Exclusive Texas Frightmare Q&A: Robert Patrick
Genre-friendly actors are far too often typecast, capitalizing on their animated brand of villainy as to keep work as steady as possible. Once a performer breaks out of such however, there’s a certain freedom in the limited roles that don’t inhibit creativity and ambition. Perhaps it’s this reason why Robert Patrick, whose villainy played out in front of millions in TERMINATOR 2, was able to find such success by exploring his possibilities where you’d least expect it.
Whether it’s in front of the big screen or small, Patrick has impressed in his work from dramas to westerns to comedies, yet he’s never forgotten where his career began. Now Patrick finds himself head-to-head with the horror genre once more, headlining FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES and returning once more to what he describes as “the golden age of television.” Patrick opened up to FANGORIA about the long road of taking bumps for Roger Corman and dishing them back out for Robert Rodriguez…
FANGORIA: What is it about genre films that attract you as an actor?
ROBERT PATRICK: I’ve just been moving from gig to gig and trying to find something that’s interesting. There’s a lot of things that go into it. I’m not that precious about what I do all the time, since I’m trying to keep myself employed. I do try to find something that interests me and attracts me to a project. Then, I’ll just go out and do it. I’ve been lucky, and a lot of cool things have come across my plate.
FANG: Starting out as an actor, was there any hesitation to board genre projects?
PATRICK: Not at all! If I was hesitant to join any [genre films], I wouldn’t have those great genre films on my resume. TERMINATOR 2 came at a time where I had done six or seven, or eight films with Roger Corman. That was essentially my film school, although I had done a couple plays. But I got the opportunity to work with the great film director James Cameron and I didn’t look at it as anything but an opportunity to work with a very wonderful filmmaker. I never realized it was going to be a big break for me, but it pulled it off.
But that’s the way I approach everything. Right now, I’m doing FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, which is a television show for Robert Rodriguez. You have to commit and be focused so that you believe whatever experience that the character is going through, no matter how extraordinary, is real. That’s the fun part of being an actor. If I’m going to convince myself that I’m the Terminator, that’s my focus and it’s fun to go, “How do I do that?” That’s always very enjoyable.
FANG: Under Corman’s tutelage, what was the most important lesson you learned as a young actor?
PATRICK: There was something that I learned right away. Specifically, it was just go in and do a good job, no matter what. I worked in some very arduous conditions for Roger; my first film was a non-union film and I busted my ass really, really hard. I listened, I stayed focused and I learned what I needed to learn, like how to stand in front of the camera and hit marks.
It was all the things that become second nature to you as an actor, but I just paid attention to the director I was working with, Clark Henderson. Having been an athlete, I had a natural ability to do stunts so I did my own stunts and tried to soak up as much information as I could. But working with Roger Corman helped me establish a work ethic; showing up on time, knowing my dialogue and never complaining.
Doing the best that I could is something I’ve carried with me since that very first film. It’s now 30 years later and I’ve done a lot of work, and I’ve brought that with me from project to project. Another thing I learned was by doing that, chances were I would get hired again and other people would want to work with me. So my mantra came to me quick: “Don’t be somebody people want to work around, be somebody people want to work with.”
I also learned that there’s nothing worse than standing there and not being able to do your lines. I’m glad I learned that on really early and really quickly. You do not want to be in that situation [laughs].
Those lessons have been really helpful because sometimes I’ll be working on 2-3 projects simultaneously, flying around the place to do a day or two on this or that. You have to be prepared. I don’t know if that’s a Midwestern work ethic or something I had in me, but Roger responded to that and he rewarded me by giving me more opportunities.
FANG: By preparing yourself as a physical actor, did that help you become more collaborative or spontaneous as an actor for roles that need expressive body language?
PATRICK: Absolutely. I’ve always been all-in, in that regard. However, as I’m getting older, going all-in is different than it was when I was 24 years-old and looking to make an impression on people. So I’ve gotten a little smarter and realized that stuntmen can do a lot of my stuff.
I don’t have to do everything anymore, and I’ve been grateful to work with some really great stuntmen over the years who have doubled me. Guys like Bob Brown on TERMINATOR 2 or more recently, Craig Branham, are better at doing those stunts that I shouldn’t be doing since I can’t risk getting injured. But I still like getting in there, and I can throw a punch with the best of them. I love driving cars and I love doing as much as they’ll let me do with them in car sequences. I’ve been to stunt driving school and that’s served me well.
Pretty much anything and everything you can learn as an actor personally, the more life experience you’ll get in certain areas. That can be weapons training or jumping out of an airplane with a parachute, and those things give you confidence as a human being. The more things you bring into your life, the more it will help you later as an actor. Life experiences are very, very important.
FANG: Your first experience working with Robert Rodriguez came from THE FACULTY, which was written by SCREAM scribe Kevin Williamson. Was there anything that jumped out at you from the script or in Robert’s previous work that attracted you specifically to that project?
PATRICK: I was very aware of Robert’s creativity and talent. EL MARIACHI had come out at Sundance and the studios were going after him, and I had been working with Miramax on COP LAND. So they kind of lead me towards Robert, who then hired me for THE FACULTY.
I knew Kevin Williamson from his writing; not personally, but through his work. It looked like a cool project and I had a wonderful time working on it with Robert. We talked about it a lot, actually, when we were working together on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES. We talk a lot about how much fun it was and what everyone in the cast has gone on to do. Jon Stewart is in that film!
I remember when I was working on THE FACULTY, I was sitting outside, smoking a cigarette with Jon and contemplating our lives. It was during that film that he went to Robert and was like, “I’m realizing that, man, I’m not a kid anymore. I gotta get on it here. I gotta get going with something.” Lo and behold, I see him every day now on Comedy Central!
FANG: Speaking of Harvey Keital, you worked with him on COP LAND and now you’re playing the character he embodied in FROM DUSK TILL DAWN. Did you base any of your performance off of his mannerisms from the original?
PATRICK: Yes, I worked with Harvey on COP LAND. He’s a great guy and I’ve been a fan of his work for years. Just being able to work with him was incredible.
But I have to be honest, and I told Robert Rodriguez this, when I saw FROM DUSK TILL DAWN, I hadn’t yet gotten sober so I didn’t really remember that movie. I remember telling him, “Man, I think I was stoned when I saw it because I do not remember it well. Do you want me to rewatch the movie?” And he said, “No. Go into this character the way you would play him without any reference to Harvey.”
So that’s what I did. I completely could not tell you what Harvey did with the role. I just did what I thought was best and hopefully people will go to the series and take from it what they want.
FANG: You also headlined the FROM DUSK TILL DAWN sequel, TEXAS BLOOD MONEY…
PATRICK: Which had nothing to do with the original, incidentally. But I had a lot of fun working with Scott [Spiegel], who is an old friend of Quentin Tarantino. Scott helped out Quentin early in his career, so Quentin helped him out by getting this movie produced and letting Scott direct it. I had a lot of fun doing the sequel for FROM DUSK TILL DAWN.
FANG: Did you carry any lessons from your time on THE X-FILES or any other television role onto FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES?
PATRICK: Well right now, we’re in the golden age of television. With all the projects going on and the writers that are being attracted to TV, it’s just an amazing time to be in that world. It’s really amazing what you can now do on television and I’m grateful to be a part of it.
Feature films are great and I love doing them, but those projects are very similar. Acting in front of a camera is a constant, as opposed to acting in the theater while on television or in films. I haven’t done a play since the Mamet play I did while on DIE HARD 2, which was 20-something years ago.
I love the art form of working in front of a camera. There’s a lot of things you can do in front of a camera and that’s something I enjoy. But I learned a lot about what you can do with writing on television from my experiences with THE SOPRANOS and THE X-FILES. Sure, the schedules are faster and the days are longer, plus there’s copious amounts of dialogue that you have to get in there, but you can’t slack off; you have to work hard to adjust to whatever the process is.
So I was much more exhausted after shooting 10 months of THE X-FILES than I was with most movies I’ve worked on. Sometimes, an independent film has a turnaround of 27 days or less, and that can be just as grueling. But I’ve done TRUE BLOOD, and I had a wonderful experience on there, since they have great actors to work with and they still shoot on film.
But working with Robert on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN is phenomenal, especially working in Texas at Troublemaker Studio. He’s got great people over there who he employs. They have such a great attitude down there in Texas, and goddamn do they have some great barbeque there, too.
Robert Patrick will be appearing from Friday, May 2nd to Sunday, May 4th at Texas Frightmare Weekend at the Hyatt Regency DFW Hotel in Dallas, Texas. Patrick can also be currently seen on FROM DUSK TILL DAWN: THE SERIES on The El Rey Network every Tuesday at 9 p.m. EST.