Mary-Louise Parker has the odd role out in Summit Entertainment’s adaptation of the Warren Ellis/Cully Hamner DC Comics/Wildstorm comic “RED.” While everyone around her seems to be a trained killer, Parker’s Sarah is a sweet, mild-mannered government HR rep and lover of romance novels who is inadvertently drawn into the film’s dangerous world of intrigue. When the powers-that-be decide that retired government assassin Frank Moses (Bruce Willis) is too dangerous to be allowed to live, his first act is to spirit Sarah away from her home – some might say “kidnap her” – before agents take her out for her long-distance phone friendship with the former killer.
“She’s a small town, Midwestern girl, and I think she’s really positive and there’s not a whole lot of dark in there,” Parker said of Sarah during the press junket for “RED” in New York City. “She’s a really bright, positive person, she reads romance novels and she kind of imagines herself “in” one of them. So when all of this happens, I think to her it’s a dream come true. Even the horrible parts of it, like getting her mouth duct taped, there’s some element to that that’s thrilling and wonderful.”
Parker, who as the star of the Showtime series “Weeds” is no stranger to action and violence, didn’t feel that she was stretching herself in signing up for “RED’s” “fish out of water” role. “I don’t even want to be in the same room with [a gun],” she said of the movie’s more action-oriented elements. “I’m such a wuss when it comes to those kinds of weapons.” Asked what she would prefer, Parker replied, “I don’t know, a bow and arrow or something? I had to shoot a crossbow on [‘Weeds’] which was equally ridiculous, to have me holding a crossbow.”
Like her co-stars, Parker was drawn to “RED” primarily because she was excited to work in such illustrious company. “This one was really about the actors [for me],” she explained. “It was a bit of a longer shoot, which I don’t really want to do so much anymore because I have two kids. It was really so much about the actors – I’d worked with John [Malkovich] before and I really love him and admire him, and Helen [Mirren] is somebody that I think probably everyone, every actor wants to work with. It was really attractive in that way. Bruce was so nice, so prepared and so invested in this movie.”
Some of Parker’s most memorable scenes in the film are shared with Mirren, particularly one in which the two women conceal themselves in a snow-blanketed forest while Mirren’s Victoria provides sniper support during a dangerous mission. Parker described her female co-star as being “completely, 100% there” and a pleasure to act with. “She sort of feeds you.”
One thing that sets Parker’s work on “RED” apart from her role on “Weeds” is the material itself. Where the Showtime series excels at delivering an ongoing narrative that consistently turns in unexpected directions, “RED” wears its genre roots proudly. “I think there are some cliches that we embrace, and I think they’re wonderful in a way,” Parker explained. “You know – the man who kidnaps the woman against her will and in the end they end up falling in love. We just sort of embraced that and went for it, and hopefully imbued it with something a little bit fresh.”
“For me, the genre was [reminiscent of a] ’30s or early ’40s comedy with a male-female sort of banter,” she continued. “I saw it like that, sort of sweet and genuine. Even like a Preston Sturgess movie, kind of, in the way [Frank and Sarah] related to each other and one-upped each other. It was more verbal, their relationship, than physical.”
It’s a stark contrast to “Weeds” which, as Parker puts it, is “all about the unexpected and ending up on unexpected people with situations you can’t really imagine.” She even dropped a little tease for those fans sitting in the audience. “Towards the end of the [current] season, it gets even stranger, which I really like. I like it when it gets really dark and perverse. So that one I feel is not so much in danger of being [cliched].” Parker acknowledges the cliches at work in “RED,” but she feels confident that they benefit the film in the end. “This movie, I think it [embraces genre conventions] a lot of times, but just kind of going for it and not shying away from it is what I think made it fresh.”