Dinner With Patrick Wilson - A Conversation with One of Broadway's Favorite Leading Men
What they learned in the "Who's Who" section of those PLAYBILLS was that Patrick Wilson had received a Drama League Award for his Broadway debut in GERSHWIN'S FASCINATING RHYTHM and had appeared Off-Broadway in the musicalization of BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY. He had also played leading roles in touring productions of CAROUSEL and MISS SAIGON. His regional credits included SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH and HARMONY at La Jolla, THE CIDER HOUSE RULES at the Mark Taper Forum and ROMEO AND JULIET: THE MUSICAL at Ordway, as well as LUCKY IN THE RAIN at Goodspeed. There was also a reference to his just-completed (and still unreleased) film, MY SISTER'S WEDDING and a mention that his next project was the Broadway-bound production of THE FULL MONTY, which would originate at the Old Globe Theater in California.
Not only did THE FULL MONTY make it to Broadway, it earned Patrick Wilson his first Tony Award nomination for his portrayal of Jerry Lukowski, the unemployed steel-worker who becomes a male stripper. This was quickly followed by Trevor Nunn's acclaimed revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein's OKLAHOMA! which earned Wilson his second Tony nomination. While performing in OKLAHOMA!, Wilson was busily filming Mike Nichols' acclaimed version of ANGELS IN AMERICA, earning Wilson an Emmy Award nomination for his performance of a sexually confused Mormon. He also played William B.Travis in THE ALAMO, which was released before ANGELS IN AMERICA was aired. That was followed by the soon-to-be-released movie version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's PHANTOM OF THE OPERA. The PHANTOM assignment was followed, at breakneck speed, by a role in the just-finished movie HARD CANDY. Wedged somewhere in between all this was his participation in the all-star reading of SUNSET BOULEVARD, in which he assumed the role of Joe Gillis. Along the way he got to work with such luminaries as Trevor Nunn, Nicholas Hytner, Mike Nichols, Joel Schumacher, Susan Strohman, Meryl Streep, Al Pacino and Andrew Lloyd Webber.
All of this is pretty dazzling for a fellow who turned 31 this past July 3rd. Taking a break from his busy schedule, Patrick Wilson gladly agreed to be interviewed for BroadwayWorld.com. Would his Hollywood experience bring about any changes in a performer who was known for for being accessible and candid?
All fears were quickly assuaged when Wilson warmly greeted this interviewer by name, following that with a hearty handshake and a recollection of our last visit two years ago. Obviously he was still the down-to-earth and good-natured man he had been during his successes in New York. Although we had agreed to meet just for coffee, Wilson admitted he was hungry and we ordered light meals to sustain us during our lengthy conversation.
The chat began in a very light-hearted key, for as Wilson learned that one of the previous interviews I did for BroadwayWorld was with theater legend Carol Channing, he broke into a fairly good Channing impersonation, telling me of how he had been dating a gal who appeared in the last tour of HELLO, DOLLY!
This lass arranged for Wilson to see the show several times, but each time it was his job to accompany Channing's then-husband. As most people in the theater world know, the late Charles Lowe sat down front in a conspicuous seat at almost every performance and was the first one to leap up and lead the standing ovations for his wife throughout the show. One evening Mr. Lowe was unable to attend, so Wilson showed up solo and assumed the role of "claque" thoughout the performance. Afterwards, in her dressing room, Channing was effusive for her praise about how Wilson filled in for her husband.
"I had done SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH when I was 27 it was awesome and would like to do it again. I'm obsessed with Tennessee Williams and always have been. I love the way he writes about the South and Southerners"
One of the first topics broached was the benefit concert he and his family planned to give in Florida for those who were affected by Hurricane Charley. Born in Virginia, Wilson moved with his family to Florida during his younger years, when his father became a news anchor in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area and one of his older brothers followed suit. The Wilson family hadn't been terribly affected by the hurricane, but reporting the devastation on television made the elder Wilson want to do what he could to help the victims of the storm. Unfortunately, the first date for the concert had to be scrapped because yet another hurricane struck the area. In fact each time the concert was rescheduled, another hurricane caused its postponment. Right now the family is hoping to reschedule the event around mid-January. Patrick Wilson is eagerly anticipating the event because it will mark the first time he will be able to sing a program of music he performed in Broadway shows, on tour, and in the movies.
It becomes evident that that the actor is close to his family. Several times in the course of the interview he mentions "home" and it is apparent that he is not referring to an apartment in New York City, but rather the place where his parents and brothers live in Florida. There are strong and admirable family ties among the Wilson clan. Wilson explains that he began singing in the choir his mother directed while still in his teens. He was active in school sports but recalled how there were many times when he had to approach his coaches and tell them he couldn't attend the annual sports dinner because he was "scheduled to sing in a performance of Handel's 'Messiah' or something like that."
He quickly adds that he never formally studied voice with his mother and that his first voice lesson took place when he was in college. When informed that his choral background was evident in the clear diction and enunciation was apparent in his aforementioned performance in TENDERLOIN, Wilson lit up like a beacon. The character he played in that show was rather "streetwise and lying to everybody" but when called upon to sing "Artificial Flowers" he would prove to be the perfect choirboy--hence, the clear diction. The recording of the show's score remains one of Wilson's favorites.
An incredulous look came across Wilson's face when he learned that a large group from BroadwayWorld were planning to hire a bus to take us down I-95 in order to see his performance as "Brick" in CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF at the Kennedy Center. It took a moment or two for the information to sink in. Yes, it was true: his popularity is such that many of us were willing to meet a bus at 6 AM and arrive in Washington for a matinee performance of the Tennessee Williams classic. Of course those plans were scrapped as soon as it was learned that Wilson had withdrawn from the project. He explains: "I still want to do it. I had done SWEET BIRD OF YOUTH when I was 27 it was awesome and would like to do it again. I'm obsessed with Tennessee Williams and always have been. I love the way he writes about the South and Southerners. I also love CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF but the problem with this production was that it was only scheduled to run two weeks. In that time I had some post production work on the PHANTOM film and was committed to doing the studio recording of the musical BRIGHT LIGHTS, BIG CITY. It was obvious that I couldn't do all these things." He added that he would really like to do another production of SWEET BIRD in the near future.
It was remarked that the period when he was performing OKLAHOMA! on stage and filming ANGELS IN AMERICA at the same time had to have been a strenous time for Patrick Wilson. He admits it was. He also thanks director Mike Nichols for being so considerate of OKLAHOMA's performance schedule and worked the filming around Wilson's commitment to the show. Yes, it caused for an exhausting stretch of time and ANGELS went far beyond its filming schedule, but that was mostly because it was a six hour movie that would be shown in two parts. It amounted to filming two movies simultaneously. The schedule kept Wilson so busy that he didn't have the time to realize how impossible it all was. As one watches ANGELS IN AMERICA, the viewer immediately realizes that the scenes between Wilson and Al Pacino (who plays Roy Cohn) set off genuine dramatic sparks.<