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Patricia Davies Clarkson (born December 29, 1959) is an American actress. She has starred in many leading and supporting roles in films such as The Station Agent, The Pledge, The Green Mile, Far from Heaven, High Art, Dogville, Good Night, and Good Luck, Easy A, and Cairo Time. She was nominated for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress and the Golden Globe for her performance in Pieces of April (2003). She twice won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series for her recurring role in Six Feet Under. In 2015 she was nominated for a Tony Award for The Elephant Man.
Clarkson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Jackie Clarkson (née Brechtel), a New Orleans politician and councilwoman, and Arthur Clarkson, a school administrator who worked at the Louisiana State University School of Medicine. She is one of five sisters, all of whom attended O. Perry Walker High School. She was raised in the Algiers section of New Orleans, on the West Bank of the Mississippi River.
Clarkson studied speech pathology at Louisiana State University, later transferring to Fordham University in New York City, where she graduated summa cum laude with a degree in drama. She then earned her Master of Fine Arts at the Yale School of Drama before making her film debut in The Untouchables in 1987.
Clarkson's Broadway theatre credits include The House of Blue Leaves and Eastern Standard. She had supporting roles in a series of high-profile films in her early career. Her first movie role, at age 27, was as the wife of Eliot Ness (Kevin Costner) in The Untouchables. She also was featured in The Dead Pool, Rocket Gibraltar, and Everybody's All-American. She starred in the TV series Davis Rules and in the miniseries Alex Haley's Queen.
More often a character actor than a leading woman, she also appeared in major films, such as The Green Mile (1999), Far from Heaven (2002), Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), and Lars and the Real Girl (2007). Her breakthrough role was in High Art (1998) where her portrayal of Greta, a German, drug-addicted lesbian and former model, gained rave reviews. She has said about acting, "I’m deeply invested in everything I do, and it’s a good thing because acting is the only thing I know how to do."
In 2002, she originated her role as Sarah O'Connor in HBO's Six Feet Under. She won the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series that year for her performance; she repeated for the same role in 2006. In 2003, she gained critical acclaim and a Special Jury Prize for her work in four films that debuted at the Sundance Film Festival: All the Real Girls, The Baroness and the Pig, The Station Agent and Pieces of April. Later the same year, she was nominated for an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for Pieces of April, in which she played an acerbic mother dying of cancer. In 2006, she portrayed Sadie Burke in All the King's Men, set in her native New Orleans. In 2008, she had supporting roles in Elegy as a womanizer's put-upon girlfriend,and in Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona as an unhappily married housewife.
In 2008, producer Gerald Peary approached Clarkson to do the voice-over for the documentary film For the Love of Movies: The Story of American Film Criticism. Says Peary, "She agreed to do the narration ... And she was so nice, and so cooperative, and so prepared, and so intelligent. And one of the key reasons she wanted to do the movie was that she regularly reads criticism, and has a genuine respect for film criticism.
Clarkson returned to New Orleans on January 17, 2009 for the reopening of the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts. She served as master of ceremonies for a gala featuring Plácido Domingo in concert with the New Orleans Opera, conducted by Robert Lyall. She also made a cameo appearance in the Saturday Night Live Digital Short "Motherlover" on May 9, 2009. The video featured Andy Samberg, Justin Timberlake, and Susan Sarandon. She reprised the role on May 21, 2011 in the digital short "3-Way (The Golden Rule)". In 2010, she starred in Martin Scorsese's Shutter Island. Clarkson was honored by the Jameson Dublin International Film Festival when she received one of the 2010 Volta awards for achievements in her career.
Clarkson played Adora Crellin to great acclaim in the HBO limited series Sharp Objects (2018).
In response to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, Clarkson published a post for Natural Resources Defense Council's magazine OnEarth. She also released a public service announcement talking about her experiences growing up in New Orleans. Both pieces were released on July 26, 2010.