Just like Marlon Brando and Kim Hunter in A Streetcar named Desire, Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden have a fantastic and powerful chemistry that combines lust and passion with hate and self-destruction. Marcia Gay Harden has a strong and uncompromising screen presence which she uses to give her character many shades and edges – Lee is tough and bitter, taking care of Jackson like a mother but always loving and sensual. Right at the beginning of their relationship she begins to take care of Jackson’s life (trying to calm him down at dinner, making him breakfast and most importantly, getting people to see his work). Despite the fact that her own life always has to stand back, she never becomes a little house-wife or anything – Lee always keeps her dignity, telling Jackson that she wants to get married or it is over and she always remains her own person. Jackson Pollock may control her life, but he doesn’t control her character. Marcia Gay Harden shows Lee as a strong woman who doesn’t give up and who keeps up with Jackson and his problems.
Essentially, Lee Krassner is the typical ‘suffering wife’ the Academy loves to honor but by emphasizing the strength and determination of Lee, Marcia Gay Harden gave the part a much more interesting and captivating angle than, say, Jennifer Connelly one year later in A Beautiful Mind.
Marcia Gay Harden also has one of the most fascinating ‘Oscar scenes’ ever and she hits that scene out of the park: ‘We are painters, Jackson! We don’t have any money, we don’t get by, we struggle. But you are a great artist. I believe in Jackson Pollock. There’s you and there’s your painting and you, you need, you need, you need, YOU NEED!’
Marcia Gay Harden crafts Lee Krassner as a woman who loves Jackson the painter probably more than Jackson the man. She can forgive his drinking, maybe even his affairs but she can’t forgive it when he’s not working. She yells at him ‘Whatever trash you take home, I couldn’t care less!’ but she wants him to paint.
Both Ed Harris and Marcia Gay Harden show a relationship broken right from the beginning, but the affection and the need for each other keep them together. It’s a very intense and gripping portrayal which works wonderfully with the dark tone surrounding it.