Considering my fandom for the work of Ti West, when I saw who he had cast in his latest film, The Innkeepers, I had complete trust over who he had picked. I had seen Sara Paxton in a few other horror movies, but the name “Pat Healy” didn’t trigger anything for me. I looked at what else he had been in, and even though he was in a few movies I really love, like Magnolia and The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, I was still having difficulty placing him. I started to follow him on Twitter, and then saw all of these tweets about a movie he was in that had just debuted at the Sundance Film Festival. Specifically, Mr. Healy was retweeting lots of responses about the crowd during the Q & A after it, and lots of those messages were from people who were cranky. Why were there so many angry people during a Q & A? What could this movie be about that made people so angry? That film, which is called “Compliance”, involves Healy making a prank call to a fast food restaurant (can those be called restaurants?) where he pretends to be a police officer. His character is then able to convince other employees to interrogate someone accused of “stealing”, all over the phone. Thanks to twitter, I went from knowing little about this guy to knowing quite a bit about the movies he was involved in, as well as his sense of humor. When I found out he was going to be at a screening of The Innkeepers, I sent him a tweet to ask him if he could chat for a few minutes. I was surprised to see him respond, but figured that was just his way of being polite. After all, he’s a busy guy who I’m sure has a lot going on. When I introduced myself, I was taken aback by the fact that he stepped away from a group of friends just to speak with me, a stranger, about his work. Despite his, I’ll say “eccentric”, sense of humor, he was very welcoming and quite humble, which made speaking with him all that much easier.
WolfMan: During the movie, before the movie, did you believe in ghosts? Do you believe in ghosts? You kind of said up on stage (during a Q & A after The Innkeepers) that you didn’t feel like you were making a “ghost movie”, but considering everything I’ve been hearing about this hotel for so long, did anything weird happen to you that kind of helped you feel the character out a little bit more?
Pat Healy: I feel very much like the character in the movie (Luke) … I think of it as an Agnostic … in terms of God and ghosts and spirits and extraterrestrials and things. I always feel like there’s a psychological or emotional explanation for all of those things that can be figured out if you just stop and think about them. I’m like Ti (West), I don’t immediately jump to ghosts, sort of like the character in the movie. Without spoiling things too much, we have the feeling that he believes in that but in actuality he most likely believes in it because he has sort of an unrequited love for the other character that Sara (Paxton) plays. That could be like me too. I believe in certain things because I believe in people and I want to believe what they believe. I don’t have those kinds of experiences. I know plenty of my friends, who have, and I have no reason to doubt the veracity of their claims. I was told when I came there, for example, that I would have really strange dreams, and then of course the first night I was there, I had really strange dreams, but I think it was because everyone told me I was going to have strange dreams, and I was tired. I had flown from L.A. to Connecticut, but after that, really not anything. The place is strange, it’s constructed strange. After long days of shooting, especially if you’ve had a few beers or something, the walls start to feel a little weird, along with the carpet on the floor.
WM: I enjoyed how right from the beginning, your character really just exuded this affection for Claire. There weren’t any stereotypical longing glances or any awkward physical contact, you just knew it. You said it was heartbreaking to film a scene where you confess your love, and it was heartbreaking as a viewer knowing you were gonna say all this stuff, she’s not going to feel the same. How challenging did you find it to get in that mindset and know that there wasn’t going to be an easy way out by using those more conventional devices?
PH: I’m kind of like Ti in that way, in that I don’t want to do things the way that they’ve been done. There’s so many conventions in filmmaking, and in acting as well. You see a lot of actors now that are sort of carbon copies of imitations of other things that you’ve seen. Things are written that way too. I’m not interested in that. I studied acting most of my life and, without sounding pretentious, I’m interested in the truth, so I think more about how I might have felt or how I have felt being in situations like that, or how I have felt being on the other side of situations like that where I’ve been the one who’s been breaking somebody’s heart. I’ve been crushed many times, too. I looked for those things and I looked for those behaviors to make that manifest. I don’t want to indicate to the audience, “This is that”. It’s already in the writing, I just play it as it is and it comes out naturally and funny and interesting because it feels true. That’s what interests me and interests Ti, too.
WM: With this movie, it’s based on “real” events and real people and this real hotel and these actual weird experiences. Your character was even based on an actual employee who had his own amateur ghost hunting website. Did you try to contact that employee? What kind of research did you do to figure out what an amateur ghost hunter would do in these situations?
PH: He’s there, he works there. His name is Luke, he works the night shift at the desk. They knew him from shooting House of the Devil, which I didn’t work on, so I didn’t know him. I didn’t actually meet him until I went to go shoot the film. I did see his website and those kinds of things and I’ve seen a lot of those ghost hunters shows where, as Ti will tell you, they’ve been on for 10 years and no one’s found a thing.
WM: I caught this time where you bump into the light chain and it startles you and you say “Ugh, spiderwebs,” which is something that happens all the time, that they just get startled by spiderwebs.
PH: Yeah, and that’s actually something that really happened, it was dark in there and I bumped into the light chain and thought it was a spiderweb.
WM: And going along with the “based on true events”, you were just at Sundance with your new film Compliance. While you were making that movie, which was based on true events, did you have any idea the kind of reaction you would get? The polarizing of people commending it, others condemning it, did you know that’s what the reaction was going to be while making the movie?
PH: I certainly knew that it was, first reading the script, that it was going to be a very challenging and difficult movie for people. The reaction was so strong, both positively and negatively, but mostly positive. Really the super-outraged people were few and they just happened to be louder than everyone else. It’s a difficult, challenging film. I knew we were making something really great. I was a little bit shell-shocked by the reaction, it’s strange to be in the middle of it. I almost brought it up in there (the Q & A for The Innkeepers) because it’s the polar opposite of this movie, where you sit in the audience and everyone has this great release of screaming and laughing. That’s a movie that tightens a knot in your stomach and you want to get out of your seat and leave but you can’t turn away from it. I like both kinds of experiences, I like doing both, but I’m both surprised and kind of elated that it’s gotten that kind of reaction. I think it’s an important movie about an important thing and I think that when the dust settles, people will realize that their reaction to the film, whether they liked it or not, was provoked by something that the film brings up either emotionally or intellectually. It’s something that we all should think about and it’s bothersome because we have to address it within ourselves so I think that’s what’s going on. I don’t want to speak for everyone but I think that as we see it play more and it comes out and is released, I hope, and this is probably (director/writer) Craig Zobel’s hope too, that it ignites some sort of debate. Not just about the movie but about the subject itself.
WM: That you don’t necessarily leave thinking “I liked it” or “I didn’t like it” or “I liked this” or “I didn’t like that”, but the concepts that are brought about in the movie, people just have a discussion about them.
PH: We’re in a place right now in America where we’re very much just bowing to authority and being told that we’re in a certain place financially and we’re in a certain place politically, and we find that not to be true a lot and there’s a lot of people in power keeping us in positions. Why do we believe them and why do we go along with it, I think it’s really the right movie at the right time; I don’t like to be a politician or get up on my soapbox about it. It wasn’t that I felt that so much in making it, I just thought we were making a great story, but in seeing it with an audience, you really see it’s going to be a very hot button movie and bring up a lot of those issues.
Pat Healy spoke on stage about how many movies he had seen at the Music Box Theatre (where the screening was held) and how he had a job in a theater growing up. Not just any theater, mind you, but a theater that was just a short commute into the suburbs from the theater we were in. Even if he didn’t say much while up on stage, he made mention of how he had grown up seeing movies there and seeing people speak, and how thrilled he was to now be up on stage in that capacity. Not only was the movie enjoyable, but to see that delight on his face was an enjoyable experience as well. I could only hope to one day go to my hometown and stand in front of a full theater and talk about a movie I was in. Wait…the theater in my hometown is only 130 people. THAT’S NOTHING! I speak to thousands of people every single day at work. I take back that whole “I could only hope…” thing, because I think that would be a step in the wrong direction.