Interview: The Amazing Pat Healy On Getting His Cheap Thrills


As an actor, Pat Healy may not be nearly as well known as say a Tom Cruise or Brad Pitt or probably hundreds (maybe thousands) of other actors, but fans of cutting edge indie cinema and festival regulars have probably had a chance to catch him in one movie or another over the years.

We’re big fans of Pat Healy here at (at least this writer is), having first noticed him when he starred in Craig Zobel’s The Great World of Sound and then again in a very different role in Ti West’s eerie horror movie The Innkeepers. When he reteamed with Zobel for 2012’s Compliance, a creepy thriller based on true events, Healy played a very different character, a caller who puts the staff of a fast food restaurant through a rigorous series of tests in order to see what they’ll do when they think they’re talking to someone of authority.

Healy’s latest is E.L. Katz’s thriller Cheap Thrills, which made waves at last year’s South by SouthWest Film Festival where it won an Audience Award. In it, Healy plays Craig, a down-on-his-luck guy who just lost his job and is about to get evicted when he runs into an old friend, Vince (Ethan Embry), while drowning his sorrows in a bar. Before long, they encounter Colin and Violet (David Koechner, Sara Paxton), an enigmatic couple who invite the friends back to their place for a game pitting them against each other to see what they’ll do for money. The challenges get more extreme (and quite disgusting) as the night goes on, putting their friendship (and sanity) to the test. Healy’s character starts out more like the one he played in “Great World” but evolves into one closer to the one “Compliance” over the course of the night, once again showing his great range as an actor. got on the phone with Pat a few weeks back mainly to talk about making the highly-disturbing yet entertaining flick. Although it premiered at the South by SouthWest Film Festival a year ago, the actor’s been fairly busy with another movie at this year’s SXSW (Starry Eyes), a small role in Kevin Coster’s upcoming Draft Day, and you might even catch him in a small role in another big superhero movie coming out next month! And of course, the conversation eventually turned to how awesome Healy’s Cheap Thrills (and The Innkeepers) castmate Sara Paxton is to work with. The last time we sat down in person was for “Compliance” at Sundance, which I thought was last year, but it was actually two years ago now.
Pat Healy:
Yeah, that’s right it was two years ago.

CS: This was at South By last year and it’s coming out. It’s a pretty twisted movie, I mean, even by the standards of some of the movies you’ve done before. Did you actually know Evan beforehand?
Yeah, I didn’t know him. Like most things, I was on a vacation. I hadn’t taken a vacation in like two-and-a-half years when I was working, and I got a call from my manager who just happened to read the script. The only name that I knew on the sheet was Adam Wingard, because both Evan and Travis Stevens, the producer, had worked with Adam, who I knew a little bit through Ti West and Joe Swanberg and whose work I knew. So I said, “You know, well, I’m on vacation. I promise myself I wasn’t going to do any work, so I can’t come in and audition, but I would come in at the end of the week.” And he said, “Well, would you meet with them?” and I think they took that as trying to hard line them that I wasn’t going to read for it. I would’ve happily read for it, but they said, “You can have coffee with them and talk about it.” I said, “Sure.” Then, I read the script the night before. I get a lot of those little things sent to me, but this was such a great script when you read it, and the part, obviously, is great. I met with Evan and Travis Stevens, the producer, and I was all excited and I started talking about it, but I guess the people that were putting up the money wanted a big name for that role. I was kinda disappointed, and they said, “Well, what do you think of the role of Colin?” That was the role that David Koechner plays. I was like, “Well, that’s great. I haven’t done that before.” I was definitely disappointed, but I just wanted to be involved in the movie in some way. Then there was about two months where I guess they were trying to get the money together for it. In that time, “Compliance” came out and it was only playing in one theater in New York. It did really well. I got great reviews personally and then they offered me the part on Monday (laughs). I thought they were still going to offer me the other part but they offered me the part of Craig, so I was really pleased.

CS: This must have been one of those experiences reading a script where you must have wondered, “What are these going to have to do next?” Was that the case?
That’s what you want, whatever kind of movie it is, if it’s a comedy or a kids movie or an actual suspense movie , you want suspense. You want to not know what’s happening next, but you’re on the edge of your seat wondering. It’s rare enough to see that in an actual movie, but to read it in a script, that almost never happens, so I was genuinely sucked into it. When I read a script, I want to feel like I’m watching the movie, what it’s going to be. It was really laid out well that way, the way that David and Trent wrote the script and then Evan did an uncredited rewrite on it, and they all brought a certain sensibility to it that made it at least for my sensibility, it’s the kind of movie that I would want to see and definitely would want to be a part of.

You can never tell, but your best bet is (if it’s) a good script, there’s a good chance it’s going to be a good movie. I met with those guys and I liked them a lot and Evan and I took an instant liking to each other. I think when I’m reading for a certain character, I can chart the course of that character very easily and be like, “Okay, this is where I have to go and what my short journey is,” for the lack of a better word. I saw that very clearly and I thought I can do this, I think. There’s always that part that says, “If you haven’t done it, you’re not sure,” but with the trust in myself and the trust that Evan and the whole crew and cast, the trust that they had in me, I was able to get to most of those places. Not that I’m proud of it or anything, but everything that you see in that movie is something that is a part of me, that is somewhere inside me, sad to say, that I can relate to in some way, and in many ways I haven’t had a chance to express, and I don’t want to express, obviously, in real life situations. But in an acting or a film situation, you get to let all that stuff out. Really, it was like a great therapy session for me, like a three-week intensive analysis session.

CS: Coming off the character you played in “Compliance,” that’s very disturbing to me at this point.
Yeah, I mean, it’s different. You take like say the character in “The Great World of Sound” if you haven’t seen me in other stuff and you think, “Oh okay, this guy is like the everyman. He can play this part. I don’t know if he can play the other part,” if you haven’t seen “Compliance.” Actually, he still hadn’t seen “Compliance” until he cast me. He didn’t see it until after. I made my money really early on in my career just playing all kinds of crazy psychos on TV and guest star spots and stuff and then all of a sudden I do “Great World of Sound” then everyone casts me at being that guy, which his a chance to do both. The difference between the character in “Compliance” and this one is the character in “Compliance” is just completely internal, and I had to hold all of that pain in, until he really gets to explode. He’s all tightly coiled. I loved that movie and I loved doing it, but it was really difficult to do. In some ways, this movie was difficult, because it was challenging and it’s hard to show off these parts of yourself that are maybe embarrassing or an emotional side to yourself you don’t want the world to see. It was much more cathartic than “Compliance,” because I just felt like coiled and dirty all the time during “Compliance.” In this movie, I got to just let it all out and be the animal uncaged.

CS: In “The Innkeepers,” you also played the nice guy and you also appeared with Sara Paxton, so was that just a complete coincidence you ended up in this movie together in different roles?
No, well, what had happened was they had cast all the other parts and then they were having difficulty casting that part, because for better or worse–and you know, this isn’t a knock on Sara–most people do it, most actors do it, and it’s harder for women because there’s less good roles for women. You know, you look at that script and go, “Well, this character doesn’t have any lines. This must not be a very good part,” and not really take it very seriously, especially because this is a really low budget movie, so it’s not like it’s coming with a great money offer or anything. So she had read it and passed, but they had told me that she was interested in it. I called her and told her that I was doing it, which made her I think reconsider it. She thought, “Well, if I’m doing it, then it must be something to it.” I just sort of said to her without giving too much away, “Reread the script and look at it as something where you’re the puppet master. You are actually pulling the strings the whole time. In a way, the woman is the one who holds all the power in the movie.” I think once she read it again and saw that, she decided to do it, which was great for me, because I just loved having her around. We became good friends on “The Innkeepers” and we make each other laugh a lot, which is essential in this movie, because it was just a really intense, difficult shoot. You could just get some kind of dumb, pretty model to do that part and stand around and look good, but she brings so much humor to it that I think isn’t even necessarily on the page. She brings a great sense of mystery to it, she brings this kind of wholesomeness to it that also… not dissimilar to what David Koechner does in the movie, which is using their whole good image with people–some nice, fun, cute girl image–and kind of twisting it and making people kind of stand back. That’s how she uses it in this movie to (temper) her evil, you know?

CS: I thought it was great casting. Last year at South By she was in this and “The Bounceback,” which was so different from anything else she played before. I don’t want to give it away, but you two have a scene together which was so awkward after seeing you in “The Innkeepers” together, that was I like, “This can’t be happening.”
It was 100 times more awkward for us than it was for you, believe me. (Laughs) It was not something either of us looked forward to. I said to her, “Does it make it easier or harder that we’re friends?” I think it was more difficult for her than it was for me; it was not uncomfortable for me. She said, “Well, it doesn’t make it easier.” I was like, “Yeah.” That was something we just had to get through it in a very working-like relationship, just do it. The good thing is that it’s not meant to be ironic. It’s just very uncomfortable and unpleasant, so whatever kind of uncomfortability and unpleasantness we were feeling really only set the scene and only really gave it more of the edge that it needs, and I think it’s a really good scene. It’s difficult for us even to watch it now because it’s kind of sick and gross, which is what it’s meant to be. (laughs) It kind of grossed us out at the time, like kissing your sister, you know? It’s weird.

CS: So what was the shoot like? Since it was all mainly one location was Evan able to shoot it in order?
Exactly. We shot in a really short period of time. All of us slept in the house and we shot over 11 days. The total shoot was 14 days. We had no time, we had no money. There was an unprecedented heat wave in LA in September, 100 plus degrees outside, no air-conditioning inside. But the benefit was that we shot in sequence for the most part. We knew where we had to get to, and we’re actors who are all seasoned pros. The way that the movie was covered with multiple cameras covering all the long takes, sometimes pages and pages of dialogue, it was like being in a play, so you actually get to do scenes with people. Often in movies, it’s like these fragmented, a little bit here, a little bit there. We were actually able to act together and you just get better performances that way. It’s like with “Compliance,” actually talking to each other on the phone, rather than reading your lines off-camera. There is no substitute for two or three or four actors bouncing off each other in a really kinetic atmosphere. It was really intense, like I said, because you don’t have much money, you have no time, and when you have no time, you have no time, but in a way, because of all the tension, it lends itself well to this kind of movie. We all just sucked it up and got in there and did it. In a way, you just have to live the movie for better or worse, you know, and put yourself through that experience, but we also felt good at the end of every day, regardless of what was going on. Sometimes, you just don’t know if you’re just doing things in bits and bits and pieces, if the scene’s going to be any good or not, but you know when you’re doing a scene and they’re covering all sides of it, that you really did something good, that you really did something great. That was the pleasure of interacting in this movie with those people.

CS: You have another movie at South By this year, “Starry Eyes,” which sounds really interesting and you also appear in Kevin Costner’s new movie, “Draft Day.”
Yeah, “Draft Day,” working with Ivan Reitman, one of my childhood hero along with Harold Ramis, who unfortunately passed away so that was a big deal to be working with them. I don’t get to work on those movies as much. I’m there for a day or two, but it’s always a pleasure for me to be on set, especially with people that I respect and admire working with. Travis Stevens who produced “Cheap Thrills” produced “Starry Eyes,” so I was only on that set for a couple of days, and I haven’t actually seen the movie yet, but I’m looking forward to going back to South By, for sure.

CS: Now you’ve been in both of Craig Zobel’s movies so far. Are you going down to New Zealand at all to do something in his new movie?
Well, he’s doing another movie now in New Zealand, which is just as you know, a three-person movie with a bigger budget, so he’s got three pretty big actors with Chiwetel Ejiofor, Chris Pine and Margot Robbie, who is in “Wolf of Wall Street.” There wasn’t really any room for me there. In terms of like, getting the financing for that kind of movie, he needed to go with that. I don’t want to say too much, but I may have some part in that movie. We’ve discussed something, so we’ll see. I don’t know if that’s going to happen or not, but I’m pretty sure we’ll be working together again. This was one of those things that was not initiated by him and it was a job he took. He wasn’t producing it, so it wasn’t up to him who got cast in it, but I’m sure he’s plenty happy with the cast that he has and they’re tremendous. I look forward to working with Craig again, of course. Whenever he asks, I come running.

CS: “The Great World of Sound” is so different from “Compliance” that I feel like the third movie you do together is going to have to be even more different from those two.
Yeah, we’ve talked about things over the years. We have certain definite ideas, and since I’m a writer, too, it’s like, there’s a possibility of us writing something together and we definitely are planning some of that stuff all the time. But I’m not quite sure what that’s going to be. Like I said, there’s many different things that we’ve talked about, but I’m just looking forward to (whatever it is.) I think he’s probably wrapping his movie soon and he’ll be back, and once he finishes this, we’ll see what he does next.

Cheap Thrills opens in select cities on Friday.