• U.S.


5 minute read
Richard Corliss

Note to aspiring actors: if your idea of movie stardom is a big trailer and a seven-figure salary, consider the career of Parker Posey. At 28, she has ornamented more than a dozen American independent films. Yet to get to the set of Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, where she played the leading lady’s “eternal love slave” in a blond friz wig, Posey had to pay half her airfare. For Party Girl, in which she did a beguiling star turn as a club hopper with the improbable dream of being a librarian, she earned the sum of $75 a day. On another movie she lent the producers her credit card to charge rental cars. If Posey keeps on making movies, she could be broke by the time she’s 30.

There must be an upside. “What’s fun about these movies,” she says, “is that they’re moved by the characters, not the plot or the special effects. I do what I do because I love it.” Off-Hollywood auteurs certainly love her. If the independent-film movement had an illustrated wall calendar, Posey would be on at least six of the months. She has become an imprimatur for veterans like Hal Hartley and Richard Linklater. Last month she won a special jury prize at Sundance for her role as a disturbed woman obsessed with Jackie Onassis in The House of Yes.

She graces three indie films out this month. In Linklater’s acerb subUrbia, a kind of strip-mall Rent without the singing (or quite so much self-pity), she plays a rock publicist who mingles dangerously with the lowlifes. In Greg Mottola’s stodgy The Daytrippers she’s the younger daughter of a Long Island, New York, family given to public declarations of emotional frailty. And in Christopher Guest’s haphazardly delightful Waiting for Guffman she’s a fast-food counter girl who gets the chance to co-star in a tacky musical tribute to Blaine, Missouri. Posey graces so many low-budget films that she has called herself “that indie tramp.” An apter title would be Queen of the Indies.

Better yet, Prom Queen of the Indies. Her crisp, dark beauty radiates the easy breeding of old-Hollywood royalty. Her wide, playful mouth suggests the young Katharine Hepburn; its I-know-I’ve-got-it look can be read as poise or derision. Waif-thin, Posey must have a Slinky for a spine; her walk is a loosey-goosey dance, as if house music were playing nonstop in her head. The aura is of a Park Avenue deb who gets her kicks downtown.

That includes kicking, as in butt. She does that literally in Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, as the high school senior for whom terrorizing freshman girls is both a solemn duty and a fashion statement. She can also be tough on men. In Sleep with Me she warns a guy, “I hope you don’t think you’re going to sleep with me”; two minutes later she’s mounting him with lithe expertise. If her women are softer in the three new films, all have a nervy self-assurance; they seem convinced not that they will be stars but that they were born stars.

Named after 1950s supermodel Suzy Parker, Posey grew up in Laurel, Mississippi; her dad owns a Chevrolet-Nissan dealership there. While in the theater program at the State University of New York College at Purchase, she won a regular role on the CBS soap As the World Turns.

She’s been an indie omnipresence ever since, and doesn’t fret about it. “It’s not my business to overexpose myself,” she says. “It’s my business to work. Besides, even though I did five movies last year, nothing can compare to the drama of my personal life, which has escalated to outrageous levels.” She had “nervous problems,” lost two grandparents and broke up with a longtime boyfriend. “I won’t get into it further,” she says, “because I’m not paying you $125 an hour.”

So here’s the $125-an-hour question: How can someone who has It–the looks, the presence, the acting chops–not have it all? Because the major studios have yet to fall in love with her. Posey lost out to Sandra Bullock for the Speed role, to Renee Zellweger for Jerry Maguire. Just now she is too indie for the majors, too pert to get the serioso parts that win critics’ awards. She’s stranded between Tea Leoni and Jennifer Jason Leigh. Where are the leading roles in big films? Why doesn’t she have her own Must-See TV series? Couldn’t she at least be a Friend?

Her fans may be worried that she’s missing out on conventional stardom, but Posey isn’t. “I get a phone call, I get a script, I do the movie. That’s where the fun is.” And we’ll have fun watching her bloom in indie films–if she can afford it.

–Reported by Jeffrey Ressner/Los Angeles

More Must-Reads from TIME

Contact us at letters@time.com