I can recall the exact moment I fell in love with Mary-Louise Parker. It was during an Emmy roundtable last year hosted by the Hollywood Reporter, featuring Emmy-nominated actresses like Christina Applegate, Amy Poehler, Sarah Silverman, and of course Parker. She discussed her occasional guest stint on The West Wing, and how some devoted fans of the show made it very clear that they didn’t like her. “They probably have to fuck with the lights off,” she muttered about her detractors. And then her eyes widened and she covered her mouth, as if she’d momentarily forgotten she was on camera. It was snarky and crude and may’ve been pre-meditated, but it was also a refreshing contrast to the eyelash-batting “please love me” attitude of so many Hollywood actresses.
Mary-Louise Parker isn’t America’s sweetheart. She isn’t Julia Roberts or Drew Barrymore. She isn’t bubbly and effusive and adorable. She’s rough around the edges and a little surly, the kind of woman who could probably handle herself in a bar fight. (A real bar fight, not the movie kind with breakaway bottles.) And she isn’t just like that in real life. On her Showtime series Weeds – currently in its sixth season, which you can catch every Monday at 10pm ET – she plays a widow named Nancy Botwin who sells marijuana to support her family and is involved in a messy relationship with a Mexican drug lord who shares her enthusiasm for rough sex. It’s a role she reportedly took over a plum gig on Desperate Housewives (which eventually went to Teri Hatcher), choosing Weeds because, in her words, “it was uglier.”
I called Parker to talk about the new season of Weeds, and our conversation was probably more awkward than it needed to be, for which I take full responsibility. For one thing, she has a peculiar way of speaking, where she stops mid-sentence and it sounds like she’s finished her thought, but it’s actually just a conversational pit-stop. So we spent a lot of time talking over each other. Also, I probably shouldn’t have tried quite so hard to impress her with my knowledge of marijuana minutiae. As it turns out, name-dropping “Alaskan Thunder Fuck” is not a foolproof way to win her heart.
Eric Spitznagel: You know how sometimes watching a TV show about food can make you hungry? Whenever I watch Weeds, it always makes me feel like I need to get stoned immediately.
Mary-Louise Parker: [Laughs.] Yeah, so many people tell me that.
Does the same thing happen for you? When you finish shooting an episode, do you feel an urge to light up a joint?
I don’t do drugs, but I’m really suggestible. So I imagine if I did, that’s exactly what would happen. I’d be smoking all day long.
Wait, you don’t smoke marijuana, or you’ve never smoked it?
I’ve never smoked it.
Wow. That’s like finding out Tommy Chong never touched the stuff. I feel so betrayed.
I guess if it was going to happen, it would’ve happened when I was younger. But that was never an effective or interesting form of rebellion for me. Because everybody did it. Marijuana was just a social thing. It wasn’t dangerous or frowned upon. If I’d been popular in high school, I’m sure I would have wanted to do it. But I wasn’t.
So you didn’t smoke pot because nobody was offering it to you?
Oh no, it was definitely offered to me. All the time. I was hanging around a lot of musicians, so I definitely had access to drugs. It just never appealed to me. Everybody was doing it, and I didn’t want to be part of the crowd. There was no part of me that wanted to fit in.
You should do a PSA. You’ve almost convinced me that pot is boring.
[Laughs.] Yeah, probably. But I’m not saying pot is a bad thing. I know plenty of people who should be smoking pot. I’m just not one of those people. I don’t think it would be the best drug for me. What am I going to do, start doing drugs at my age? It’s a little late. I’m a mother of two. It’s probably not the best idea for me to start getting into it now.
Well, I know a few mothers who still partake.
Yeah, I do too. They just wait until their kids are asleep. I don’t know, I guess marijuana just wasn’t made for me. It’s not like I haven’t tried.
Wait, back up. I thought you never smoked?
I didn’t smoke, it was a lollipop.
There is so much about that sentence I don’t understand.
[Laughs.] Okay, here’s what happened. I was at a party, and I’d been kind of sick recently. I was in the hospital and on some really heavy antibiotics. But I went to this party anyway, and I was in the bathroom the whole night, on the floor. I was just so ill. Somebody at the party was like, “The only thing that’s going to help your nausea is marijuana.” And I’m like, “I don’t have any!” But then I remembered, somebody had given me a pot lollipop.
A lollipop made with THC?
Yeah. We did something about pot lollipops on Weeds. But those were props, obviously. Then somebody gave me some real ones. People give me pot all the time. I put them up in my closet, on the very, very top shelf, where I keep all my shoes, just so my kids wouldn’t find them. [Laughs.] I don’t need that.
Why’d you keep them at all?
I guess I thought… I don’t know. Maybe I’d have guests over to the house and they’d want to…? I have no clue what I thought I was going to do with them.
You weren’t a little bit curious?
A little, yeah. My entire life, I never wanted anything to do with marijuana, but then it became a thing. You know what I mean? “I don’t smoke pot.” That was my thing. So when I was sick, I was like, “What the hell?” I was actually kind of excited about it. I was like, “Oh my god, I’m 45 and I’m having my first pot experience!” But it did nothing.
You didn’t feel high?
I didn’t feel anything! I mean, I still felt ill, but I didn’t get any of the happy effects you’re supposed to have. I don’t know, maybe the lollipops went bad? Does pot have an expiration date?
Are you sure you were doing it right? I wouldn’t even know what to do with a pot lollipop. Do you lick it or light it?
I licked it. But somebody told me that you need to eat it. Somebody quite famous who grows their own, he told me I should be eating it. But at this point, I feel like “Why bother?” I gave it a shot, it didn’t work. I’m over it.
It’s not for lack of opportunities. You said people give you pot all the time?
They do, yeah.
Is it just bags of weed, or do they make you bouquets out of marijuana leaves?
I’ve gotten a little of everything. But I usually don’t keep it. Sometimes I give it away to friends who smoke. Or I just thank them and walk away and leave it on a table.
I guess you’ve gotten off easy. They could be inviting you over to their house to hang out and pass around the bong. Better they just give you pot than try to be your friend.
That’s true. Although I did once marry a stoned couple.
You officiated a wedding? Is that legally binding?
Not at all. [Laughs.] But they were so stoned, I don’t think they cared. It was a cameraman for the Stony Awards and his girlfriend. I’d won a Stony Award for best actress – my second year winning it, by the way. They never did give me another trophy. I wonder if they were too high and just forgot to make them. It’s a great trophy. It’s a big glass bong that’s actually bigger than my Emmy (for Angels in America). Anyway, I couldn’t make it to the ceremony, so they sent a camera guy over to tape my acceptance speech. And afterwards, he asked me if I’d marry him to his girlfriend.
Right then and there?
Right there. I had no idea what to do. I was like, “You want me to give a speech or something.? For real?” So I just came up with something off the top of my head. I said, “Well… you’re both really hot and you both have nice hair. I hope you’re together forever.”
That’s poetry, Mary-Louise.
I meant it, too. Their hair was very silky and beautiful. And I honestly do hope they’re still together. They were so adorable.
Over the last few seasons of Weeds, we’ve learned that Nancy likes her sex a little freaky. She wants a lover who isn’t shy with the slapping and the spanking. Is that something you can relate to at all?
I think for her, sexuality is something that she wields. And she needs sex to be somewhat punitive. You know what I mean?
It has to feel like punishment?
Yeah, in a way. I think a lot of people have so much guilt wrapped up in sex, so they almost can’t tell the difference. There’s a scene we did for this season that gets pretty explicit. It was just supposed to be sex in a bar, but I really wanted it to be almost abusive. Because I think she needs it that way. And that’s really informative. If you just see two people fucking on screen, it’s not necessarily revealing about those characters. But if it’s coming from a particular point of view, that’s when I think it gets interesting.
There’s a line in the trailer for this season, in which you joke about going down on Linda Hamilton. Is that…? [Long pause.] I don’t know where I’m going with this question.
[Laughs.] Take your time.
If I can steal a line from Tina Fey, I want to go to there.
Yeah, yeah, I hear you. But no, that’s not happening. It’s just something they put in the trailer because it’s funny, but it doesn’t actually happen. It’s not a bad idea though. I’ve always thought that Nancy should have sex with a woman. It’d be good for her.
Would it help if we started a letter-writing campaign?
Like a grassroots sort of thing? Yeah, we should do it. “People In Support of Nancy Botwin Embracing Lesbianism.” Right on.
You’ve been called a “thinking man’s sex symbol.” Does that mean dumb people don’t find you sexy?
I guess so. Dumb people don’t want to fuck me. [Laughs.] I really don’t know what to say. “Thinking man’s sex symbol.” What do you suppose that means?
I’m not sure. When you get approached by male fans, are they usually neurosurgeons or college professors?
Not really, no. And thank god. I couldn’t even have a conversation with a neurosurgeon. I wouldn’t know what to say. I think that’s probably not an accurate way to describe me. Plenty of dumb people want to fuck me. [Laughs.] Oh god, that’s not going to play well in print, is it?
I think it’s great. What are you worried about, offending dumb people?
Yeah, I could be alienating the dumb people who want to fuck me. I’m just happy that anybody considers me a sex symbol at all. It does not cause me any amount of grief to be objectified in any way. I welcome it.
If your fans can’t be categorized in terms of intelligence, how would you describe them? Are they a certain age or social class or demographic? When you’re approached in the street, what’s the common denominator?
I never know why people come up to me. I think a lot of them just get super-excited because they recognize me from TV but they don’t remember where. It’s not like they’re necessarily happy to see me, you know?
You’re just the lady from the talking picture box.
[Laughs.] Yeah, exactly. I think it’s a little dangerous if you overvalue that kind of attention. My son has recently started to notice it. One time a lady came running up to me in the street and said, “I love you! I love you so much!” And my son asked me later, “Why did that stranger say she loved you?” That’s a very hard question to answer.
How do you explain it? “The world is full of lonely freaks?”
I just said, “She was being hyperbolic, honey. Sometimes when people see someone from television, they feel like that person has come to life and they’re not just inside the TV box. They get very excited and don’t understand personal boundaries.”
And sometimes they like to give mommy pot brownies.
Precisely. But thankfully, they haven’t really done that in view of my children. Although my kids have started to hear about it. They know that my character on Weeds does something with drugs. So now I get questions like, “What are drugs?” And I’m like, “Well, it’s something that… people do.” It’s so hard! Sometimes it’s just easier to say, “She does things that are really, really naughty.” Kids love to hear that. “Oooh, like what?”
Well, like sometimes she has unprotected sex with Mexican mobsters and ends up having their baby.
That’s right. And sometimes men spank her in the back of limousines.
Jennifer Aniston got some flack recently from Bill O’Reilly because she said it’s okay to be a single mother. O’Reilly went so far as to call her opinions “destructive to society.” I’m pretty sure I know the answer to this already, but as a single mother who plays a single mother on TV, do you disagree?
I don’t even know what you’re talking about. Why is being a single mother destructive?
I’m not sure I follow his argument. Something about the nuclear family and fathers being disrespected.
[Groans.] Gimme a break. He sounds like an idiot. Who is he again?
He’s got a show on Fox News.
That’s the right-wing channel? Well, there you go. Maybe he’s right, I don’t know. I don’t think you necessarily have to be part of a traditional nuclear family to be a good mother. A lot of children from traditional nuclear families have really unhappy childhoods, and they have dysfunctional, distant parents who don’t pay attention to them. Also, some people don’t plan on being single parents. It’s not like you’re sitting at home and thinking, “Wow, I’d really like to do this by myself. I’d love to wake up six times a night and change diapers and have nobody to help me. That’d be great!” I certainly didn’t do that.
So you’re not buying O’Reilly’s theory that single mothers are destroying the fabric of society?
I think that opinion is pretty narrow-minded. People like him – and I don’t even know who he is, so this is just a guess – they usually just say shit like that for attention. He probably comes from a nuclear family and didn’t get enough attention as a child.
This story originally appeared, in a slightly different form, in VanityFair.com.)