Patricia Clarkson as Eugenia in IFC's new film, 'Monica,' in which she plays a dying woman who is reunited with her adult transgender daughter.


Patricia Clarkson is no stranger to controversial roles.

"Monica," the newest film starring the native New Orleanian Emmy and Golden Globe award winner, is about the brutal journey of a mother dying of brain cancer and her reacquaintance with her transgender daughter during the final months of her life.

Clarkson, 63, said she's always had tremendous respect for director Andrea Pallaoro. Clarkson read the script in one sitting and was quick to say yes.

“I wasn’t quite sure how I could play this character with so few words and very little physicality,” Clarkson said. “What I did know was that it was very important to let a beautiful transgender actress (Trace Lysette, who plays Monica) lead a film. So, there was never any question in my mind about participating.”

Once upon a time, not so long ago in Hollywood, transgender roles were played by cisgender actors, whose gender identity aligned with the gender they were assigned at birth.

Starring roles in such notable films as “Boys Don’t Cry” and “The World According to Garp” were played by award-winning cisgender actors Hillary Swank and John Lithgow.

As Clarkson notes, Hollywood is evolving, although it has a ways to go.

A critical time

At a time when legislators across the country are stripping the transgender community of its rights to everything from bathrooms to hormone therapy, the film comes at a critical time.

“We are persecuting our own people, and we need to be better Americans,” Clarkson said. “Being anti-trans is just wrong. If that’s what you use to win elections, shame on you! We, as Americans, should be celebrating when people become their best and most authentic selves, not persecuting them.”

Throughout the film, there is subtle evidence of the pain and rejection Monica has been through, starting with her family, but certainly not ending there.

She is rebuffed by lovers, has issues with online dating, and even finds herself looking for quick gratification from a stranger in the back of his truck as she heads from California to the Midwest to reunite with her long-lost mother.

Love of family

Clarkson does a masterful job of portraying Eugenia, a determined woman who doesn’t want help or hospice, and is determined to keep her independence throughout her descent into declining frailty.

The love of her family and of her beloved caretaker get her through the worst of it, and eventually the love of her daughter,  despite words of reconciliation never being spoken.

The movie is shot on film, as opposed to the digital video that has become commonplace in Hollywood.

It gives the film an up-close-and-personal look into the lives of this family, without viewers feeling intrusive.

Clarkson gives much of the credit for the look of the film to cinematographer Katelin Arizmendi.

The cast also includes Adriana Barraza and Joshua Close. The character not listed on any IMDB page of cast members is Clarkson's steadfast dog, played by her real-life dog Izzy, short for Isadora Duncan.

Izzy at the Chateau Marmont

“Andrea was about to hire a Hollywood stunt dog for the film, until he spent time with Izzy at the Chateau Marmont in Hollywood where we would meet prior to the film’s shooting,” Clarkson said. “She would roam the hotel ... and the director fell in love with her."

Izzy died just a couple of months after the film wrapped, after battling an autoimmune disease, Clarkson said. 

Not one to slow down, Clarkson has several projects in the works. She’ll soon be seen in “Lilly,” playing Lilly Ledbetter, the woman who took her case of employment discrimination by the Goodyear Tire & Rubber Co. all the way to the U.S Supreme Court.

And, she’ll be seen as the lead in “Gray,” a spy show where she plays the ultimate femme fatale.

“I mean, let’s go baby!,” exclaimed Clarkson. “I end up strangling a man while topless in this show. It’s a great film about a kickass lady.”

Next year, she is slated to play the lead in “A Long Day’s Journey Into Night” along with Brian Cox of “Succession,” in London’s West End.

Over-50s are 'hot'

“Ladies over 50 and 60 are hot right now,” said Clarkson. “Look at who won the awards at the last awards ceremonies —Michelle Yeoh, Jamie Lee Curtis and Jennifer Coolidge.”

With a third of the U.S. population now over 50, begging for stories that reflect their interests, Clarkson is certainly on to something.

The award-winning actress will be at The Prytania Theatres at Canal Place this Saturday, after the 7 p.m. screening of “Monica,” for a Q&A with moderator and local resident actor  Bryan Batt.

Tickets are on sale now.

Leslie Cardé can be reached at