Patrick makes splash as comic villain
US actor Patrick Wilson talks to Julia Molony about playing the bad guy in 'Aquaman', being a news junkie and feeling at home in Europe
He's a versatile actor whose career spans musical theatre, heavyweight drama and horror, so it comes as no surprise that Patrick Wilson also makes a masterful comic book villain.
His raspy evil-voice, which makes a surprise appearance during our interview in London is pitch-perfect first go. In Aquaman, the Warner Brothers adaptation of the DC comic, Wilson plays the megalomaniac half-brother to the titular hero. As Orm, aka Oceanmaster, he pulls off a bravura range of malevolent expression, from sour-grapes to scowling intensity to cold-blooded scheming.
But perhaps most crucially, even within the limits of the declamatory acting-style that is built-in to a comic-book movie, his portrayal of Orm is in no way two-dimensional. On the contrary it's complex, nuanced and in many ways, relatable.
Wilson is one of those Hollywood actors who is always in demand, without ever graduating to the level of paparazzi-hunted megastar. His CV is impressively long and includes mega-budget flicks, independent films and niche horror. But after he's finished today's promo duties, he can almost certainly take a stroll around the streets of central London with his family, without getting mobbed by screaming fans.
It says something about him that he approaches the character of Orm with the same seriousness as he did, say Joe Pitt in Mike Nichols's HBO adaptation of Angels in America - the role that launched his career and won him a Golden Globe nomination.
He, has, he says, never viewed a comic as "just a comic. I feel these great stories carry the archetypes and are our contemporary version of Greek tragedy, Shakespeare, whatever it is. These huge larger-than-life characters". He's played a huge range of different genres, and takes an entirely democratic view about all of them. "I went to theatre school and I viewed musical theatre like I did Chekhov, like I did Shakespeare. And contemporary work. There's no judgment. And I think a lot of that comes from when you are a young actor, you just want to work. Your goal is really, can you do what you love and support yourself?"
His Aquaman character is the bad guy, but he also carries the film's very timely environmental message. Orm wants to wage a war against mankind, as revenge for the decades of destruction it has wrought on the ocean. It's a position even the humans in the audience are likely to sympathise with. The great comics, Wilson says, "echo political sentiment and social sentiment throughout the years. They've always been a reflection - the writers reflect what they see outside and channel it into these characters".
Growing up in Florida as the son of a local news anchor, Wilson became a news junkie and remains one to this day. You're much more likely to find him, he says, flicking between all the different news stations to compare their coverage of current events, than binging on a series on Netflix. His dismay at "the way the media is portrayed in the US" is such that going to Australia to shoot Aquaman provided a welcome break from his addiction. He also, it seems, appreciates what he believes is a more outward looking culture that he finds only when he leaves the US.
"My wife (he's married to the actress Dagmara Dominczyk) is Polish by birth... we come over to Poland a lot, we are in Europe a lot so I think by marriage we have a much more globalist view, closer to European. And it's something that you just don't get over there (in America)." It was good, he says "being away, shooting Aquaman and getting away from that barrage - because it was very hard for me to not watch the news, watch every press conference, watch it every day and it really just saps your soul."
He studied Drama at Carnegie Mellon University and started working in theatre straight after. His twenties passed in a blur of work. "I was literally doing shows eight times a week, I maybe had a few months off. I went show to show to show for almost my entire 20s. Maybe three months off here and there. I was very fortunate. But it was musicals, it was regional theatre, it was all over." That explains why, he says, he never really got into the culture of TV series that started in the 1990s. "I was never home at night. What am I going to do, sit there and do pause-record on my VCR to catch up on Friends? I never did that."
The pivotal moment in his career came when he was cast by Mike Nichols in Angels in America. To this day, "maybe once a month somebody will still say to me, 'Oh my god, Angels in America'. I really thank Mike Nichols for really handing me a film career on a platter. Because that got me into just about any casting room in Hollywood... I knew I was being given the opportunities".
It's because of that too, that he's been trusted to take on such a range of different roles.
"I think when you work opposite Pacino and Meryl Streep and that crowd, it's like instant versatility. People think, 'Oh! You are an actor. Listen I'm not being humble, I just know that when you have that kind of opportunity and you make the most of it and you don't screw up, then people think, OK, you can handle just about any text."
Wilson's two sons are nine and 12 - just the right age to enjoy their dad's first jaunt as a villain in the DC universe then? "They are very excited. And I can't wait to show it to them," he says. "A lot of my movies are horror, so they don't see a lot of them." Over the years, he's whetted their appetite by buying them comics. "They do have both the DC bible and the Marvel bible. And they know characters that they've never read, but they know they exist. So they are very well-versed in each world."
His nine-year-old recently admitted that when it came to the competing worlds of DC vs Marvel comics, his loyalties lay with the latter, rather than the DC world his dad has now joined. "I'm a Marvel guy, dad," he told Wilson. "It's funny to see. I certainly don't push either of them on it. Maybe it comes back to when he was about three he had long blond hair and we dressed him as Thor for Halloween. It was the funniest thing you have ever seen, a three-year-old Thor, in like a tiny muscle suit with a hammer. It's pretty great... It's pretty awesome."
'Aquaman' is in cinemas from this Wednesday.