Mary-Louise Parker Likes to Reveal Herself

The acclaimed actress on dating, adopting and her Weeds nude scene.

By Meryl Gordon
Photograph: Photo by: Brigitte Lacombe

The popular series is meant to be controversial, but costar Elizabeth Perkins agrees that sometimes the writers go too far, saying, “I’ve had issues with certain things I’ve been asked to do.” She adds that there is a double standard for actors—that a man is seen as being in charge of his craft if he complains about lines or scenes, whereas a woman is branded a “huge bitch.” Parker, she says, “is frighteningly intelligent, and she’ll call a spade a spade. I suppose it could come across as prickly, but it’s not meant that way. She’s just smarter than anyone else in the room.”
Creative differences aside, Parker stresses that she enjoys playing her complex and devious character. “I like it the more extreme it is. Jenji [Kohan, the series’ creator] has been amazing in surprising me.” But, she adds, “I don’t like it when it’s crass and crude for humor’s sake. And I don’t like it when it’s sentimental, when she’s a sweet mother. To me, she’s not that.”
To actually want to look your age on camera is a violation of Hollywood’s youth-at-all-costs handbook, but Parker says she has urged the producers not to digitally enhance her features, telling them, “Don’t take out my wrinkles. I’m happy that I look a little tired.” She hasn’t had Botox or plastic surgery, she insists, contorting her face into a series of hilarious expressions to prove it. “Somebody told me that they’d read that I had all this work done and showed me a picture, and it was totally airbrushed,” she says in outrage. “It made me so mad. I don’t like what that says to other women. I’m 44, and I look OK for 44. I’m not trying to look 34.”
In interviews , and even with friends, Parker has built a reputation for being withholding about one major topic: her family background. “Maybe she’s the love child of Albert Finney and Audrey Hepburn,” quips playwright Craig Lucas, whose Prelude to a Kiss provided Parker with her breakthrough role in 1990. Adds Perkins, “I feel I know Mary-Louise really, really well, yet I know nothing about her.” Parker drops clues in her Esquire essays, however, and it’s possible to tease out a few relevant facts, even as she gives me a thousand-yard stare and protests, “I want people to know as little about me as possible!”

The youngest of four children, Parker was born in South Carolina but led a peripatetic childhood as the family moved often for her father’s Army career. The actress speaks fondly of her “amazing” parents but makes it quietly clear that her childhood is not full of pleasant memories. “My parents did everything they could; I had books, clothes, a home and a warm bed, but I was never happy,” she says. “Part of it was my nature, and part of it was circumstantial and things I was soaking up from other people.”

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