SINGING TO THE SILVER SCREEN. While most of his fans in Asia know him best for his roles in Hollywood hits like Watchmen, The A-Team and Insidious, Patrick Wilson first rose to fame as a Broadway song and dance man, earning Tony nominations for his roles in The Full Monty and Oklahoma! along the way. He talks to Ronald Liem about the path his diverse career has followed and what he has learned along the way.
Suit, shirt and tie by Vivienne Westwood
In a way, Patrick Wilson followed in both of his parents’ footsteps. His father is a TV news anchorman and his mother a voice teacher and professional singer. His telegenic charms and musical skills may be hereditary, but he forged a path to Hollywood through hard work and determination. After attending the theater conservatory at Carnegie Mellon University, he first found work in musical theater. One of his first big breaks was snagging a role in a national touring production of Carousel. His first television role was in Mike Nichols acclaimed adaptation of Angels in America for HBO, which led to more films roles in indie hits like Hard Candy and character studies like Little Children. Most recently, he has played major roles in big blockbuster films like Watchmen and The A-Team, and he’s got several films coming up this summer, including his first sequel, the follow-up to his horror hit Insidious.
Jacket by Bally
Ronald Liem: How did your journey start? Why did you decide to go into acting?
Patrick Wilson: For me, music, singing, playing drums and other instruments was always just a hobby. I decided to become an actor somewhere around my 16th birthday. I always think about it as the first time that I really felt like acting, and specifically theater, could— without getting too dramatic—move me. So I felt that if I could spot the right script or part, then maybe I could make people respond to what I do. In hindsight, that sounds incredibly poetic and deep for a 16-year-old, but I wasn’t really that kind of kid. It was just when I first became emotionally aware of what actors could do. I thought of theater as something fun before, but all of a sudden it became a passion for me that year. So I went away to school for it and specifically I got into musical theater
Ronald Liem: What first drew you the theater, and musical theater in particular?
Patrick Wilson: I went to Carnegie Mellon University, which has a conservatory theater program, meaning that it’s really concentrated on the artistic aspect of acting. For me, singing had always just been a hobby. But this particular program I auditioned for asked if I wanted to do musical theater. And I said, ‘Nah, not really.’ Because I didn’t want to sacrifice my focus on acting for musical theater. I liked it, but I didn’t love it. But they told me that everybody in the program focuses on acting—the degree is in drama—I would just have a side focus on musical theater, just extra classes essentially. So for me, it was really about getting my money’s worth (laughs). I approached musical theater the way I did Shakespeare or Chekov or anything else – from an acting point of view. And of course, part of the reason for me doing musical theater professionally is that is where I got hired. Back when I was just getting out of college, there were very few young men in musical theater. So I was able to get some roles and one job in particular, Carousel, that allowed me to tour the country for about a year and a half. To me, that was one of the best roles in musical theater and it was mine to play at 22-years-old, which was thrilling. So honestly, a lot of my path was dictated by, as with almost everybody, opportunity. I was getting hired for musicals, that was what was in front of me. And then I got to do things like the Tonys, being in a cast album—all of that stuff was great. But I kept thinking that eventually it was going to get me into movies, which is fortunately what happened.
Ronald Liem: How did you make that transition from being on Broadway and doing musical productions to film?
Patrick Wilson: Honestly, Mike Nichols really made that happen for me. I was doing The Full Monty at the time, and he was casting for Angels in America. He saw me doing that show and he called me in for an audition. Sometimes it just takes somebody like that, with that type of power, to be able to tell HBO. “You have to hire this guy you’ve never heard of.” And that’s definitely what catapulted me into film.
Ronald Liem: You’ve done everything from theater to TV to film. Is there any medium you prefer?
Patrick Wilson: Well my experience in TV is really limited to A Gifted Man, a show that I did last year which certainly gave me a good taste for it. I love doing film—I’ve done a lot more films that I’ve done theater now over the last ten years. But honestly, there’s nothing like being on stage. I guess it’s similar to being a musician— it’s great to play in the studio and get the perfect take, the perfect sound, and lay it down. But then you go out on stage, and that thrill you feel playing for a live crowd, that why you really do it. There really is nothing else like it.
Ronald Liem: With the recent success of Les Miserable, there might be a lot more film adaptations of Broadway musicals in the works. Are there any such projects you would like to be involved with?
Patrick Wilson: I did Phantom of the Opera and I had a blast doing that, but it’s tough. For every Les Miserable that successful, there are several that can’t get off the ground or find the right support. I absolutely love musicals and I’m always looking for the right role for me to come back to it, but there’s not really a movie musical that I’m that I’m dying to do. I would like to see, whether I was in it or not, a big classic musical like Carousel or something with that kind of scope and huge dance numbers, not just another modern take where it’s like, “Ooh, let’s see how internal and dark we can make this.”
Ronald Liem: You’ve got the The Conjuring coming up this summer, can you tell us more about that?
Patrick Wilson: Well I’m in that alongside Vera Farmiga, who plays my wife, as well as Ron Livingston, Lili Taylor and a great group of kids. It’s really an amazing story. The movie has been taken to random test audiences, not just horror fans but people of all different ages and shapes, and it just did phenomenally across the board. It’s a great combination of period drama, because it takes place in the 70s, and classic horror movies. It’s super scary, but without being bloody, violent or anything like that. It’s scary in a very clever way.
Ronald Liem: You’ve also got Insidious 2 coming out this summer. Why did you decide to do two horror films in a row?
Patrick Wilson: The reason those films are coming out so close together is just a matter of circumstance. The Conjuring has been in the can for a while. Originally they wanted to release it in January, but since it tested so well, they decided to put it up against the big boys this summer. The fact that they’re coming out close together isn’t important to me because, beside both being horror movies, that’s really where the similarities end. Insidious 2 is the second chapter and it picks up right where the original left off, whereas in The Conjuring I play a paranormal investigator, based on a true story, which was really fun for me to play.
Ronald Liem: Would you say you gravitate towards a particular kind of story role?
Patrick Wilson: I think it’s always a balance between what you want and what you can get. That’s just the reality of it. I’m going to do this CIA thriller right now in Poland and then I when I come back I’m doing this dark comedy and then a little action comedy. I try to vary it up as much as I can. Meanwhile, I shot this other movie called Space Station 76 which was a really bizarre role, kind of a dramedy if you will. I like to mix it up.
Outfit by Giorgio Armani
Ronald Liem: Do you know when Space Station 76 is coming out?
Patrick Wilson: Because it’s set in space. but this 1976 version of space, they are applying these post processing special effects which will take many months to complete, so I think it’ll probably be ready in the fall. It will probably go the festival route because it’s a smaller movie, hopefully it will be played at SXSW or one of those, and then get a wide release sometime next year.
Ronald Liem: You’ve previously worked with Kate Winslet on Little Children and Anne Hathaway in The Passengers, both are Oscar winners. What has it been like, working with so many talented actresses?
Patrick Wilson: And don’t forget Charlize Theron in Young Adult! I feel very fortunate. The list of leading ladies I’ve worked with is thrilling. They’re great in all their different ways. You know Annie and I did a movie together that very few people saw but we both had fun shooting it and I think we had some really wonderful chemistry on screen. Which, in a weird way, made it more of a romantic story than the thriller that it was on the page. The movie shifted as we did it, which actually might have been why Sony didn’t know quite what to do with it. We’re both very proud of that movie and we had a fun time shooting it. She’s fantastic and I couldn’t be more happy for her. Her Oscar is well-deserved.
Ronald Liem: You’ve done the whole spectrum of film, everything from independent films like Hard Candy to big budget blockbusters like Watchmen. Which kind of production do you prefer?
Patrick Wilson: It’s so specific to each movie. On The A-Team, even though it was a huge big budget movie, we had a great relationship with the guys and specifically Joe Carnahan. We were sometimes coming up with those lines the day before shooting. So it had a very indie feel to it, if that makes sense. It was very collaborative. The only time you really see the result of money is in the amount of shooting days and the set pieces you get. That’s what it comes down to. For example, if you look at a movie like Hard Candy—if it had been a big budget movie, the performances might have been different because we only had 19 days to shoot that. So it made you sort of go all in, whereas with something like Watchmen, we spent around eight months doing that. I’ve never had a real opinion on indie versus studio movies because my studio experiences have always had that spirit. Even with Watchmen—people thought I was just acting in front of a green screen the entire time, but we actually built this entire set for New York and we were doing it all in the flesh. So I don’t see this big division between studio movies and indie movies.
Ronald Liem: Would you say your versatility is your greatest strength as an actor?
Patrick Wilson: I think a lot of my versatility comes from opportunity. I’m a New York actor, and I’ve got tons of friends who are amazingly talented but never got the shot that I did. A lot of that is really because of Angels in America. You do something like that and even if you’re bad, people think you must be a real actor because you’ve worked opposite Al Pacino and Meryl Streep (laughs).
Ronald Liem: What is your greatest achievement to date?
Patrick Wilson: My children. Definitely. Everything else is just fun.
Photographs: Mitchell Nguyen McCormack
Styling: Juliet Vo
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