Urban Cinefile
"I almost don't know what a character is until six months after I finish playing it "  -- Cate Blanchett
 The World of Film in Australia - on the Internet Updated Tuesday September 15, 2020 

Printable page PRINTABLE PAGE



In her autobiographical movie, The Poker House, Lori Petty portrays her mother (played by Selma Blair) as an abhorrent, cocaine snorting, booze addled prostitute; that was 30 years ago. But the last time she saw her mum was on the Memorial Day weekend in 2009, when she visited her and her sisters for massages, pedicures, manicures and facials. And ironically her mum’s only complaint about the film is that Selma Blair smokes. “I didn’t smoke!” she growls. Lori Petty provides more surprises in this interview with Andrew L. Urban.

Lori Petty had forgotten it for seven years, buried it in a bottom drawer; the screenplay about her tough teenage years with her two young sisters and boozy mother in Iowa had receded from her memory. Then her old friend David Alan Grier asked her about it one day. “Where is that script … about you as a kid…” And he came over and they started working on it together.

"bubbly, irrepressible good humour"

The story is often harrowing but the performances lift the film’s mood, especially the three sisters, played by Jennifer Lawrence (as Agnes, the Lori character) and Sophie Bairley and Chloe Grace Moretz as the youngsters. Their bubbly, irrepressible good humour infects the film even in its darkest moments. Even so, it’s a (pleasant) surprise to learn that the family is reconciled. To get the maximum impact from this audio interview, listen to it immediately after seeing the film.

Lori Petty explains how writing it was like taking dictation, the movie fully formed in her head. Casting was important, and being an actor herself, Lori says she set the bar very high. She sounds like a no nonsense kind of director. “I lead by example … if you give a million percent, everyone gives a million percent.” She certainly got career defining performances from her entire cast.

As for Selma Blair, it was the financiers who insisted on a ‘name’ for the role of Sarah, her mum. “They said look, you have three young girls, unknown; you have an African American (Bokeem Woodbine as Duval, the live-in pimp who plays a key role). So we need someone audiences can recognise on the marque.”

Lori told them to go ahead and cast anyone they wanted. “I’m too busy,” she said. When Selma Blair was approached, she was on vacation, just prior to filming Hellboy II. Her manger – who coincidentally was once Lori’s publicist – was keen to give her a more serious role. And this one is a doosey.

A fan of Selma Blair’s Lori immediately sat down with David and “wrote her a three page monologue … cause she’s a star and deserves some good screen time.”

"how well Lori has adjusted"

The extraordinary thing is how well Lori has adjusted and how well she survived. “Ah yeah, she says down the phone from her manager’s office in Los Angeles, “doctors and psychiatrists I have spoken to often say they should be studying people like me… people who’ve come through tough times and abuse and made good.”

She also gets many women approaching her after a screening of the film “to confess things that happened to them saying they haven’t told anyone ‘cause they feel ashamed. But I tell them they’re not then ones who should be ashamed; it’s their abusers.”

Published December 17, 2009


Email this article

Lori Petty


Written and directed by Lori Petty

Fourteen year old Agnes (Jennifer Lawrence) shares her life in 1976 Iowa with her two young sisters Bee and Cammie (Sophie Bairley and Chloe Grace Moretz) and their drug addicted, prostitute mother Sarah (Selma Blair). Her lover and pimp, Duval (Bokeem Woodbine) tears their world apart, by dealing drugs, abuse and prostitution in the family home overrun by gamblers, thieves and johns.
Available on DVD from December 16, 2009.

© Urban Cinefile 1997 - 2020