Pat Healy: Creepy Calling for “COMPLIANCE”Fearful Features,Movies/TV,News Michael Gingold
Out on DVD and Blu-ray this week from Magnolia Home Entertainment, COMPLIANCE gives actor Pat Healy a startlingly different role than the one most horror fans probably know him for: the awkward but likable, lovestruck Luke in THE INNKEEPERS. He digs into his turn as COMPLIANCE’s manipulative “Officer Daniels” in this exclusive interview.
“Officer Daniels” isn’t an officer at all, but a prank caller posing as a policeman who alternately threatens and sweet-talks ChickWich restaurant supervisor Sandra (Ann Dowd) and others into doing terrible things to innocent young employee Becky (Dreama Walker). For Healy, COMPLIANCE (reviewed here) marks a reunion with writer/director Craig Zobel (interviewed here) after their 2007 film THE GREAT WORLD OF SOUND, in which the actor played a con man preying on wannabe singers and musicians. The new movie, based on a series of real incidents, required Healy to plunge into an even deeper personal darkness…
FANGORIA: After your mild-mannered part in THE INNKEEPERS, COMPLIANCE is quite a change of pace. Was that something you were looking for?
PAT HEALY: It wasn’t a conscious decision on my part. It just happened that way, because I’d mostly stopped acting about five years ago. I was tired of auditioning and had started to try to make my living writing and do the things I wanted to do, including working with directors I really wanted to work with. Ti [West] and I knew each other a little bit, and he offered me that [INNKEEPERS] role, and then about a year later Craig called me about COMPLIANCE. I really didn’t want to do it at first, because I had an immediate, visceral reaction, but in the end I’ll do whatever Craig asks me to do because we have a great friendship and working relationship.
FANG: Were you familiar with the real-life cases COMPLIANCE is based on before he offered you the part?
HEALY: I was not. Craig’s interested in these true-life stories that are odd, where it doesn’t make sense why things happened the way they did. GREAT WORLD OF SOUND was based on something that his father had told him about, and there’s another script he’s written called GIZMONDO based on another strange story. He’s just like, “Well, how does that happen?” and he starts to investigate and read about it, and go backwards, trying to investigate how and what occurred, what went wrong, etc. Craig told me about [the prank-call cases] and sent me the script, and I just thought, “Wow.”
I became familiar with [the actual events] pretty quickly, but I never read about them or watched any of the news stories until after we finished filming, because I didn’t want to be influenced by them in any way, since we were telling a fictionalized account and the character I play is an invention. There was only one person who was brought to trial on these charges, and he was acquitted, so it’s not like I had somebody to base him off of. I had to use my imagination and create what I thought he would be based on what Craig wrote.
At the time, I thought the biggest problem was going to be getting people to believe this actually happened, you know? Craig did a really convincing job of it in his writing, and we were always trying to find new ways to have it make sense, up to and including during the shoot. We were always live on the phone to each other—Ann, Dreama, Bill [Camp, who plays Sandra’s fiancé] and I—and he would tell them, “Don’t do what he says until you really are convinced.” So I had to convince them.
FANG: One of the keys to the character is the small but telling gesture when you show how amused and surprised you are about how much you’re getting away with.
HEALY: Yeah, that’s important, because there’s a banality and a normalcy to this character. It comes from something Craig and I discussed, which is that to him, he’s a Jerky Boy. He’s making a prank call from afar, and he’s not witnessing any of the human consequences of his actions. To him, it’s funny.
I had an experience, I think it was the first day of shooting, when we were doing one of the telephone conversations—which were all done live, with a camera on me and on them, on separate sets in the same building. The phone broke, and it was a small budget and there wasn’t a lot of time, so I had to go up into the office and say those things live to the other actors. And I felt so sick. I realized something about the character then: that he was somebody who could never, ever do that to someone’s face. He could get away with having complete distance and remove, because there were essentially no consequences and no stakes for him. It doesn’t make him any less evil or insidious, but it allows him to behave in that way and not think about it as perpetrating this heinous crime. He knows what he’s doing is wrong, because otherwise he wouldn’t be covering his tracks, but he doesn’t think of it as anything of any consequence.
FANG: Did you keep yourself sequestered from the rest of the cast during the preparation for filming?
HEALY: No. I know that Craig thought about doing that as an exercise early on, but ultimately, because he’s compassionate and has a big heart [laughs], he thought that would be too cruel and hard on me. I became very close with Ann and Dreama and Bill and everyone, because it was the only thing that made me feel good, and they were always very supportive of me. I’m not someone who has to, as the Method goes, become the part and believe I am that person and stay in it. I just use my imagination, and I can tap in and out of something, and become really intense and focused while we’re shooting but not have to be this miserable creep off-camera. That allowed me to relax, because I felt pretty bad most of the time, including when I was trying to sleep at night. We all had a really great relationship, and that helped me through it, for sure.
FANG: Did you do any improvising during the phone calls, or was it all pretty much as scripted?
HEALY: The majority of it was scripted, but Craig always knew… You can say it’s a true story, but people will still walk out if they don’t believe it. That’s why he’d say to [the other actors], “If he’s not convincing you, make him keep going.” And I’d have to figure out ways, emotionally and otherwise, to manipulate them until they were convinced. So there was a lot of that kind of improvisation.
Also, the heart of this character is what they call the pleasure-and-pain syndrome, where you cause pain to someone by yelling at them or making them feel bad about themselves, and then you rush in with a compliment, which is an immediate salve on their pain, and they forget that you were the one who caused it to begin with. So Craig would say, “Be really nice here,” or “Be sweet with her here,” or “Be very rude or nasty,” Sometimes it wasn’t even changing the lines, but just the intensity of things.
FANG: Were there any surprises for you when you saw the final movie?
HEALY: I was really surprised. I had a friend come with me and hold my hand for the first cast screening we had, because I was in a very rough place personally when I did it, not even including the actual shoot. I had other things going on, and I was afraid it would a), bring back some of those feelings and b) to see myself in that way… We pretend for a living and all that, but there’s got to be something of that person in me for me to be able to create him. The difference between him and me is that I don’t let it out on other people, and he feels comfortable doing that. So I was convinced that I wouldn’t be able to watch the movie, but I knew I should. And I was very surprised at how I didn’t feel any of those things about myself. For probably the first time in my life, I watched it and—maybe this was a defense mechanism—I didn’t recognize myself at all. I don’t even remember doing a lot of it; it’s like watching a different person. Maybe I need to feel that way. I was certainly very affected by the film; I think it’s brilliant and fully engaging.
FANG: You were on hand for the Sundance screenings that got very vocal, sometimes outraged reactions. Did you have any incidents with viewers who confused reality and fantasy, and came up to you and were like, “How dare you?”
HEALY: Not quite, but there have been a couple of screenings where I’ve done a Q&A, and they booed me when I came out. But it’s been kind of in fun, more like a wrestling-villain-type thing. There have been a few questions directed at all of us where people asked, aren’t we doing the same kind of exploitation that this guy did by making this movie? I have yet to hear a compelling argument as to why people think that. I’ve asked them, and they never have an answer as to why.
That’s not to put anybody down; of course the movie is a very traumatizing experience in a lot of ways for certain people, especially if you have an emotional connection to what’s happening, and I think some of them don’t know what to do with their feelings, and then the people [from the movie] are right there. If you have feelings like that, you want to get them outside of yourself, and if you have someone to take them out on—especially someone you view as responsible for making you feel that way—that’s sometimes easier to do. I don’t take it personally. The majority of the response has been positive. Even if people say it made them feel terrible and they don’t want to see it again, they still say they loved the film.
But to go to the other side of that, I’m truly humbled and awed and excited about how much attention the film and Ann and Dreama and Craig and everyone has gotten. You have to understand, when we went to do this movie, Craig said to me, “You know, there’s a possibility that you won’t ever be seen. I may just use your voice.” So I wasn’t doing this for any vanity reasons, or any career reasons. I was just doing it because I knew it was an important thing to do, and for my friend. And I’ve never had people single me out and write about me and my acting like I have with this film. I’m really lifted by that. Those people obviously can separate the actor from the character and see it as a performance, especially if they’ve just seen me in THE INNKEEPERS or other things. That has been really gratifying.
FANG: Have you ever received a strange phone call yourself in real life?
HEALY: I have. You just struck a memory that I haven’t really talked about in regards to this, but I remember a guy called my dorm room when I was in college, looking for a woman. He mentioned a name—Sheila or whatever—and I said, “No, you have the wrong number.” Then he told me to put my girlfriend on, and I didn’t have one, so I hung up on him. He called me back and then he wanted me to [laughs] sexually gratify him over the phone in some way. It was very strange.
I’ve worked as a telemarketer a few times in my life, and I’ve had some odd experiences of feeling icky about doing that, and I didn’t last long in those jobs. And I’ve definitely had those experiences where I go in to get my car washed, and the guy tries to sell me tires or something, and I feel weird and pressured to do it and end up buying them, and feel yucky about it afterward. I’ve had people manipulate me and not realized it until after, and wished I hadn’t done it. But I’ve never had anyone manipulate me into doing something cruel to someone else, thankfully. I don’t know what I’d do in that situation, and I don’t think anybody really can until they’re there.
I was just listening to an interview with a celebrity the other day. She was talking about how she has a phobia of doctors, and the reason is that she had a visit with a GP about a sore throat, and he made her undress. He had commented on her anatomy in an inappropriate way, and she said, “You know, you want to be obedient. That’s what you do. He’s a doctor. You do what he says.” That may seem completely out of line and inappropriate, but when you’re in that situation, there are so many things that go on, and you feel a certain obligation. People abuse power; a doctor is a person who’s in a position of power, and so’s a policeman, and sometimes we do what someone says because it’s [emotionally] built in.
I’m sure I’ve been in more situations like that than I can remember or care to remember, but I like that about the film; it’s a cautionary tale, and helps people to be mindful about it. We need that every so often, especially since we’re a little complacent at the moment. I hope COMPLIANCE does do that for people in a good way, and not in a way that destroys people’s lives.