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Pat Healy: Creepy Calling for “COMPLIANCE”

COMPLIANCE-WEB-4

by: on: 2013-01-11 22:40:48

Out on DVD and Blu-ray this week from Magnolia Home
Entertainment, COMPLIANCE gives actor Pat Healy a startlingly different role
than the one most horror fans probably know him for: the awkward but likable,
lovestruck Luke in THE INNKEEPERS. He digs into his turn as COMPLIANCE’s
manipulative “Officer Daniels” in this exclusive interview.

“Officer Daniels” isn’t an officer at all, but a prank
caller posing as a policeman who alternately threatens and sweet-talks
ChickWich restaurant supervisor Sandra (Ann Dowd) and others into doing
terrible things to innocent young employee Becky (Dreama Walker). For Healy,
COMPLIANCE (reviewed here)
marks a reunion with writer/director Craig Zobel (interviewed here)
after their 2007 film THE GREAT WORLD OF SOUND, in which the actor played a con
man preying on wannabe singers and musicians. The new movie, based on a series
of real incidents, required Healy to plunge into an even deeper personal
darkness…

FANGORIA: After your mild-mannered part in THE INNKEEPERS,
COMPLIANCE is quite a change of pace. Was that something you were looking for?

PAT HEALY: It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It
just happened that way, because I’d mostly stopped acting about five years ago.
I was tired of auditioning and had started to try to make my living writing and
do the things I wanted to do, including working with directors I really wanted
to work with. Ti [West] and I knew each other a little bit, and he offered me
that [INNKEEPERS] role, and then about a year later Craig called me about
COMPLIANCE. I really didn’t want to do it at first, because I had an immediate,
visceral reaction, but in the end I’ll do whatever Craig asks me to do because
we have a great friendship and working relationship.

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FANG: Were you familiar with the real-life cases COMPLIANCE
is based on before he offered you the part?

HEALY: I was not. Craig’s interested in these true-life
stories that are odd, where it doesn’t make sense why things happened the way
they did. GREAT WORLD OF SOUND was based on something that his father had told
him about, and there’s another script he’s written called GIZMONDO based on
another strange story. He’s just like, “Well, how does that happen?” and he
starts to investigate and read about it, and go backwards, trying to
investigate how and what occurred, what went wrong, etc. Craig told me about
[the prank-call cases] and sent me the script, and I just thought, “Wow.”

I became familiar with [the actual events] pretty quickly,
but I never read about them or watched any of the news stories until after we finished
filming, because I didn’t want to be influenced by them in any way, since we
were telling a fictionalized account and the character I play is an invention.
There was only one person who was brought to trial on these charges, and he was
acquitted, so it’s not like I had somebody to base him off of. I had to use my
imagination and create what I thought he would be based on what Craig wrote.

At the time, I thought the biggest problem was going to be
getting people to believe this actually happened, you know? Craig did a really
convincing job of it in his writing, and we were always trying to find new ways
to have it make sense, up to and including during the shoot. We were always
live on the phone to each other—Ann, Dreama, Bill [Camp, who plays Sandra’s
fiancé] and I—and he would tell them, “Don’t do what he says until you really
are convinced.” So I had to convince them.

FANG: One of the keys to the character is the small but
telling gesture when you show how amused and surprised you are about how much
you’re getting away with.

HEALY: Yeah, that’s important, because there’s a banality
and a normalcy to this character. It comes from something Craig and I
discussed, which is that to him, he’s a Jerky Boy. He’s making a prank call
from afar, and he’s not witnessing any of the human consequences of his
actions. To him, it’s funny.

I had an experience, I think it was the first day of
shooting, when we were doing one of the telephone conversations—which were all
done live, with a camera on me and on them, on separate sets in the same
building. The phone broke, and it was a small budget and there wasn’t a lot of
time, so I had to go up into the office and say those things live to the other
actors. And I felt so sick. I realized something about the character then: that
he was somebody who could never, ever do that to someone’s face. He could get
away with having complete distance and remove, because there were essentially
no consequences and no stakes for him. It doesn’t make him any less evil or
insidious, but it allows him to behave in that way and not think about it as
perpetrating this heinous crime. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, because
otherwise he wouldn’t be covering his tracks, but he doesn’t think of it as
anything of any consequence.

FANG: Did you keep yourself sequestered from the rest of the
cast during the preparation for filming?

HEALY: No. I know that Craig thought about doing that as an
exercise early on, but ultimately, because he’s compassionate and has a big
heart [laughs], he thought that would be too cruel and hard on me. I became
very close with Ann and Dreama and Bill and everyone, because it was the only
thing that made me feel good, and they were always very supportive of me. I’m
not someone who has to, as the Method goes, become the part and believe I am
that person and stay in it. I just use my imagination, and I can tap in and out
of something, and become really intense and focused while we’re shooting but
not have to be this miserable creep off-camera. That allowed me to relax, because
I felt pretty bad most of the time, including when I was trying to sleep at
night. We all had a really great relationship, and that helped me through it,
for sure.

FANG: Did you do any improvising during the phone calls, or
was it all pretty much as scripted?

HEALY: The majority of it was scripted, but Craig always
knew… You can say it’s a true story, but people will still walk out if they
don’t believe it. That’s why he’d say to [the other actors], “If he’s not
convincing you, make him keep going.” And I’d have to figure out ways,
emotionally and otherwise, to manipulate them until they were convinced. So
there was a lot of that kind of improvisation.

Also, the heart of this character is what they call the
pleasure-and-pain syndrome, where you cause pain to someone by yelling at them
or making them feel bad about themselves, and then you rush in with a
compliment, which is an immediate salve on their pain, and they forget that you
were the one who caused it to begin with. So Craig would say, “Be really nice
here,” or “Be sweet with her here,” or “Be very rude or nasty,” Sometimes it
wasn’t even changing the lines, but just the intensity of things.

FANG: Were there any surprises for you when you saw the
final movie?

HEALY: I was really surprised. I had a friend come with me
and hold my hand for the first cast screening we had, because I was in a very
rough place personally when I did it, not even including the actual shoot. I
had other things going on, and I was afraid it would a), bring back some of those
feelings and b) to see myself in that way… We pretend for a living and all
that, but there’s got to be something of that person in me for me to be able to
create him. The difference between him and me is that I don’t let it out on
other people, and he feels comfortable doing that. So I was convinced that I
wouldn’t be able to watch the movie, but I knew I should. And I was very
surprised at how I didn’t feel any of those things about myself. For probably
the first time in my life, I watched it and—maybe this was a defense
mechanism—I didn’t recognize myself at all. I don’t even remember doing a lot
of it; it’s like watching a different person. Maybe I need to feel that way. I
was certainly very affected by the film; I think it’s brilliant and fully
engaging.

FANG: You were on hand for the Sundance screenings that got
very vocal, sometimes outraged reactions. Did you have any incidents with
viewers who confused reality and fantasy, and came up to you and were like,
“How dare you?”

HEALY: Not quite, but there have been a couple of screenings
where I’ve done a Q&A, and they booed me when I came out. But it’s been
kind of in fun, more like a wrestling-villain-type thing. There have been a few
questions directed at all of us where people asked, aren’t we doing the same
kind of exploitation that this guy did by making this movie? I have yet to hear
a compelling argument as to why people think that. I’ve asked them, and they
never have an answer as to why.

That’s not to put anybody down; of course the movie is a
very traumatizing experience in a lot of ways for certain people, especially if
you have an emotional connection to what’s happening, and I think some of them
don’t know what to do with their feelings, and then the people [from the movie]
are right there. If you have feelings like that, you want to get them outside
of yourself, and if you have someone to take them out on—especially someone you
view as responsible for making you feel that way—that’s sometimes easier to do.
I don’t take it personally. The majority of the response has been positive.
Even if people say it made them feel terrible and they don’t want to see it
again, they still say they loved the film.

But to go to the other side of that, I’m truly humbled and
awed and excited about how much attention the film and Ann and Dreama and Craig
and everyone has gotten. You have to understand, when we went to do this movie,
Craig said to me, “You know, there’s a possibility that you won’t ever be seen.
I may just use your voice.” So I wasn’t doing this for any vanity reasons, or
any career reasons. I was just doing it because I knew it was an important
thing to do, and for my friend. And I’ve never had people single me out and
write about me and my acting like I have with this film. I’m really lifted by
that. Those people obviously can separate the actor from the character and see
it as a performance, especially if they’ve just seen me in THE INNKEEPERS or
other things. That has been really gratifying.

FANG: Have you ever received a strange phone call yourself
in real life?

HEALY: I have. You just struck a memory that I haven’t
really talked about in regards to this, but I remember a guy called my dorm
room when I was in college, looking for a woman. He mentioned a name—Sheila or
whatever—and I said, “No, you have the wrong number.” Then he told me to put my
girlfriend on, and I didn’t have one, so I hung up on him. He called me back
and then he wanted me to [laughs] sexually gratify him over the phone in some
way. It was very strange.

I’ve worked as a telemarketer a few times in my life, and
I’ve had some odd experiences of feeling icky about doing that, and I didn’t
last long in those jobs. And I’ve definitely had those experiences where I go
in to get my car washed, and the guy tries to sell me tires or something, and I
feel weird and pressured to do it and end up buying them, and feel yucky about
it afterward. I’ve had people manipulate me and not realized it until after,
and wished I hadn’t done it. But I’ve never had anyone manipulate me into doing
something cruel to someone else, thankfully. I don’t know what I’d do in that
situation, and I don’t think anybody really can until they’re there.

I was just listening to an interview with a celebrity the
other day. She was talking about how she has a phobia of doctors, and the
reason is that she had a visit with a GP about a sore throat, and he made her
undress. He had commented on her anatomy in an inappropriate way, and she said,
“You know, you want to be obedient. That’s what you do. He’s a doctor. You do
what he says.” That may seem completely out of line and inappropriate, but when
you’re in that situation, there are so many things that go on, and you feel a
certain obligation. People abuse power; a doctor is a person who’s in a
position of power, and so’s a policeman, and sometimes we do what someone says
because it’s [emotionally] built in.

I’m sure I’ve been in more situations like that than I can
remember or care to remember, but I like that about the film; it’s a cautionary
tale, and helps people to be mindful about it. We need that every so often,
especially since we’re a little complacent at the moment. I hope COMPLIANCE
does do that for people in a good way, and not in a way that destroys people’s
lives.

About the author
Fangoria Staff
FANGORIA: The First in Fright Since 1979.
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