Interview by Carl Marsh - June 2014
you are an actor in what I think will become one of the shock hits of 2014 (and future cult status) with Cheap Thrills; once I saw the trailer, I just had to get in touch with you and do this Q&A! Please tell everyone what the film is about, and why you were drawn to it?
The movie is about a guy who has a wife and an infant son who loses his job and receives an eviction notice on the same day. As fate would have it, he goes to a dive bar to drown his sorrows and runs into an old friend similarly down on his luck. They meet a strange, wealthy couple who offer them money for simple dares like drinking a shot for fifty bucks or getting someone to slap you in the face for 200. As the night goes on, the money goes up and the dares get crazier and dangerous.
I was drawn to the character because he begins in one place and runs through every conceivable emotion to end up in a completely different place emotionally, intellectually and physically by the story’s end. He runs a gauntlet that takes him through his past, present and future and reveals who he really is on the inside. As an actor, it’s rare you get offered a part with such range. I’d be lucky to do all of the things in this film in my entire career much less than in one movie!
I liked that the story was simple and suspenseful. You truly didn’t know what would happen next, you couldn’t wait to turn the page! And things get truly absurd and out of control and spiral into madness and violence, yet nothing ever felt like it didn’t follow logically. I always knew why the characters did what they did. It was really well-written. And the director, Evan Katz, also did an uncredited rewrite. He’s a smart, sensitive and really talented guy that I wanted to work with. Like me, he is also a devout cinephile so we spoke the same language. Even though the story goes to insane places, he always wanted it to be grounded in reality. I really respond to that. There’s little I hate more than a movie where you don’t believe the people or the story would ever happen on earth! It happens all the time though. Evan is meticulously well-thought-out, so we never ran into those dilemmas. It always felt real. I think that’s why people respond to the movie so strongly. It feels like we know these people, we can relate to them. And it is shot and cut in a way that makes it feel like we are actually there and this is all really happening. It’s a verite’ way of presenting something. Almost documentary-like in a way, but also very operatic. I mean things get CRAZY! Very Grand Guignol in a way. And these two very different styles mesh very well together. A really good director must know tone very well. Here are two very different tones, almost on the other ends of the spectrum of each other, and Mr. Katz blends them effortlessly.
With this being a book related website, and with you being an actor used to reading a lot of scripts, what book are you reading at the moment or have you not had time to get stuck into a good book due to work constraints?
It’s difficult because I’m also a screenwriter so I read so much for work now. I don’t read nearly as much for pleasure any more. I recently finally read one of James Paterson’s novels for the first time. He outsells Stephen King, John Grisham and Dan Brown put together! It’s a book called INVISIBLE about a female FBI analyst who is investigating a series of ‘accidental fires’ that she believes are really arson-murders. It’s pretty enjoyable. He spins a good yarn. It’s not really my type of book but I can see why so many people enjoy reading him.
What would you say was your best book or books are, and why?
I have certain authors that I respond to just like certain musicians and filmmakers. People who tell great stories but also a unique voice that penetrates something deep within me. Even if the story or experience or point of view is a million miles from where I stand, I feel like they are speaking directly to me. That’s the magic of it. I like a lot of American crime fiction. Particularly Jim Thompson, Elmore Leonard, Donald Westlake, Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett. I love the crime genre. I’ve always been fascinated by that world. I love a great many crime films too. CHEAP THRILLS could very much be a Thompson or Westlake novel. Evan Katz himself is a devotee of the crime genre as well. My favorite Thompson books are POP. 1280 and THE KILLER INSIDE ME. They very chillingly take you in the mind of psychopaths. You feel you really understand them, which should terrify me about myself but doesn’t. I couldn’t be further from these characters but the way he writes it with wit and darkness and a real flair for words, I just get really drawn in. I guess I feel the same way about Faulkner. Sometimes the novels feel like word salad for long stretches of time. And then you’ve become accustomed to it several chapters in and you find yourself within that world. He makes you work for it but it’s astonishing to be immersed in his universe. AS I LAY DYING and LIGHT IN AUGUST are favorites of mine. There are authors that speak to the contemporary American white male that I am like Richard Ford, Charles Baxter, Richard Price to name but a few. I really love THE SPORTSWRITER and I find as I get older that I understand more and more about the inner feeling state of that character. Price’s books LADIE’S MAN and THE BREAKS are particular favorites that speak more to my own experience. And then there is CLOCKERS, which is probably his masterpiece. It’s a world I know nothing of from personal experience and yet I feel like I am a part of that world and it breaks my heart every time. Baxter’s THE FEAST OF LOVE is a wonderful book about a variety of people’s experience in life and love. I also really love Nicholson Baker. THE MEZZANINE is a fascinating book that takes place entirely from the time a man starts at the bottom of an escalator in a mall until he reaches the top. Marvelous. Also THE FERMATA, about a man who finds he can freeze everything and everyone in time but himself and what he chooses to do with it. Exceptional. I could go on and on. Those are just off the top of my head.
How did you get into acting in the first place Pat?
I have always loved movies, since I was a young child. My entire family, my parents and three brothers, have always loved the movies. Acting was something I loved to do and seemed to have a natural inclination towards since I was a little boy. I was a bit of a ham. I liked performing and making people laugh. But I would say that getting into the movies was the important thing. If I had learned to be a writer and director at an earlier age, that might of been what I did. We didn’t have the technology like kids and young people do now that make being a filmmaker so accessible. However, I am still doing those things as well. At some point one of my scripts will get made and I may even direct something at some point. It’s a lot of work and usually several years of your live in terms of commitment. So I have to weigh the pros and cons carefully.
Now that you have filmed Cheap Thrills, and I guess that it was a while back when it was filmed as is the norm in the movie industry, so what are your next project(s)?
I did a film called KITCHEN SINK for Sony last year as well as an independent film called NO WAY JOSE that was written and directed by my old friend Adam Goldberg. I have several writing projects in the works, including a script that Evan Katz and I are writing together. It’s a crime story about an insurance agent in way over his head.
One thing I took from the movie trailer is the scene of cutting one’s own finger off and for a price that decreased between your character and that of Vince! This is something which grabbed me as I know the Yakuza crime syndicate in Japan have (had) links to this self harm for punishment reasons but for someone to do it for cash, it’s just so plausible that such an event could happen. How did you prepare for such a scene and how long did it take to film it?
We took a full day to film that scene. It’s the centerpiece of the movie. I had to imagine what that felt like emotionally, intellectually, physically of course. It was difficult. What’s interesting is that it flips the whole ‘dare’ concept of the movie on its head where the two characters are underbidding each other to do something awful to themselves! I liked the political subtext of that. It’s what’s going on in our economy right now: rich people turning poor people against each other, letting them undercut each other, for their own benefit and amusement. Instead of turning on them, we’ve turned on each other like animals.
What is your best character that you have ever portrayed and in what movie, as I can see that you have starred in quite a few?
Definitely the character of Craig in CHEAP THRILLS. Like I said, it’s everything I could possibly ever want to do in my entire career in just one movie!
Have you ever thought about writing a book?
It’s funny, I’ve only begun to think about that recently. Some of the scripts I write feel like they could, and should, go on forever and ever. I have really fallen in love with words and over the last 13 years feel like I’ve become quite skilled with them. So a novel may be on the horizon. I feel like I could do something in the long form on television, which is really in its hey day right now. But the rich detailed descriptions of a Faulkner or a Thompson or the like is something I’d feel compelled to explore once I find the time. It would really mean taking some time and I have precious little of that these days!
If you could be an animal, what would it be and why?
A gorilla. I took an acting class in college called ‘Animals’ where we chose an animal and became that animal and slowly evolved that animal into a human character. A gorilla has raw power and brute strength. But they are also majestic in their calm.
Thanks Pat, I cannot wait to watch the film Cheap Thrills very soon…
Occupation: Actor / Screen Writer