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Critical analysis: “Her closest friend is her neighbor Eleanor Fine (Patricia Clarkson, in a wonderfully lethal performance).” — Manohla Dargis, Los Angeles Times

Awards pedigree: 2002 Emmy for guest role on “Six Feet Under”; actress award at the 2002 Deauville fest for “The Safety of Objects”; Independent Spirit Award nom, supporting actress, 1999’s “High Art”; part of the SAG-nominated ensemble of 2000’s “The Green Mile”

Upcoming: Stars in four movies at this year’s Sundance: “All the Real Girls,” “The Baroness and the Pig,” “Pieces of April” and “The Station Agent”; co-stars in Rose Troche’s “The Safety of Objects,” opening in March from IFC Films, and Lars von Trier’s “Dogville”

Sometimes the biggest challenge for a supporting player can be making a lasting impression with only a handful of scenes. That’s exactly what Patricia Clarkson does in “Far From Heaven,” writer-director Todd Haynes’ loving homage to the ’50s melodramas of Douglas Sirk.

As Eleonor Fine, neighbor and confidante to Julianne Moore’s 1950s housewife Cathy Whitaker, Clarkson helps to ground viewers in the reality of a very artificial world. “It’s a true supporting part, there are limited scenes, but I was intrigued by Eleonor. I was excited because I hadn’t played that kind of character,” Clarkson says.

“I think of myself as far more progressive and open than she is. Some of the views she possesses are difficult, but that’s the challenge of playing a role different from yourself. It’s thinking outside the box.”

Haynes wrote Clarkson a letter asking her to take the part, and Moore was also an early supporter. “When Todd was casting the part, Patty’s was the one name that I kept bringing up,” Moore says. “She has this wonderful kind of flair, and she manages to capture the style and emotion of a character, which really made for a phenomenal performance.”

Clarkson did not revisit Sirk’s work for character inspiration, relying instead on the script, and costume and production design. “The language itself is slightly elevated, the circumstances are slightly elevated, and you’re in those clothes with that hair. It brings you to a whole other place physically,” she explains.

As her career continues to blossom, Clarkson greets kudos season with some anxiety. “It’s a wonderful thing to be acknowledged, but it’s so unpredictable,” she says. “In the end you never do these films for those reasons. You do independent films because you love the work. For the rest of time I’ll be a part of ‘Far From Heaven’ and that’s fabulous.”