Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Screenshots: Pat Healy in The Post and the TV series Angel; center photo: Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Roadside Attractions

Pat Healy on Werner Herzog, Spielberg, and tossing a naked stuntman into the snow

Screenshots: Pat Healy in The Post and the TV series Angel; center photo: Joshua Blanchard/Getty Images for Roadside Attractions
Graphic: Jimmy Hasse

Welcome to Random Roles, wherein we talk to actors about the characters who defined their careers. The catch: They don’t know beforehand what roles we’ll ask them to talk about.

The actor: Pat Healy isn’t just a longtime actor whose career has spanned the breadth of film and television from beloved indie hits to Hollywood blockbusters, and cult cable series to network dramas. He’s also one of our favorite character actors currently working, a sharp-eyed and charismatic performer whose presence is always a welcome addition to any project, and who brings a naturalistic relatability to even his most extreme characters. While he isn’t exactly a household name, Healy has developed an impressive resume and reputation (he’s got his own episode of WTF, after all), while continuing to pop up all over the place.

Healy spoke to The A.V. Club while promoting his latest film, The Pale Door, a supernatural western in which a group of outlaws stage a train heist, only to wind up with a young woman whose presence pulls them into a deadly all-night struggle for survival. He was such an engaging interviewee, and so full of stories, that we barely got through half a dozen or so of his roles, leaving juicy turns in films like Ghost World and The Innkeepers on the table. Guess we’ll have to save those for round two in a few years.

The Pale Door (2020)—“Wylie”
Cheap Thrills (2013)—“Craig Daniels”

The A.V Club: Does it make for a more lighthearted set when you’re fighting cackling witches?

Pat Healy: The Pale Door wasn’t a lighthearted set, because it was a very low budget movie. You know, especially trying to achieve the period stuff—great, amazing costumes and production design and, of course, the makeup and all that stuff… is not an easy thing to do on a shoestring. And we were shooting in Oklahoma in the summer at night, when it’s like 90 degrees at night. And humid, and mosquitos, and all that stuff. So it was a little tense. [Laughs.]

AVC: That sounds… unpleasant.

PH: It’s just really hard to make this kind of movie at this budget level. It’s very ambitious. So the fact that they did it is pretty impressive.

You know, the Cheap Thrills set was not often very fun, either. But perhaps the anxiety fuels the energy of it—it’s not a fun thing that’s going on. I’m sure it’s not fun for those women that have to wear all that heavy stuff. It’s rather uncomfortable, and it’s all pretty authentic western attire that Jillian Bundrick designed, amazing costume design. Dare I say, one of the standout things in the movie.

But it’s also just the kind of thing where it’s like, you have scenes with a lot of extras, and it’s the middle of the night, it’s loud, and you’ve got to get a lot done, and it’s complicated. I’ve got a thing flying on me that I’ve got to blast with a shotgun, and it’s got to fly up on the wall and get impaled—all that kind of stuff just takes forever. But I do like the challenge of technical acting, of whether that’s, “Okay, you’ve got to be here at this moment and you’ve got to give us this and that much.” Some actors are frustrated by that. I actually like it, because I didn’t really grow up athletic or anything, so it’s kind of like my sports, of being able to hit my mark. I mean, I have very fond memories of [filming The Pale Door] last summer—especially compared to this summer, you know? But sometimes you don’t realize how good you have it. And it seems to be like that a lot.

I have nothing but fond memories of making Cheap Thrills. But if I go back in my mind, I was just miserable every day. That set was really hot. I was wearing prosthetics a lot. But with distance, with few exceptions, everything seems quite lovely and fun. You know, good memories. I’ve been catching up a lot the last few months with some of the other actors who I’ve become quite close with, like Bill Sage and I have become really good friends. And Zach Knighton and those people, we bonded through that, so that’s good.

Club Dead (1994)—“Lucas”

AVC: This is the weirdest first credit I’ve ever seen: a live-action sci-fi murder-mystery game that MTV put out on CD-ROM. This was your first onscreen role? 

PH: It’s my first onscreen role. I mean, I had done some little student films and things like that in high school. But I was doing plays in college, and then I got an internship at Steppenwolf Theatre in Chicago for a year. So that was ’93-’94, During that time, I got cast as an understudy in a couple plays. So those were technically my first professional jobs. But then Club Dead came in that time. And it’s quite remarkable because of relationships founded during that time. So I was friends with Nick Offerman, who is also in it. Kate Walsh was also in Club Dead.

So [director] Greg Harrison and a guy named Jon Schnepp, who became a really good lifelong friend of mine—sadly passed away a few years ago way too young—I think that Jon kind of cowrote it, and it basically entailed most of us—did you look at any of it on YouTube?

AVC: Yeah, there’s some rough, like, grainy footage somebody uploaded.

PH: But that’s what it looked like. It’s not rough because it’s on YouTube now. That’s what it looked like at the time. So it’s choose your own adventure, basically. And I guess it’s placed in the future in this weird, kind of Mos Eisley-type space station [Laughs.]. It was supposed to be like a health club, but people were dying, and there was weird stuff. Jon, who was a very big guy, played this Tooth Fairy, he had fangs, and they were dripping blood. And Nick was always doing weird shit with his hair, so he has some weird thing going on, and people don’t have their shirts on.

My stuff was all done in isolation, so I don’t know if I’m in any of those clips. But if you fucked up, or if you didn’t know where to go in the game, the lead character has a little controller, and I come on and go, “Hey, dummy! Don’t you know? You gotta take the left and the right! And use this,” you know, some scientific mumbo jumbo. “The large laser observatory at 8.34 bits!” And I just remember sitting for probably several hours one day, set directly in the camera with a really wide-angle, like a fisheye lens. Probably some circa 1994 Spin Doctors hipster hat turned backwards thing. Heavy eye makeup and stuff. And that was it. It was just bizarre. I remember getting it and trying to use it, and I just didn’t know how it worked. I didn’t understand what the technology was. And then, you know, quickly lost interest in it.

So I think that was a really burgeoning thing at that time. I think they thought that was going to be what video games were. But also, no. [Laughs.] It was a little like—remember Dragon’s Lair? The cartoon—the Don Bluth cartoon game. 
And that never worked, either. It was animated, but like, you’d press a few buttons. You’re just like, “That’s it? I get another clip? That was like a dollar.”

Stricken (1997)—”Townie #1”

PH: I don’t know if the filmmakers were from out of town, but it was all shot in, I believe, Wisconsin. At least what I did was. They cast mostly local actors in the movie in some of the lead roles, and Jamie Kennedy was in it. So I think it was, perhaps, maybe right after Scream had come out? And I think it was one of those things where they were making, like, Very Bad Things and The Last Supper and stuff like that, where like a group of friends killed somebody, and maybe it was starkly humorous—oh! Sean Gunn was in it, too.

AVC: And Judy Greer, according to IMDB.

PH: And Judy, that’s right. So I think everybody was sort of midwest-based, because I think Sean was living in Chicago at the time, if I’m not mistaken.

Look, I saw this once, more than twenty-some years ago. The kids come in to the local bar, and I’m a townie. They were always casting me as some kind of roughneck person, which, I couldn’t even throw a baseball. But I was always cast as these toughs, as these young thugs. And they come into the bar, and we hassle them. That was it, as far as I remember.

But I remember asking at the time, because the guys that were making it were shooting on 16mm, and knowing what little I knew about filmmaking—it didn’t really seem like it was being lit correctly. [Laughs.] And I remember seeing the movie, and you just couldn’t see anyone’s faces or anything. Maybe there are other reasons, but I’m guessing that’s probably what prevented it from getting a wider distribution. Because I remember seeing it and just going, “This is kind of unwatchable,” in the sense that you just couldn’t see it. It just didn’t seem like the filmmakers knew what they were doing. Maybe now they could digitally go in and lighten it up, but I don’t think there’s a huge demand for that particular title.

Home Alone 3 (1997)—“Agent Rogers”

PH: Yeah, so that’s technically my first movie. I was actually cast in My Best Friend’s Wedding, which was a big movie, and they cast a lot of actors in Chicago. I met P.J. Hogan, the director, and he cast me in this role of this waiter at the beginning of the movie with Julia Roberts as a restaurant critic, and she’s with her friend, Rupert Everett. And I got into SAG because of that. I was on-set in full makeup and costume for two days, and they just kept rewriting the movie. I think what was happening with that movie was that—people loved Rupert Everett. He kind of became a breakout star in that movie, and I think he was meant to be sort of a side character. So he was in that scene, and they just kept rewriting it, and they wrote me right out of the movie.

AVC: That’s a bummer for your first film.

PH: But I got paid, I got in SAG, and I’ve had health insurance ever since. The next year, I got cast in Home Alone 3. I’d never really been on a real movie set. And it was about five days worth of work, but it was over five months, so I got paid a lot of money. I still get these, like, huge checks for it. But young 11-year-old Scarlett Johansson was there with her mom every day. And we often rode the van together and hung out on set together. She was always great. Ended up working with her several more times, in Ghost World a few years later. 

But it was really weird, because it was a John Hughes production, and he was never around. It had a huge soundstage that was his, just outside the city. I was basically the guy that stood behind the guy that had all the lines. I was an FBI agent, but I wasn’t the main FBI agent. I remember the first day of shooting, we were rehearsing, and I came in, and they told me, “Okay, you’re here, and then you’ve got to go here.” I guess I was looking down on the ground at the marks, the tape marks where you’re supposed to stand, because I had never been on a real set before. And the DP, in front of everybody, said, “Yeah, don’t do that when you’re on camera.” And I was just completely humiliated. I remember that as like a series of humiliations, and when I look at the movie now, I just see this petrified, terrified person, because I was just scared.

Then there was a day—it was really cold. We did some exterior stuff, and I have these big ears. And I guess they turned purple. So in between takes, there was two different people from hair or makeup, each with a blowdryer, on each one of my ears to make sure I didn’t look like Star Trek. Then I made the mistake of—we had boots that we would wear in the snow, and then take off when we got on camera. I offered to carry one of the actress’ boots for her from the van to the set, and I got chewed out by like three different people, because I was violating like ten different union rules by doing that. I wasn’t even allowed to touch that stuff, you know. It was like when Keanu Reeves as Neo gets the Kung Fu implanted in his brain. You just learn so much.

On top of that, there’s a thing in the movie where I guess a parrot rides in. I think the plot of the movie is that some sort of secret microchip is stolen by these thieves, with some government secrets in it. The final scene, the sort of end-of-the-sitcom scene, is the group of everybody together once the criminals have been caught, and then this parrot comes in riding on a remote-controlled car. [Laughs.] But of course, it’s not there. You’re just told to react to it, and you’re, like, enjoying and laughing. And you’re like, “Ahahaha!” Marian Seldes is in it. This woman is this legendary Broadway actor. She’s been in every Edward Albee play, and won Tony Awards and stuff. And you’re like, what the fuck is going through her brain? Like, she’s like, “Okay, I’m watching a remote controlled car with a parrot on it, and I’m really enjoying it.” Just a lot of lessons all around.

I think back and I laugh, but I imagine I was just probably scared all the time. But then you’re like, “I’m making more money a minute than I made, you know, a whole month of doing a play at the best theater in Chicago.” You know? I guess that’s a lesson too, for better or worse.

Angel (2001)—“Doug Sanders”

AVC: You were doing a lot of television work by this time, but this one stood out.

PH: That’s a good one. I really enjoyed doing that. So the idea is that it’s a vampire motivational speaker with a pyramid scheme. So you convert three people, you know, turn two of them into vampires and keep one for food, I think was the idea. [Laughs.] And I had full prosthetic makeup on the top half of my face, which was common for the people on that show. And then those contact lenses for the eyes, which are just incredibly painful, and you can’t see.

They called him Doug Sanders because they wanted him to be sort of like Doug Henning or something. And we shot on one of the old theaters. It was really fun, and I had done and continued to do so many shows, all the CBS crime procedurals where I’m sitting at a table. There’s a cop or a lawyer or a doctor asking me questions, and I’m saying, “All right, I was there, but I didn’t do it.” So many. And so like, I have to figure out how to… “Okay, well I’ll wear glasses this time,” or, “I’ll comb my hair back,” or, “I’ll have a mustache.” Because you’re getting it maybe a couple days before, if you’re lucky. And it’s not like you can do a lot of work, and it’s the same stuff. I could probably cut a really funny reel together that’s just going back and forth in the interrogations.

So [Angel] was really great, because it was different, and it was funny, and it was fun. I still don’t think people give me enough funny stuff to do, but I would like to do more. And they take a mold of your teeth, for fangs. So they actually fit properly, but they’re horrible to try and speak in, you know? So you probably do, like, ten takes just to get one good one where you don’t sound like you’re drooling. But I really enjoyed that.

I did another one of those shows, Charmed, a few years later where I had a similar thing, where I was a demon who shot flames out of his hands and gets flamed up in post on the show. They’re fun. One of my teachers used to say, “Make sure you know how deep the pool is before you dive in. You don’t want to hurt yourself.” Some of that stuff is just—you don’t have to get really crazy method deep into it. It’s just funny and fun, with the exception of the uncomfortability of the makeup, which is a fine tradeoff for the benefits of doing it.

Rescue Dawn (2006)“Norman”

AVC: Just saying “Werner Herzog” seems like all the prompt we need here. 

PH: I mean, I had been really just a great admirer of his since I was a teenager. I met him and his son, and his son was filming me with the camera. It was hardly any lines, and I think maybe I have no lines in the actual finished movie. But it was the opportunity to work with him and go to Thailand, where I had never been. And go to Thailand twice, too, because we had the beginning and the end of the movie to shoot.

So I got the job, and you fly on Thai Air first-class because of the union stuff, so it’s nicer than any apartment I’d ever lived in up to that point, and great food. And we got there and, you know, we’re hanging with Werner and Christian Bale, and it’s so hot. It’s like 120 degrees. Humid. And we’re shooting the end of the movie first, because Christian, you know, goes in a POW camp, and he’s emaciated. And it’s just easier to gain weight than it is to lose it while you’re shooting a movie. So we shot it in reverse. We’re his buddies who are flying with him, and then he gets shot down and captured. One of the first things we did—I guess it was the first day of shooting—was this giant scene inside an aircraft carrier, where it was like 120 degrees outside. We’re inside a helicopter, and we have full flight suits on. We’re just dripping with sweat. But Werner is wearing this shirt that seems a little too heavy to wear in this kind of weather, with a piece of electrical tape hanging off the back. We asked him about it, and he said that it was the shirt that he wore on the first day of shooting Aguirre, The Wrath Of God. And he wore it every day for good luck, with the tape on it, because that was on it there, too.

So we’re shooting this thing, and it’s the scene where it’s Christian Bale’s homecoming. And it’s probably 200 extras, and they found every white or non-Asian actor that they could find to be extras and dress them up. This giant group of people, and Werner couldn’t be in the aircraft carrier. He was out with the camera—he was out with the monitor outside. So between every shot, and he was an older guy already at that point—would run in and out on this ramp and give direction, and run out again. He had such tremendous energy. It was incredible. That was the first day. And when we finished shooting for the day, he got up on a riser with a megaphone, and he said, “Thank you everyone for a wonderful first day. This is an important movie for me. It’s my friend’s story. This is the leading man, Christian Bale. He was Batman.” And then he said, “And thank you very much!” And then he just literally dropped the mic, you know, dropped the megaphone, and ran out again. And you’re like, I guess that’s his thing.

So we leave, and we’re going down the gang plank or whatever it is—you’re exiting the ship, and he’s standing at the end of the ramp. And he stood there and he shook every single person’s hand, every extra. It must have been 300 people. And if those people stopped and wanted to talk to him, he talked to them. And he didn’t leave until he was done.

Maybe the next day or the day after that, a thing where we had to run inside a helicopter with the door open. And it took off and flew over with some pilot you’d never seen before. But you just did it because [Herzog] would never ask you to do anything he wouldn’t do himself. And when we shot the scenes in the helicopter, he was the guy wiping the sweat off our face. He was the guy clapping the board. He was the guy doing everything. And it was so inspiring. Again, these lessons with these great people you work with, whether it’s Herzog or Spielberg or, you know, Paul Anderson or Andrew Dominik where it’s just like, they’re really inspiring, the way that they work.

There was a great thing one day where when they finally rescue him, they give him a candy bar. And in the script, it says Snickers. And we heard Werner, in a heated argument in the hotel lobby with the producers or the production manager [does Herzog impression], “What is this Snickers?! I can’t use Snickers! I implored them Butterfinger! I said it over and over. I implored them. Butterfinger!” And we just thought that was hilarious, and this weird sort of detail. But it turned out that it was very specific, because it was a Butterfinger in real life. And the reason it was a Butterfinger is that a Snickers would completely melt in that heat. And a Butterfinger, the center stays solid.

The Assassination Of Jesse James By The Coward Robert Ford (2007)—“Wilbur Ford”

PH: That was a crazy thing where they were seeing every actor in their thirties or early forties at that time. Everybody wanted to be in that movie. The script was amazing. Mali Finn, may she rest in peace, was casting it, and she was a huge champion of mine. So everyone I know, and probably everyone you’ve ever heard of, went in on it. And everybody read for those parts, Robert and Charley Ford and the gang, which ended up being Casey Affleck—I think he auditioned like 10 times or something. Sam Rockwell, there was some sort of conflict, and he wasn’t going to be able to do it. I was in Thailand shooting Rescue Dawn, and I was literally in the middle of the jungle somewhere. David Gordon Green, who is a friend of mine and was a friend of [director] Andrew Dominik’s, emailed me, and I got his email in Bangkok just as I was leaving to go to the jungle. And [it] said, “They need somebody to play Charley Ford, I recommended you,” because I had worked with David with Undertow. And they thought that was a good fit, and I look like Charley Ford. So this is 2005—I couldn’t get my sides printed out or anything. I had to have David dictate them to me over the phone, and I wrote them out.

And we were in this jungle. We were in this place which is just in the middle of nowhere. It was a military base in Thailand. Christian Bale lent me his video camera, and the gaffer for the movie lit it for me, and one of the other actors read with me. And I sent in a tape, and then I was in a series of phone calls with Andrew Dominik and Brad Pitt in these weird places on pay phones that would run out in the middle of the call. And days would go by like that. It was really crazy. So I finally got back to Bangkok, and I kept getting calls—“They want you to go to Calgary to meet with Andrew and Brad.” “They don’t want you to go.” And then I got on the plane from Bangkok to L.A., which was like a few hours to Japan, and then 12 or 13 hours or something to L.A., without knowing if I was going or not.

So I get back, and I’m jet-lagged, and then they tell me, “You’re going up to Calgary tomorrow.” And I’m just like, “Ugh, God.” And I go up there, and I’m reading for Charley Ford. And I knew I didn’t blow it, because I knew they thought that I had something.

So then next day, they wanted to see me again, and that time it was with Casey. So I read with Casey. And then Casey called me and said, “That was great, man. See you up here.” And I was like, “Oh man.” Life-changing thing. And then something happened where Brad went to New York to see Angelina, who was doing The Good Shepard and went to Sam Rockwell’s house, and knocked on his door with his kids and got Sam to do it. So I found out that I didn’t get [Charley], but Andrew said, “You know, we’re going to do this.” There’s actually two more Ford brothers, and they combined the parts to give me a little bit more to do. And a couple months later, I was up there.

I was with Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck and Jeremy Renner and Garret [Dillahunt] and Roger Deakins and Patricia Norris. It was heady, man. It was an amazing time. I had so much fun, because that was hard. Like, there was a scene where Casey and I had to put Jeremy Renner’s stunt-double’s body, roll it up in a rug, and carry it out into the woods—we were shooting this in December in Calgary. It was below zero, and [we had to] throw his body—and the stunt guy was naked. We had to make sure we threw him on his stomach so that you wouldn’t see his junk. And then kick snow on his ass, poor guy. And we found that we couldn’t carry the rug with our gloves on properly, so we had to not wear gloves. I remember watching Casey’s pinky finger turn black, some kind of frostbite during that.

But we had an incredibly good time for, you know, two-plus days sitting around the table doing that big dinner table scene with all those guys. It was just one of those experiences you dream of, you know. I’ve had a few of those where maybe the role isn’t that challenging or fulfilling creatively, but you’re just with this group of people that you admire so much. And I find that most of the people at that level are the best people to hang out with. I mean, they’re the most fun because they really are appreciative of their station in life. And, you know, you get to sit there and ask Roger Deakins questions, and you enter a room that doesn’t look like it’s lit at all. And then you see it, and you’re just like, “How the fuck did he do that? Why does it look like that?”

The Post (2017)— Phil Geyelin”

PH: It was my dream come true to work with Steven Spielberg and Tom Hanks and Meryl Streep. And Steven, I got a call that he wanted to meet me. I went and met him here in L.A., and I was scared. And then I sat there, and we talked about movies for 45 minutes. Then I said, “Well, if we shoot this…” He goes, “Oh, you’re in the movie. I just wanted to meet you.” And I started crying [Laughs.] And he hugged me. It was such a Spielberg moment.

And Tom did a thing where he invited all the reporters over to his place in New York beforehand to just hang out for an afternoon and read the lines. It was weird, like, I got an email from Tom Hanks one day saying, “Hey, Pat!” Like, “Come over to my house.” So we’re still email buddies. It’s funny. But, you know, as soon as he opens the door, he’s exactly who you think he is.

Meryl is a whole other level. And every day, whether you’re in the movie or not, you were there at the monitor watching what she did. And she did something different every time, and each choice was something you had never seen before. So that was a pleasure. She’s much more focused on her work. Afterward, I have this photo of us drinking tequila and eating wings together, and we were just sitting and talking, because she could kind of relax. And I was just asking her about certain things. I spent about four years of my youth living in New Jersey in the same area as her, so we talked a lot about that. I was asking her about this part, and I said, “It must have been hard,” because this movie came together really quickly, in a matter of months. You know, “You didn’t have much time to prepare. I know you prepare a lot.” And she said, “Well, the first couple of weeks of this movie, I really sucked,” or, “stunk.” And you’re just knocked out, because literally the entire movie from day one, if she took a sip of water, the entire cast and crew would be at the monitor leaning forward, just in amazement.

With Steven, it’s intimidating at first. The second day was like a shot that started on me, and it’s so specific where, like, the camera is going to be over your right shoulder, and then you have to hold this newspaper exactly here, and then come around here, and you’ve got to say this line exactly at this time. Because he does these one-ers, you know? But at the time, you don’t realize, and he’s just refining it and refining it. You just think you’re going to get fired because you’re screwing up. But that’s just how he does it. He wants to do as many of those in one take as possible. And once you get done with it, everybody goes, “Oh yeah, no. That’s just how he does it.” So after that, it was just like sailing on clouds.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)—“Scientist #1"

PH: So right after I came back from Jesse James, I wasn’t doing much. I wrote this script, Snow Ponies, in like two weeks. And it became this big script, and then my writing career really took off. And it was a western that I wrote in the snow, I guess inspired somewhat by being up there in Calgary. It still hasn’t been made, but it’s been a kind of calling card for me. At one point, I was developing it with Joe and Anthony Russo for a couple years—if you could believe this, at the time they couldn’t get anything made except for television comedies, which is what they were doing. So they pitched that and got it, and the rest, as they say, is history. They called me one day and said, “Would you like to come and work with Robert Redford for a day in a bank vault in Cleveland?” And I said, “Sure.” And then I got this strange envelope outside my apartment door that said “Freezer Burn” on it, which I later learned was the working title for the movie. And inside was a tape recorder and a list of instructions, and it was only to listen to the tape recorder with headphones on, and it was lines of dialogue in Russian.

AVC: That level of secrecy sounds par for the course for Marvel.

PH: And I had to learn these lines of Russian and what they meant. And I had a couple months, and I learned them really well, and I did them in the movie. And then, I guess at the first screening, Bob Iger or Kevin Feige or somebody said, “Well, why does he say that?” And they went, “Oh yeah, you’re right.” And then just cut it out. [Laughs.] It’s not in the movie, but I did learn it. It was an interesting Mission: Impossible moment. You know, “This tape will self-destruct in 60 seconds” moment.

Alex McLevy is a writer and editor at The A.V. Club, and would kindly appreciate additional videos of robots failing to accomplish basic tasks.