Patricia “Patti” French is a woman of many talents. She started an acting career in the theatre while also working as a voice-over talent. She later attended the National Shakespeare Conservatory in New York and hasn’t stopped acting since. Her TV credits are extensive, with each project being as recognizable as the A-list actors attached to them. This past year she was a part of the highly anticipated Hulu series titled The Act that details the real-life story of a toxic mother and daughter relationship.
She most recently starred in a movie with film icons Diane Keaton and Jackie Weaver, titled Poms that hit theaters this past Mother’s Day. I had a chance to speak to Patti directly after its release in July. Patti is a woman of many talents and wisdom. Check out our conversation below:
Clichè: Your most recent work is in the hilarious film Poms, growing up I read that you had a passion for music and dance. Were you a cheerleader in high school?
Patti: I was not! Mostly because I was a navy brat, every two years I was going to a new school. To be a cheerleader and be apart of the clique you have to be somewhere for a long time. When my dad did finally retire it was right before my junior year. I was actually able to go to one high school for at least two years! In fact, I am getting ready to go to my 50th-year high school reunion! It’s the 50th anniversary of all the great things like Woodstock and the walk on the moon and my graduating from high school [laughs]. I was really involved with Glee Club and Drama Club.
Your character in the film Phyllis, is described as pretty feisty, can you talk more about her? How similar is she to you in real life?
I think the things that are similar are she loves to dance, she loves music, she loves to hang out with a group of girls and she’s a team player.
The film’s tagline is “It’s never too late to dream” and the film follows a group of women who revisit a dream of theirs that they never got the chance to fulfill. Did this film remind you or make you want to revisit anything you may have missed out on?
For me, it was always a dream for me to work with Dianne Keaton. She is one of my favorite actresses as well as Jackie Weaver. I’ve been a Dianne Keaton fan as long as I can remember. That was a dream come true! She was everything and more that I thought she would be. She did not disappoint. She greeted all the actresses on the first day of Bootcamp. She saw the film before everyone else and called everyone and was just so supportive. She’s a girl’s girl.
Did you have a chance to tell her how much she inspired you or did you play it cool?
I did play it cool but on the last day before we wrapped everyone was running around and giving each other gifts. I had taken all my gifts to the trailers and I took Diane’s gift but decided I would write it in a fan letter. I told her, “Hey, this is a fan letter and I just want to tell you the different moments in your films and how much they meant to me”, it turned into this four-page crazy letter. About an hour later I got this knock on my trailer door and it was her! She came in and she was like “I can’t believe you wrote all of that!” It was a lovely moment.
The film has a few dance sequences, with your background in dance, did you have to rehearse? Your co-star Diane Keaton said she needed a lot of rehearsal practice. In some interviews, I’ve heard it described as boot camp.
Oh God yes! We all rehearsed the same amount. I was the youngest of the group and we’re 68! Everyone was going home sore with our hips and knees [laughs]. Boot Camp was a week in L.A. and we flew back to Georgia for filming and we had about 2 weeks of rehearsal. I actually wish there have been more dance footage in the film. Maybe it’ll be on the DVD!
The main character in Poms, Martha, views going to a retirement community as “going to die”, it also addresses the idea of loneliness as we all get older, how do you relate to this film and how important do you think it is to have stories like this be told about women of a certain age?
First of all, I think it is important to tell stories about women of any age. If you study history and look back at older civilizations, the older women weren’t shunned, they were looked up to for all their wisdom. There is a lot of us baby boomers and they should be making movies for us because we’re the people that are going to the movies and paying for them. I just think of some of the things I’m watching now, Grace and Frankie, The Kominskty Method, some of the characters in The Marvelous Mrs. Masiol, there’s just so many great female’s out there and they’re dying to act no matter how old they are and I just hope somebody will just keep writing these stories. And apparently, it’ll just have to be the women!
What do you hope audiences take away when they watch the film?
I think the thing I want audiences to take away is that a group of women can be very powerful and they can accomplish things that maybe they could not have done alone. That bond and that friendship and that girl friendship, you never grow out of that. It’s always there until it’s not. It’s not that way sometimes for men. I think we’re lucky that we’re able to vulnerable enough to go “Oh my gosh, I’m really scared. Am I going to be able to do this?” That bond is really important and so it the power of a group. With everything that’s going on now in Georgia and in the South, if us women don’t band together and figure out a way to activate ourselves as a group, it’s going to be really bad and we will be letting down the younger women that we made all these strides for. We need to bond as a group and not let people hold us down!
The film came out during Mother’s Day weekend, do you have a favorite Mother’s Day memory?
I do! It would be this one actually! I wish my mother was still here to see it, but my daughter and granddaughter came up from Florida and we went to see the movie together and we spent Mother’s Day weekend together. My daughter wanted to take a selfie of all three of us together and a woman came up and said “I can take your picture! Oh, are you the woman that was in the movie?” It was nice. I may have had some other [great memories] and I sure as hell wish my mother was still here to see this but this is going to be my new favorite Mother’s Day! Oh, and then my husband cooked for all of us!
You also are apart of another project that everyone is talking about, The Act on Hulu that retells a very true and horrific story. You play Tina, before joining this project did you know the real story?
I knew part of it but then I watched the HBO documentary, which is truly more horrifying than the mini-series. I think they did an amazing job making the mini-series watchable because it was almost impossible to watch the documentary. A pretty different Mother’s Day story.
When you read a script, what pops up to you that makes you say “this role will be great for me!” what catches your eye?
Well, sometimes you don’t always have a chance to read the whole script depending on your role. But, a good story is a good story.
Throughout your career, you’ve worked alongside legendary actors on TV and film sets, what has been your favorite moment on set? What has been the most important lesson you’ve learned from the previous projects you’ve been a part of?
I think the most important lessons are, you have to show up and you have to be brave. You can’t be vulnerable if you are not brave. You can’t worry about how you look and when you are really feeling self-conscious, just throw it away and concentrate on the other person. It leaves you in the moment and you are listening.
Do you have any memorable stories from any set that you’ve worked on?
Some of them are on stage because I’ve done a lot of stage work. I was lucky enough to play Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire and that was an amazing experience. A few years ago I was on a show on Lifetime called Army wives. What I loved about that was it was telling the story of military wives, because I know what my mom went through. There are always movies and stories about men in the military but it’s like a secret life unless you were raised that way, people don’t understand what the families go through. Like I mentioned earlier, changing schools, having to pack up 3-4 kids, spreading the money out, not being able to get a job. I didn’t realize it because it was my childhood, but I didn’t realize that it was a fascinating secret and life that people who weren’t raised that way, found it fascinating. I got to play this woman who owned this bar and she had a lot of things that happened to her. She had a bar that got bombed and she almost died and then she rebuilds the bar and she’s dying of cancer. She ends up leaving for this cancer center in California. There was a PR campaign with Warriors in Pink for Breast Cancer and FORD, so my character got to take off and drive off into the sunset in this amazing black mustang convertible with this pink heart painted on the front. And I got to do this pretty cool death scene which was pretty fun to do. [laughs] Actors might not tell you that, but we love to do death scenes!
You have had such an extension acting career from tv, film, theatre, voice-over acting. Do you remember the moment you decided to be an actress? What was the first tv show or film that made you fall in love with the art of acting?
I sorta can’t remember not wanting to act. I think I was always in my bedroom in front of the mirror pretending. Always. My mom who was from Southern California was a movie freak. She was raised in the ’30-’40s the great Hollywood era and she loved movies and especially because my father was overseas a lot. I went to see a lot of movies with my mom when I was super young. I just loved that feeling of sitting in a movie theater with popcorn and being in the dark. My mom raised me on movies and movie stars. My mom was also a really good singer and dancer. I think she would have loved to be an actress. She didn’t get to see POMS but she saw a lot of the other work I’ve done and kept scrapbooks. I can’t remember not ever wanting to be an actress. I kept coming back to acting because it was the place where I felt the most like myself.
Which has been your favorite character that you have played and why?
Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s just an epic character for a woman. I just think I understand the kind of person that lives so much in her head and really loves beauty, literature and all of that but she’s is in total denial. She will do anything to survive because she has to, before she faces reality. I think I understand people who have a hard time with reality. [laughs] Maybe it’s me. When you play a really great character, you just want to play more of them!
‘The Act’ is available to stream on Hulu.
Poms is available for purchase now on DVD and Blu-Ray.
Interview With Actress Patricia ‘Patti’ French: Discusses Hulu’s ‘The Act’, The Film Poms and Much More!: Featured Image: Courtesy of Andrew Hreha/Status PR.