes strong impact in The East.

“I don’t have a big part, but I wanted to be a part of something great,” she said. “I was drawn to this character because I haven’t played such a finely etched villainess in a while.”

Although the ruthless Sharon is radically different from the actress in real life, the two share some traits.

“I can be tough,” Clarkson said. “I am opinionated. I have a strong hand. But I’m not morally ambivalent, like this character. This is a woman who can disassociate. She doesn’t operate on an emotional level. She plays a numbers game. I have the feeling that people like Sharon, they go to bed as CEOs and they wake up as CEOs.”

Clarkson is the daughter of New Orleans City Councilmember-at-Large and Council Vice President Jacquelyn Brechtel Clarkson and Arthur “Buzz” Clarkson. After studying speech at LSU for two years, she transferred to Fordham University in New York City. At Fordham and later Yale, she majored in theater, her true calling.

“For one moment I thought, ‘Maybe I don’t want to be an actress,’ ” she recalled. “But that went away.”

Clarkson knew she had something special early on, from childhood.

“I’ve had this distinctive voice since I was 5,” she said. “I remember, the first play I did, in 8th grade, I brought the house down. I don’t think it was because I was good. It was because I was the only person who could be heard in the auditorium! Deep voices are on my father’s side of the family. My grandmother had a beautiful deep voice.”

Clarkson hopes to one day have an apartment in the hometown where she grew up with her four older sisters. “I have my New York life, but I miss New Orleans all the time, I miss my city,” she said. “My nephew’s getting married and I’m going home for a week. I’m really looking forward to just being home. I love to be in New Orleans. I love it, I love it, I love it.”