Since the late 1990s Patricia Clarkson has been one of the darlings of independent film.

First coming on the scene in 1987 when she portrayed Eliot Ness' wife in 'The Untouchables,' Clarkson found notice with indie film fans 11 years later when she starred as an aging, drug-addicted German model in Lisa Cholodenko's debut feature, 'High Art.'

In 2003 Clarkson performed the unprecedented feat of starring in four(!) films at the Sundance Film Festival, including 'All the Real Girls,' 'The Station Agent,' 'The Baroness and the Pig' and 'Pieces of April,' for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a mother dying of cancer. She also gained attention on the small screen with her role as Sarah O'Connor in 'Six Feet Under.'

More recently she co-starred in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' 'Whatever Works' and 'Shutter Island.' But perhaps the biggest sign of her progression as a star was her inclusion last year in Andy Samberg's Saturday Night Live short 'Motherlover,' along with Justin Timberlake and Susan Sarandon.

Now Clarkson will finally be carrying a film, as she plays the lead role in Ruba Nadda's love story, 'Cairo Time.' Since the late 1990s Patricia Clarkson has been one of the darlings of independent film.

First coming on the scene in 1987 when she portrayed Eliot Ness' wife in 'The Untouchables,' Clarkson found notice with indie film fans 11 years later when she starred as an aging, drug-addicted German model in Lisa Cholodenko's debut feature, 'High Art.'

In 2003 Clarkson performed the unprecedented feat of starring in four(!) films at the Sundance Film Festival, including 'All the Real Girls,' 'The Station Agent,' 'The Baroness and the Pig' and 'Pieces of April,' for which she received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination for playing a mother dying of cancer. She also gained attention on the small screen with her role as Sarah O'Connor in 'Six Feet Under.'

More recently she co-starred in 'Vicky Cristina Barcelona,' 'Whatever Works' and 'Shutter Island.' But perhaps the biggest sign of her progression as a star was her inclusion last year in Andy Samberg's Saturday Night Live short 'Motherlover,' along with Justin Timberlake and Susan Sarandon.

Now Clarkson will finally be carrying a film, as she plays the lead role in Ruba Nadda's love story, 'Cairo Time.' In the film, Clarkson plays Juliette, a magazine editor who travels to Cairo to meet up with her husband, who is a UN diplomat. Having never been to the Middle East, Juliette is a stranger in a strange land, but has one friend, the handsome Tareq (Alexander Siddig), a friend of Juliette's husband who escorts her around the city. However, waiting patiently for days for her husband to complete his diplomatic duties, Juliette and Tareq's connection begins to blossom.

Moviefone spoke to Clarkson in New York while she took a break from filming her next studio film, 'Friends With Benefits,' to talk about shooting in Cairo, her glowing remarks for WWE star John Cena and if she'd do another 'Motherlover' short.

I was thinking back on your career and this is the first time you've done a very tradition leading lady role.
Yeah, like a real classic one. I mean, there was 'Married Life,' but she was a very different woman, and there was 'The Station Agent.' I've done some leading roles before, but I've never carried a film before. First of all it's very rare for a woman of a certain age to carry films anyway. Also, usually big movie stars do these types of parts. [laughs] I was lucky Ruba Nadda wanted me and came after me in a big way and I was smart enough to say yes. But I was weary of Cairo, just because of being American.

Exclusive 'Cairo Time' Clip


So, you'd never been to Cairo before?
Never, I'd never been anywhere in the Middle East.

What was your biggest anxiety going over there?
I have fear when I travel. I'm the youngest of five daughters and I always have a little home sickness in me, it's always hard, and as the baby I was rarely ever home alone, so traveling is an emotional process for me. But I was excited about this part and carrying a film in Cairo, me experiencing the city at the same time that the character is. I am quite different than this woman, Juliette, but there are aspects of me that I have to bring forward to play her. But I wanted to make damn sure that Juliette remained the character that Ruba wrote.

Would you and Ruba talk about what you were seeing and try to put it into the script?

The script pretty much stayed where it was, but Ruba and I had many discussions about the very deep internal journey that this woman takes. So much of this film is unspoken and so I had to have such a tremendous internal dialogue that required a tremendous amount of homework and soul searching. I think this film is beautiful for what is not on the screen.

When you talk about research, do you mean people you talked to?
I had to know specifics like what Juliette's husband did and that whole life, but for Juliette it was a more personal and sometimes frightening journey internally. And I also had to be willing to kind of sit in this part. There are no bells or whistles. I mean, I was like, give me a wig or a disease, something to use as a crutch.

I know the film showed at the Doha Tribeca Film Festival in Qatar, how was the reaction to the film in the Middle East?
It was so well received. So well, in fact, that we became the closing night film and we played for 3,000 people.

Was there a difference in the reaction there than when you've played it for Western audiences?
No. It's really universal. I've seen it play in Canada, Aruba, Italy, San Francisco, Dublin and it's all had beautiful responses. I think these characters are universal and it's about the heart falling in love twice, dual love. And I think it's refreshing to see a woman coming from a place of strength, she's not a deeply unhappy woman, or that something bad has happened to her, she's just a woman who has a good marriage and well-raised children, but has this temptation.

What did you take from the culture in Cairo and how women are portrayed there?

In Cairo there are women dressed from burkas to sun dresses, and they all exist in this society, so it's much more progressive than people realize. People are shocked that I have my arms showing in the film. And I'm like, "Have you been to Cairo?" Of course, there are people there who are deeply religious and are covered all the time, but my assistant on the film, who is from there, she wore less clothing than I did!

Well, on a different note, I was looking at the films you have coming up after this and the last thing I would image is you'd be playing opposite WWE star John Cena.
Oh, come on. [laughs] Well, this is what's great about 'Legendary.' It's a very hardcore script. It's very much like 'Rudy.' It's a beautiful family story. And John Cena plays a guy out of prison, a down and out guy, it's a real part. And one of the most emotional scenes I've ever done in my entire career is with John Cena.

Really!
I'm dead serious. And he delivers.

Another film is 'Friends With Benefits, which teams you with your 'Motherlover' mates Andy Samberg and Justin Timberlake.

Oh yes. 'Motherlover' is such a feather in my cap.

Has Andy Samberg talked to you on set about a 'Motherlover 2'?
No, but if they ever said, "Patty, let's go," I'm there.

You've built your career from your roles in indie films. But now that there are so many companies folding or scaling down on that side of the business, what are your thoughts on all of this change?
I think right now the indie world is in the largest shift I've seen from when I saw it in its triumphant times in the '90s. It's a very difficult time, but the people will rally, we all do. It's not going anywhere, we're just going to make better films for less money.

'Cairo Time' opens in theaters on Friday, Aug. 6.


'Cairo Time' Trailer