Molly Parker for “The Center of the World”

Canadian actress Molly Parker is making a name for herself starring in risky projects, in films dealing with necrophilia, prostitution and erotic dancing. Her latest film, Wayne Wang’s controversial Center of the World, goes even further. She spoke to Paul Fischer in Los Angeles.

Molly Parker is one actress who doesn’t shy away from daring film projects. She was a necrophiliac in the highly praised Kissed, a desperately lonely woman who seeks solace in prostitution in Suspicious River, and now a stripper in Center of the World, “but the year before I played three mothers”, she is quick to point out. Yet, the Canadian actress who now calls Hollywood home refuses to shy away from films bordering on the risky. “I don’t know if other people sort of plan their careers; I mean I certainly haven’t been able to. I just tend to react to what’s out there and the things that I am often engaged with, are these strong parts that exist for women. I’m just so bored and interested in playing somebody’s girlfriend or wife or somebody’s something else, so that’s part of it.”

The part is that sex is interesting to deal with on film, the actress suggests. “Sex, sexual dynamics and how we define our sexuality, is one of the major deals in everyone’s life.” The actress seems to be unafraid of tackling such issues head on. Not necessarily true, she counters. “A lot of decisions by the studios get made based on fear,” Parker explains. “It’s something that I try really hard to not buy into, but I’m often attracted to projects that scare me in terms of what they’re about, because it challenges who I am and who I think I am and what I think the world is about. I’m interested in drama, and I’m interested in why people are as crazy as they are, and why I’m crazy, and those are the things that I get to learn being an actor. So, you know, I’m not really doing it to be on the cover of Vanity Fair.”

Her latest film is as brave as they come. In Wayne Wang’s often unsettling and sexually frank Center of the World, Peter Sarsgaard plays a San Francisco computer wizard, who has made his millions in the digital world, and meets a beautiful stripper (Parker) at a gentlemen’s club. Immediately attracted to each other, the two take off for Las Vegas, where, for three days, they explore the limits of their sexuality and the nature of passion and pleasure.

While Parker loves to take risks, in this movie, which was shot digitally, the actress drew the line when director Wang asked her to be far more sexual in front of his camera. “I think one of the reasons I don’t mind taking on this kind of material, is because I really have very strong feelings about what I will and won’t do and how I’m interested in representing women in films. And I’m not interested in taking my top off in a movie where it’s about titillating the audience or turning people on.”

Rather, she says, she is interested “in that when it’s in context of a bigger issue. OK, yes, this film is about sex, but more than that, it’s about power, it’s about who has power. People who have money have power in our society and this relationship, and people use sex as power constantly. Power dynamics get played out in sexual terms all the time. So I think that I can take this stuff on, because I know how far I will go with it, and I’m not interested in doing it, unless I think the point of view is from a place that I feel comfortable with as a feminist.” In the case of Center of the World, she stayed true to her own sense of feminism, “by ensuring that the movie was about the things Wayne said it was about.”

In preparing to play this character and in trying to understand her, Parker explains that she “spoke to a number of women who work in the sex industry. All kinds of women, women who were doing it for all kinds of reasons. I’ve also spoken to a number of women SINCE, who have seen this movie, who have all said to me that it’s an incredibly accurate portrayal of situations that they’ve been in and dynamics that they’ve had to deal with.”

Center of the World, unlike any of Parker’s previous films, was shot entirely with a handheld digital camera, which the actress admits, enhanced the sense of intimacy the film conveyed. “It’s an odd movie for me to watch. I feel incredibly exposed, although it’s not particularly because of the nudity or physical stuff, it’s more that video seems to capture what film doesn’t and I think it’s because our association with video is still pretty intimate, it’s like home movies in the nude and porno. Those are all kinds of things that you do alone or at least with people you know really well. So watching this felt almost voyeuristic, but at the same time I think it helps the film.”

Like many Canadian actors, the Vancouver-raised actress recently chose to relocate to Los Angeles to further her career, and now lives with her boyfriend in the city’s upscale Echo Park. Unlike some Canadian actors, she’s realistic and pragmatic about it and recently told me of her love-hate relationship with LA. “It’s an easy place to hate, because it’s sort of obviously evil in a certain way,” she said. “You can drive around, and it just looks like strip malls for days, you know? Then suddenly as you start to get to know it, you find all these sort of little hidden restaurants and little hidden weird parks, and they’re all places that unless someone tells you, you would never find them, ever. Some of the best restaurants in this town are in strip malls.”

Parker has no intention of putting permanent roots down in U.S. soil. But she feels she can’t leave Hollywood just yet. “What I want is to be able to come home and work, but the truth is that I can’t make a living doing the Canadian films only,” she said. “I think it’s pretty limiting to be nationalistic about it. I’d love to come home. I just can’t yet.” Ironically, she is heading back to Canada -Toronto to be more precise – to do a sports film, “playing a wonderful character.” Parker will also be seen in the upcoming gem, The War Bride, opposite Brenda Fricker and Aden Young. Still the risk-taker and relishing the challenges.