The Movie Waffler Waffling with... Pat Healy (Part 2) | The Movie Waffler

Waffling with... Pat Healy (Part 2)

Part two of our interview with one of American indie cinema's greatest stars. Click here for Part1.

The Movie Waffler: The first movie we discovered you in was 'Great World of Sound'. I guess that's been your biggest role to date, in terms of carrying a film?

Pat Healy: Well, I just finished a film where I was asked to carry the movie and hopefully that will be out later this year but yeah. I'd been friends with David Gordon Green since 2000. He asked me to play a little part in his film 'Undertow' in 2003. That was when I met Craig Zobel (director of 'GWOS'), he was working as a producer on that film. He offered me the part and it was one I was interested in because I had some knowledge of that particular scam. It's called "song sharking", where people are taken advantage of by ads in the newspaper claiming to be from real record producers.
It's always fun to act, no matter what size the role, but I'd had so many bit-parts over the years that it was great to be able to build a character over a month or two, a lot like my start in the theater. It's great even to have a large supporting role as you learn a lot and get experience.

TMW: I think a lot of viewers can identify with your character in that film. So many people work in jobs where they question the ethics of what they're asked to do.

PH: Both that film and 'Compliance' are kind of about the same thing which is the idea of a larger entity using a middle man to abuse people, working class people turned against each other by higher forces. I think the reason 'Compliance' has struck such a chord now is because we're becoming more aware of that as a phenomenon in our world right now. I identified with that character too because when I was 30 I really felt aimless and wasn't sure what direction things were going in. If I hadn't gotten that film I don't know what would have happened to me. You're much more susceptible to doing the wrong thing when you're desperate.

TMW: The audition scenes in that film are so realistic. Did some of those people actually think they were at a genuine audition?

PH: For the first two weeks of shooting, we put ads in the papers and had people come into these sets we had built that looked like motel rooms. We had hidden cameras capturing everything. People signed releases before they went in and performed. Afterwards we briefed them that we were making this film and trying to expose this scam. Most people had no problem with it, most were really happy to see themselves in the film. The few who were unhappy tended to be the ones who didn't give a very good performance.

TMW: Another role you particularly impressed in was 'The Innkeepers'.

PH: That was really fun. I was a huge fan of Ti West's 'House of the Devil'. I was going through a contentious period of writing and decided to just walk away from it for a while and concentrate on acting. I had met Ti briefly at a film festival when we were promoting 'GWOS' and I received an email from a mutual friend saying Ti wanted me to be in his next film. I was thrilled. I hadn't even read the script but I was ready to say "yes" right there. It took a while to come together but when we cast Sara Paxton, the finance came through. Sara and I were very different in many ways but we share the same sense of humor and worked well together, despite having never met before the first day of shooting. Everyone involved in that film got to be friends. We all worked and ate together in that hotel and I think you see this in the film; it seems like a real friendship.
I identified again with that role, having been an aimless slacker at various points in my life, not having the confidence to move forward. I particularly like the scene where I try to tell Sara my feelings for her and she doesn't even notice. When I played that scene it was very much from the heart and I really felt sad. That was the truth of the situation but when I see it with an audience, everyone laughs, which is great because that's the intention. It is really funny because we recognize we've all been in that situation, on one side or the other. If I play something for laughs it seems false but if I play the truth of the situation it doesn't matter what kind of film it is, it'll be funny or scary or whatever. I think we earned the audience's trust by building characters that they care about.
I'm glad, though it didn't have huge distribution, the film is really finding an audience. It's on Netflix now so a lot of people are finding it there. I think it's a movie that makes people feel good, it's not like 'Compliance' where you come out all wound up. Comedy and horror can be particularly great in a cinema as a shared experience, everyone gets to laugh or scream together.

TMW: What stood out to me was how likeable the characters were, unlike most modern horror movies where they're usually obnoxious.

PH: Yeah, you usually end up rooting for the killer, characters like Freddy and Jason become the draw for the film. I enjoy the 'Final Destination' films but they really are just about seeing people die in crazy ways. 'Innkeepers' was an attempt to do something old school. We wanted it to be more like 'The Shining' or 'The Innocents'. Now it's about giving you a loud bang every five minutes or having a cat jump out. I think the big plus for 'Innkeepers' is that it stands out in terms of character and story.

TMW: It's reminiscent of that old Ray Milland movie 'The Uninvited' where half-way through you've forgotten it's a horror film and suddenly it kicks in.

PH: I never even thought about that movie but you're absolutely right. It's not as extreme, comedy-wise, as something like 'Abbot & Costello meet Frankenstein' but it is, in a way, a contemporary spin on something like that.

TMW: It's strange to look back on the 'Abbot & Costello' movies and think they were the equivalent of having Freddy or Jason turn up in a Will Ferrel movie today.

PH: They were the actual Universal monsters of the time.

TMW: When I was a kid those movies were constantly shown on afternoon TV. That's probably why I grew up loving horror.
That's something that's sadly died off now. Back in the eighties you would get horror double bills every Friday night on TV, now you're lucky to see a movie on TV period.

PH: It's too divided now. We have more choice so there's less of a community built around it.

TMW: There's so much available now yet people generally aren't availing of it. There's so much choice, but so little is chosen.

PH: There's such little investment in watching movies now. People watch them with glazed over eyes, consuming them without taking them in.

TMW: Before it was so hard to track down films whereas now everything's on DVD or Netflix. Back in the day you had to wait for it to turn up on TV.

PH: That made it an event. I appreciate how accessible it is now but it's also given rise to a culture of "I want it now!" Nothing beats the 70mm screenings I've been going to recently here in L.A. Sure, I could watch the same movies at home but it won't beat a big screen and a shared experience with an audience.

TMW: When you received the script for 'Compliance', what were your initial thoughts?

PH: In the four years since 'GWOS', my writing career had taken off and Craig (Zobel) had offers to write but was finding it difficult to get a film made. He read about the real-life story and felt inspired to write a script. He had called me to talk about it but hadn't actually offered me a role. I didn't hear from him again for about two months until one day he rang and told me he was ready to start shooting and I had the part. I was going through some personal problems at the time and was in a very dark place for the first time in many years so when he offered it to me I wasn't too sure. He sent me the script anyway and when I read it I was floored. I wasn't familiar with the story so I had the same question everyone had "Are people going to believe this?". I didn't know if it could work because it was so crazy. I talked with Craig and we agreed that we were more interested in asking questions with the film than receiving answers.
I felt no connection to the role, at the time I really felt I didn't want to take it. At the start of my career I had gotten all these guest spots on TV shows where I played the bad guy and I didn't want to be the bad guy now. I saw this guy as a monster but I really felt like I should go do the film for Craig, first of all. Secondly I thought, as I was in a bad place, maybe I could exorcise some demons. I'm not really that kind of "method" actor where I have to work out my problems through my work, though I have done that from time to time.

TMW: That's probably just as well, considering the character in 'Compliance'.

PH: I really thought I would have a bad time every day playing this guy. Usually if the part is a horrible person you have fun. In this film I just did, 'Cheap Thrills', with Sara Paxton again, I do a lot of terrible things but it was very action-oriented. This character though was tightly coiled and I was isolated in a basement. Even though the phone conversations were recorded live, I was on my own with a couple of cameramen.
The first time I saw it was in a private screening in New York before Sundance and I was just knocked out. It's certainly the best film I've been in where I had a significant role. I was surprised by my performance. I had been in another place and was channeling something that I wasn't really conscious of. It felt like I was watching another person and it didn't make me uncomfortable. I was worried it would bring back those bad feelings I'd had but really quite the opposite happened, I felt so removed from it. It was the first time I didn't recognize myself.

TMW: How was the process of acting into a phone for the entire movie?

PH: Usually you're on a phone and someone is reading lines off camera but with this we had two sets in the same sound-stage, connected by a live phone line. The cameras were upstairs filming the manager's office and downstairs filming me simultaneously. It meant I had the experience of acting with someone, without looking into their eyes, though that character wouldn't have the guts to look someone in the eye. It never felt like I was acting with a phone, it felt like I was acting with Ann Dowd and Dream Walker and everyone else. The very smart way Craig choose to shoot it paid off and it feels real because of this.

TMW: Having managed retail stores in the past, I really identified with the stress Dowd was under in the film.

PH: Put in that emotional state of stress, you can't think clearly. Everyone, of course, follows her lead and nobody thinks to ask if she made sure this was a police officer. It's like being sold something you don't need by a salesman just so they'll leave you alone. It's silly to say these people were stupid or this was an isolated incident, which it wasn't. It's one of seventy reported cases.

TMW: A lot of people have an inbred fear of authority and immediately feel guilty, even if they're not, once an authority figure questions them.

PH: How many false confession stories have we heard?

TMW: In Europe, people tend not to take the police too seriously but in the U.S there seems to be much more of a reverence towards them which can turn into fear.

PH: Yeah, everyone recognizes fear of the police here. I think viewers outside the U.S see it as a harsh critique of America. It's interesting how, in Europe, people have remarked on how it's uniquely American while eighty years ago Europe was seeing the birth of fascism. I don't think it's a uniquely American thing.

TMW: Most European countries have, at some stage in their history, been occupied by a foreign power. I think that's why Europeans have much more of a mistrust for authority than Americans.

PH: It is starting to change since 9/11. We've seen our freedoms eroded quite substantially to protect us from these unseen boogeymen. This movie sort of works like a distorted mirror of that larger situation.

TMW: It's definitely one to provoke debate, not a movie you can easily walk away from and go for a Big Mac.

PH: Exactly, there's windows and mirrors and movies are mostly windows now. I like escapism but sometimes we need mirrors and sometimes we don't like what we see in them.

TMW: Tell us about your upcoming film, 'Cheap Thrills'.

PH: It's another timely story about a guy who's married with a small child. He loses his job and runs into an old friend who's now living a criminal existence. They get drunk and meet this rich couple who start throwing  money at them to perform outrageous "dares". As the night goes on, the money gets higher and the dares get more outrageous and dangerous. It gets kind of crazy.

TMW: It sounds like an Italian movie from the seventies, 'House on the Edge of the Park', a sleazy little film that's elevated above most Italian exploitation movies by its exploration of class issues.

PH: Oh that's a Ruggero Deodato film, I need to see that.

TMW: It's not a date movie.

PH: I saw 'Cannibal Holocaust' and 'Cut and Run' fairly recently. There's a bunch of his films on Netflix now. I'll check that one out, thanks for the tip.

TMW: Anytime!

The Movie Waffler