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Pat Healy talks CHEAP THRILLS, GHOST WORLD and More

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I had the opportunity to ask the talented Pat Healy about his acting career and his overall feelings about working in and outside of Hollywood. Cheap Thrills is available on Movies On Demand today and select theaters & digital VOD March 21!

What was most appealing to you about playing Craig in Cheap Thrills and in what way did you personally relate to this character?

Initially, after really being gripped by the script and it’s brilliantly unfolding story, what really gripped me was the idea of playing a character from the beginning to the end who experienced nearly every single possible emotion on the spectrum. We’re lucky enough to get to play all of those things in an entire career much less in one movie! And the way that the character’s actions unfolded, extreme as they might become, all followed very logically. Within the context of who he is and what is happening to him, it made a lot of sense that he does what he does. I’m always fascinated by characters whom the audience views as doing something ‘crazy,’ when to them it seems very logical under the circumstances. In COMPLIANCE a lot of people had trouble swallowing what the characters were doing, even though it was something that had actually occurred in real life! In the fog of an emotional situation with high stakes, we sometimes behave irrationally. But no one believes they are being irrational. We only react to the information and stimuli that is available to us. In a closed, controlled environment like these two films portray things can get a little hairy. They are both movies about people carrying out controlled science experiments on other people. Once the puppet master, I am now only the victim!

I don’t really know what things I am capable of under such extreme circumstances. But I do know that soldiers in combat or people in other dire, desperate circumstances are probably capable of a lot of things they never imagined they’d be capable of. I can relate to that I’m sure.

What do you hope the audience will get out of Cheap Thrills that would give you the strongest sense of accomplishment for your performance?

They may not like what I do or what I become in the movie but I would hope that they understand it. That where Craig begins and where he ends makes sense. That they know why he does why he does, whether they support it or not. I’m not out to garner anyone’s sympathy but I do like to approach characters with a certain humanity. It helps me have empathy for all kinds of people. No one wakes up one day and decides to do horrible things. There are things within us, some of us more than others, that can be triggered by the external circumstances we encounter every day. The best we can be is aware of our own shortcomings and always be vigilant. I’m someone who has always tried to be in touch with my own feelings. It’s been an important component of both my life and work. Craig is not in touch with himself. He probably thinks something like this could never happen to him and that he would never behave this way. Those are usually the first people who fall prey to all kinds of heinous shit. We need to really try and know ourselves and be aware that there are dangerous forces in the world. We are not immune to their seductions. If we can do that, we are much less likely to become a victim and/or a villain.

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How much of your background in sketch comedy still plays a significant role in your approach to acting?

I never really started doing sketch comedy until I was in my 30’s. To me, it’s just another tool to use towards acting. Towards performance. Someone like David Koechner knows this too. It allows you a lot of time on stage where you’re having to be very quick on your feet and very vulnerable. You have to be very connected to the other actors on the stage with you. When shooting something like CHEAP THRILLS, where there is not a lot of time or money and scenes have to be shot very quickly with very few takes, this comes in handy. This whole group of the four of us(Sara, David, Ethan and myself) were all very aware of this. This thing doesn’t get off the ground without us being very in sync with each other. As well, my approach to comedy is not broad. I find that under reacting , much in the way Bill Murray or Albert Brooks do it, is funnier than overreacting to extreme situations. I would say that every one felt that way about this material. Evan Katz was not trying to make something broad or schticky. If there is humor, it is because it is a well-written story and recognizable human behaviors. The situation may be extreme but I think the audience will find it funnier and more engaging overall if they actually believe that these characters are real and that they relate to them.

In Magnolia, you played multiple generations of the same character. How did you prepare for that and what kind of demands did that have on you?

I honestly didn’t know about playing the first character, the pharmacist in Greenberry Hill, London, until many months after playing the contemporary pharmacist. That was a little surprise Paul sprung on me. I was delighted. I really prepared for that first guy, having met many of his kind before and after we shot that scene. Seems like I run into one of those guys every few months somewhere. I felt like Julianne Moore at a pharmacy not too long ago because I met one of these weirdos who was giving me a hard time and I hadn’t even done anything wrong. He seemed to want to get under my skin for no discernible reason. Probably a sociopath of some kind. I find it very difficult to relate to people who do not understand that other people have feelings. But I find them easy to play somehow. I don’t really know why. Perhaps because feelings are the most difficult things to approach and manage about acting. Playing someone without them, you are unencumbered of your greatest obstacle!

What do you remember most about the process of Paul Thomas Anderson using vintage cameras in the opening?

That was very exciting. Bob Elswit had a Pathe camera from around 1910 I believe. It was hand-cranked and he used a metronome to keep the proper time in cranking it. What made it even more interesting was Paul using his regular tricks(the fast dolly in, the crane shot, etc.) with that old-fashioned camera. It was a great source of excitement for all of us. I think Paul and Bob used it in a music video for Fiona Apple shortly after that and it’s quite a thing of beauty to see. I never thought Paul would do something as great as MAGNOLIA again but he has constantly upped the ante both for himself and cinema. I think he has become the great genius of American filmmaking today. I’m glad I know him and that he still always lets me see his movies in advance of their release. We’re both hardcore cinephiles so we can relate. It’s nice to be a part of his body of work in any way.

When you played John Ellis in Ghost World, did you feel any pressure to stay faithful to Daniel Clowes’ source material and what did you enjoy most about playing that character?

I came into that as a HUGE fan of Dan’s work and GHOST WORLD in particular. I owned, and still own, every single issue of EIGHTBALL and everything he’s done before or since. In that sense of the word, I wanted him to be impressed most of all. I knew I didn’t look just like the character in the book but I understood his smarminess. Also, as a habitant of comic book shops and record stores most of my young life I knew this person very well. Not too distant of a cousin of that pharmacy guy! As well, I was from Chicago where Dan was when he came up with this stuff. It’s entirely possible I know the EXACT guy he based this on. That being said, I walked into the room with Dan and Terry and Cassandra Kulukundis, the casting director. I just did the scenes exactly like they are in the movie. They laughed their asses off. It was one of two times in my entire life I was offered the job right in the room. The other was MAGNOLIA, which Cassandra also cast. I’d like to think I understand these characters too well and not that I’m like one of them!

What other talented directors would you like to work with and what is the most important factor in choosing your roles?

Oh boy. Probably too many to mention. Top ten would be Scorsese, Spielberg, The Coen Brothers, Soderbergh(although he may not be directing anymore), Tarantino, Fincher, David O. Russell, Woody Allen, Alexander Payne and Michael Haneke. I really wish Haneke would make another English language film. I’d kill to work with him(and he might make me!).

I like to say these days that it has to be a role I can bring something to and take something from. There are many things to consider when making a movie: Is it going to be fun? Are the other people cool? Will you be making any money? Those are important too. You are lucky if you get one of those! But creatively I have to be able to bring something to the table that no one else can bring, whatever that might be for any given project. And it has to be something I can learn and grow from, both about life and myself and the world we live in. Otherwise, they have to pay me a LOT of money!

Do you have a preference in working on independent films or mainstream films? Is it all the same if the scripts are good

It is indeed the same if the scripts are good. Other than that it’s apples and oranges. On a big film you have more time and money to get things right. But I can’t imagine doing better work than I’ve done in GREAT WORLD OF SOUND or COMPLIANCE or THE INNKEEPERS or CHEAP THRILLS. They were all made in just a few weeks with no time or money. Perhaps that makes me focus extra hard and do better work. I would like the luxury of doing bigger parts in bigger films which I haven’t really had yet in my career. Then I can truly give you an answer.

If you found yourself as desperate as Craig, what would be the most shameful thing that you’d subject yourself to for financial gain?

Man, you’d be surprised. I’m not exactly swimming in dough at the moment. What did you have in mind?

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The Author

Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan

Sean McClannahan is a freelance film journalist and is the founder of Movie Time And Beyond. His passion for movies and pop culture knows no limits.