Oh, how this reporter loves himself some Mary-Louise Parker. Most recently spied marketing Mary Jane as the Golden Globe-winning star of Showtime's Weeds, she resurfaces Saturday at 8 pm/ET in Oxygen's The Robber Bride, playing Zenia, an enigmatic enchantress who gave many people a reason to kill her. But who, if anyone, actually did her in? TVGuide.com leapt at the chance to speak with Parker about this TV-movie potboiler, peddling Weeds, and her upcoming gig as a very kind of different bride — Brad Pitt's!
TVGuide.com: Wow. I'm talking to you. My first note here is to "fawn over her like a fool."
Mary-Louise Parker: Oh, wow! That's so nice! I could use it....
TVGuide.com: When I interviewed Martin Donovan (Parker's costar in Weeds and the film Saved!, to name but two of their joint ventures), I told him I thought you were one of the most watchable actresses out there. He said, "You ought to have the great privilege of doing a scene with her. It's fantastic, like riding a tiger."
Parker: Ohhh... that's so sweet!
TVGuide.com: I understand you kind of badgered the folks at Weeds to find a role for him?
Parker: [Sheepishly] I did.... I did. I really kind of beat them into it. And I don't know what we're going to do now because [his DEA agent character] is pretty much dead. I said, "Can he maybe 'kind of' be dead, because we didn't see him [get shot]...? "
TVGuide.com: The Robber Bride is cool in that it definitely tells a different, meaning not the usual, kind of story.
TVGuide.com: Margaret Atwood novels are famously hard to translate to the screen. Do you feel this movie does justice to the source material?
Parker: The stories can get a bit convoluted, yeah, and I think this one was especially hard to translate, with all the jumping back and forth [in and out of flashbacks] and her, according to a character's particular narrative, being seen through different eyes....
TVGuide.com: And you don't know who's necessarily telling the truth....
Parker: Precisely. Zenia changes dramatically according to who is speaking about her.
TVGuide.com: This is the kind of mystery where you need to stick around to the very end to find out exactly what you've been watching.
Parker: Yeah, yeah.... I had to read the script several times, and some of the questions I had were so basic that I felt stupid asking them. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Did you set out to make what could have easily been an unlikable character likable, or was that a happy accident, just Mary-Louise Parker sparkling through?
Parker: I never try to make anybody likable, I just try to find a reason to drive her through each scene. What was confusing for me was the flashbacks being told from somebody else's point of view. How do you play that? Because it's almost like playing a fantasy.
TVGuide.com: Right. Was Zenia outright evil? Was she misunderstood, was she a sweetheart being victimized...? All different angles to come from.
Parker: Right. I think there was a little borderline personality [disorder] there.
TVGuide.com: Was there a specific point in your career when you decided to go for edgier, less-expected roles?
Parker: No, I've just always gone with what was the best offered to me. Sometimes there is more to choose from. And sometimes the things you're offered are markedly similar, based on what you get known for.
TVGuide.com: Do you think Hollywood knows quite what to do with you yet?
Parker: No, not really. [Chuckles] It's odd because I've kind of done something that isn't really common, because the things that I've done that were the most well-known, in a way, started from off-Broadway plays. Prelude to a Kiss took me to Broadway, which is where I got the first movies I ever did. And then in the middle of my career I went to do this little play that I didn't think was going to go anywhere — Proof [for which Parker won a Tony Award] — and then I started doing a lot of other things as a result. I've basically done things that I liked, and they've led to other things.
TVGuide.com: Broadway misses you. Is there a timetable for a return visit?
Parker: I just had a lunch today with this woman who has produced a few plays that I've done, and I was sitting there going, "Please find me something!" I read things all the time and I'm very fussy about plays, way fussier than I would be about a movie or a TV show. We may remount How I Learned to Drive, a play that I did 10 years ago, and which I am more the right age for now than I was when I did it. I'm thinking about doing that.
TVGuide.com: Where are you schedule-wise with Weeds? When does production start on Season 3?
Parker: I start filming April 16.
TVGuide.com: And that's, what, two and a half months out of your life?
Parker: Actually it's four this time, because we're doing 15 episodes. Last time it was, like, 12, and before that was 10....
TVGuide.com: You particularly caught my eye as Josh's equally quippy and clever girlfriend on The West Wing. What do you remember most fondly about that run?
Parker: People were always like, "You stole Josh from Donna!" [Laughs] The only person who doesn't feel that way, actually, is Brad[ley Whitford], who is like, "I should have ended up with you." But I loved doing that part. It was supposed to be just one episode, but it turned into more.
TVGuide.com: Being a big Weeds fan, I have to ask: Where do we go from the Season 2 finale?! I'm stumped as to how Nancy could move forward with her business, having stared down the barrel of five guns.
Parker: I know! I know.... Well, I had a big meeting with them and they were trying to explain to me how I was going to get out of it, and it doesn't sound like I quite get out of it for a while. It sounds pretty hairy....
TVGuide.com: I spoke with [Weeds creator] Jenji Kohan for last season's finale, and she had a neat take on the "dynamic" between you two: "We have a 'child' in common, and even if a couple divorces or doesn't get along... we have a vested interest in raising this child right. I really respect what [Mary-Louise] does, and I think she is luminous. The difference of opinion sometimes adds to the show." Are you feeling that?
Parker: I think that's pretty articulate. All along, I've tried to ignite some kind of dialogue between the two of us, some kind of friendship, and it's never really caught, so I kind of stopped trying. And then organically — randomly? — she reached out and sent me an e-mail. So now we're e-mailing, which is nice. I didn't want to be her "best friend" or anything, but I felt like it would be nice [to communicate]. She sees things in her head a particular way, and then she wants to see the actors come in and do that, and I'm not an actress who will ever, probably, do what you have in your head.
TVGuide.com: What's an example of something you wanted to change or add, but didn't get to do or it didn't make the cut?
Parker: I would just do things and they would be cut. [Laughs] There was a scene with Andy where I was like, "Please do not tell me you have cybersex with a 14-year-old girl," and when I shot it, I reached over and threw a tray of vegetables across the kitchen, and it really terrified him. I think [Nancy] is very, very held and repressed and shut down, and subject to these mini-explosions. But they thought it was too much. There was another thing in Season 2, when I come home from Vegas and I'm looking for an aspirin, and the whole family is sitting there having dinner. I was playing it like I was a little drunk, and I ripped the drawer out of its tracks and dumped the contents on the counter, but when you see it, they used coverage that didn't show that. Sometimes they are a little scared of the things I would do.
TVGuide.com: I'm glad the show hasn't thrown Nancy and Conrad at us full force, but only teased it.
Parker: Yeah, yeah... I don't think it's going to go there just yet.
TVGuide.com: In real life, are you an easygoing girlfriend, or are you high-maintenance?
Parker: I actually think I'm pretty easy, because I've never been anybody to ask for anything. I've never been able to ask for anything... which... maybe is not very good. [Laughs]
TVGuide.com: Let's talk about some of the exciting films coming up, starting with The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford. Awesome title, for one.
Parker: I know, it's crazy, isn't it? I play Mrs. James....
TVGuide.com: As in Brad Pitt's wife?
TVGuide.com: She's not a shrinking violet, I take it?
Parker: Well, she is pretty shrinking until he dies, and then she kind of disassembles and explodes. I loved the idea of that, that she's almost in the background until he dies, and then she shoots to the foreground and splatters across the screen. She's purely tragic — there's no benediction, she doesn't rise out of the ashes. It's a pretty bleak story.
TVGuide.com: What was your impression of Brad Pitt?
Parker: I thought he was lovely. He was really sharp. He works really hard, and is very smart.
TVGuide.com: And The Spiderwick Chronicles, that's a children's fantasy type?
Parker: It's a kids' movie, yeah, with goo and stuff flying out of people's mouths, goblins and things.
TVGuide.com: Is that one "for your son" [William, 3]?
Parker: Yeah, I always wanted to do a kids' movie — but he won't be able to watch it for a few years yet!
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