Pieces of April & The Station Agent

Crowned the queen of indies at the 2003 Sundance Film Festival, Patricia Clarkson is ready to take her royal status to the Academy. Shut out last year after her critically acclaimed supporting role as the wickedly cheery best friend in Todd Haynes’ “Far From Heaven,” Clarkson is back with two Oscar-caliber performances.

In Tom McCarthy’s “The Station Agent,” Clarkson plays the hapless Olivia Harris, a woman who has withdrawn from society after the death of her child. And in Peter Hedges’ “Pieces of April,” she delivers a sharp-edged supporting turn as Joy Burns, a delightfully acerbic mom afflicted with breast cancer.

“She’s incapable of a false moment,” says Hedges. “And what makes her truly great is her lack of vanity. If what’s required is to make an ugly choice or to be unlikable, she’ll step right up and play those moments fully, because she knows in the end, she’ll win your heart.”

Shot on low budgets and under strenuous, fast-paced conditions, both productions provided Clarkson with particularly difficult hurdles — like how to generate genuine sorrow under the gun.

“It’s always challenging to take on grief-stricken or deeply dramatic parts, especially when you’re doing a small film, but I do like the challenge, because you have to rise to it.”

Writer-director McCarthy wrote “The Station Agent’s” Olivia specifically for Clarkson, and she acknowledges some similarities: “She is very close to the bone in her solitude and her loneliness and I understand that all too well. I’m 43, and I’m single and I get it, inside and out,” she says.

As a woman in her 40s, the husky-voiced actress realizes she’s not the most coveted commodity in the youth-centered world of Hollywood, but she says the rise of the indie pic biz has helped women over 35 score plenty of juicy roles.

“My age is tattooed on my forehead, and I wear it proudly, but,” she taunts, “I’m wearing a white bikini in my next film, ‘The Dying Gaul’ (an indie written and directed by playwright Craig Lucas), so there.”

Coming attractions: “Dogville,” “The Woods,” “The Dying Gaul”

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