Parker Posey Doesn’t Know If She Can Live Here

The actress on aging in the city, terrible boyfriends, and why she doesn’t read her press.

Photo: Ruven Afanador
Photo: Ruven Afanador

Parker Posey has been deeply associated with New York since the ’90s for cool indie roles from Party Girl to The Doom Generation to a long string of excellent films by Christopher Guest and Hal Hartley. But her career is more textured and strange than that. It entails popping into superhero franchises and rom-coms such as You’ve Got Mail and, most recently, the horror-drama Beau Is Afraid, in which she drops in like a torpedo in the third act. The thing is Posey hasn’t spent much time in New York lately. First, there was shooting Lost in Space for Netflix in Vancouver for ages, then post-pandemic, she started staying more frequently at her place in the boonies a few hours north of the city. Now, at 54, the way in which New York can feel like it belongs to the young is making itself obvious to her.

As someone who’s done interviews for decades and been in oodles of therapy, Posey tries to make underlying connections explicit and collaborate in questioning. (“There, I just gave you an ending!” she’ll say frequently.) She can’t stop herself from making word or idea associations, even when they’re incomplete. “I realized I speak in shorthand. I’ll say something, but I won’t finish the thought. Is that an actor thing or a COVID thing?” she wondered. “Maybe it’s a twin thing as well — in fact, I know it is.”

What do you miss about the New York City of 1992–93?
I’m bad at interviews because I just want to talk. It’s easier when I feel like I’m just sharing. You know what I miss about it? When it was fun, it felt like a community. Do communities only happen in your 20s, then they kind of fade away?

Is that it, or is it you?
I think it’s — [waves iPhone].

It might be phones.
I do think so. Like, when Party Girl came out 27 years ago —

It was rereleased in theaters this spring. How did that feel?
Feels great. You know, it’s so long ago. It’s like, Oh, they’re having this rereleased? Yeah, well, where did they find the original film? Some company bought it, distributed it. Then they sold it, but they have homes in the Hamptons now. It just reminds me of the scamminess of showbiz.

So there are some negative associations there, as they say in therapy.
I remember taking this meeting with Stuart Cornfeld. This was back, like, after the ’90s and the aughts, when agents would be like, “Parker’s coming to town. Go have her do the meetings.” It was really sweet. He said, “You know, Frank Zappa said it’s really hard for the arts to be supported in capitalist societies; they will be co-opted into something else.” That’s what happened. I don’t think that’s negative per se. It is what it is. But what’s fun about this time is there are younger people who have the Criterion Collection. I feel like cinema is coming back.

One thing that has happened is that everyone has access to stuff that was hard to see when we were kids. We used to trade VHS’s of great movies you couldn’t get anywhere. Did you have a little hoard of movies?
Yeah, we used to camp out on the weekends. You’d go out a few nights a week and stay out dancing, but then the weekends were for crashing at friends’ homes, watching movies in their apartments. I’d come over, lounge around, and watch a movie and order Chinese and just stay in.

Do you know a lot of young people?
They’re very ’90s. They’re kind of grungy. They’re more counterculture. When I did press for Beau in L.A., I noticed a lot of younger journalists, and I felt like, Oh, wow, they kind of look like me at that age. I noticed a style or like the T-shirts.

How were their questions?
They seemed open. They’re big fans of Scream 3. I’ve been made aware that movies like Scream 3 and Josie and the Pussycats and Party Girl were big movies for those kids, which then they must’ve been, like, 7 or 8 or 9 years old.

Scream 3 holds up really well. It’s a great meta text. We’ve decided the kids are okay. If they weren’t, what are we going to do about it anyway?
Protest. Being disappointed in New York and its lack of fun is a hard thing. I don’t want to be negative! Maybe I’ve just been away from New York so long that I don’t know. I mean, word on the street is that it’s coming back.

Are you out at two in the morning?
No, I don’t go out till two anymore. No, darling.

Are you ever scandalized by anything you did in your 20s?
And now you’re going to remind me.

Unfortunately, I wasn’t there.
Please don’t. Well, I ran. I think all of my creativity and output was me running from myself and into stories. Being in so many stories makes you a rolling stone — you don’t really catch any moss, and you’re just rolling. I still don’t know where to be, but I think that’s an actor thing. When I was doing Mr. & Mrs. Smith with Donald Glover and Maya Erskine, I saw that they didn’t know where to be either. It seems like all of my friends are going, “I don’t know where to live right now.” I think we’re still shook from COVID.

A lot of things ended and are not coming back.
But this transition period of what New York is and was — I mean, that’s been going on since 2001, right? Since the internet, vanity handbags, Jivamukti, Gawker, and the rise of likes. It’s wild.

It’s weird to me how much people have put the pandemic behind them, which seems nasty and premature but feels real on the street.
How do you know they’ve put it behind them?

People on the subway are coughing on each other. It feels fucked up, but then people want that freedom, and they want to live.
There are so many nonconsensual realities going on. People say these blanket things like, “Oh, well, everyone’s this,” but we’re not. I’m not good at taking on political arguments. It just feels so heated right now.

I have questions about age to ask you.
Oh, yeah. Menopause.

I’m not going to ask you about menopause.
Say the dirty word. Say it! You’re going to be burned. You’re going to catch on fire.

Menopause sounds like a lot of work.
Every little girl and grown woman you ever were, they all come out to play. I call it the perimenopausal puppet troupe. It’s a beautiful hello–good-bye of several years. But it does a number on your body, and it’s very confusing. Waking up and sweating in your glasses and not being able to see out of them and having to work. In my time, it was having to work on Lost in Space. My body was an alien.

Was Lost in Space a good job?
Oh my God, yes, they paid me. I loved Vancouver.

Was there a world in which you just moved to Vancouver and never returned?
Yeah. I could make home wherever. It’s something my analyst said, which I love: Every home is a fantasy; it doesn’t really belong to you. You’re getting it ready for the next person. I’m just really transient, as much as I love my cozy comforts. I don’t need a lot, but I do want a vibe and warmth, right? Are you a fan of The Great Pottery Throw Down?

I never watched this and I really should.
Oh my God, you have to. That and the show Alone, then there’s 100 Foot Wave. I was telling one of my agents at CAA, “I really like 100 Foot Wave. I really like that rock-climbing show, The Climb. Wouldn’t that be fun?” I mean, do you think they would buy that — like, whoever makes those shows would be like, “Yeah, let’s get Parker Posey in this rock-climbing show”?

Do your agents look at you blankly when you talk about this?
Well, they’re going to have to help me get a paying job. I mean, isn’t that the point now that I’m at CAA? How much these A-listers make next to the scrappy little indie people is crazy town — it’s unfair and bananas. It’s unfair bananas. It’s rotten bananas, which makes the best banana bread.

I hope they bring you lots of highly compensated, yet intellectually rewarding work.
Do you really think that’s a possibility before it gets into the hands of Miss Cate Blanchett? That nasty — I am such a stupid fan of Tár. I talk about it, like, five times a week. She’s so great. Todd Field! Let’s talk about how little support the biz gives filmmakers who’ve made excellent movies before. It takes Todd Field 15 years to get another movie off the ground.

Photo: Ruven Afanador

In Cannes, the Todd Haynes movie May December sold to Netflix, but why doesn’t someone have him locked in a cage making movies? Can you talk to CAA about that?
I’d love to work with European filmmakers. I wish I spoke another language. I learned French really badly. I want you to write a piece about me quitting the business and moving to France to act. Here, they’d be like, “Who cares? She left us long ago.” I’m being stupid now. See? Then I’m going to see this in print and I’m going to regret it. But I won’t. Because I don’t read my press. When Gawker called my dog, Gracie, Devil Dog, and said that she was mean, I was like, “No more.” It’s one thing to say mean things about me and my acting. But a whole other blow to say mean things about my poodle.

Some of your most-quoted work is in comedy projects created by Christopher Guest — most notably, Waiting for Guffman. Are you still interested in working in improvisational forms?
Have you seen Jury Duty? Oh my God. I haven’t seen anything in a long time where, even more than the Chris Guest movies, you see how much the actor as creator brings to these roles. It is one of the most generous, optimistic, pure, committed, dedicated, ridiculous shows. It is divine. I really like home-improvement shows, and I think there’s comedy to be mined with real people like mechanics, plumbers, and contractors and hardware stores and me.

When you talk about improv, I would love to follow my nose and see what I could get into with the camera. But I’m not doing it by myself, so they better be finding somebody to help me out.

You always joke that Toni Collette took all your roles.
She took all my roles!

Do you say that with rancor or do you think it’s funny?
I think it’s all funny.

So you’re always joking. Fucking Toni Collette! In a hundred years, it’ll be like, “She despised Toni Collette more than anything.”
I think Ryan Murphy should do a show with us. Toni, me—see, I’m always pitching some new ideas.

It’s your entrepreneurial streak.
I’d like to produce, but I haven’t produced anything in the real world. Toni and I were talking about the indie days. What would happen is we would pass on things that a casting director would have, this Hollywood movie or something, and we’d be like, “It’s a studio movie, I really should take it, but I can’t because I really need a break because I just did two indie movies back to back.” Then you go like, “Oh, no, is now the casting director never going to cast me again because I said ‘no’?” These are things that I didn’t really think of back then. I just did what I felt like doing.

As we get older, we get a little more calculated, maybe.
Savvy. No one sat me down and took me by the hand and said, “Listen, Parker.”

Who was mentoring you through this?
Nora Ephron did a bit. She was like, “Parker, you will have to get work done.”

I don’t know if that’s good mentoring.
Yes. She got her hair done once a week. It was just right.

You made a brilliant trilogy with legendary indie director Hal Hartley. I hope the movie he started working on three years ago is still happening. He said it’s about people who’ve done their jobs for so long that what they do for a living defines them — then, when they’re older, do they have room for change and reinvention? You’re younger than he is, but I feel like you’re just opening yourself up to reinvention now. Is that right? Or do you feel you’ve solidified into who you are?
Well, I wrote a book. I am a storyteller. I think the idea of “the story” will have another reinvention.

If your conception of yourself is wide, then it doesn’t matter.
Make art of your life. You can make art in your art and do that, but I feel when I can look back and go, Why is this house so important to me? Why didn’t I just go to Hollywood? I look at a picture of my great-grandfather sitting around with goats and looking like he lived a really hard life, looking really angry and mean. I go, “This speaks to me.” To reinvent is to reinvent; you don’t stop.

“To reinvent is to reinvent, you don’t stop.” I might put that over my desk.
I could get a woodworker in town to burn that into a nice piece of oak I found.

Look at all these questions I haven’t asked you. [Gestures at a coffee cup containing 100 cutout paper questions.]
Wait, you type them out and put them in a cup? That is so cute.

I thought you might like the gambit.
[Reads a question.] “A lot of the extremely talented men in your life and in your work have been disinvited from participating in your field, mostly because of how they treated women while at work. How has that been for you? Do you think it’s fair?” Are you talking about Ryan?

I meant Ryan and I meant Louis.

And I think I meant Woody.
And Woody.

That’s three.
I like how you say “disinvited.”

I knew Ryan a little. He’s very brilliant.
Yeah, and you’re like, “I bet he’s a terrible boyfriend. I wouldn’t want to date him.” Guess what? Rock stars aren’t great boyfriends. Neither are comedians.

I would say they crossed the line beyond “not-great boyfriend.”
Well, yeah. But these lines have been crossed for centuries. For centuries! Artists, a lot of them who are men, are very uncomfortable with their feminine side. That’s why they make music. Do they have unhealthy relationships with women? Absolutely. And do they treat them badly? Yes. How did I do?

I think you did good, but I think it’s interesting we grew up in a time when men were so overtly terrible. Then we were finally like, You know what? Fuck this.
We grew up with a lot of douchebags. We called them douchebags back then, which is misogynist.

We warned each other, though, about most of those guys usually, which seems like it maybe wasn’t quite enough.
It wasn’t enough. I was so naïve. I’m still so naïve in some ways.

Are you?
I’m a late bloomer. You want to hear my latest idea? What do you think about a cruise ship and a retrospective of some of my films on the cruise?

Where would the cruise go?
It could be around the Statue of Liberty.

Which films are we showing?
It would be the ’90s ones that are so in now. The Daytrippers, Party Girl, Dazed and Confused, a big crowd pleaser. Josie and the Pussycats. Scream 3.

You’ve Got Mail has also held up well. I read something funny about how your character was the lead and everyone else was the incidental action — because you’re about the change in New York.
See, I haven’t seen it.

So you don’t learn from your performances because you’ve never seen them.
That’s right. I watched Beau Is Afraid, and when my part was on, I covered my face and blinked really fast. You want to watch enough to talk about the movie, but I’m not like, Oh yeah, I should look to the right more. That’s my best side. But I’m not like that. So I should decide to do something else.

Do the movies feel painful to watch?
It feels like the end of Our Town, you know? The screening for the 27th anniversary of Party Girl? I didn’t watch it. Michael Clancy did the wardrobe, and he passed away last year. A friend of his gave my friend David some Polaroids; David wrote a piece about the movie and the promise that time had. You could ask for favors and people would be up for supporting them. Everyone seemed to support New York, the identity of the city — the freedom of that, the diversity of that. I went to Joe’s Pub five or six years ago, and when I went out, there was someone who had a sign that said, I’M AGAINST VIOLENCE TOWARD WOMEN. She said, “Can I take your picture with this sign?” I said, “Do I have to?” I didn’t feel like a person, right? She goes, “Oh, so you’re for violence against women?” I’m like, I don’t know if I can live here. I may have outgrown it. It really may have changed. But New York is always changing.

You may have stayed too long at the fair, in the classic formulation of Joan Didion.
New York is for young people. I do appreciate you not dumping that whole cup of questions onto the table. Doing press these days is a brave act. I mean, you could get canceled; I could get canceled.

I hope I do!
Let’s get canceled together. Let’s have a cancellation party, then cancel it.

The good news is people are willing to argue about stuff. People have more complicated conversations about shitty behavior.
The acceptance of complication, right? Like, “Oh, that’s kind of weird that we were punishing people so severely.”

I think we realized that the people we maybe were disappointed in didn’t die or disappear; they’re still alive. We still exist together.
They didn’t burn, and they didn’t catch fire. They’re walking around buying groceries because they have to eat. They’re taking care of their parents. You like how I’m yelling right now?

Yes. Are you not on Instagram anymore?
I am not on Instagram anymore, because [dramatic pause] I forgot my password. I tried and after, like, three times, I said, “You know what? It’s not meant to be.” I posted a lot about my dog Gracie when she passed. She was my star of Instagram.

When did Gracie die?
In 2019. I was really happy I got to properly transition her and be with her in nature. I wasn’t working, and it was such a precious time. I would see her walk behind the bushes in my friend’s garden, looking for a portal to leave.

She was ready.
She would go into boot soles in my closet. Then she would put her face in my boobs. After she died, I’d see her in, like, a mound of snow — you know, when snow is dirty and you could see things? She was saying hi again.

My friend Amber came over, and she said, “My friend said when a pet dies, there’s a hole that’s left in your heart, but after time” — and she took this pause, and said — “the hole gets smaller.” I said, “Oh, when you took that pause, I thought you were going to say ‘Over time, your heart grows fur.’” I started to feel very soft and furry and realized that nothing ever dies until the last person who loves them dies.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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“Being a twin is confusing,” Posey wrote in her memoir. “I recognize a particular loneliness and confusion when I meet other female twins — a puzzled disillusionment.” Chris, her brother, has taken an equally interesting, if very different, path in life. Stuart Cornfeld produced The Fly and Elephant Man and became a long-time producing collaborator with Ben Stiller; he died at 67 in 2020. In Scream 3, Posey plays an actress cast in the in-movie slasher franchise offering Stab 3; she plays Courtney Cox’s tabloid TV journalist character. Cinema! Lost in Space did three seasons on Netflix between 2018 and 2021, with Posey as the maybe-villainous Dr. Smith. (Posey has “always been at her juiciest when she’s acting duplicitous,” we wrote.) Jury Duty recruited one man to be in a documentary about jury duty without telling him it was all fake. Her co-star in the excellent Clockwatchers and in The Staircase, Collette does get more work than anyone. “Nora told me to freeze my eggs at lunch at Barney’s the last time I saw her,” Posey writes in her memoir. But her 70 seconds were still cut from Ephron’s Sleepless in Seattle. Late in 2022, it was announced that Where to Land, with Edie Falco and maybe Posey too, was being produced by Rhode-Island-based Verdi Productions. You’re on an Airplane is a memoir in monologue form, as if told to a fellow passenger. It’s a pleasantly claustrophobic conceit. Posey briefly dated Ryan Adams in the early aughts. Posey’s brief, terrifying turn on Louie is a standout of a season that legendarily guest-stars Amy Poehler, Chloë Sevigny, Maria Bamford, Melissa Leo, and Gaby Hoffman. She briefly dated Adams. Being cast in Woody Allen’s 2015 Irrational Man felt like winning a game of chance, and she went to Cannes for the first time in 20 years. As a mercenary book editor, Posey’s supposedly vicious character seems like the only one in the film not lying.
Parker Posey Doesn’t Know If She Can Live in New York