Parker Posey is really pleased to meet you. Yes, you. No, really.
NEW YORK — Parker Posey is deep into turban territory. Turbanettes, really. Headscarves. She’ll say they’re for being witchy, but they also keep her head from exploding, or from floating away like a Thai lantern. Sometimes she feels as if that’s going to happen. It’s a side effect of swinging between exhilaration and despair, of feeling out of step, out of place, out of time.
She has a Sharpie in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her book party has spilled from a small banquet room onto the fifth-floor terrace of a private literary club in Manhattan. The turbanette is red tonight, a silent siren against the noisy gray dusk and brown monoliths of midtown. She’s hugging and posing and signing copies of her new memoir. Wine glasses shatter on the stone, to applause.
A couple of hours earlier, she taped the “The Tonight Show” with her old pal Jimmy Fallon. “We used to go dancing at Don Hill’s,” he reminisced to Posey, who is now 23 years removed from “Party Girl,” the movie that made the post-grunge generation want to move to New York and rave ’til dawn.
“Back when you could dance like no one’s watching,” she said. “Because they weren’t!”
The undertow of nostalgia has Gen X by the ankles. The 21st century is an adult; the ’90s are an entire childhood behind us. Everyone’s turning 50. And after years of elevating other people’s material, starting as the wry muse of indie cinema, Posey is “at a place in her life when it was time to create a whole world of her own,” says her friend Jack Ferver, a director and choreographer. That world is this memoir they’re celebrating.
Now she needs to give a toast in front of a few dozen friends: old SUNY Purchase classmates, publishing folk, a small number of boldfaced names, plus the artists, dancers, writers, musicians, weirdos and queerdos who really get her. She stands on a chair in a corner of the crimson-walled room. This will be the acceptance speech she’s never had to give.
She collects kindred spirits. She turns strangers into friends and friends into mothers, therapists, siblings, twins.
It’s impossible for me to interview Posey because she wants to connect with me instead. She wants to connect with everyone.
“People come up, and they go, like, ‘I’m sorry, I’m sure people do this to you all the time: Can I take your picture?’ And I say, ‘Introduce yourself! What’s your name? I don’t really feel like taking a picture right now, but let’s talk!’”
At age 9, she vowed to be a movie star, but a movie star doesn’t live here. Your Auntie Mame does. Long gone are her Chelsea days — those wild Tuesdays at B Bar on the Bowery and those A-list parties thrown by Interview magazine — so she makes pottery while listening to Brian Eno. She lives on a floor of a West Village brownstone, up a flight of stairs, with access to the roof, where she’s laid a big square of AstroTurf and called it gardening.
At home, there is no visible evidence of her career. If she were a careerist instead of an artist, she would’ve taken that audition with Keanu Reeves more seriously, instead of grabbing a paper plate to use as the steering wheel of a speeding bus. She would have not passed on the part in “Girl, Interrupted” that won Angelina Jolie an Oscar (“Who cares about a bunch of depressed white girls in the ’60s?”). She dodged a meeting about one of the Jason Bourne movies because “I simply wasn’t prepared to be scared in a car for a few months.”
If she were a careerist, she would not have written a memoir titled “You’re on an Airplane” that consists of digressions and interjections addressed to an imaginary seatmate. At Sundance in 1995, they called her the first postmodern actress, whatever that means, so maybe she’s written the first post-postmodern celebrity memoir.
“I had time,” she says, lying stomach-down on her tan leather couch, chin in hands. “I was just walking around being a depressive and being scared. And not feeling like I had a place.”
I am also lying down, on my back, because she’s been asking me questions, too. It is raining outside.
“I wasn’t fitting into this culture,” she says. In the book, she refers to a “paradigm shift,” but maybe that is just the feeling of growing older. The culture starts to feel alien. We prefer the way it used to be, when we were young and “it.”
“It’s so different now,” she says. “My experience is nostalgic. The book is a nostalgic way of looking at it. Which I realized while I was writing. Most people — I think there’s — I mean some people — ” She stops herself on the edge of a fake sound bite. “What do I know. You know? I don’t know. This is why doing press — I don’t know these things. Why even ... ”
I try to intercede but end up floundering on her behalf. “Well,” I offer, “no one knows anything. Because ... it’s ... like ...”
“Would you like a glass of cold red?” she says. She removes a bottle from the fridge and dons an accent to match the turbanette. “Just a wee bit, dahling.”
We talk about being raised Catholic. We talk about death. We talk about what to say during a toast at a book party. We stare out the back of her apartment at the “Rear Window” vista and wonder why there’s a mannequin arm positioned on a sill across the way. We talk about things that are amusing in person but stupid the moment you type them into a celebrity profile. We do not talk about “The House of Yes,” the zenith of her ’90s cool-dom, or the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, which everyone always wants to talk about.
Instead, we listen to “evening crickets” on one of her calming apps. On a digital art installation on the wall of her kitchen, we watch animated video of an iPhone burning.
It’s the pictures that got smaller, she writes in the book. Too small. Palm-sized. Wristwatch-sized. In the ’90s, on an independent set, you had to be careful about how many feet of film you had left. There was something precious about that.
Twenty years ago, Nora Ephron cast her in her first big Hollywood movie, in a romantic comedy with Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and Posey stole her scenes because she was stronger than the genre. Shortly before her death in 2012, Ephron emailed Posey. “No one has a career like yours,” she wrote. Feeling insecure, she wrote, is part of having an unconventional life. Posey memorized that email. It keeps her company.
“It seems like everyone is feeling lonely, in some way — left out,” Posey writes on the otherwise cheerful first page of the memoir. The book’s subtitle is “a self-mythologizing memoir,” but really it is a spiritual text about wonder, melancholy and fame, and how being a movie star is “either too boring or too much work.” It’s also about the desire to connect, even with a stranger on an airplane, and tell stories.
For every anecdote about celebrity — flipping over in a hammock at one of Charlie Sheen’s parties in L.A. — there are three about her real friends, her beloved family, the Spackle that holds life together, the questions that displace her. “Do you think that in another time, people enjoyed each other more?” she writes. When did we forget “that so much of everything is distraction, or a conspiracy, to keep us separate or guarded and locked up inside?”
It’s dinnertime, so she boils rice for her poodle mutt, Gracie, who is 14 and senile and a Libra.
I ask what kind of rice, as if this matters.
“Carolina,” Posey says, turning the bag. “Enriched! Write that down, Dan.”
And suddenly this is just one more celebrity profile.
I try to commiserate by saying that I dislike celebrity profiles because they’re formulaic. “I don’t think any celebrity profile is about the celebrity,” I say. “I think it’s about the meaning of life through the prism of that person.”
“Well,” she says, holding an American Spirit near the open kitchen window, toward the rain, “that says more about you.”
So we start talking about musical theater. She pulls up YouTube on her iPad and, for a while, we watch Kim Stanley in the 1966 production of “Three Sisters,” marveling at the acting. “It’s so natural,” she says. About 7 o’clock I get the sense I could have another glass of cold red and keep talking, but I tell her I’m going to leave.
“I loved meeting you,” she says, but I don’t really hear because I’ve put my guard back up. We’re just writer and subject, separated by scrutiny.
She repeats it slower, softer, with a Chekhovian tremor: “I loved meeting you.”