INT: Robert Patrick
An accomplished actor with a wide array of film and television projects under his belt, Robert Patrick nevertheless remains best known for his role as the ruthless, shape-shifting T-1000 cyborg in TERMINATOR 2: JUDGMENT DAY. Though the man who played his on-screen adversary in T2 has since moved on to the world of politics, Patrick wisely decided to stick with his day job. His latest film, LADDER 49, opens today. In the film, Patrick plays veteran firefighter Lenny Richter, the grizzled elder statesman of the firehouse. Weathered and wise-cracking, he provides a stark contrast to Joaquin Phoenixs characters bright-eyed naïveté. Over the course of their trials, however, the two men develop a strong bond.
Robert was on-hand for the LADDER 49 press day last week at the Century Plaza hotel in Los Angeles. It was definitely a trip when he entered our room. For a second I thought he just might go, Wheres John Connor? and then bash my skull in, but he turned out to be a great guy humble and down-to-earth, with a great sense of humor. Check out what he had to say about LADDER 49.
Were those real air tanks on your back?
How heavy were they?
The full turnout gear, which would be the outer clothing and helmet and the tanks, its about 60 lbs. of added weight. It feels like a hundred when they get wet. And those tanks, theyre like 20 minutes. But its real heavy and its kinda clumsy and it takes you a while to get used to wearing it. And my character, Lenny Richter, theres actually one piece that I didnt wear, which is the Nomax hood, which was correct for my character because hes an old-school guy, and he likes to sense how hot the fire is with his ears. And some of the older guys that I talked to had said that its almost like weve got too much protection, that we dont realize how hot the flames are, how hot the fire is and how intense it is, and some of the guys can get in there too far as a result of being overprotected.
Is this the most physically demanding movie that youve made?
No, not the most physically demanding theres others that Ive done that were more but this was certainly, at this time in my life and my age, my career, this was definitely demanding. Im not as young as I was for a lot of those things, so I was really kind of trying to make sure that I didnt hurt myself.
What was interesting too was that the firefighters, they had an admiration for us because they dont do this take after take. They do a 20 minute deal and its over. The first lasts so long, you overhaul it, you go back to the firehouse. You can kinda shut down. But we would be doing all day on these sequences and even they were fatigued. They were going up and down those extension ladders, and just going, My thighs are going to explode. I dont know how the fuck you guys do this over and over and over. So it was demanding.
How did you get involved with the project?
Probably like you, as a little kid Id always had a fascination with firefighters. Its one blue-collar role Id never done that blue-collar element that I think is the backbone of America. Ive had a very nostalgic year. I just finished doing Johnny Cashs dad for Walk the Line we and Joaq worked together again. So Ive had a very American kind of year. But also post-9/11. At the time I was going the X-Files, when 9/11 happened, and I remember being very frustrated that I had to go back the next day and couldnt really grieve like the way I felt the rest of the country got to.
Of course, its not just me; everybody probably felt that way as well that had to go back to work. But as an artist, I wanted to try to participate in some way and kinda envied Bruce Springsteen and Eddie Vedder for being able to get on there and sing and kinda help the nation heal, as it were. So I was kinda looking for something that I could do that I felt like I would be able to participate in my own little way. And my agent hit me up with this great script and the X-Files ended and I was available. This was the first thing I signed onto.
How close was that to September 11th and was there any element in the script that was altered because of that?
Well, I think that the original script had a little bit more clichéd and more heroic, kinda macho I think Joaquins character was kind of the one man saving everybody. And he made that go away. Basically Joaquin revolted against that, and I think Jay Russell as well. And they really addressed those kind of things. They wanted to make it more about the family of the firefighter, the community of the firefighter. These guys are already heroic enough without actually trying to turn them into some extremely heroic character for film. Its fanfare for the common man, you know? And I think thats what they were striving for. This film is a tribute to those guys. Its a tribute to the firefighters and, obviously, to the fallen heroes of 9/11 as well. But what I love about the film is that theres no reference (to 9/11). Youre basically watching one mans life, youre watching one mans day in a life. And youre watching him take account of his life. Really, I think thats what made the movie work.
Youre going to be doing the next X-Files movie, right?
I dont know.
I would love to do it. I love the X-Files, I love that character. I loved doing that role John Doggett. You know, any time I get to be a romantic lead is a good thing. (laughs)
What do you think the dynamic would be with the three of you?
Yeah. Well, David came back and did a couple episodes with me and I think we actually showed that we were two guys that understood each other, even though I was the knee-jerk skeptic, more or less, and he was the believer. I think we had a respect for each other that permeated some of the shows that we had while we were on there together. And we seemed to work well together. I actually thought we had really great chemistry and I know for a fact that David thought we did as well. And he made mention of that, like Shit, this is kinda cool. Its kind like Butch and Sundance. Its kinda neat. And it would be interesting to see if thats how it would be used in the feature. But I have no idea, man.
Did you go with the firefighters out on any calls or anything like that?
Yeah, we did. We went to Baltimore City and we did the academy. We literally went through the paces of what its like for the academy class to go through. We were actually like a sub-unit. They had the main unit and then we had a sub-unit, and we were on a much more accelerated pace. So we all did that. As actors, we were all trying to catch up to Joaquin because by the time we got to Baltimore he was firefighter. And the day we saw him on the set, we were all these actor from Hollywood, kinda pairing off, looking at each other, wondering who was gonna be the first one to be the wimp, the diva, to call the agent and say, Get me outta here!
But when Joaquin came around the corner, I swear to God, it was just like in the movie. It was like hed been dragged behind a truck for blocks he was all bagged up, his uniform was totally trashed. He looked and felt like a firefighter to us. We also started hanging out with the firefighters at the house, which is really obviously we needed to learn the techniques of the firefighters and how to handle ourselves, because its all real flame in the movie, its all real fire but to hang out with them and sort of observe the camaraderie and the humor I think thats the thing we were all shooting for to get up on film. Because I think whats interesting is the stuff thats going on outside the fire.
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