The Emmy and Golden Globe winner is creating a scholarship for Fordham Theatre students, giving back to the university that had a formative influence on her acting career.

At 19, Patricia Clarkson made a decision that changed everything for her. Attending Louisiana State University, near her hometown of New Orleans, she was missing the acting she had done in high school and feeling uncertain about her direction. Then she realized the change she needed: “New York was calling,” she said, “and I just had to go.”

She transferred to Fordham as a junior and flourished. After graduating summa cum laude with a degree in theatre, she earned an M.F.A. from the Yale School of Drama and went on to pursue a variety of complex roles on stage and screen, earning acclaim and awards. These include three Emmys, two of them for her performance in the HBO drama series Six Feet Under, and a 2019 Golden Globe for her work in another HBO series, Sharp Objects. Her other accolades include a 2003 Oscar nomination for her performance in Pieces of April and a best-actress Tony nomination in 2015 for her role in The Elephant Man.

Clarkson has spoken out on many social issues, including LGBTQ+ rights, and in the movie Monica, released last May, she plays an ailing woman being cared for by the transgender daughter she had expelled from her home years before. In the upcoming film Lilly, she portrays equal-pay activist Lilly Ledbetter—whom she recently described to The Hollywood Reporter as “one of my heroes.”

Patricia Clarkson
Photo by Elisabeth Caren

She has regularly returned to Fordham to meet with students in the theatre program. Now, she’s giving them a new form of support—one that reflects her own experience as a student.

Why did creating a scholarship appeal to you?
My heart is always with Fordham. I loved this school. I am always thankful for my beginnings, and I think it’s why I am successful. I know it’s a struggle to be an actor, and I thought, “Well, I’m going to give someone just a little bit of extra help because that’s what I needed when I was there.” With just a little bit more money, it would’ve been easier for me. I’m thrilled and excited to be doing this. I’m proud of my alma mater, and I’m proud to help out in the little way I can.

What was your transition to Fordham like?
I was welcomed with open arms. I had no idea what I was walking into, and I walked into heaven, if you know what I mean, at Fordham. I arrived at this great theatre department and quickly had this extraordinary mentor in [acting professor]Joe Jezewski, and he took me under his wing. He just cared—he said, “You have a gift, Patti, don’t waste it. Let’s really work on it.” He’s the reason I got into the Yale School of Drama. Everyone said, “Oh, you have to have connections to get into Yale,” and Joe was like, “That’s crazy. We’re going to work hard on your auditions. You’re going to get into Yale.” I had this incredible support system, along with my incredible parents who were sacrificing so very much for me to be there. Fordham is conducive to helping people—I think it’s just conducive to learning, and to making you feel at home and making everyone welcome, which is very Jesuit.

Which of your movie roles has had the greatest impact on you?
That would be hard to say because every film you do, every part you play, it still remains with you. I shot Monica almost two and a half years ago, and it’s all still with me.

How does that work?
As actors, we have to like our character and relate to them. Otherwise, you’re just going to be playing [the part], not living it. It has to be a part of you in some way. When I was at Fordham, I started to realize I had a long way to go—acting wasn’t creating, acting was being. And I play, at times, characters that are quite distant from me. In Monica, I’m a woman in probably the last month of life, and I’m quite robbed of speech and movement, often the two biggest assets you can have as an actor. That’s what is exciting about acting—suddenly you’re going to be challenged to find other ways to portray a character. It’s a beautiful film, and I’m proud and thrilled to be a part of it.

With your role in the movie She Said, you helped tell the origin story of the #MeToo movement. Is it having a sustained impact?
Well, it was vital to our industry, a much-needed wake-up call. Women really have risen with the #MeToo movement. Not only are we safer, and not only is our pay better, predatory behavior is no longer accepted. We still have a ways to go, especially behind the camera. And we need more female voices, and we need many more people of color to rise in our business. But we’re making advancements, and that’s what is crucial.

Is there a type of character you haven’t portrayed yet, that you would like to?
Oh God, I played everything, no! I just want a great script and a great director. That’s really all I’m looking for right now.

See related Fordham News article on Patricia Clarkson’s scholarship gift.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. Chris Gosier is the director of special projects in Fordham’s marketing and communications division and a frequent contributor to Fordham Magazine.

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Chris Gosier is a senior editor in the marketing and communications department and associate editor of FORDHAM magazine. He can be reached at (646) 312-8267 or gosier@fordham.edu.