Patricia Clarkson got a good taste of Canadian weather while filming October Gale during a Georgian Bay spring.
“The ice just wouldn’t melt,” Clarkson says over the phone from her
New York City apartment, “but [director Ruba Nadda] said, OK, we just
have to start shooting, and we’ll keep our fingers crossed that by the
time we actually have to get into the water, the ice is melted. About
two weeks into shooting, it did! We were like buh-bye, ice!”
The cast and crew’s real-life struggle with the elements added a fitting atmosphere to October Gale‘s
behind-the-scenes production. The film, which co-stars Scott Speedman
and Tim Roth, focuses on widow Helen Matthews (Clarkson), who travels to
her family cottage for the first time since the death of her husband,
who was lost on the water during a powerful October storm.
“Having to genuinely fight the elements every day I think gave the
film a vibrancy, another layer of truth,” Clarkson says. “We were really
battling unexpected elements. But we had these beautiful storms, and
our breath, when it should have been warmer, and the muck and the mud
and we just had to use it, everything that land and air threw at us.”
“But it isn’t at the core a film about grief,” Clarkson continues.
“It’s, where do you go after catastrophic loss, and who becomes your
In October Gale, Clarkson’s character turns to a stranger,
played by Speedman, as an unlikely source of strength, comfort and
safety. In real life, Clarkson relished the opportunity to act opposite
the Canadian star — the film’s bottom half is, largely, a dialogue
between the two. “He’s very emotionally available,” she says. “He has
all the goods right at his fingertips — a beautiful person, internally
October Gale is the third collaboration between Clarkson and the Canadian-born director Nadda: she also starred in the 2010 film Cairo Time. The
55-year-old actor says their partnership is no coincidence: “She’s a
younger woman, but I’m Ruba 10 years later,” she laughs.
“Sometimes in this business, it’s fate, it’s kismet, and you meet
someone and you realize, oh, I want to work with this person the rest of
my life,” Clarkson says of Nadda. “I’m just lucky. Ruba’s now more
family. But we really can put all of that aside and work. We work in
similar ways, We have the same goals, the same dreams.”
One of those goals, Clarkson says, is producing visual media in which
women are given strong, central roles. She echoes the all-too-common
refrain that, as a woman of a certain age, good roles can become fewer
and further between. “We so often have to play these secondary
characters,” she says, “and sometimes they’re delicious and fabulous.
But sometimes we want the weight of an entire project on our shoulders.
If we fail, so be it. I want the opportunity to give from A to Z, a
leading part. It’s a stretch. Every muscle in your body has been used
when you’re done.”
On the topic of age, though, Clarkson admits that having a
half-lifetime of experience behind her can help add weight to meatier
roles like the one she plays in October Gale. “At my age,
you’ve suffered tremendous loss,” Clarkson says. “I’ve never suffered
this exact loss — the loss of a beautiful marriage, a good marriage. But
I know what that is, to the best of my ability.”
Nadda and Clarkson will next team up on the HBO miniseries Elisabeth,
which Clarkson cites as another stellar role for the 42-year-old.
“But we do have roles for women my age in TV, in plentiful fashion,” she
says. “I don’t want us to forget that there’s another big medium.”
“I was just in Toronto with two leading parts,” she continues, referencing both October Gale, which premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2014, and Learning to Drive,
which also screened there. “I do think that there are women out there,
and men, who are still interested in the stories of middle-aged women.”
October Gale opens March 27.