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Patricia Arquette Talks Severance, True Romance, And Nightmare On Elm Street - Exclusive Interview

It has been 35 years since Patricia Arquette got her start in Hollywood, starring in 1987's "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors." Since those humble horror film beginnings, she has amassed quite an impressive resume — one that includes two Primetime Emmys and an Academy Award.

As a member of the prolific Arquette family — which includes father Lewis and siblings Rosanna, David, and the late Alexis — Patricia has starred in dozens of high-profile films and TV series. Highlights of her distinguished career include the Quentin Tarantino-penned "True Romance," the popular supernatural series "Medium," and Richard Linklater's 2014 epic coming-of-age drama "Boyhood," for which she won Best Supporting Actress at the Oscars (and made waves during her rousing acceptance speech that included comments about pay equity for women in Hollywood and beyond).

Arquette's latest critically acclaimed project, "Severance," is a science fiction-based psychological thriller series that follows Mark (Adam Scott), a Lumon Industries employee who agrees to a "severance" program in which his work memories are permanently separated from his non-work memories. Arquette portrays Harmony Cobel, Mark's stony-eyed boss who mysteriously masquerades as his next-door neighbor, Mrs. Selvig. Directed by Ben Stiller and Aoife McArdle and co-starring John Turturro and Christopher Walken, "Severance" streams on Apple TV+.

During an exclusive interview with Looper, Arquette discussed the challenges that her stern "Severance" character pose and reflected on what makes "True Romance" and "Nightmare on Elm Street" so memorable for her.

Patricia Arquette views her Severance character as 'nebulous'

I binge-watched the first four episodes of "Severance" over the weekend, and I have so many questions that I know you can't answer for me –


but one thing I'm hoping you can give me some insight into is ... should we — in any way, shape, or form — find Harmony sympathetic?

Oh, that's a good question. I have sympathy for Harmony, but I don't know that anyone else should. Harmony sees the corporation as her family, her religion, and her whole self-worth is attached. I don't know if we have to have sympathy for her, but I do. As an actor, think I kind of have to when you're playing somebody like that. She really thinks she's doing the right thing for this corporation, which is beyond a corporation and her commitment to them. It's a very weird world. Let's put it that way.

She's a more stoic character than we're used to seeing you play. What makes her fun to play? And what makes her challenging?

Oh my God. So challenging because, even when I read the first episode, I was like, "Ben, I don't know who this person is." She was so ... nebulous, and that remains the case the whole time, honestly. She's a very mysterious person, and that is very hard to play. But little by little ... It gets crazier. You'll see. She's a very intriguing woman, let's put it that way. It was very hard to understand what the tone was. Ben always knew what it was. I really have to trust him, and Aoife also, our other director. I have to put my faith in them.

Now, you and Christopher Walken have worked together before, going all the way back to "True Romance." What's it been like reuniting with him?

You know, because we had COVID happening on our set and all this stuff we didn't really have ... well, again, a spoiler. I'm not going to say that. Here's what I'm going to say. Christopher Walken is one of the greatest actors we've ever had, and to be a part of any project that he's in is thrilling to me. I also like that these are two really great projects that we've shared together. I adore his work. He's amazing, and [on screen] with John Turturro, they're so amazing together.

Playing Alabama in True Romance was 'conflicting'

Reflecting back on "True Romance," which is one of my all-time favorite films –


How do you feel about that role now, particularly as someone who's outspoken about women's rights? Do you see your character Alabama as a victim or a victor?

Even when I got offered it, I had a lot of conflicting feelings about it. I think she's young and she's falling in love and all that stuff, but I had a very hard time. One of the things I had a hard time with was the scene where Clarence kills Drexl, and she says, "I think what you did was so cool," basically. I had a hard time with that, but then, working with my acting coach, we talked about, well, what are you going to say to somebody who just killed somebody? They're dangerous, suddenly.

I don't think Alabama's totally conscious. I think about what danger she's putting herself in, and there's definitely a fairy tale element of this love affair, and that trumps everything else. They have this optimistic feeling about love, that everything's going to work out and there's a charm-bubble around them. It's funny, because it's not really the way it was written. Clarence is supposed to die in the end, in Quentin [Tarantino, the original script author]'s version.

I don't think Alabama's completely grown up or aware of all of the different things that are at display around her — her own sexuality, her power as a woman, men's power around her, the choices other people are making and how that impacts her. I knew pretty well at the time.

I'm playing this optimistic person that is all about love and support with this guy and wherever it goes, in a very innocent kind of way. Even at the time, I felt like I'd had a lot more life experience, and I was definitely acting. [Laughs.] It was like, "Wow, okay. There's a lot of ways to look at this situation, but this girl's looking at it like this." Okay, I get that, you know?

She earned more for the Dokken video than starring in Nightmare on Elm Street

Staying in the past for a minute, this year marks the 35th anniversary of one of your first major film credits, "A Nightmare on Elm Street 3: Dream Warriors." Do you have any special memories from that film?

I was so young, and I have a lot of different memories. Heather Langenkamp, who was in the first one, was super sweet and so generous. Laurence Fishburne was in it for a minute, a little bit, and he's such a great actor — "Apocalypse Now" and everything. He was really cool, and all the kids were really cool. We were shooting, at one point, at the VA Hospital in Westwood, and it was really run down and our dressing rooms were basically like someone threw sheets of drywall up and created these cubby holes. We had a cot in there. It was freezing. The weird thing is, I ended up getting paid more for the Dokken video ["Dream Warriors"] then I got for the movie, or about the same.

An argument can be made that "Severance" has elements of horror. Do you agree with that? And in general, are you a horror fan?

Well, I definitely agree with that. I am, I love horror movies. I did "Nightmare on Elm Street." David did all those "Scream" films. Horror's been very good to us, our family, and I love it. I love horror movies. They're so fun to watch.

You've tackled so many different characters over the course of your career, but is there a dream role you hope will come your way in the future? Is there an actor or a director you've never worked with that you'd love to work with?

So many ... everything. I love the adventure of acting and film and there's so many wonderful directors. I love so many people, and historical things. I've done a little bit of that. I did [1993's] "Ethan Frome," but I'd love to do more history and sci-fi and horror. I really love all the different genres that we have. I'd even love to do a musical someday.

Nice. Like what?

I don't know. Hopefully, it's something that they haven't made yet.

Are we talking like a Disney movie or...?

I don't know about a Disney movie, but ... I love "Jesus Christ Superstar," [something] in that adult musical realm.

Arquette's latest series, "Severance," streams exclusively on Apple TV+, where new episodes are available every Friday.