Barkin would usually rather be at home than in a restaurant, anyway. This is a woman who is such a serious homebody that when the herniated discs in her back flare up, she thinks, oh good, I can stay in bed for two weeks. She would rather have a long phone session with a friend than meet her for a meal. She is most content making dinner for her kids, watching a movie, having a bath (no showers — she finds them "too jolting"), and climbing into bed to stay up late with a book. And her new town house in the West Village happens to be a short walk to Applehead Pictures, the production company that she started with her brother, George (a writer and former editor-in-chief of the National Lampoon), and former IFC Films executive Caroline Kaplan. They have five films in development, including an adaptation of The Easter Parade, the Richard Yates novel, and The Dwarf, a book by Nobel Prize-winner Par Lagerkvist. Adapting books to film has been especially rewarding for Barkin, because she’s a voracious reader. Her current favorite is No Name, by Victorian writer Wilkie Collins.
"Ellen is exceedingly smart," Kaplan says. "She’s familiar with so many authors and genres of literature that it’s been really exciting." She laughs. "And she’s hysterically funny, just fun as hell to work with. My husband said to me the other night, ‘Could you get off the phone with Ellen? It’s one in the morning, and you’re not even talking about work!’" Kaplan says that the guys who bring mail to the office try to time their deliveries to arrive when Barkin is there. "They say, ‘When’s boss lady in?’ They love seeing her. People seem pretty happy to be around her everywhere she goes, from construction workers to supermodels."
As it happens, it’s about time for Barkin to head back to the office. She finishes off the last of her omelet and french fries, then gathers her black Balenciaga coat. We step out into the street. She loves this section of the West Village. It’s the same neighborhood in which she has lived on and off since she was 18 years old. She points to the direction of her town house. "It’s right over there," she says. "It’s beautiful, but I’d rather have an apartment, quite frankly. I don’t like being responsible for a house. I don’t want to shovel snow." She flutters a hand dismissively. "I want to pick up the phone and say, ‘My bathroom is leaking’ and hang up." The town house has a garden out back, but you won’t catch her digging in the dirt. "I’m a New Yorker," she says. "I wouldn’t care if I never saw a tree again in my life. I was thinking last year, maybe I should garden. And then I thought, nah." She laughs, offers a big hug and turns to leave.
A knot of construction workers is watching her as she crosses the street, her bright blond hair catching the light. "Hey, Ellen," one of them yells. "Ellen Barkin!" He holds up a beefy fist in salute. "Looking good, girl."
Originally published in MORE magazine, June 2007.