Patricia Arquette talks acting, careers and the golden age of television
The Act is the chilling true story of Gypsy Blanchard (Joey King) and mother Dee Dee (Patricia Arquette). The latter would be diagnosed with Munchausen Syndrome By Proxy (where a parent harms their child in order to care for them). To say much more will spoil a very special TV series, so we grilled Patricia Arquette on some more pressing issues…
The Act is all the more remarkable when you realise it’s a true story…
I’d known about Munchhausen By Proxy, but didn’t know about this specific case. I told my kids and they were, like, “No,
please don’t play that lady” because they knew the story. They were actually terrified. The simple idea I’d play this part scared them.
Was Dee Dee Blanchard a character you brought home?
No way. I actually did the opposite: go for a bike ride, or a nice dinner with friends. Maybe go out with Joey to an arcade. I’d do different things and be more spontaneous. My character in Escape at Dannemora (Tilly), with her low-grade depression, shooting in prisons, being up north where it was cold… that kind of depression stuck with me longer.
We had sympathy for Tilly…
It was an amazing project to work on, and I also had feelings for Tilly. So did Ben Stiller [the director]. She has different mechanisms to get her needs met than Dee Dee.
How wonderful is it as an artist, we can talk about such a one-two in your recent repertoire?
At 51 to be getting these parts, it’s pretty crazy. Character work and being able to play these very complicated people, I’m lucky I’m at this age at a time where plenty of people are trying to make a lot of content for a lot of channels. There used to be 1,000 channels and no content and I’d be like, “Guys, people are going to turn off their cable if you don’t start making something.”
It’s a good time to be in Hollywood and our industry. The film business was drying up for a long time.
It’s a golden age of television, isn’t it?
It is. As a viewer and a person who loves art, watching a lot of the demise of the film business – all those mega films, small films drying up, people not going to the movie theatres, people staying at home, pirating – I was worried about the industry. The quality in TV has brought things up a notch.
Your upbringing sounds wonderful: a Jewish mother and a dad who was a convert to Judaism…
Yeah, dad was supposed to convert to Judaism, but he got lost, ended up at a mosque and converted to Islam instead. He went home to tell my mum and she was like, “Only you.” He was Muslim for many, many years, went to Mecca and did Ramadan every year.
We always talked about religion in our household, comparative religion, different beliefs and traditions. We had many fights about many things, but religion was never a source of them.
What has played the key role in you now being at a point in your profession where you’re banging out career best stuff?
To start as an ingénue, then have the love affair stories, and from being “the girl” to mums, and Medium, Boyhood and now this moment. There were strategic things I did along the way: I started working in TV before people were working in TV. I saw things were happening in film that were not good. Film was going away. There was a snotty quality towards television, which I didn’t agree with.
Why can’t we do good acting on TV? So I migrated and saw TV had an important future. When I got Escape at Dannemora, a lot of business people said, “You can’t gain weight and look like her.” I said, “I’m going to do this and have the conversation about who’s allowed to be sexual and what body type.” Hey, here’s this lady who is unapologetically sexual. Shouldn’t she have space to feel love and feel alive?
Let’s have that conversation. I want to be an actor and don’t want to be stuck in all these boxes. I feel so limited by them. So there were strategic things I did along the way that were pushing back on industry standards and ways of doing business and thinking about your career that I wasn’t willing to agree to.
Finally, we can’t let you go without talking about your appearance in Toy Story 4…
And I also have a mother comedy coming out called Motherhood. It’s a tiny part in Toy Story 4. I was very excited to be involved in an animated franchise; my grandfather worked with [legendary voice artist] Mel Blanc, and my dad had been a voice on Johnny Quest, so I’d always wanted to break into that.
I’m also writing a book and directing a film, so I’ve got a lot of little fires burning all over the place.
You have the world by the tail!
That’s right. That tiger. I have a little bowl of milk out for it…