In the new romantic drama Evening, actor Patrick Wilson portrays Harris Arden, a young doctor attending a wedding in which both the bride Lila (Mamie Gummer) and the bridesmaid Ann (Claire Danes) are in love with him. The film is told in flashback as Ann, portrayed in old age by Vanessa Redgrave, recounts the story of her lost love Harris to her daughters as she lay dying.
ComingSoon.net talked to Wilson about this new role, his potential casting in Zach Snyder’s adaptation of Alan Moore’s Watchmen, why he had to drop out of Bryan Singer’s Valkyrie, and being on the precipice of stardom.
ComingSoon.net: With the previous major leads you played in “Hard Candy” and “Little Children,” the material had a distinct edge. “Evening” feels like a throwback to the romantic weepers of the ’40s and ’50s, very old-fashioned. How does such a different tone affect the energy of your performance?
Patrick Wilson: Certainly the character is obviously very different. With most of the other characters I’ve played there’s some big release where you wear your heart on your sleeve a little bit. Either through a moment of joy or anger, some kind of release to show the arc. Whether it’s something as demented as “Hard Candy” or in “Phantom of the Opera,” there’s usually some place in the movie where you just let it all go. This role was much more internalized. In a weird way sometimes more challenging, ’cause I think there’s a fine line between being strong and silent, or just (laughs) looking disinterested and bored. Hopefully we were going for the former. To answer your question I don’t really look at the overall tone. Just on script alone I hadn’t done a movie like this, but I knew this was a movie that would appeal to a different crowd than “Hard Candy,” to say the least.
CS: I don’t think you’ll have walkouts like you did during the “Hard Candy” castration scene.
Wilson: Well, I hope not, ’cause then we’ve got problems. (laughs)
CS: Your character Harris is given such a mythic introduction. He’s the guy she’s still thinking about on her deathbed.
Wilson: I know.
CS: What kind of pressure was it to have a character live up to that impression?
Wilson: Well you know It’s interesting, exciting, strange, but above all how do you live up to that? You can’t. I can’t look at it like that it’s hard to play something like that. All that perception. If you learn anything about Harris it’s no matter what is said about him, no matter how mysterious, how engaging, I think Meryl’s character says “unusually attractive”, all those things you can’t really play that guy. Those are just things that are said about him. He’s a much more internalized character. Anytime you play someone who’s more of a loner you don’t really concentrate on the appeal to other people versus what makes him alone? What makes him different? To me what sets up the character is when you first meet him. Everyone’s at this gorgeous house for this wedding, he could be doing a number of things related to the wedding, but he’d rather go down to the boat, be on the water by himself doing what he loves. That sets up the character. He’s more interested in the condition of the boat, simpler things in life, than this grand wedding. That doesn’t take away his feelings for the family or from Lila but he’s a much simpler guy. In terms of playing it, that’s what you concentrate on. You can’t play mysterious or brooding. You certainly can’t play anything based on looks, that’s the kiss of death right there. “Okay, apparently I’m playing a great looking guy. How do I do that?”
CS: With the right amount of hair gel
Wilson: I’d like to think it’s as much about Vanessa coming to terms and trying to deal with regret and her relationship with her daughters and lost love as it is with Harris. That takes some of the pressure off me.
CS: Now this summer we have “Pirates” which is based on a theme park ride, and we have “Transformers” which is based on a toy. If they decided to make a feature out of your ad for the GAP, would you reprise your role?
Wilson: (laughs) I’m glad that you think there was enough there in the storytelling to warrant a film.
CS: (laughs) Yeah.
Wilson: Then we succeeded. We tried to tell a small movie in 30 seconds to “Anything You Can Do.”
CS: Right. Well, I’m almost being half-serious. I do think it would be great. There’d be old showtunes but no one would open their mouths, and everyone would wear really sharp slacks. I’m just sayin’.
Wilson: (laughs) And we’d all be in white and khaki, is that the goal?
CS: I guess so, yeah.
Wilson: If you can convince Jonathan and Valerie, I would love to work with those directors again. You know, the directors of Little Miss Sunshine. I would love to work with them again. I’m not sure if that project should be a film version of the GAP ad. If that’s what they come to me with, and they believe in it
CS: (laughs) Right, well I do think it would move a lot of merch.
Wilson: Well it does certainly say something, and I know you’re joking, but that’s what is so awesome about this business. It’s always a question of art versus commerce. I would argue that Johnny Depp is just as good in those movies as Johnny Depp in any other movie, which is pretty unbelievable, the guy’s one of the greatest actors we have around. You look at the cast of any of those Pirate movies and I’d go see any of those people in Chekhov. Geoffrey Rush, Bill Nighy, Jonathan Pryce… they’re not stupid, you hire great actors to play those roles. There’s room for everything. I know that’s a lame comment, but I love to see all kinds of movies.
CS: Well sure, and in every great blockbuster there’s always as much art as there is commerce.
Wilson: There is, there has to be, even if people don’t think about it. Crafting a good “Transformers” movie I’m excited to see that! I’m not gonna be a hater just because it’s a huge blockbuster. I always think that’s a very naïve way to look at the world.
CS: Speaking of giant event movies
Recently Zach Snyder made a statement to a reporter basically confirming that there had been an offer put out to you to play Nite Owl in “Watchmen.”
CS: Is it true?
Wilson: (Laughs) Umm you know what’d he say? I don’t know if I’m allowed to talk about this stuff. It’s been confirmed on a lot of websites, I’ll just say that.
CS: Are you familiar with the material?
Wilson: I am, very.
CS: Are you enthusiastic about the material?
Wilson: (laughs) The material’s phenomenal, let’s put it that way. It’s pretty unbelievable. Just as we were talking about, you know with every huge and that’s a totally different, when you talk about comic book movies that doesn’t even do an ounce of justice to that script, both the movie script and the original graphic novel is pretty phenomenal writing.
CS: Totally, and if it is true you’d be a good fit for that role, if you were hypothetically to play it.
Wilson: (sarcastic) If by chance I did have when does your story run?
CS: Probably a couple weeks.
Wilson: Oh yeah, well by then I would imagine there might be I mean, I would blab my mouth ’cause I certainly haven’t been told to keep quiet, it’s just out of respect for them trying to get everybody else on board before I go ahead and blab my mouth, but it’s pretty cool. It’s exciting stuff.
CS: Of course, of course. Can you talk a little about Bryan Singer’s “Valkyrie”?
Wilson: I can definitely say that is not happening. Just scheduling stuff, a number of reasons that would be long and involved to go into, but it’s gonna be so awesome and I wish I was going to be a part of it. Oddly enough, our decision, my decision and it’s just because of scheduling and a number of other reasons, that weirdly fell apart right when the story ran that I was offered the role. That’s not uncommon knowledge in the Hollywood casting world.
CS: I just read in several places online that you were in negotiations.
Wilson: Yeah, I guess no one’s fixed that. I’m out here doing this film “Lakeview Terrace,” which even that hasn’t been put out there yet. It’s directed by Neil LaBute, it’s got Samuel L. Jackson, Kerry Washington, it’s very cool, but “Valkyrie” is such an unbelievable script, and I’ve known Christopher McQuarrie for years and I would have loved to be a part of it. It was a difficult one.
CS: Sometimes the moon and the stars don’t align.
Wilson: Yeah, that’s it. As my mom would say, those are high-class problems. It’s a funny thing when you’ve got your next year mapped out for you, it’s a very fortunate position for an actor to be in.
CS: It’s really interesting having talked to you a year ago for “Hard Candy” when you were either “that guy from ‘Angels in America'” or “Patrick who?” and now there’s a lot more awareness. This must be an interesting, possibly precarious time when you’re “on the brink.”
Wilson: I guess. I mean, obviously the more jobs you do, the more movies you do the wider a base you reach, then you don’t just become “the guy from this, the guy from that.” That’s the goal. I’ve never been one of those people to feel like “here comes the big one.” In fact, the further along I get in my career, as my family gets bigger, my wife’s career goes on, it just becomes that balance that everyone goes through.
Evening opens around the country on June 29; thanks to Focus Features for arranging this exclusive interview.