Sure, she may not be a household name, and while she does have plenty of fine supporting roles on her resume, Molly Parker has managed to carve out a career as a primarily lead actress, and an incredible one at that. Sadly, Parker has never really gotten the credit she deserves… until now.
Perhaps the first film example that proves Parker not only has chops, isn’t afraid to take chances with lurid subject matter and is also capable of instilling respectable human qualities into flawed characters is the movie that put her on the map. Parker teamed with director Lynne Stopkewich for the film Kissed, a stark tale about a young woman’s complete obsession with death that eventually evolves into necrophilia. Obviously, this is material that’s extremely delicate to say the least and doesn’t lend itself to positive feelings for viewers. However, Parker handles the role with immense sensitivity, and despite the alternative and distasteful lifestyle of someone who engages in such an act, viewers may be amazed by the amount of empathy and understanding they have for the character.
Parker and Stopkewich struck up a friendship during the making of Kissed, so Stopkewich didn’t have any problem using Parker again a couple of years later for Suspicious River. This tragic film called for Parker to take another risk, as a bored and lonely motel receptionist who’s so numb to her own mental and emotional anguish that she begins to prostitute herself to the guests in the motel with the hope that she’ll either begin to feel something, or that the money she earns from such indiscretions will help her in achieving some strange sense of self-worth. Despite being married, Parker continues down a path of grandiose self-destruction until she finds herself in a dire predicament that she may not be able to extricate herself from. Parker’s portrayal of the ill-fated makeshift hooker is so remarkably nuanced that she can vividly convey a variety of emotions with a simple expression. The fact that Parker’s dialogue in the film is somewhat minimal, especially for a lead actress, and that she needs an abundance of body language and facial expressions to make the performance credible is even more impressive.
Continuing the trend of sordid sexual exploration, Parker returns for another salacious and risqué role in director Wayne Wang’s The Center of the World. She stars opposite Peter Sarsgaard as an intelligent, resolute stripper who gives in to Sarsgaard’s request to join him for a three-day getaway where she’ll provide sexual favors in exchange for ten thousand dollars. Of course, Parker doesn’t consider herself a prostitute and Sarsgaard will have to adhere to a strict set of rules. This initially leads to plenty of awkward moments as the pair engages in a bizarre power struggle of negotiation even as they begin to develop feelings for one another. The film speaks volumes about the state of sex and loneliness among people who have become more and more disconnected from each other in the computer age. It also goes beyond sex and gets into what the characters really want and how they only want to experience success on their own terms. While some detractors critique the film for not going deep enough, it certainly isn’t afraid to tackle uncomfortable issues, and Parker handles every emotion brilliantly.
However, Parker isn’t just a one-trick pony. Anyone who believes she’s only capable of playing a disturbed sexpot doesn’t need to look any further than the performance she puts on as Alma Garret, a prim and proper widow who comes to reside in a corrupt post-Civil War South Dakota territory in HBO’s too-short-lived Deadwood, to disprove that theory. As a wealthy socialite, Parker deftly portrays all the decorum present in a well-mannered lady from the 1870s. Of course, she gets right back into the intrepid sexual arena as a hesitant housewife about to enter into the swinging lifestyle in 1970s Chicago for the even-shorter-lived (but very well done) dramatic CBS series, Swingtown. Molly is again great in an appropriately restrained performance as a woman unsure of her new choices. Fans can even see the incredible actress in a small role in the current adaptation of Cormac McCarthy’s post-apocalyptic, Pulitzer-Prize-winning novel, The Road. It seems that no matter what the part may be, Molly Parker handles them all with immense talent, aplomb and sensitivity.