Ever since his Broadway breakthrough as a blue-collar stripper in The Full Monty, Patrick Wilson hasn’t stopped shedding his second skin on screen. But as he promotes two comedy roles — a castrated cad in the recently released Barry Munday and Rachel McAdams’s love interest in Morning Glory (in theaters November 12) — the 37-year-old father of two explains why he hasn’t gone gay since earning Emmy and Golden Globe nominations for his portrayal of closeted Mormon Joe Pitt in the HBO miniseries Angels in America.
By Brandon Voss
The Advocate: The last time you spoke to The Advocate was for a cover story on HBO’s Angels in America in 2003. What impact did the success of that project have on your career?
Patrick Wilson: I was actually just at a Starbucks in Astoria, Queens — my wife had an audition near there — and on my way out, this guy goes, “Excuse me, weren’t you in Angels in America? Nice to meet you!” However many movies I’ve done since then and no matter what movie’s out in the theaters at the time, I still get recognized more from Angels than anything else. It’s odd to talk about such an important piece of writing and television as something that’s part of my résumé, but it really was a great steppingstone for me into the movie business. I have a lot of actor friends who never get the chance to chew on that kind of material, so it put me in a different light in Hollywood’s eyes, like, Wow, he must really be an actor!
As an accomplished Broadway performer, were you aware of your gay fans before Angels?
Well, remember I did The Full Monty, so yeah, I was pretty conscious of the gay fans. [Laughs] But no amount of musicals can compare to the importance of Angels in the gay community, so I do think I gained a whole new legion of fans.
What does the support of the gay community mean to you?
It means a ton to me, and it’s something I take a lot of pride in. It’s silly in hindsight because everyone was awesome and convincing in their roles whatever their own sexual orientation is, but there were a few eyebrows raised before Angels came out because the majority of the male leads were straight. Regardless of the talent pool, people were like, How are they gonna pull this off? I understand the impact Angels has had on the gay community, so the fact that they thought I pulled it off was the best compliment I could get. I felt validated. You always hope you’ll have the confirmation of a core fan base; the gay community’s the core fan base of Angels, so that confirmation was a huge relief. Obviously, you don’t make a movie just for core fans, but that’s certainly where it starts.
Tell me about your first exposure to gay people.
I grew up in the ’80s in Florida and I went to a very small private school where nobody was out, even the people you sort of thought were probably gay. Honestly, I didn’t grow up as the most liberal, open, free-loving person — just out of ignorance, and I’m not ashamed to say that. I also had only one black person at my school, so when I got to college, it was like, Wow, a lot of gay people, a lot of African-Americans… As I get older, raising my sons, I think how great it is that we live in New York around every kind of person, because that exposure’s something I didn’t grow up with. I don’t blame my parents because they’re very open people, but the South of the ’70s and ’80s was a pretty conservative environment no matter how liberal you wanted to be. That said, I grew up around the Episcopal church — my mother was a choir director — where you can be gay and serve, which my parents were extremely open to. We weren’t really exposed to gay people except through church, which is kind of funny.
Who’s the most important gay person in your life?
Right now it’s my realtor, John, because I just bought a house. He was one of my best friends on the road when we were touring in Carousel in 1996 — we roomed together a lot — but he left the business a long time ago. My wife and I have two little boys, and when I was looking at neighborhoods, I specifically wanted a very liberal, open, artistic area. I called him up because I knew that wherever a gay couple felt comfortable raising their two adopted kids would be a cool place. Honestly, it was like, Where do my gay friends live? Let’s live there!
You haven’t played gay since Angels. Why not?
There’s no rhyme and reason, but that is kind of funny, right? I really haven’t been offered a lot of gay characters. It didn’t get to the point where I auditioned, but I remember when Brokeback Mountain was happening early on — before they knew if it was going to work with Heath and Jake. But when I was sent the Brokeback Mountain script, I didn’t bat an eye. That was pretty soon after Angels came out, but I couldn’t have cared less if I only did two roles on screen and one was Joe Pitt and the other was in Brokeback. I don’t care whether a role’s gay or straight; if it’s good, it’s good.
I was curious if you fought against typecasting after taking a high-profile gay part so early in your career.
If I think about every movie that I’ve done — if it’s had any sort of success, critically or otherwise — you do usually get offered a stream of that kind of character afterward. I’m very particular when it comes to choosing roles, so I guess there was a conscious choice early on. After Angels and then [Raoul in the 2004 film version of] Phantom of the Opera, which was certainly not the manliest of roles, I wanted to find something really dark, twisted, and different than anything I’d ever done, so I did Hard Candy. Of course, after that came out I got sent a bunch of pedophile roles. It’s like, do these guys not get it? I’m not going to repeat myself right away.
At least you got a drunken kiss from Hugh Dancy in Evening.
Yeah, that’s true. I’ve never been one for the drunken kisses, but I remember shooting that scene because it was super-cold and we had to keep pretending it was summer. I’m also playing Felix in the 25th anniversary benefit reading of The Normal Heart [October 18 at Broadway’s Walter Kerr Theatre]. I’m really excited because I love Joel Grey, who’s directing, and it’s such a great group of actors.
As an actor who tackled one of the most memorable closet cases in contemporary literature, what’s your take on the Hollywood closet?
I don’t know — I feel like I could get in trouble either way. There are older actors that all of us in the business look at and think, Oh, come on. One side of me is like, Why don’t they just come out? But if they don’t want to, it’s nobody’s business. If coming out helps someone feel great and further a personal cause, that’s awesome, but I just wish no one cared. Every time I hear somebody came out, it doesn’t mean anything to me. It’s such a personal thing, and the last thing you’d want is for someone to feel like they needed to do it. I don’t know what that gains other than making some tabloid reader feel validated, like, “I knew it!” or “That’s shocking!” Then again, I don’t know that struggle. But no one’s calling me to ask about all the women I’ve slept with, so why does anyone need to tell people who they’re sleeping with? It’s a side of the business that I really detest. I don’t want anyone to know anything about me. You know, early on when we were dating, my wife asked me, “Did you care if anyone thought you were gay after Angels in America?” I said, “No, I hope they thought I was gay, Republican, a lawyer, and Mormon. Then I did my job.”
No complaints that you appear in various states of undress for almost every role, but your bare ass practically has more IMDb credits than you do. Have you ever felt sexually objectified?
I have, but not in the scenes that you’d think. You should talk to my lawyer, because if it were up to me I’d never do it except for when it’s really called for, like in Angels, Little Children, and Watchmen. Joe has to be naked in Angels because he has to strip everything away. You have to see them naked in Little Children because it’s got to be hot and raw like Body Heat. I had to be seen naked from behind in Watchmen because that’s one of the coolest panels in the comic. But then there are the things where a director will go, “Why don’t you be shirtless in this scene?” I’ll say, “Why am I shirtless?” “Uh…” “Ah, you see?!” At least I could justify it in Lakeview Terrace because it was 115 degrees out.
You even justified showing off your boxers in your 2007 GAP commercial with Claire Danes.
That’s true. Look, after you’ve done The Full Monty on Broadway eight times a week for however many hundreds of shows and thousands of people, being undressed on a set in front of, like, four people isn’t a big deal. But nine times out of 10, I’ll just turn down a role if the script says, “and then he gets naked” — if that gives you any idea of the amount of material that comes my way where I’m asked to disrobe.
You’ll next appear opposite Rachel McAdams in Morning Glory, which was written by The Devil Wears Prada screenwriter Aline Brosh McKenna. Do you and Rachel have a hot Notebook-caliber romance?
Well, it’s really more about her bizarre relationship with Harrison Ford’s character, but she and I do have some hot stuff, yeah. Rachel is just awesome. I play her boyfriend and the voice of reason among all these wacky characters. I loved it. It’s a very smart comedy, the soundtrack is great, and Aline knows how to write great characters.
You’re almost castrated in Hard Candy, you donate sperm in The Switch, and you lose your testicles in Barry Munday. Have you noticed a testicular trend?
And in Watchmen I was impotent. I am weirdly fascinated with the idea of masculinity, emasculation, and what it means to be a man, so I do gravitate toward roles that deal with that. But to answer your question, yeah, me and balls go way back.
It was also pretty ballsy of you to do Phantom of the Opera, which didn’t exactly get the best reviews of your film career.
Yeah, and I was the only guy in the room who’d done a musical before outside of Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber, who’d written a few. About 90% of my view of a movie is defined by my experience, because there’s so much that’s not in your control. I wouldn’t dare let critics or box office dictate my feelings on a film. I had an unbelievable time — six months in London — with Gerry Butler and Emmy Rossum. I’m a purist who grew up in musical theater, so I love hearing people with amazing voices perform, but film is a different beast. You can’t look at it the same way as a stage musical. I knew people were going to take cracks at certain parts and certain people in the movie, but I’m very proud of it, and the majority of that feeling comes from sitting next to Sir Andrew and having him be really happy with it. Look, I’d love to see a great musical movie where everybody’s amazing singers and dancers, but that’s a tough nut to crack.
You’re an amazing singer and dancer. Should fans create a Facebook campaign to get you on Glee?
[Laughs] Man, I don’t know. I don’t really watch Glee, so I don’t know much about it. You know, I worked with Ryan Murphy for a minute on Running With Scissors — most of my scenes were cut — but yeah, Glee’s a huge hit, so sure, why not?
The Advocate, November 2010 issue; extended online version.