Patricia Clarkson, snuggled onto a sofa at a Utah mountain lodge, is knocking her boot heel for luck. And it appears to be working, considering she's having a positively dreamy Sundance week. It's the peak of a winning streak that began last year with Clarkson's Emmy victory as Ruth's bohemian sister on HBO's Six Feet Under, and continued to build with critics' awards and Oscar talk for her turn as Julianne Moore's sharp-tongued best friend in Far From Heaven. Now the golden-voiced actress has a stunning four films at the festival -- The Station Agent, Pieces of April, The Baroness and the Pig, and All the Real Girls -- two of which have become Sundance's surprise hot tickets. ''The Station Agent and Pieces kind of blew me through the roof,'' she says. ''But it's a happy craziness.''
Clarkson's role in Agent -- as an artist grieving for her dead son -- was created by screenwriter-director Tom McCarthy especially for her. ''It's sexy and emotional and giddy and uncompromising. When I first read it, I called him and said Thank you, thank you,'' she says. ''I'm sure he had pressure to [get] bigger names and he wouldn't, he was unrelenting.''
Indeed, despite nearly two decades in the business, Clarkson, 43, is just now being properly recognized. You may remember her from her first screen role, as Kevin Costner's pregnant wife in The Untouchables, or more recently as Tom Hanks' dying wife in The Green Mile. Heck, who knows exactly where you first saw her: Since her breakout turn as a lesbian heroin junkie in 1998's High Art, Clarkson's been working at a breathless clip. ''You have to seize the moment, because it's not like there's an endless supply of great parts for women -- especially for someone like me, who's in her early 40s,'' she says. ''That can be the danger zone, and you're either going to break through or you're going to be struggling. And I am lucky, lucky, lucky, that I was able to break through that.''
No small talent was involved either. Pieces of April writer- director Peter Hedges thought of her immediately when he was casting Joy, a wisecracking mother of three who is dying of cancer. ''She's smart, she's sexy, and she's utterly unafraid to make an ugly choice, to make a bold choice -- and that makes her a great, great actor.'' The New Orleans native also boasts a great love life: She's dating a fellow indie darling, Roger Dodger's Campbell Scott (no slacker himself, with two 2003 Sundance films). ''We're having a good year and sometimes I have to pinch myself,'' she says. In March, Clarkson heads to Canada to shoot a hockey drama with Kurt Russell -- which could add another nice notch to her resume. ''I'm glad that when I'm 80 I'll look back and go, 'I worked with amazing filmmakers -- and I'm still friends with these people.'''