One of the most recognisable presences within film, Robert Patrick has been dominating the screen with his oft-villainous and authoritative roles for nearly four decades now.
Best known for his turn as T-2 in the groundbreaking Terminator 2: Judgement Day, as well as such films as Cop Land, Charlies Angels: Full Throttle, Walk the Line, and Gangster Squad, the award-winning actor is now earning rave reviews for his haunting turn in the gothic new thriller What Josiah Saw.
As the film arrives to stream on Shudder this week (you can read our review here), Peter Gray spoke with Robert about almost passing on the film itself, respecting the processes of his fellow actors on set, and what he’s learned about showing up over his years of working in the industry.
I have it on good authority from the lovely Siobhan Fallon Hogan that you’re a stand-up guy, so I’m hoping she wasn’t telling me lies…
(Laughs) Oh yeah. Siobhan Fallon Hogan is a sweet, dear friend of mine. I’ve done two pictures that she’s written. I’m friends with her and her family. She’s a wonderful lady. She figures into the story of how I did What Josiah Saw. We were filming Rushed and I got the script for this movie from a friend of mine. I think they went around my agent. Scott Haze and Vincent Grashaw had been developing this for quite some time, and they were looking for someone to play Josiah.
I gotta be honest with you, Peter, I was like “Oh man, this is such a challenge.” This movie was hard, it was a lot of dialogue, there was a very specific way of speaking. It’s low budget, they want to shoot it really quick, down and dirty in Oklahoma. I just didn’t know if I had the energy to take on a project like this. I asked Vincent Grashaw for his best movie. I asked him to show me the best movie he’s ever done. So I watched his movie that he made about a school shooting, And Then I Go, and after that I called him and told him “I’m in!”
So, if you hadn’t watched that film you would’ve passed on this?
I would’ve passed, yeah. I was really not looking to do anything. I told Vincent this, I told him I was ready to pass but then I watched his film. Son of a bitch is a damn good filmmaker, so now what do I do? My word is that if I was impressed with the film I would do this, so I had to do it.
Do you think you’re locked in now? You know he’s a great filmmaker…
I should be so lucky to work with Vincent again. I’m sure he’s on the rise. He should have no problem getting bigger and bigger projects. Maybe he’ll throw me a bone somewhere down the road.
With this film, I wasn’t expecting it to travel where it did with its story. It had all these seemingly singular chapters that ultimately come together in the end. When you read the script were you surprised at just how dark the story was?
Oh, it’s a very dark story. What I grabbed onto was the relationship between myself and Scott, and then later the relationship between myself, Nick (Stahl) and Kelli (Garner). For me, it was almost like I didn’t need to read the second half (of the script) because that was like its own movie in itself. I was so committed to getting the dialogue word for word. That’s where my focus was. I saw the movie in its whole, and I saw what Nick and Kelli had done I was blown away. Nick is a heavyweight of an actor. I love these kids, you know, they’re one of my fictional families (laughs). It was really unique to see the whole film put together, and that’s a credit to Vincent.
Did you have much time to bond with the cast prior to filming? Or did you keep yourself at a distance in order to mirror the relationship your character has with his family
With Scotty and I, I knew how hard he had been working on this film. I actually think Scott had the final say on whether I was going to do the movie or not. He had been working on this for quite some time with Vincent, and I got the sense that he had a lot of stuff going on and I was going to give him enough distance as I could. I was going to let him do his thing, give him a lot of room, and then figure out a way that I could work my way in. I was very respectful of his process and he was very respectful of mine.
In the same respect, I think when Nick and Kelli arrived they could pick up that we had been doing some stuff and that we had our own little club, and they had to figure out their own way in. There’s a real shorthand that starts to happen amongst artists and if you’re in tune with that you know how to respect other people’s process. It was exciting and it was so fast. It was so fast. The pace. And we all knew that there wasn’t a lot of time to mess around.
Are you finding that films are being made at such a quicker turnaround now? Compared to how they used to be made 20 – 30 years ago?
Yeah. Filmmaking is an expensive proposition, and if you’re going to do it you really need to know your stuff. You have to have a schedule you can pull off. I think the filmmaking experience itself is more compact (now). You have the digital age. You can do guerilla filmmaking at a quicker pace. I love doing big budget films too, but I love doing these little, independent films because you’re in there.
I think directors expect more from their actors. When I worked with Steven Soderbergh, and I’m throwing him out there because he’s a wonderful filmmaker and I had a great experience with him (on The Laundromat) and guys like Clint Eastwood and Billy Bob Thornton, shooting the rehearsals they expect the actors to show up and know what they’re doing. You get hired for that reason. There’s not going to be a lot of play around. We’re not going to “find the scene”. You should have found it weeks ago. You know?
I remember showing up on the set of The Laundromat early, even before the crew. I asked around to when David Schwimmer was going to arrive on base camp, and I was told he had arrived, so I went to his trailer, knocked on his door, “David, Robert Patrick, nice to meet you, man. I really want to run lines with you”, so we ran lines together, and thank God we did because they picked us up, drove us to the location, and Steven was there. The set was lit, our stand-ins were there, there were our places…let’s go. That’s what’s expected from actors, I think. Actors have always had to do their homework, but you really got to be ready to rock and roll.
What Josiah Saw is streaming on Shudder from August 4th, 2022.