Aquaman star Patrick Wilson: ‘To talk about your own looks is a weird thing’

The actor on moving from musicals to movies, #MeToo and the perils of being a good looking guy

"I cast a wide net when I started out," lovely Patrick Wilson tells me. "In the mid-1990s there weren't a lot of guys coming into musical theatre who had the training and looked like… Oh, I don't know… an all-American. Look, I know that. I am not an idiot."

You would need to be pretty thick not to acknowledge Patrick Wilson's old-fashioned good looks. If he wandered into an animated Disney movie he could, without any touching up, pass for an idealised version of the romantic hero. They used to make cigarette commercials with these guys.

Having won Tonys for Broadway productions of The Full Monty and Oklahoma!, the chiselled Virginian moved onto the big screen with Joel Schumacher's The Phantom of the Opera. He's since developed a singular career. He's done challenging work in Todd Field's Little Children and the second series of Fargo. We meet to discuss his role as a mighty Atlantean in DC's Aquaman. Patrick does well for himself. But I wonder if (what a problem to have!) his Roger Ramjet looks are ever a hindrance. He's never going to play Uriah Heep.

"Good Uriah Heep reference. I remember the prog band from the 1970s," he says. "There is no real way to answer that. Other than: we all have our strengths and weaknesses. When I look at the types of actors I respect, they always try and push the envelope. I am an actor first. Brad Pitt or Matthew McConaughey could have just done straight romantic leads their whole careers."

He’s laughing at the absurdity of the conversation.

Good fortune

“I guess I’ve lost roles because I don’t look a certain way. But whatever. I am conscious of my good fortune. To talk about your own looks is a weird thing.”

Onwards to Aquaman and Orm Marius, enemy to the Justice League and king of all Atlantis. The latest film from the DC empire is not backward in its embrace of camp. Nicole Kidman is looking fabulous as Patrick's mum (the sums are forced to add up). Jason Momoa ripples as the hero. I just can't imagine how a chap prepares for such a role.

“When you come from theatre the words are paramount – whether it’s Greek tragedy or Shakespeare,” he says. “You try to mine the text for what it can be. Whether it’s superhero movies or horror films, the situations are usually larger than life. I can look back on the things I’ve done and the things I am proudest of are the things where I’ve jumped in feet first.”

It's hard to overstate what a charmer Patrick Wilson is. He chuckles. He grins. He's always at home to the absurdities of his career. I met him first around 15 years ago. We had all been flown into San Antonio for the premiere of John Lee Hancock's now largely forgotten (but grand) The Alamo. The entire town shut down for the event. On one of his first press junkets, Patrick seemed endlessly surprised by the kerfuffle.

“I do remember that junket!” he says with an actual chortle. “My wife makes fun of me for that because I had never done 50 or 60 interviews in a day and I realised I was getting so tired I couldn’t talk. ‘What’s wrong with you? You just have to sit in a chair and talk?’ I was babbling a lot. I remember that very fondly and laugh.”

He didn’t seem to want for energy.

“At the premiere I sang. I forget what I sang,” he says. “That was the world I’d come from. I was more relaxed performing than thinking about the press. The press just kept coming. How many more of these? Thirty-four? You’re kidding! Ha ha ha!”

Where he belonged

Patrick has already been in the business for some time. Raised in Norfolk, Virginia, son of a singer mother and a news-anchor dad, he got the bug when sent away to a pre-college programme. They put him on the stage and he immediately twigged that was where he belonged.

“I have never looked back. I keep just looking forward. That’s how you keep versatility and keep the fire,” he says.

Wilson is keen to stress that it was the work itself that attracted him. All he wanted was a way to keep doing what he loved to do. He enjoyed learning to dance. He enjoyed honing his voice. All that stuff.

“Yeah. I was never that kid who said: ‘I want to be famous. I want to be in movies,’” he says. “I didn’t know how you got into movies. I didn’t know how people made them. I didn’t have that dream. Then when you get into college my goals shifted.”

There is not a whisper of arrogance in Wilson. He includes a parenthetical acknowledgment of good fortune in every discussion of his continuing success. But it's hard to imagine him failing at anything. The universe just wouldn't let it happen. Would it? Sure enough, he admits that he didn't spend much time waiting tables while the casting agents failed to bite. After graduating in drama from Carnegie Mellon, he secured a role as understudy in the national touring production of Miss Saigon. Then he toured in Carousel. That role in the musical version of The Full Monty kicked him up to another level.

“You start doing musicals and think: ‘maybe I want to go to Broadway’,” he remembers. “Maybe I want to win a Tony. Those things become the goals. Hopefully you don’t become a jerk along the way before you have made the relationships that help.”

Perish the thought. Wilson's movie career took an unusual turn. In 2010, he was cast in James Wan's Insidious and went on to star in another three horror films by that prolific director. When Wan secured the Aquaman gig, nobody was much surprised that he found a role for his favourite leading man. Who would have guessed it? The guy who came up through Rodgers and Hammerstein is now the era's premiere scream king.

“We get along. I like being directed,” he says with a good-natured shrug. “I like working with people who inspire me. I inspire them and they push me. It’s hard for me to speak about what I bring to it. But we try not to take ourselves too seriously.”

Comfortable place

Married to the Polish-American actor Dagmara Dominczyk since 2005, Wilson has found a comfortable place for himself in the industry. The couple live with their two children far from the bustle in Montclair, New Jersey. He records the odd audiobook. It sounds like an agreeable life. Meanwhile, the business has changed around him. How?

"That's a huge question," he says. "From my perspective, in the last five years the format has changed. After 2008, they started to make fewer of a certain type of movie. I am proud of movies like Little Children. A movie like that wouldn't be made now. And I think a film like that shouldn't be made for TV. I am a moviegoer."

Then there is the kerfuffle as Hollywood wakes up to the abuse against women it has, for decades, allowed to continue. It’s hard to think of a time when the business was in greater turmoil.

“Then you put #MeToo into that equation. Thank God for that,” he says. “I wouldn’t say Hollywood is leading the way, but it’s reflecting what’s happening in other businesses. As a parent and a husband, as a progressive liberal man who respects every other creed, that can only help us. But I am also a very optimistic person.”

I’m not surprised that he’s an optimistic fellow. I feel a bit more optimistic just listening to him. But come on. Just look at the state of the world.

“We can only move forward, even in the dark times we are in now,” he says. “Truthfully, art has a great way of reflecting the current state of political and social issues. That’s when art works best. I think there is going to be a lot of great art coming out in the next few years.”

Well, yeah. There is that, I guess.

Aquaman opens in cinemas on December 14th


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