INTERVIEW: Patrick Wilson

Posted by · 12:34 pm · October 4th, 2006

Patrick Wilson’s star has steadily been on the rise following an on-screen debut in the 2003 mini-series “Angels in America.” Consistent work in John Lee Hancock’s “The Alamo” and Joel Schumacher’s “The Phantom of the Opera” have kept him in the game, but 2006 might be his year to really shine. Currently receiving considerable acclaim for his work opposite Kate Winslet in “Little Children,” the actor is entering a defining stage that could perpetuate that rise. I had the opportunity to sit and chat with Wilson while he was promoting “Little Children” at the Toronto International Film Festival.

After earning a BFA at Carnegie Mellon University in 1995, Wilson, an unabashedly friendly and humble man, quickly made a name for himself as a stage performer. Only recently has he found his way to the film industry. Director Mike Nichols happened to catch Wilson in the Broadway production of “The Full Monty” in 2002, which inspired the filmmaker to cast him in the award-winning HBO mini-series, based on Tony Kushner’s revered play.

“The transition from stage to screen was a smooth one,” Wilson explains. “Though for a while on ‘Angels in America,’ I did find myself asking the cinematographer where I should be in the picture. But I was fortunate enough to have an acting style already well-suited for cinema”.

Though his segue from the stage to the big screen came relatively without fuss, Wilson admits considerable differences between the two mediums that remain striking.

“With stage, you do it and it’s there. Watching ‘Little Children’ now, I’m seeing work I did a year ago”. The experience must certainly contrast with the immediate audience interaction he experienced on stage.

Calling theater “the actor’s medium” with film being “the director’s medium,” Wilson praises filmmaker Todd Field for his work on “Little Children,” specifically admiring the editing of the film “to create a tension that was not there on the page”. And though acknowledging Field is obviously attracted to drama, he also says this was in many ways a departure for the director of “In the Bedroom.” “Some of the hardest laughs I have had came on the set of his movie,” Wilson reminisces. “Like Todd, I personally consider the film to be a satirical melodrama.”

Satirical or not, “Little Children” boasts delicate subject matter that might have worked against the film without the proper care. While infidelity is surely an issue front and center in the screenplay (adapted from author Tom Perotta’s novel of the same name), the story also revolves around a convicted sex offender, portrayed in the film by former child actor Jackie Earle Haley.

“I was never afraid of how the film would handle the subject matter,” Wilson explains. “Jackie was fantastic in the role. But even before that, Todd and Tom created a human out of a subject abhorrent and tough to watch.” And regardless of controversial elements, as he told the audience at the premiere the night before we spoke, “five, six, seven dynamic, intertwining characters is rare in a film.”

Much of the buzz surrounding “Little Children” following showcases at the Telluride and Toronto Film Festivals has specifically been aimed at Wilson’s co-star, four-time Oscar nominee Kate Winslet. An actress Wilson acknowledges for continually taking roles to challenge herself, Winslet certainly has a clear trajectory for Oscar consideration once again. Wilson is clearly grateful for the opportunity to have worked with her on “Little Children.”

“The great actors are the great actors because they want to become even better actors,” he begins, speaking fondly of his co-star. “We sat down together for several days before shooting started, getting to know each other and going over the script. Her dedication was infectious.”

So where does Wilson hope to go from here? When asked if he has any desire for truly mainstream endeavors, his response is “a great part is a part. I go to movies all the time.” He also points out Russell Crowe’s Maximus, from Ridley Scott’s “Gladiator,” as being an example of a great role in what is clearly a mainstream movie.

“I’m not at the top of the pecking order,” he continues. “Usually a role gets turned down before getting to me. ‘Little Children’ is the rare example of a director wanting me for the part from the get-go. But I’m fortunate that the opportunities I have had have been great ones. Some roles I have been intrigued by, and not been offered, have ended up being in less-than-great films. But I think I know where my strengths are.”

No matter what roles Wilson ends up taking as his career continues to blossom – in film, television or stage – I have no doubt we’ll be seeing more of the already accomplished 31 year-old thespian in the future. Releasing this Friday and sure to make a mark on this year’s film awards season, “Little Children” could be that early turning point that keeps him on our radars for years to come.

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