Interview: ‘Red’ Star Mary-Louise Parker

Friday, October 8 by

Sometimes when someone is a really big star on a TV show, you have to wait for them to do a movie so you can talk to them. Nancy Botwin in Showtime’s “Weeds” is Mary-Louise Parker’s tour de force role. Her suburban pot dealing mom has become a gangster moll on the lam. This year alone has her taking out a Latino mom and kidnapping a baby.

In the movies, action is Bruce Willis’s job. Red casts him as Retired but Extremely Dangerous CIA agent Frank Moses. Off duty, Frank spends most of his time tearing up pension checks and calling Sarah (Parker) to ask for a new one. When someone calls a hit on Frank, he rushes to Sarah to protect her, and drags her along as people ram them with cars and shoot rockets at them. Sarah’s just trying to make sense of this phone flirtation invading her real life.

While she was in New York doing press with her costars, Parker called me on the phone. As I listened to the voice I recognize for it’s relaxed, whimsical cadence, I couldn’t help picturing all the sultry advertising for “Weeds,” from the spider web and the snake to the scantily clad Bogart-esque Casablanca photo. Google ‘em, but not until after you read this, otherwise you won’t be able to focus on Red.

Screen Junkies: Were you basically making a romantic comedy with Bruce Willis?

Mary-Louise Parker: I think I was. I saw it as a kind of screwball comedy, I guess is what they call it, like the Preston Sturges or Irene Dunne type of movies. I know Bruce saw it like that as well. It was just sort of about the banter between two people and one upping each other subtly, verbally. So it has that kind of anachronistic relationship. It’s not incredibly modern or gritty or dirty. It’s just positive and funny and light.

SJ: Does that fit your sense of humor?

MLP: No. I enjoy it though, I really do. Just like I like those kind of movies. But no, I’d say everything about me is considerably darker than that character but that’s why it was fun to play someone like that. She has a real optimism, sweetness. I liked playing that. I liked finding it.

SJ: Was your goal to just be totally and completely adorable?

MLP: Thank you. I’m just always trying to make it human and trying to interpret it in some way. Usually I’m trying to turn something around or turn it inside out and see what’s underneath. I know that probably sounds incredibly vague but I never set out to be likeable or funny or anything like that. I’m just trying to tell the story in the best way that I can and serve the writer because it’s really about the writer.

Q: Was that a choice not to be influenced by the comic?

MLP: No, I didn’t even know there was one until halfway through the movie. But I don’t know if I would have read it. I might have. Different projects or characters, I feel like I have to pull out a different box of tools to play them. I just want to see where it takes me and where the other actors are coming from and how I can make it work.

SJ: How did it feel to be carried over Bruce Willis’s shoulder in an action scene?

MLP: Well, it’s so funny because he feels so masculine and all that. Then he talks about his daughters and his whole face kind of changes. It just kind of rearranges and it’s so sweet. It’s something where you can really see the inside of someone and the side that you wouldn’t necessarily know because there’s such a transformation in him when he talks about his girls.

SJ: How about sitting in those spinning cars or being close to explosions?

MLP: Well, the explosions I’ve never really been around anything like that. That was pretty overwhelming and awesome. The spinning car thing, it’s like Disneyland or something. It’s very weird. It’s very weird that you’re getting paid to be in a car while it’s spinning. It feels very strange, something about that. But it was fun and I didn’t throw up so there’s that.

SJ: Does the remainder of this season on Weeds focus more on characters than the gangster plot?

MLP: I think so. There were a couple of episodes towards the middle that were just hard for me to get behind because they just felt so outlandish to me. Then there were some aspects of those episodes that ended up being really good and I was wrong. I like it when it really lives more in the land of the characters and how they deal with each other, and when I get to work with Justin [Kirk]. That’s when it’s really, really fun for me.

SJ: What does adding a baby to the mix do for you?

MLP: I like that aspect of it because I think she’s a somewhat absent parent and I think it makes it interesting and it makes it interesting for the other characters because they’re left to sort of pick up some of the parenting. So it’s good for the story. And personally I love it because I love babies and I love getting to hold them and work with them. I feel like this season there were moments when you can see that there is something inside of her that would’ve been a great mother.

SJ: Is the ultimate journey to make Nancy Botwin a full on gangster?

MLP: I don’t know. As long as she can do it in high heels, then maybe that’s all right. I think she always has to be somebody who seems like they might topple over at any moment or it’s just not going to be fun.

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