“You know, I fell so madly in love with the short story in The New Yorker,” Patricia Clarkson told Hamptons.com about her latest film “Learning to Drive” when we sat down with her during the Hamptons International Film Festival (HIFF). “This was almost 10 years ago I read this great short story by Katha Pollit. I fell in love. I thought it was so delicately funny, and honest, and witty, like really witty and unusual.”
After an eight year struggle, a slightly tweaked adaptation written by Sarah Kernochan has finally made its way to the big screen. The film debuted during the Toronto Film Festival and Clarkson was at HIFF to support the US premiere. “Toronto was madness, but it was also a baptism by fire for us,” noted the actress. “Toronto is so massive and that’s why it’s so beautiful being in the Hamptons because the Hamptons is lovely, and it’s small, but it’s got great people. It’s got real people. Real critics are here. Real cinephiles are here. Real filmgoers are here. But it’s just on such a much quieter, nicer level.”
So after several years and multiple setbacks, what made Clarkson hold on to the hope that the film would someday see the light of day? “I thought the dialogue was just funny and great and that’s rare. So I just didn’t give up.”
During “Learning to Drive,” Clarkson’s character, Wendy Shields, hits a unique bump in the road as she struggles to reclaim her independence in New York City after her husband of twenty years walks out on her. Shields, who never learned to drive, is forever changed during a brief encounter with Darwan (Ben Kingsley), a driving instructor and part-time cab driver on the brink of an arranged marriage.
“It’s not about a women finding herself, which is what I’m tired of seeing,” said Clarkson about the film. “I don’t want to play anymore 50 year old women that find themselves. We all know who we are when we’re 50.”
She was drawn to the unlikely relationship between her character and Darwan. “I just thought it was a beautiful story between these two kind of disparate people. These two people who are quite the ying and the yang, the hot and the cold, and somehow they come together in this beautiful chaste way.”
For Clarkson, Wendy was not only relatable for herself, but she believes for many. “I loved that she was funny as hell and I thought in the end very real, very true. I know women just like her. I am like her in some ways. It’s a wonderful part.”
The actress sought out her “Elegy” costar Sir Ben Kinglsey to take on the role of Darwin. “Once we could smell the finish line, we reached out to Sir Ben and we held our breath that he would say ‘Yes. I see this. I get this. I can do this,'” noted Clarkson. “Yes, we were lucky enough; the angels smiled on us and let Sir Ben be available, let Sir Ben love the part, and want to do it.”
When reflecting back on her career, Clarkson believes the present moment is definitely a highlight. “I think right now, the fact that I got ‘Learning to Drive’ made and I’m coming back to Broadway, it doesn’t get any better.” It was the lengthy journey which made the end result bittersweet for the actress. “Eight years is a long time and a lot of phone calls. But I didn’t give up. I am most proud of Dana Friedman and myself.”
Next up, Clarkson is returning to her Broadway roots as Mrs. Kendal in “The Elephant Man” with Bradley Cooper and Alessandro Nivola. “It’s such a moment in your life to be on stage in New York City. It’s tough, but it’s beautiful and powerful.” She’s thrilled to revisit what she considers her home base, theater. “It’s just a once in a lifetime part for someone to play especially opposite someone as talented as Bradley [Cooper] and Alessandro Nivola.”
Set to open on Friday, November 7th, Clarkson is basking in the glory of her latest role and cast members. “They’re divine, so I’m the luckiest girl in town. I’m not kidding you.”
For more information about the Hamptons International Film Festival, visit hamptonsfilmfest.org.