August 21, 2006 12:00 PM

So what if she didn’t get an Emmy nomination? That’s not Mary-Louise Parker’s kind of party, anyway. The fussy gown, the red-carpet hoopla, having to politely clap every 19.3 seconds? Nope. Not for her. But putting together goody bags and scarfing down miniature cupcakes at a boisterous party for 2-year-old son William? “I live for that stuff,” says the star of Showtime’s Weeds. “In a household of screaming children? Nothing makes me happier.”

Parker also likes her characters to be a bit out of control. “I love playing flawed people,” she says. “The more damaged the better.” On Weeds (see p. 37) she plays a widowed mom who starts dealing pot to pay the bills. That’s a far cry from, say, Teri Hatcher‘s part on Desperate Housewives, a role that Parker, 42, turned down. “I’ve done things that people advised me against,” she admits. “But I never wanted to be super-duper pop-star famous.” Describing herself as “a New York stage actress,” Parker also loves Weeds for its three-months-a-year schedule, which gives her more time to do theater and film.

Although she’s having trouble finding a suitable Broadway venture (“I really have to dig a play; I can be kind of insufferable”), she’ll be on view this winter in the film The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, in which she plays Brad Pitt‘s wife. “I never did things to shape a career,” she says. “But it’s all kind of perversely worked out in my favor.”

In November 2003 Parker’s life was not in such a blissful state. Though she declines to discuss the subject, her boyfriend of six years, actor Billy Crudup, 38, allegedly began dating actress Claire Danes when Parker was seven months pregnant with his child. Still, when William was born in January 2004, Parker had no worries about being up to the task of single parenthood. “A lot of things I can’t do,” she says. “I wouldn’t get up in front of a mic and do standup comedy. But taking care of someone, I know how to do.” She’s even maternal on set, planning a birthday scavenger hunt for costar Hunter Parrish, 19, who plays her teenage son on the show, and writing a letter of recommendation for his college applications. And “she makes CDs for me of really cool, good music she loves,” he says.

Still, Parker can be a bit of a nervous mom. When she first brought William home to her New York City apartment, she slept on an air-mattress bed next to his crib. “I was afraid the baby monitor might not work. What if there was an electrical short?” she says. “Yes, it’s neurotic. But I think a true neurosis manifests itself in discomfort. And that was just joy. I was so happy to lie down and sleep there.”

Although she hasn’t yet begun dating again, she hopes to soon—more for William’s benefit than her own. “You can’t put everything on your child; it’s not good for them,” she says. But her and William’s frequent playdates are keeping her busy for now. On a recent trip to Disneyland, “I looked around, and everywhere there was a tantruming child. I just praised the heavens,” she says. “He’s just not one of those children that throw themselves on the ground and scream.”

Mostly, she chalks up having a not-at-all-terrible 2-year-old to luck, but “I’m also pretty precise about the whole schedule thing,” she says. “They have to know that you sleep at this hour and bathe at another and eat at another, and that the food will be good and from every food group.” She made sure of that early on by making her own baby food in her Cuisinart. “I got ice-cube trays, and made all these really cool foods like salmon and sweet potato,” she says.

So would she consider having another? “Maybe,” says Parker, an army brat who was the youngest of four. For now, she’d rather focus on her immediate goal of staying cool in the New York City heat wave. “We’ll walk to the water park, and maybe some friends will come over, and we’ll take the boy out for a little dinner. Somewhere outside, because when the light changes in New York, it’s really beautiful,” she says. “I love 5 o’clock on either side of the day. I love it in the morning because nothing has been screwed up yet. And I like it in the evening because, you know, everything is about to change.”

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