Wit and Wisdom from Mary Louise Parker

Claire Handscombe


few years ago, I went to hear Mary-Louise Parker speak about her then-new and still-wonderful book, Dear Mr You, a memoir in the form of letters to real and imagined men in her life. She was fabulous and lovely and the book is wonderful. Recommended.

Here’s some of what she said that night.

On letters

I’m really into stationery and pens. I love writing letters. If you really take the time with a letter, it does matter to people. Some letters — I remember holding them, so excited I almost didn’t want to open them. It’s so romantic to me, a letter. Up there with jewelry.

On why she chose to write to and about men in her memoir

Why not? I am such a romantic and I do love men and I love those crazy experiences.

On why she doesn’t name the men she addresses in her memoir

It lends more poetry to let the reader project onto it. It becomes more mechanical and a little less magical with the practicality of an actual name.

On high school

No-one asked me to prom. I was really a wallflower and nobody paid attention to me. There was a part of me that thought you turned fifteen and a boy just showed you up and took you around the neighbourhood in his car. But that never happened to me. I doubt [my former classmates] even remember I was there. I cut class quite a bit also because it felt excruciating and I hated being there.

On whether she enjoyed getting attention when she went to a college “full of other misfits”

Well, what do you think?

On the boyfriend she stabbed with a fork

You have your own guacamole. Why are you eating my guacamole?

On working on The West Wing

I love those actors so much. I loved John Spencer. Richard Schiff. Allison Janney. Every single one of them was someone you could watch with awe. And the combinations, too.

On being a scavenger

I have strange little things that I save— sometimes I don’t recognize what they are anymore.

On always scribbling

If you’re someone who at your core is a bit of a loner, you’re the one always watching. Those are the people always scribbling to themselves.

On the stage vs movies

I love being on stage. It was the first place I ever felt like I was completely inhabiting my body. I was on the stage tap dancing at four years old. I love the pressure. I prefer to be on the stage. With movies — you’ve been there eight hours and they’re still lighting the ashtray.

On sport

I don’t know sports that well. I get invited to games and I have to ask — is that basketball? I don’t respond well to football but I do love to watch the hockey and the violence of it and sometimes they get into a fight — I find it very sexy. I used to date a hockey player.

On whether it’s tough to be a woman in Hollywood

It’s hard to be a woman elsewhere too.

On her father being the animating spirit behind the book

That’s good. I’m gonna steal that.

On her relationship with her father

I have a conversation that continues with my father. I much preferred the ones where I could see him. The things that people are attracted to in me are my father. He was a heroic person and he’ll never be replaced.

Picture by Twocoms, purchased from Shutterstock for editorial use

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Claire Handscombe is a British writer who moved to Washington, DC, in 2012, ostensibly to study for an MFA in Creative Writing, but really, let’s be honest, because of an obsession with The West Wing. She is the host of the Brit Lit Podcast, a monthly show about news and views from UK books and publishing; the author of Unscripted, a novel about a young woman with a celebrity crush and a determined plan; and the editor of Walk With Us: How The West Wing Changed Our Lives.

Washington, DC

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