Looking smart and sophisticated in a leopard-print jacket, Emmy- and Golden Globe-winner Mary-Louise Parker captivated the crowd of 200 who gathered at the JW Marriott on March 4 to see her honored as Steppenwolf Theatre’s Women in the Arts honoree for 2013. After the luncheon, Parker chatted with Michigan Avenue magazine about Chicago theater, life after Weeds, and her personal journey as a working actor.
You’re no stranger to receiving awards for your acting, and you’ve talked about how much Steppenwolf means to you. What is different about this award and makes it special?
MARY-LOUISE PARKER: To me there’s nothing higher than Steppenwolf. I only ever wanted to be a theater actor, and that’s what I feel like I am, in my heart. When I think of great theater I think of like four theater companies and Steppenwolf is one. It just represents everything I think about when I think of acting and theater.
Weeds was obviously such a big part of your life for eight seasons. Was that an emotional ending?
MLP: Oh my god, we just were all crying. In fact I made a little video of footage of all of us in the last few weeks—and half of it is just us crying—that I gave to Hunter [Parrish] and to [Weeds writer] Jenji [Kohan]. But yeah, there was a lot of crying.
You’ve done so much as an actor and yet you haven’t necessarily been labeled as a film actor or a stage actor or a TV actor—how do you feel like you’ve been able to balance the different genres?
MLP: I kind of feel like I’m on a journey as an actor right now. I’ll do the best job at the roles that I’m offered; I’m not a personality or a movie star or whatever. It’s kind of how I see myself.
What drives you to take a role?
MLP: Sometimes it’s just a visceral response to the script. That’s usually when things work out best. And sometimes it’s one factor that’s really heavy, like there was a TV movie [The Simple Life of Noah Dearborn, 2005] that I did. It was not an astonishingly well-penned script but it was Sidney Poitier…it was a sweet script. But it wasn’t a part that was something I hadn’t really explored—it’s just that I wanted to work with him because he and John Malkovich are two of my favorite actors.
Speaking of John Malkovich, Red 2 is coming out. Red was such a smart, funny, action-packed caper—it was entertaining and really well done. What was it like to film?
MLP: They were such different films because they had two different directors…and they were very different experiences. I went on to do another movie, R.I.P.D., with the director of the first one, Robert Schwentke, which is what we did after. But I would say the three of us—me, John, and Bruce—are a very unlikely sort of odd little pairing like, triptych, that’s sort of really wrong. I don’t know why and we shouldn’t, but we just get along really well. The three of us are just fun together.
What are some other actors working today that you really admire?
MLP: I like Robin Wright a whole lot. She has real integrity, and when you watch her you never feel like she’s asking you to fall in love with her. I feel like she’s being true to the character in a way that you can really relate to.