Pat Healy is a bonafide Horror Icon. But he’s also one of our greatest living actors, giving it nothing less than his best in everything from The Innkeepers to Cheap Thrills, American Woman to The Post. Healy showed he’s just as talented behind the camera with Netflix movie Take Me, too, in which he also starred opposite Taylor Schilling. Simultaneously intense and disarmingly sweet-natured, Healy can play a raft of different characters from psychos to nerds, imbuing each and every one with his own indefinable charm.
With The Pale Door, Healy is gifted his most OCD character yet, in the form of Wylie, the stringent ideas man for a ragtag bunch of lowlifes running rampant in the Old West. The remarkably candid actor sees many correlations between his role in the movie, and the way his character’s psyche falls apart as things escalate into darkness around him, and the current state of our world. Wicked Horror chatted with him about life, loss, and what he sees his role as in this horrifying new reality.
WICKED HORROR: You play Wylie in The Pale Door who, let’s be honest, looks a bit out of place with the rest of the gang. I thought maybe he was their accountant when he first showed up. How do you think he fits in to their group?
PAT HEALY: He kind of is [their accountant]! Wylie is the brains of the operation. He’s the logical guy, the guy who writes out all the plans, deals with facts and figures, measures the distance between here and there…basically going by what he’s come up with in a very methodical way in order to execute their plans. He’s more nattily dressed and speaks in a more refined manner. That’s kind of his role in the gang. Then, when this situation occurs, as it does in a lot of heist movies, there are these unforeseen complications, but in this particular case the something unforeseen, no one even knows it exists or believes in it. In particular, a person who is logic-based like that…when someone like Wylie experiences something he doesn’t believe in, the way that he approaches the world doesn’t factor that in, he kind of goes into a weird kind of shock. That’s kind of his arc in the movie. I think that’s an interesting thing for him. And, in these uncertain times, speaking of quarantine, and what’s going on with COVID, I learned a long time ago, because I’ve been in psychotherapy and psychoanalysis for a long time, the idea of control is an illusion. We really don’t have control, we certainly don’t have control over nature.
WICKED HORROR: There’s a parallel here. Wylie wouldn’t do well in quarantine.
PAT HEALY: Right, it’s starting to get a little old now, but this experience overall, quarantine, has not been not too bad for me because I relinquish control. But I’m watching a lot of people experience that for the first time and they’re reacting quite badly and acting irrationally in many ways, because they can’t imagine a world where they don’t have control. So that’s an interesting allegory to what happens in the movie, which is also often what happens in life, you know he’s got it all figured out and because the numbers add up and the facts and figures. But what happens when something otherworldly and supernatural comes into the picture? That all goes out the window and you have to adjust the best way you can. I’m adjusting well and reacting well to the current situation in the world but Wylie doesn’t, because it’s hard to know what to do when you’re suddenly surrounded and you can’t deny something that you’re seeing with your own eyes exists. That’s an interesting thing for me to play because it is something I’m very familiar with, the basic idea of it.
WICKED HORROR: When I talked to Aaron [B. Koontz, director and co-writer of The Pale Door] he told me about Wylie’s wardrobe, his accessories, like the little notebook he carries everywhere and the pocket-watch, and how everything was planned down to the last detail for him. Do those kinds of details give you an in, as an actor, to the character?
PAT HEALY: Oh, absolutely. I think 99 percent of the time, when you get the wardrobe, and especially with shoes and boots and all this period stuff, I mean, Jillian [Bundrick, costume designer] did an amazing job, especially given the budget constraints, when you put that stuff on it makes you stand a different way and makes you speak a different way, hold your head a different way. It makes you internalize the external circumstances in a psychological way when you look in the mirror and you look different and you’re in this old western town, in Oklahoma on location and it’s impressively humid…so all that stuff does a lot of my work for me. I do a lot of preparation beforehand, off set, because I want to give myself completely to the experience of it once I’m there. That’s something else that, allegorically, plays into what the story and the movie is, just tons of preparation and then everything just goes to hell and goes out the window. So I love all of that stuff, horror makeup, whatever you can do to…I think people in real life don’t emote as much as actors and characters in movies often do, and I think some of that has to do with the fact most of us haven’t been in situations like this – well, none of us have probably been in a situation like this – so we react how we think we might react. When you have all these other elements to help you along, wardrobe in particular, you don’t have to push or work so hard to react to that stuff, it’s really just you seeing weird shit [laughs] in western period clothing. In a lot of these cases, you’re very nattily dressed, in a suit and hat and tie and as the movie goes on, these things get stripped away along with Wylie’s own psyche and grip on reality, so that’s cool too.
WICKED HORROR: As controlled as Wylie is, you do get to do some gnarly stuff, particularly towards the end, like when you’re chewing broken glass in the church. What was the most challenging part for you, emotionally or psychically?
PAT HEALY: That was the biggest challenge, actually, because by the end of it, with all the appliances and all the blood and everything, I really couldn’t see where I was, where the camera was, where I was standing, so that’s where the relationship with Aaron and the rest of the crew becomes really important, that trust that’s been established, because you really have to take their word for it and just go, just physically be in a certain place and trust that they’re getting what they need. Then you ask them, you know, “Did you get that?” because you really have no idea what you’re doing. But that kind of works too, because my character is completely out of his mind at that point so, in a way, I shouldn’t have too tight a grasp on what I’m doing or what’s going on. So that kind of works for the character at that point in time, too, weirdly.
Catch The Pale Door in theaters, On Demand and on Digital from August 21, 2020
** This interview has been edited and condensed for length and clarity purposes.