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Patricia Davies Clarkson (born December 29, 1959) is an American actress. She has starred in numerous leading and supporting roles in a variety of films, ranging from independent features to major studio productions. Her accolades include one Academy Award nomination, two Golden Globe Award nominations, four Screen Actors Guild Award nominations, one Tony Award nomination, two Primetime Emmy Awards, two National Society of Film Critics Awards, and one British Independent Film Award.
Born and raised in New Orleans to a politician mother and school administrator father, Clarkson earned a degree in drama from Fordham University before attending the Yale School of Drama, where she graduated with a Master of Fine Arts degree. She made her feature film debut in Brian De Palma's mob drama The Untouchables (1987), followed by a supporting role in Clint Eastwood's The Dead Pool (1988). After appearing in numerous minor roles in the early and mid-1990s, she garnered critical attention for her portrayal of a drug-addicted actress in the independent drama High Art (1998). Clarkson went on to appear in numerous supporting roles in such films as The Green Mile (1999), The Pledge (2001), and Dogville (2003).
She garnered further critical acclaim in 2003 for her performances in the drama films The Station Agent, which earned her a Screen Actors Guild Award nomination, and Pieces of April, for which she was nominated for a Golden Globe and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress. Clarkson also appeared as a recurring guest star on the HBO series Six Feet Under from 2002 to 2006, and won two Primetime Emmy Awards for her performance. Other credits from the 2000s include Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), Lars and the Real Girl (2007), and Elegy (2008).
In 2010, Clarkson had a supporting role in Martin Scorsese's thriller Shutter Island, followed by roles in the mainstream comedies Easy A (2010) and Friends with Benefits. She subsequently portrayed the villainous Ava Paige in The Maze Runner (2014) and its two sequels. She returned to theater in 2014, playing the role of Madge Kendal in a Broadway production of The Elephant Man, for which she was nominated for a Tony Award for Best Featured Actress. In 2017, she won a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Sally Potter's drama The Party, and guest-starred on the Netflix series House of Cards. She co-starred with Amy Adams on the HBO miniseries Sharp Objects in 2018, for which she won a Golden Globe for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries, or Television Film.
Clarkson was born in New Orleans, Louisiana, the daughter of Jackie Clarkson (née Brechtel), a New Orleans politician and councilwoman, and Arthur "Buzz" 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.
From 1977 to 1979, Clarkson studied speech pathology at Louisiana State University before deciding she wanted to pursue a drama degree. In 1980, she transferred to Fordham University in New York City to enroll in their undergraduate acting program, from which she graduated summa cum laude in 1982. She then earned her Master of Fine Arts at the Yale School of Drama in 1985.
After graduating from the Yale School of Drama, Clarkson was cast in a 1986 Broadway production of The House of Blue Leaves as a replacement in the role of Corrinna Stroller. The following year, she made her feature film debut in Brian De Palma's The Untouchables (1987), portraying Catherine Ness, the wife of US Treasury Prohibition agent Elliott Ness (Kevin Costner). Clarkson stated she was financially struggling during this time and was paying student loans, and that De Palma expanded her role in the film as she originally only had several days' worth of shooting. The next year, she was cast in Clint Eastwood's The Dead Pool (1988), the fifth installment in the Dirty Harry film series. In 1989, she returned to Broadway portraying a Wall Street investment counselor whose brother (played by Kevin Conroy) is diagnosed with AIDS; the play ran from January to March of that year. Clarkson has stated that beginning in the early 1990s, she went through a turbulent period in her career and was unable to find significant work. She had a small role in Jumanji (1995) before being cast in the independent drama High Art (1998), portraying a drug-addicted German actress in New York City. Her performance earned her an Independent Spirit Award nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
In 1999, Clarkson appeared in a supporting role as an ailing wife of a prison warden in The Green Mile, which was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award for Best Ensemble Cast. The same year, she had a supporting part in the romantic comedy Simply Irresistible (1999), followed by a supporting part in Stanley Tucci's biopic Joe Gould's Secret (2000). Next, she portrayed a single mother in the drama The Safety of Objects (2001), and had a supporting role opposite Jack Nicholson in the Sean Penn-directed thriller The Pledge (2001), playing the mother of a murder victim. She also had a leading role in the independent horror film Wendigo (2001), directed by Larry Fessenden, and in the comedy Welcome to Collinwood (2002). Roger Ebert praised the performances in the former, noting: "The actors [in Wendigo] have an unforced, natural quality that looks easy but is hard to do."
In 2002, Clarkson was cast in a supporting role in Todd Haynes's period drama Far from Heaven, opposite Julianne Moore and Dennis Quaid, playing the neighbor of a repressed housewife in the 1950s. The same year, she starred as Margaret White in the television film adaptation of Stephen King's Carrie. Between 2002 and 2005, Clarkson had a guest-starring role on the HBO drama series Six Feet Under, playing Sarah O'Connor, the artist sister of Ruth Fisher. For her portrayal, she won two Primetime Emmy Awards for Outstanding Guest Actress in a Drama Series, in 2002 and 2005, respectively.
Clarkson appeared in multiple independent films in 2003, including The Baroness and the Pig; Lars von Trier's experimental drama Dogville; The Station Agent, playing an artist who befriends a man (Peter Dinklage) working in a model train hobby shop; Pieces of April, in which she portrayed a mother dying of cancer who travels to visit her estranged daughter (Katie Holmes) for Thanksgiving; and the David Gordon Green-directed drama All the Real Girls, as the mother of a young womanizer in a small southern town. Four of the films—The Baroness and the Pig, Pieces of April, The Station Agent, and All the Real Girls—premiered at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival. Clarkson received numerous accolades for her performances: For The Station Agent, she won the Special Jury Prize at Sundance, and was nominated for a Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, among others. Her performance in Pieces of April earned her a Sundance Special Jury Prize, as well as nominations for the Screen Actors Guild award for Outstanding Performance by a Female Actor in a Leading Role, a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress, and an Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress.
Following these critical successes, Clarkson had a lead role opposite Kurt Russell in the sports docudrama Miracle (2004), about a hockey coach, and played the wife of a news correspondent (Robert Downey Jr.) in George Clooney's historical drama Good Night, and Good Luck (2005), about the conflict between journalist Edward R. Murrow and Joseph McCarthy. She then starred as the wife of a Hollywood studio executive in the independent drama The Dying Gaul (2005). 2006 saw the release of The Woods, a supernatural horror film shot in 2003 in which she portrayed the headmistress of a girls' boarding school. The same year, she portrayed Sadie Burke in All the King's Men, set in her native New Orleans.
In 2007, she had a supporting role in the romantic comedy No Reservations, as well as in the comedy-drama Lars and the Real Girl, in which she portrayed a psychiatrist treating a man in love with a sex doll. She subsequently co-starred with Ben Kingsley in the drama Elegy (2008), and had supporting roles in two Woody Allen films: 2008's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, portraying an unhappy housewife, and 2009's Whatever Works. 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, Clarkson appeared opposite Leonardo DiCaprio in the Martin Scorsese-directed thriller Shutter Island, playing a woman escaped from a psychiatric institution. Recounting being cast in the part, Clarkson said: "I got the call that every actor lives for. “Patty, Martin Scorsese is thinking of casting you in his new movie.” And I do what I call the little “Martin Scorsese dance” around my apartment. I think I was in my underwear or pajamas. It's a call you live for. Then I hear back, “But it’s just one scene.” So then I'm dancing a little lower. Then I hear, “It’s you and Leonardo DiCaprio in a cave,” and then I'm dancing again." The film was a box office hit, and Scorsese's highest-grossing film at the time.
Clarkson subsequently had roles in two independent films: Legendy and Main Street (both 2010), before appearing in two mainstream comedies directed by Will Gluck: Easy A (2010), as the mother of a troubled high school student (Emma Stone), and as the mother of an executive recruiter (Mila Kunis) in Friends with Benefits (2011). She also appeared in the romantic drama One Day (2011) as the mother of a college student in Scotland (portrayed by Jim Sturgess), and guest-starred on two episodes of the comedy series Parks and Recreation. In 2013, she had a supporting role in the thriller The East (2013) as the leader of a private intelligence firm.
In 2014, Clarkson returned to Broadway portraying Madge Kendal opposite Bradley Cooper in a production of The Elephant Man, which earned her a Tony Award nomination for Best Featured Actress in a Play. The same year, she starred opposite Ben Kingsley in the comedy-drama film Learning to Drive, portraying Wendy, a depressed middle-aged New York book critic learning to drive from a Sikh man. John Patterson of The Guardian praised her performance, writing: "Clarkson gives us every ounce of Wendy’s desperation and self-loathing, and every shade of them as well. She has always been a miraculous performer." The same year, she appeared as villain Ava Paige in the major box-office hit The Maze Runner, a dystopian film based on the 2009 young adult novel. She subsequently reprised the role in both sequels: Maze Runner: The Scorch Trials (2015), and Maze Runner: The Death Cure (2018).
Clarkson starred in the ensemble drama The Party in 2017, directed by Sally Potter, for which she won a British Independent Film Award for Best Supporting Actress. The same year, she co-starred with Emily Mortimer and Bill Nighy in The Bookshop, a period drama set in 1959 Suffolk involving two women vying to acquire a building for their own respective businesses. She also guest-starred on the fifth and sixth seasons (2017–2018) of the Netflix political drama series House of Cards, portraying Jane Davis, a United States Department of Commerce official.
She subsequently starred in the science fiction film Jonathan, involving two brothers who alternately share a single body, and the psychological horror film Delirium, which was released directly-to-DVD. Clarkson also starred opposite Amy Adams in the psychological drama miniseries Sharp Objects (2018), portraying the wealthy mother of an alcoholic reporter (Adams) investigating a murder in their Missouri town. For her performance in the series, Clarkson won a Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film.
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.
Clarkson resides in New York City. In 2007, she purchased a loft in Greenwich Village for $1.5 million. She listed this loft property for $2.5 million in November 2018. She has never married and has no children. Interviewed in 2016, she said, "I've never wanted to marry, I've never wanted children – I was born without that gene."