The Patricia Arquette of the mind’s eye belongs in Southern California. On the lam in True Romance, she soaks in the open-road sunshine, her teal bra and cow-print miniskirt one-upping the purple Cadillac convertible. In Lost Highway, her two alter-egos—one brunette with cropped bangs, the other platinum blonde—bring screen-star classicism to David Lynch’s moody universe. And in the upcoming Apple TV+ series High Desert, Arquette plays a woman in recovery in Yucca Valley, spurred to become a private investigator following her mother’s death. The name of the series, in keeping with the state’s stance on certain recreational drugs, winks at more than geography.
“I’ve grown up in California since 1976—cannabis has always been a big part of the California culture,” Arquette says by phone from Hollywood. “I remember buying weed when I was little and it was oregano one time. I got ripped off back in the day, back when I was a sucker,” she adds with a knowing laugh.
Cannabis is front of mind. Days earlier, the actor joined a colorful cast of performers—RuPaul’s Drag Race’s Willow Pillow and Kornbread, musicians Kesha and Hayley Kiyoko, and Sarah Michelle Gellar among them—to film a new campaign for Cann, the queer-owned brand of low-dose “social tonics.” (Stockists by state can be found through Weedmaps, which cosponsored the project.) Styled like a neon-bright music video with a new track by Leland, it’s an over-the-top cosign for Pride Month and inclusivity. “I was joking on the set that I was representing The Golden Girls, the sort of middle-aged woman,” Arquette says. Her onscreen persona, delivering spanks and girl-group choreography while dressed in a lipstick-pink playsuit and Lucite pleasers, is a far cry from Miami retiree.
“Patricia is electric,” says Cann cofounder Luke Anderson, talking about the concept brought to life by director Jake Wilson and production company London Alley. “In a world where ‘Don’t Say Gay’ is gaining traction, how do you scream gay rights? Well, it’s with a utopia of queer joy.” Arquette echoes that sentiment, describing an “immediate kind of kinship” with Anderson and his vision for corporate advocacy. “I’m an old battle axe—it’s hard to make me smile,” she says, “but also it’s deeply personal for me. My sister, Alexis, was transgender and she passed away from AIDS, which is still a real present danger in the world,” the actor explains, recalling the “incredibly moving” experience on the Cann set. “This is what I feel like I need after this pandemic.”
“I have an interesting history with cannabis, I guess, in that my dad was a real stoner growing up,” Arquette says, in her plainspoken way. “Weed was kind of always a bit of a conversation around the house.” Her mother was a poet, her father a character actor (he spent time with Chicago’s Second City group); all five children eventually went into acting. For a few years in early childhood, Arquette lived with her family on a commune in Virginia, a place long on ideals, short on resources, where “drugs and alcohol were pretty frowned upon.” But it instilled an open-armed approach to nature. “Growing up kind of feral and wild, climbing trees and never having shoes on—it’s just a different kind of life.” She remembers laying in tall grass and discerning shapes in the passing clouds—the kind of headspace that, to a modern listener strapped to a computer, sounds a lot like why people get high.
By the time they settled into California life, Arquette’s parents had a “serious divide” on the subject of cannabis. “Oddly enough, later on, when my mom had cancer, she was so nauseous from her chemotherapy that my sister had to buy weed on the street. My mom was like, ‘Oh, my god. I’ve fought with your dad so much about weed, and now here I am having to smoke weed again. And it’s medicine!’”
Arquette is now a cannabis entrepreneur herself. “I feel like I’m knee-deep in like 12 projects,” she exhales, when asked about the current ebb-and-flow of work. There is the upcoming High Desert along with a green-lit second season for Apple TV+’s Severance, in which she brilliantly plays the icy, rule-abiding middle manager Harmony Cobel. Arquette is also set to direct, produce, and star in a Showtime limited series, called Love Canal, about a 1970s grassroots push for environmental justice. She mentions her nonprofit, Give Love, which focuses on ecological sanitation in the developing world. And Fantom Flower—a collaboration with her son, Enzo Rossi, and other partners—is just about to start construction on a cannabis lounge in West Hollywood. (Cann is set to collaborate on a beverage.)
“The idea that cannabis has been an element of cultures, throughout time, is some of the feeling that we’re bringing into this,” Arquette says, citing the plant’s millennia-old inroads around the globe—from the kingdom of Judah to Delphi to ancient China. When Fantom Flower’s space opens (likely next year), it will have a stage for performances and a filmmaker speaker series; Arquette is already earmarking a talk on the documentary The Cockettes, about the hippie drag collective out of San Francisco, known for its fantastical performances. “It’s the fusion of psychedelic culture with LGBTQ culture, and the celebration of life and joy and art and costume and music and activism,” says Arquette.