She has no fewer than six films coming up: Phoebe in Wonderland, costarring Felicity Huffman and Elle Fanning; Woody Allen’s latest, as-yet-untitled project, with Scarlett Johansson and Penelope Cruz; Blind Date, directed by and costarring her longtime friend Stanley Tucci; Married Life, a drama set in the 1940s, with Pierce Brosnan and Chris Cooper; Lars and the Real Girl, a quirky comedy in which she plays the shrink of a delusional Ryan Gosling; and Elegy, which boasts a role that she calls her most sexual yet ("I’m naked with Ben Kingsley!"). It’s a bounty she would never take for granted. "These are great female parts that I’ve been allowed to play — complicated, messy," she says. "I have the career now that I was hoping to have in my 30s. But I was never really an ingenue, and that, oddly, may be what saved me."
Julianne Moore, Clarkson’s friend and her costar in Far from Heaven, agrees. "Early success is overrated," she says. "I think for someone to become successful when they are 20 or 21, it’s difficult to build from there. You can burn out. The thing about Patti is, she’ll work for the rest of her life. She’s the person you want to be with in a scene — she’s so gifted."
Clarkson wouldn’t do anything differently. "I love being in my 40s," she says emphatically. "I would never go back. I certainly have more fun now than I ever did. There’s a joy in my life that I didn’t have in my 30s." She pauses thoughtfully and then breaks into yet another laugh. "God, if this keeps up, by the time I’m 60, I’ll be popping out of cakes!"
Always a New Orleanian
As her friends are quick to point out, Clarkson is an excellent storyteller. During the course of the afternoon, she leaps from her chair to act out the tale of how her dog escaped her dressing room at the Kennedy Center, where she was playing Blanche in A Streetcar Named Desire — only to bark from beneath the stage every time he heard Clarkson’s voice — and an account of how she got the faint white scar above her right eye when she fell from a rope swing as a child. Her hands flutter like small, pale birds when she gestures. She has a graceful, petite frame like a ballerina’s and has recently started weight training, but she dismisses her muscle tone, her thick hair, and many of her other enviable attributes as simply the products of good genes.
Clarkson grew up the youngest of five daughters born to Jacquelyn — a real estate agent who turned to politics, eventually becoming a New Orleans councilwoman whose district included the French Quarter — and Arthur "Buzz" Clarkson, administrator of the department of medicine at Louisiana State University. "At one point there were five teenage girls under one roof," she says. "The fact that my father is still alive and sane is astonishing." Her close family relationship is something she holds dear. "My father says it’s the best time of his life when we’re all together now, sitting in the kitchen at two a.m., laughing hysterically about something. I’m lucky because so many people in my business come from fractured families, and I don’t. I had a remarkably golden childhood."