Mary-Louise Parker has won a Tony, Emmy, and two Golden Globes since she started acting professionally three decades ago, but she's a writer at heart. Her book Dear Mr. You, in which she writes letters to the men in her life — both real and imagined — was published in 2015 to widespread acclaim and New York Times best-seller status. In this collection of essays, she addresses a former teacher to whom her "use of sexuality [was] offensive"; the unfortunate cabdriver who picked her up when she was seven months pregnant, having just learned her partner had left her; and the dying man she met at a party with whom she had a brief but unforgettable friendship.
We met near her house in Brooklyn, but the café was crowded so we grabbed coffee and retired to her place, an art-filled and airy house that she shares with her two children. Along the way, we talked about writing and music (we were walking along Dylan's Montague Street, after all) and the Hillary Clinton fund-raiser she had attended the night before. It was easy to forget that I had watched her for years in The West Wing and Weeds, and in Angels in America, and that I had first seen her way back in 1991 in the movies Grand Canyon and Fried Green Tomatoes.
Now, as she returns to Broadway for the first time in three years, costarring in the two-character play Heisenberg, an unusual and ambiguous love story — a nod to the titular physicist's uncertainty principle — this lifelong writers' groupie has a literary following of her own. Inside her bedroom, with a boudoir draped in female nude photographs, we spoke about aiming for kindness in a mean-spirited world, the random people who find their way into our hearts, and all that's contained in the last word.
Leigh Flayton: What's different since your book came out?
Mary-Louise Parker: I feel a bit more like myself. I feel I have a place in the theater. I feel connections to people there, and if I'm sitting at a table of theater people, I feel very comfortable. I don't feel that way necessarily in Hollywood. I feel like a bit of an outsider; not in a horrible way, not in a painful way. I just feel a bit apart, and not entirely comfortable. I always felt very comfortable around writers and very excited to just be able to have a conversation. Like when I first met Mark Strand or James Galvin or Elvis [Costello]. That's exciting to me, and I think it's always who I was.
LF: You exhibit so much kindness to your subjects, and to yourself as well. There's a lot of forgiveness. In "Dear Movement Teacher," your teacher made no secret of his disdain for you, but you reconciled and wrote, "It would have been so sad if I had spent all those years and never reintroduced myself. I would have missed out on all of your special wisdom, not to mention the thrill of the view up there on the high road."
M-LP: He really gave me that by letting me change his mind about me. He could've stayed closed. That door could've stayed shut. It's a lesson that I have had to learn 75,000 times subsequently. Would that I could have only learned it that one time! I wanted to write these little tributes, and I wanted them to be positive, and I wanted them to be about gratitude, and I didn't want there to be indictments. They're little valentines. They're just a bunch of thank-you notes, really.