During a party celebrating the release of her memoir “You’re On an Airplane,” Parker Posey is hugging, posing and signing copies of her new book.
She’s donning a red turban, with a Sharpie in one hand and a cigarette in the other. Her book party has spilled from a small banquet room onto the fifth-floor terrace of a private literary club in Manhattan.
After years of elevating other people’s material, starting as the wry muse of indie cinema, Posey is “at a place in her life when it was time to create a whole world of her own,” says her friend Jack Ferver, a director and choreographer.
She taped the “Tonight Show” with her old pal Jimmy Fallon a couple of hours earlier. “We used to go dancing at Don Hill’s,” he reminisced to Posey, who is now 23 years removed from “Party Girl,” the movie that made the post-grunge generation want to move to New York and rave till dawn.
“Back when you could dance like no one’s watching,” she said, “because they weren’t!”
She’s about to give a toast in front of a few dozen friends: old SUNY Purchase classmates, publishing folk, a small number of boldfaced names, plus the artists, dancers, writers, musicians, weirdos and queerdos who really get her. She stands on a chair in a corner of the crimson-walled room. This will be the acceptance speech she’s never had to give.
In her home, there is no visible evidence of her career. If she were a careerist instead of an artist, she might not have passed on the part in “Girl, Interrupted” that won Angelina Jolie an Oscar. (“Who cares about a bunch of depressed white girls in the ’60s?”) She dodged a meeting about one of the Jason Bourne movies because “I simply wasn’t prepared to be scared in a car for a few months.”
If she were a careerist, she would not have written a memoir that consists of digressions and interjections addressed to an imaginary seatmate. At Sundance in 1995, she was referred to as the first postmodern actress, whatever that means, so maybe she’s written the first post-postmodern celebrity memoir.
When she was 9, she vowed to be a movie star, but a movie star doesn’t live here. Your Auntie Mame does. She lives on a floor of a West Village brownstone, up a flight of stairs, with access to the roof, where she’s laid a big square of AstroTurf and called it gardening.
“I had time,” she says, lying stomach-down on her tan leather couch, chin in hands. “I was just walking around being a depressive and being scared. And not feeling like I had a place.”
“I wasn’t fitting into this culture,” she says. In the book, she refers to a “paradigm shift,” but maybe that is just the feeling of growing older. The culture starts to feel alien. We prefer the way it used to be, when we were young and “it.”
“It’s so different now,” she says. “My experience is nostalgic. The book is a nostalgic way of looking at it. Which I realized while I was writing. Most people — I think there’s — I mean some people — ” She stops herself on the edge of a fake sound bite. “What do I know. You know? I don’t know. This is why doing press — I don’t know these things. Why even . . .”
We talked about being raised Catholic. We talked about death. We talked about what to say during a toast at a book party, about things that are amusing in person but stupid the moment you type them into a celebrity profile. We did not talk about “The House of Yes,” the zenith of her ’90s cool-dom, or the Christopher Guest mockumentaries, which everyone always wants to talk about.
Twenty years ago, she was cast in her first big Hollywood movie, a Nora Ephron romantic comedy starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan. Posey stole her scenes because she was stronger than the genre. Shortly before her death in 2012, Ephron emailed Posey. “No one has a career like yours,” she wrote. Feeling insecure, she wrote, is part of having an unconventional life. Posey memorized that email. It keeps her company.
“It seems like everyone is feeling lonely, in some way — left out,” Posey writes on the otherwise cheerful first page of her memoir. The book’s subtitle is “a self-mythologizing memoir,” but really it is a spiritual text about wonder, melancholy and fame, and how being a movie star is “either too boring or too much work.” It’s also about the desire to connect, even with a stranger on an airplane, and tell stories.
For every anecdote about celebrity in her book, there are three about her real friends, her beloved family, the Spackle that holds life together, the questions that displace her. “Do you think that in another time, people enjoyed each other more?” she writes. When did we forget “that so much of everything is distraction, or a conspiracy, to keep us separate or guarded and locked up inside?”
She’s standing on a chair at her book party. The culture didn’t know what to do with her, she tells her guests, and she didn’t know what to do with the culture. So she wrote this book.
“I’d make something of my stories,” she says. “I’d put myself in an airplane and cast the reader as a passenger. I’ll create the set: the airplane, that in-between place of reinvention and nostalgia.”
She thanks her friends for their “desire to connect,” and she chokes up. She pays tribute to her parents, her lineage of drama queens. Standing nearby is Liev Schreiber, her old friend and co-star in “Party Girl” and “The Daytrippers,” warmed by his own nostalgia for that run of indie cinema in New York. He learned something about film acting, about life, by watching her then. Both of them were in their 20s. At 50, he remembers it.
“It’s about not being afraid to make a connection, not being afraid to be seen, not being afraid to be who you are,” Schreiber says. “About not being afraid to amplify life.”
Something happened to the culture, to New York, not too long after they met. There was Giuliani, and 9/11, and the Great Recession, and the lamination of downtown, everything getting wrapped up in tourism and marketing. Time wobbles. Tastes boomerang. Just this month, kids born more than a decade after “Rapture” were crowd-surfing at a Blondie concert in Brooklyn.
Wherever the culture is, it still has use for Parker Posey. She can’t argue with that yet. A few hundred feet below the book party, the subways are wallpapered with ads for the blockbuster Netflix reboot of "Lost in Space” — co-starring Parker Posey as, of course, the most interesting thing about it. Season 2 begins shooting in September.