Patrick Fischler is a virtual scene stealer in everything he’s in, and whether it’s on television (Mad Men, Lost) or films (The Black Dahlia, Mulholland Drive), there’s a good chance his work has come across your doorstep.
With The Pact 2, Fischler is FBI Agent Ballard, a laser focused tough guy who’s bent on catching a serial killer, even if it means alienating his colleagues as well as June Abbott (Grey’s Anatomy star Camilla Luddington), a woman who has a tragic connection to the killer. Though the narrative’s main focus centers on June’s journey (Caity Lotz, who played Annie in the first film, also returns), Ballard is a key player in the equation.
During our phone interview, Mr. Fischler covered a variety of topics, including working with talented The Pact 2 directors (Dallas Richard Hallam, Patrick Horvath), his previous collaborations with Brian De Palma and David Lynch, and the creative opportunities that have opened up thanks to Video On Demand (VOD).
Sidenote: If you’re a huge Brian De Palma fan, Fischler offers up interesting insight about working on The Black Dahlia (since De Palma’s my favorite filmmaker, I’m very biased toward his work, and it’s great that Fischler has an even eyed look when discussing his De Palma experience).
The Pact 2 is currently available on VOD and opens in theaters October 10.
Agent Ballard is a no-nonsense guy who doesn’t suffer any fools.
I think not suffering any fools is exactly a perfect way to describe it. I don’t think this guy can deal with anyone who’s not excellent at what they want to do. I didn’t want to play him as offbeat or weird – that wasn’t my intention. I think he is socially awkward and he is someone who is incredibly good at what he does and when something slips by he doesn’t tolerate it. If someone’s not doing their job at their utmost best, he’s not someone who hides it.
That can come off as sort of weird and different or intense and all that is accurate and fine, but none of that was in my mind. That’s how it came to me.
There’s a sequence in the middle of the film where Ballard has an intense sequence with June (Camilla Luddington).
You mean the scene when she’s coming out of the bathroom?
All of that is accurate – that’s actually great. I think he sees a kinship in her. He sees her as incredibly smart, but she’s doing dumb things. I think that’s driving him crazy. He’s trying to get through to her – and the way he does it, like I said, comes across as intense, for lack of a better word.
In that moment, she’s broken into a crime scene, so for him that’s intolerable. Once he gets past that this was done, he really wants to find everything he can about her and this is their first like real moment fully alone. Every other time either her boyfriend or another cop’s been there. So this is his chance to get really underneath what is really going on with her.
The Pact 2 directors have a really unique visual and narrative aesthetic – is that how you felt about working on this project?
Yeah, I think Dallas and Patrick are incredibly talented. What really sold me was when I saw their first movie Entrance which they made for like $9,000. It just had a different quality about it and (the film) drove me to meet them.
When I met with them, I thought they were fantastic and I’d work with them anytime. I really do feel that way. We’ve become friends. They are not cookie cutter (filmmakers).
They love movies. I love movies. I think if you have a passion for film – that’s a drive right there. That just makes you want to do something interesting and not just do what everybody else does.
Who were some of your acting influences during your youth?
I think earlier for me it was Robert De Niro and Al Pacino. Those were the guys that drove me the most. As an adult – the movies they make now, I rarely see. But when I was young, their stuff pushed me to no end. Meryl Streep was always one of my biggest influences. I love how she disappears and what she does completely and wholeheartedly.
When I get a part, I just have to find the part of me that’s in that guy. Even if it’s a tiny little bit, and then just go from there. That’s how I start.
My favorite director is Brian De Palma, and you had the chance to work with him on The Black Dahlia. What was it like working with such a visualist?
I grew up a ginormous Brian De Palma fan. Carrie, Dressed to Kill, and Blow Out – I can’t even describe what . . . I probably shouldn’t have seen them the age I saw them. I was quite young when I saw all those movies.
So when I got to meet him when I went for The Black Dahlia – it was a win-win. His style unlike anybody’s. I think what’s held him back recently – he had such a great peak in the 1970s and 80s and I feel like he hasn’t (had) scripts that he’s connected with in the same way. Not that the films haven’t been good – The Black Dahlia had a lot of good stuff in it.
Working with him was great. We were in Bulgaria and we had a great time. The movie wasn’t exactly what I wanted it to be. His visual style was there, but it didn’t kind of connect like I said. Maybe that’s a problem he’s faced recently with his movies, but he is so immensely talented.
Talent doesn’t disappear. With actors, directors, and writers – it just doesn’t go away – we all have projects that doesn’t end up being exactly what we want them to be.
One of your acting highlights must have been working with David Lynch on Mulholland Drive and with Twin Peaks coming back on Showtime….
Oh it’s the best news day for me – I love Twin Peaks.
Two part question. How great was it to be a part of David Lynch’s universe and also – with more streaming and cable network options, is it a great time to be an actor as well as a viewer?
David Lynch is a master and like De Palma – The Elephant Man and Blue Velvet were groundbreaking for me when I was young. Both those movies meant a lot to me. Getting to work with him – and Twin Peaks was my favorite show. When it was on, I was obsessed with it.
Working with Lynch was – we have those moments in our life that we’re always going to sort of cherish. That will be one I’ll always have in my back pocket.
I just remembered as if it was yesterday. He’s a fantastic director with actors not only with what he does visually. What he said to me that day, I’ll never forget. It was great. Working with him was really, really special and I can only hope I get to do it again. So that was amazing.
As for VOD, I will never stop going to a movie theater. There are a lot of people who’ve stopped going to movie theaters because it’s just so easy to watch it at home and that’s fantastic. What VOD and streaming has given us is the ability to watch anything anywhere.
What VOD has done (for actors) is incredible. It’s opening doors to people who wouldn’t get to work if it was just the way it used to be. It’s opening doors for writers and directors. More movies are being made and are being thrown on VOD.
Most people now at home are asking ‘Honey what do you want to watch tonight, let’s see what’s streaming.’ And they just go and look as opposed to, ‘Honey what do you want to watch tonight in the theater, tonight?’ It’s really changed the business, and it’s going to continue to change.
Can you talk about your upcoming projects? Are you working on Shameless and an untitled Warren Beatty film?
With Shameless, I’m going to be in the new season. It was a complete blast. It’s a totally different part that I normally play. It’s very emotional, funny, weird and warped. So I loved doing that.
The Warren Beatty film – it was a phone call. Basically, for lack of a better word, it’s a cameo. If you blink you’ll miss it. But I got to work with him, so my answer was an immediate ‘yes’ when they called.
And the same producers of The Pact 2 did a movie called The Diabolical, which is starring Ali Larter that I’m in and it’s going to be a total rollercoaster ride. So all has been good, I have to say. Things are doing great.
What is your key of staying in the moment?
I don’t get lost in . . . I’m not a method actor. I talk to everybody. I hang out. I can snap pretty quickly into (the scene) unless it’s a very emotional thing. If it’s some kind of emotion, I really need to kind of stand on my own, listen to music, and just be peaceful. But if it’s any other type of job I’m doing, it’s very easy to be Patrick and then be the character. It’s the way I work.
Patrick – thank you for the talk and I hope to interview you for the next one.
Thank you so much, man. It’s a pleasure. Take care.
Co-starring Caity Lotz (Mad Men) and Amy Pietz (Caroline in the City), The Pact 2 is currently available on VOD and opens in theaters October 10.
Tom Cruise’s collaboration with Christopher McQuarrie (director of Jack Reacher & Valkyrie) continues, as Paramount Pictures and Skydance Productions have announced the fifth installment of the Mission: Impossible franchise has started principal photography. McQuarrie, who also penned the Cruise flick Edge of Tomorrow, wrote the new film with scribes Drew Pearce, Will Staples.
Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol vets Jeremy Renner, along with M:I staples Simon Pegg and Ving Rhames are returning for another round with Ethan Hunt (Cruise). New cast members include Alec Baldwin and Rebecca Ferguson.
Released in December 2011, Mission: Impossible: Ghost Protocol earned nearly $700 million worldwide, making it Cruise’s highest grossing film of his career.
The new movie will shoot in London, Morocco, and Vienna. Cruise first played Ethan Hunt in 1996’s Mission: Impossible, a Brian De Palma directed feature which had Hunt going toe to toe with previous M:I icon Jim Phelps (Jon Voight).
Director Brian De Palma’s lifelong obsessions (sexual betrayal and manipulation, JFK’s assassination, Alfred Hitchcock) coupled with his unique visual aesthetic, are in full bloom with Phantom of the Paradise, and Shout! Factory has released a 2-Disc Blu-ray set befitting the movie’s ambitious scope.
Originally co-penned by De Palma and Louisa Rose, Phantom of the Paradise had been stirring in De Palma’s brain since 1969. After moniker changes due to lawsuits (it was originally titled Phantom of the Fillmore and then just plain Phantom) and a creative disagreement with Rose, De Palma rewrote Rose’s sections of the script, worked out a suitable name for the film, and forged ahead.
The result is De Palma at his baroque best, as the filmmaker blends horror and musical genres to create an eviscerating look at the uneasy (and in De Palma’s case, destructive) marriage between art and commerce.
Late actor William Finley, whose extensive collaboration with De Palma includes Sisters, The Fury, and The Black Dahlia, is Winslow Leach, a composer whose lyrical work doesn’t mesh with the pop music/rock vagaries of the day. Winslow’s dreams of seeing his songs take center stage takes a tragic spin when an evil record tycoon named Swan (Paul Williams who penned Phantom’s songs and score) bastardizes Winslow’s vision and transforms the tunes into a garish display spearheaded by a pop group known as the Juicy Fruits (Archie Hahn, Jeffrey Comanor, Harold Oblong).
After taking a beating from Swan’s goons and getting his face disfigured from an accident, Winslow dons a phantom mask to haunt Swan and his performers (a split screen sequence, which has Phantom planting a bomb inside a stage crew designed vehicle, is one of the film’s most visually arresting moments).
Jessica Harper is Phoenix, a silk voiced ingenue who serves as Winslow’s muse. Even though Swan is his mortal enemy, Winslow’s lust and admiration for Phoenix (he tells her that he wouldn’t let his “personal desires” influence his “aesthetic judgment”) wins out, and he enters a Faustian bargain with Swan that leads to heartbreaking results.
If Shout! Factory simply released the high-definition transfer of Phantom of the Paradise, I’d still be in hog heaven. Thankfully, they have littered this edition with tons of special features. Here’s just a few of the treasures that await Phantom of the Paradise fans and future initiates:
- Paradise Regained – This is a 50 plus minute look at the making of Phantom of the Paradise and is the first feature I’d take a peek at. Each chapter is broken down to interviews with Brian De Palma, producer Edward R. Pressman, William Finley, Paul Williams, Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham and other members of the cast.
- Brian De Palma Interview (36 minutes) – A must see interview with the director, as he explains the importance of visualizing a movie and why he’s not a huge fan of directors who simply shoot coverage. “I have a very definite way of shooting things and when I write a scene or have an idea for a movie,” says De Palma in the feature. “I have a very direct, important place for the camera to be or a way to structure a series of images and I think about it quite a lot.”
- Paul Williams Interview (30 minutes) – Although Phantom of the Paradise is De Palma’s brainchild, a huge portion of the movie’s soul comes from Paul Williams’ music and “devilish” (spoiler alert!) performance as Swan. During the interview, he cites the Phantom song “Old Souls” (sung by Jessica Harper) as one of his two favorite compositions which, considering his prolific work, says a ton.
- Guillermo Del Toro & Paul Williams Conversation – Clocking in at 72 minutes, Del Toro is a huge Phantom of the Paradise fan, and he’s collaborating with Williams on a stage version of Pan’s Labyrinth. Thus, the pair have a mutual shorthand, and the talk is an informative look on Williams’ creative process as well as Del Toro’s passion for Phantom (at one point, he considered naming his daughter Phoenix). It’s also great to hear the pair randomly geek out over actor Montgomery Clift (“Before he says a word, before he makes a move, you feel (Clift’s) pain,” says Williams).
- Other special features include audio commentary from the cast and crew (which includes Jessica Harper, Gerrit Graham, Jeffrey Comanor, and Harold Oblong), 40 minutes worth of alternate takes, TV & Radio spots, a still gallery, theatrical trailer, and interviews with production designer Jack Fisk drummer Garry Mallaber, producer Edward R. Pressman, and quick clip of William Finley promoting a rare Phantom of the Paradise doll.
Phantom of the Paradise is a perfect example of Brian De Palma’s successful collaborations with musicians and songwriters. Williams, as witnessed from his work with The Carpenters, Three Dog Night, and even Diamond Rio (“You’re Gone”), knows how to write and compose an evocative tune, and that melancholic tone serves as the perfect balance to De Palma’s audacious and stylized filmmaking.
De Palma’s own personal attachment to Winslow Leach is, upon closer view, a rather obvious one. Winslow Leach would rather craft elaborate cantatas than subject himself to penning pop jingles, and De Palma is happiest when left to his own creative devices.
Although he’s directed excellent studio driven projects such as Scarface, Mission Impossible, and The Untouchables, much of his creative bliss lies in writing and directing intensely personal and suspense filled narratives (Sisters, Raising Cain, Dressed to Kill, and the woefully overlooked Femme Fatale are pure, De Palma driven cinema)..
Back in 2002, I interviewed De Palma for Femme Fatale, and in the following clip, he talked about why music is a huge influence in his storytelling:
Phantom of the Paradise is now out on Blu-ray, and you can order it online via Shout! Factory through this link.
Even though technology is increasing the creative limits of film, many of these advances lie in the execution of special effects and its surrounding spectacle. Unfortunately, many of these studio driven projects lack the visual ingenuity and inspiration of such filmmakers as Alfred Hitchcock, Roman Polanski, Fritz Lang, or Brian De Palma.
I bring these four paragons of the moving image since they are personal heroes of filmmaker Eugenio Mira, and although Grand Piano may have been borne from his love of German Expressionism and perfectly executed suspense thrillers, the movie thankfully doesn’t exist as a one-dimensional exercise in homage.
The narrative centers on Tom Selznick (a moniker that’s an obvious nod to Hollywood legend David O. Selznick), a pianist who, due to an unfortunate mishap several years ago, has a horrible case of stage fright. When Selznick decides to return to the stage, his comeback is met with a threat from a stranger (John Cusack) who leaves him a rather nasty message: “Play one wrong note and you die.”
During the Grand Piano interviews, I asked Wood about his unique collaboration with Mira. The camera’s movements remain fluid throughout the story, and Wood enjoyed working within the filmmaker’s specified universe.
“It’s a slightly different process, in the sense that traditionally with a film you shoot a scene, potentially that scene could take two days or three days,” said Wood. “In this case it was literally shots, so our call sheet was comprised of shots, not scenes. Because all the shots were compiled within the context of the animatics, so it was highly technical but I had all the information at my disposal so there was no challenge in that. I found it enjoyable. I knew the film he wanted to make because it was beautifully articulated in the context of a moving image. We were working on a daily basis to recreate those individual moments and pieces of the puzzle.”
The film, which had the production traveling to Barcelona, Chicago, and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria, took 44 days to shoot. Along with mounting his project with an ambitious visual scope, Mira also amped up the difficulty level by placing Grand Piano in a 35mm universe. It’s an extremely purist move in a world that’s completely gone digital, and it’s one of the many reasons why Grand Piano, if anything, has tons of cinematic moxie.
“I want to keep making movies until I die,” said Mira. “It’s almost a romantic expression (in regards to) making these movies in this particular way of crafting them in terms of believing that, through the size of the shot and the lens and where the camera is going to be, you’re telling something in a way that you can’t do in other mediums…I was always more interested in composing than reproducing. I’m not a performer, and the only place in my life that I feel completely comfortable performing is in the intimacy of designing a movie. I like directors who perform
Grand Piano, which also stars Kerry Bishe as Selznick’s actress wife, opens in select theaters March 7 and is also available On Demand and iTunes.