Displaying an off-kilter beauty and an ability to embrace the comically bizarre, Parker Posey has been repeatedly referred to as “The Queen of the Indies.” Following her indie debut in Richard Linklater’s 1993 Dazed and Confused, Posey went on to star in no less than 15 independent features over the next five years, proving time and again how worthy she was of her royal title.
Born in Baltimore on November 8, 1968, Posey was named after ’50s model and sometimes-actress Suzy Parker. At the age of 12, she moved with her parents and twin brother to Laurel, MS, where her father owned a Chevrolet dealership. After attending the North Carolina School of the Arts, Posey enrolled at S.U.N.Y. Purchase, where she studied acting and roomed with future ER doctor Sherry Stringfield. She dropped out just three weeks before graduation when opportunity came knocking in the form of a role on As the World Turns. As bad girl Tess Shelby, Posey stayed with the show from 1991 until 1992. The following year, Posey crossed over to celluloid with roles in three movies. Two of these, The Coneheads and Joey Breaker, featured the actress as little more than a glorified extra, but the third, Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, allowed Posey to make a distinct impression. As cheerleader Darla, she used her relatively brief screen time to display the nastier side of teen popularity. She played a similar character the same year on the small screen, taking a memorable turn as ex-pep queen turned good-time girl Connie Bradshaw in PBS’ Tales of the City (she would later reprise the role for More Tales of the City in 1998).
Following secondary to miniscule parts in films like Sleep With Me, Amateur, and Mixed Nuts (all 1994), Posey had her breakthrough role as the titular heroine of Daisy von Scherler Mayer’s Party Girl in 1995. She caused an art-house sensation with her portrayal of Mary, a downtown diva forced to take a day job as a librarian and began to ascend the ranks of indie royalty. Appearances in Hal Hartley’s Flirt, Gregg Araki’s The Doom Generation, and Noah Baumbach’s Kicking and Screaming the same year further enhanced her reputation. Posey’s work over the next two years reads like a Sundance Film Festival program: in 1996, she could be seen as a Dairy Queen waitress in the ensemble-driven Waiting for Guffman, famed gallery owner Mary Boone in Basquiat, and Hope Davis’ sister in The Daytrippers. In 1997, Posey starred in no less than five independent films, including Henry Fool, her third Hartley outing; the temps-in-hell comedy drama Clockwatchers; Linklater’s adaptation of Eric Bogosian’s SubUrbia; and The House of Yes. For this last film, Posey garnered particular acclaim as the film’s fabulously demented focal point. She shined as a young woman obsessed with both Jackie Onassis and her own twin brother (Josh Hamilton). Her performance, which perfectly displayed the hyperkinetic comic energy and sardonic wit that came to characterize many of the actress’ portrayals, won her a “special recognition for acting” at Sundance that year.
The year 1998 brought more independent work in the form of The Misadventures of Margaret, a romantic comedy in which Posey had the title role and a foray into mainstream features with a turn as Tom Hanks’ book-editor girlfriend in Nora Ephron’s You’ve Got Mail. The following year, she took another stab, so to speak, at mainstream fare with a part in Wes Craven’s third installment of his Scream series, the aptly titled Scream 3. Though she wasn’t necessarily known as a “method” actress to this point, Posey actually had real braces installed for her subsequent role in Waiting for Guffman and director Christopher Guest’s popular dog show comedy Best in Show. Cast as the better half of a neurotic, hypertensive couple who will stop at nothing to see their pet win the number-one spot in the Mayflower Kennel Club Dog Show, Posey nearly stole the show with her hysterical, shrieking performance. Best in Show was immediately embraced by critics and audiences and went on to live a long and prosperous life on cable and DVD. By this point, Posey had gained quite a reputation for her effortless transitions between indies and blockbusters, and a role as a malicious recording industry boss in Josie and the Pussycats (2001) added much flavor to the energetic, pop-flavored comedy. If Posey was somewhat lost in the cast of the 2001 miniseries Further Tales of the City, she would certainly go on to impress in the popular indies The Anniversary Party (2001) and Personal Velocity: Three Portraits (2002). Her role as a philandering housewife in Personal Velocity in particular gave Posey an opportunity to truly shine.
Her profile would fade a bit in the following few years despite a role in the widely released (but ill fated) comedy The Sweetest Thing (2002), and after performing at her bitchy best in the made-for-television Hell on Heels: The Battle of Mary Kay (2003) she was included in Reuters 2003 “What Ever Happened to” list. Ironically, it was that same year that Posey essayed her first lead role in quite some time with the independent drama The Event. Cast as a district attorney who is investigating a mysterious suicide, Posey was backed by a stellar cast that included Sarah Polley and Olympia Dukakis. Though she would once again join Guest for the 2003 mockumentary A Mighty Wind, she was pretty much lost in the shuffle in the divisive effort. With the approach of 2004, audiences were no doubt set to find out “What Ever Happened to” Posey with her roles in the high-profile efforts The Laws of Attraction and Blade: Trinity. Posey continued her work in independent films with large parts in The Oh in Ohio, The Sisters of Mercy, and Adam & Steve, but once again appeared in a Hollywood blockbuster as Lex Luthor’s significant other in Bryan Singer’s Superman Returns. At the end of 2006 she once again collaborated with Christopher Guest on his Hollywood satire For Your Consideration.
Posey continued to build on her affinity for independent films by reteaming with Hal Hartley for 2006’s Fay Grim, in which she reprised the self titled role from 1997’s Henry Fool. Critical response to the film was mixed, but Posey was balancing her career with other projects, some of which had a broader audience, like the recurring role of Marlene Stanger on the hit show Boston Legal. She balanced her indie side with her Hollywood side once again the next year, appearing both in the Jessica Alba thriller The Eye, and in the indie dramedy Broken English.