Hard to believe it’s been 20 years since Parker Posey’s first Christopher Guest movie. Back when she was the “Queen of Indies,” the actress’ packed résumé included “Waiting for Guffman,” the first time since “This is Spinal Tap” that Guest made an entirely improvised mockumentary. Posey’s been in every Guest film since, including “Best in Show,” “A Mighty Wind,” “For Your Consideration” and the new “Mascots.” This time the subculture of sweet eccentrics in some silly competition are people who dress up in ridiculous costumes to pep up sporting events. This includes Posey’s Cindi, whose mascot is a robotic armadillo who dances to arty electronica.
Posey talks to us about creating her own character from near-scratch and still being scared to do Christopher Guest’s movies.
These are comedies, but since you’re basically coming up with everything yourself, it seems like you have to take these as seriously as you would a drama.
It’s a very intense and focused process. You have to essentially write your character’s dialogue. There’s a lot of collaboration with the person you’re acting with, which in my case was Susan Yeagley, who plays my half-sister. It’s a very intimate, caring, generous process. You really feel like you’re portraying the full life of someone.
Are you still nervous going in front of his cameras, to do whatever you’ve prepared?
You’re scared every time. You show up and you really feel like you’re flying without a net. But I compare it to playing music. You can feel a really good vibe on these movies. The humor, it really doesn’t make fun of anyone. It’s not mean. It comes from a kind place. In all his movies, we care. We care about these subcultures: the dog shows, small town theater, mascots.
You have to think through everything, including the costume and the character’s history. How did you put together Cindi?
Chris gave me the armadillo, and it was up to me to think why Cindi was right for it. I imagined that she studied dance in college. Then she finds the all-female basketball team at Amelia Earhart College for Women. She asks, “Is there a mascot here? I want to be one.” And it’s a nine-banded armadillo, which is very armored, almost metallic. That led to me thinking [her music would be] techno-electronica: Kraftwerk, Gary Numan, Laurie Anderson, all stuff from the ’70s and ’80s. I just imagined why she would maintain this desire, over 25 years, to get out on the basketball court and perform for not very many people, and still have this be important to her. Here, she has the chance to be recognized for something that’s important to her. She’s only left town once. It’s just a new world. It was a lot of prep, but I think you can tell. Audiences can tell there’s a particular level of investment and openness in Chris’ movies.
Guest has always been able to make these movies outside of Hollywood. But I worry about indies these days, since the budgets have been drained out of them. The market is drying up.
It’s been happening for a few years now. There's more money going into marketing than into material. There’s nothing you can do about it. You just have to change and be aware of that. And you know, I can speak for the actors who don’t get paid. If I can’t get paid, can I sell watches? Can I sell scarves? Actors need ad campaigns now. It’s changed.