Victoria Clark is a gifted and fortunate actor. Unlike many of her colleagues who wait tables and do odd jobs between gigs, Clark is a tireless performer whose 3o plus year acting career has taken her from a debut in the 1985 Broadway production of Sunday in the Park with George to Mrs. Beane, a termagant passenger in 1997’s Tony Award winning Titanic. She also took home a Tony, Drama Desk, Outer Critics Circle, and Drama League Award for her sensitive portrayal of a woman coming to terms with her own regrets in The Light in the Piazza. Most recently, she waved a magic wand and made dreams come true as the Fairy Godmother in Broadway’s Rodgers + Hammerstein’s Cinderella.
Now, Clark is showing a completely different side of herself in the new independent movie Archaeology of a Woman, opening this Friday at Manhattan’s Village East Cinema. The film has already received critical acclaim and director Sharon Greytak has been touted by The Independent as one of “10 filmmakers to watch in 2014.” In it, Clark plays Kate, a rising culinary star in the New York City restaurant scene. Just when life seems to be falling into place, Kate’s world is altered by her mother, Margaret, a spitfire who is recently diagnosed with dementia. Oscar nominee and Golden Golden Globe winner Sally Kirkland portrays this complicated woman who is keeping secrets buried in the archives of her troubled mind.
Greytak had tapped Clark to be in her film and after meeting at a Greek restaurant and talking it through, both decided that it would be a good fit. Clark had a personal connection with the subject of Alzheimer’s and dementia, having had a grandmother who battled it through the last year of her life. “She lived with us growing up and she was my best friend” Clark recalls. “She lived to be 102 years old, but the last year of her life, she had a doll that she carried with her and talked to. On her 100th birthday, she went around the room, reciting the names and praying for all the grandchildren and great-grandchildren, so there was a stark contrast between that and what can happen when the machine starts to break down.” For Kate (her film character), life happens before she is ready. “It’s one of those times in life that we’ve all experienced where all the bad stuff happens at the same time.” And yet, in the film, Kate does find an outlet for life’s stressors by engaging in dalliances with a young police offer, played by the smoldering Karl Geary. (Audiences may remember him as the Irish doorman who is seduced by Samantha in an episode of TV’s Sex and the City). “I’m NEVER cast as the woman having sex,” Clark laughs. “But this is one of the reasons why I wanted to do the film. I get to show that side of myself and that character, which is really interesting. That is what (Kate) does to have fun.”
Clark’s portrayal of a chef, however, is more closely aligned with her personal interests. “My grandmother was a fantastic country cook and I spent many years in the kitchen helping to bake and also preparing cobblers, pies, and salads. My best friend and I were always trying new things. We made a whole pan of bakalava once. We even toasted the pistachios! Our families (in Dallas, Texas) were like ‘What is that?!!?” We said, “It’s an exotic Greek pastry!” But they didn’t like it, so we sat down and proceeded to eat the entire tray!” Admittedly, Clark confesses to being a less than tidy cook, whereas Kate is precise. “My fiance would prefer that I didn’t cook because I am so messy, but I love it. I like the process of it and find it so relaxing.”
Most actors prefer stage or screen but for Clark, she views each as uniquely different. “I am much more familiar with stage. To me, it’s like coming home. I’ve been doing it for so long and it’s a very familiar and comforting medium because you tell the complete story every day. There is something so nice about that. At 8:05, come hell or high water or whether you feel good or bad, we’re going to start telling a story and at 10:30, you take your costume off and there is something so lovely about the routine of that. Film appeals to a part of me that doesn’t like routine so much. You have to take things out of order and that takes a completely different skill set. Both are moment to moment and you have to stay focused, but in terms of the technique, both are very different, challenging, and fun. I hope that this experience will open up more doors for me to do more film work.”
Clark finds herself attracted to roles with strong women characters. “I like characters where an individual is just going about his or her life and then they have an opportunity to make a choice and do something that is impactful. I’m really drawn to those stories. I’m not gonna play a super model or an Olympic athlete. As an actor, I think about how I can make an impact in my chosen profession. How can I best use my time on this planet in a way that both enriches and elevates the human condition? I know that sounds a little ‘out there’, but I think about that all the time. Are the projects I’m choosing going to allow me to help anyone?”
Angela Lansbury, Emma Thompson, Michael J. Fox, Michael C. Hall, Mary Beth Peil, Cherry Jones are just a handful of Clark’s colleagues whom she has deep admiration. “All of them have dedicated their lives to the craft of acting and each of them have unbelievable senses of humor. I admire their strength. longevity, determination, and versatility. I’m really missing Joan Rivers today, too. (The interview occurred on Friday, September 5th, one day after Ms. Rivers passing). “She reinvented herself so many times and there will never be anyone even remotely like her. She was a true inspiration.” Working with Kirkland was also exciting for Clark. “She’s a fantastic person…lovely, funny, and brave on every level.”
When it comes to her craft and balancing her life, Clark offers some sage insights. “Life is full of ups and downs and you have to learn how to not be so in it. You have to distance yourself a little bit, change your perspective and say, ‘Ya know what…if you survive this, then you can survive the next horrible thing that happens to you. And then if you survive that, then you’ll survive the next horrible thing.’ It’s not that life is a series of horrible things, but our characters grow and that’s how learn. It’s no fun when you see them coming down the pike, but you get through. I’m not going to lie. It can be a challenge to balance all of these things, but a lot of it is just coming back to a sense of humor and breathing and asking what really needs to happen in the day. Sometimes life can be crunchy in the way the calendar falls. In this business, it is either feast or famine. People only want you when you can’t be there.”
Clark’s point was beautifully illustrated by life itself. Prior to our interview, she just learned that she was called to an audition and politely apologized for the brevity. Chances are good that this accomplished screen and stage stalwart will continue to dine at the feast of working actors.
Archaeology of a Woman opens this Friday, September 12th at Village East Cinema (189 2nd Ave. at 12th Street) For tickets and information, visit: http://www.villageeastcinema.com/ . To view the trailer, go to: http://bit.ly/1oldSDb .