A Gifted Man star Patrick Wilson credits St. Petersburg schooling for his wide-ranging career
LOS ANGELES -- Now the story can be told: If you want to place blame for Patrick Wilson’s unorthodox career trajectory across TV movies and the Broadway stage – from parts in action films like The A-Team and Watchmen to an Oklahoma! revival and a new series on CBS – blame St. Petersburg.
More specifically, blame Shorecrest Preparatory School, where Wilson first learned the power of acting across many different platforms, joining a cadre of young thespians who pushed the school to expand its acting activities an compete with other institutions.
“One of the great benefits I had was not only being exposed to a musical every year, but being exposed to Shakespeare every year,” said Wilson, 38, hoisting a beer in the lounge of the Beverly Hills Hilton. “What it did was give an exposure for a young actor to different kinds of texts. It’s helped me have an appreciation; whether it’s a TV show or Shakespeare or a movie, it’s the same process of figuring out the text and building the character from there.”
Raised in St. Petersburg, Wilson is the most famous son of a family steeped in media; dad John Wilson is WTVT-Ch. 13’s top anchor, while his brother Mark Wilson also anchors there and another sibling, Paul Wilson, runs a local media and marketing firm.
Known for putting his angular good looks to work in varied and interesting roles – from the low-budget horror hit Insidious to HBO’s Angels in America, Wilson is now tasking another leap; starring as a selfish surgeon visited by the spirit of his dead wife, in CBS’ new fall drama A Gifted Man.
Schmoozing critics and journalists here as part of the TV Critics Association’s summer press tour, he reluctantly admits that this unique production is filming in New York for one major reason:
He needed to be close to his family (he has two sons with Polish-American actress Dagmara Dominczyk); perhaps the first time he’s used his growing clout as a leading man in such a visible way.
“When I first read the script, it was centered in L.A. and seemed a very L.A. story, so I said no,” Wilson noted. “I have a family and live back East…I didn’t want to go there. They actually proposed the idea…(but) you wouldn’t ask for something like that if you didn’t think they were willing.”
Facing TV critics Wednesday, executive producer Neal Baer compared Wilson to a certain other hunky heartthrob he worked with as a producer on ER (hint: his name rhymes with Clooney).
“It’s not really a comparison, but I haven’t felt so excited about a performance since I was working with that actor in 1994,” Baer said, trying mightily to nod toward George Clooney without actually saying his name. “I’m just, like, can I be so lucky?”
The show’s pilot, directed by Jonathan Demme (Silence of the Lambs, Philadelphia), leans heavily on Wilson’s onscreen charm to make you keep watching Dr. Michael Holt, a self-centered neurosurgeon who doesn’t even realize his ex-wife was working a few miles from his office until her ghost shows up and begins speaking with him.
In speaking with critics Wednesday, Wilson pulled off the same two-step his character utilizes onscreen, engaging journalists with a charming and offhand manner – when an Emmy-nominated co-star joked about having to put on lipstick to walk her dog, he retorted “(lipstick) on your dog? That’s why people are staring!”
“I can tell you, he is a dreamy as he seems,” said co-star Margo Martindale, who earned Wilson’s snappy wisecrack while speaking on the increased attention she’s gotten since a career-making turn as a crime boss on FX’s Justified.
“It feels like we come from the same place,” added Martindale, a Texas-born, stage-trained actress who returns to her regular groove playing Holt’s sassy personal assistant on Gifted Man. “Being Southern; that’s a big plus in my book.”
But Wilson’s stage-developed acting talent and easy confidence makes him a perfect leading man for a new type of CBS drama; one that, like Juliana Margulies’ Emmy-nominated The Good Wife, tries for complex drama while pushing all the required buttons of sentimentality and pathos required in a timeslot once occupied by The Ghost Whisperer.
And Wilson will need to leverage everything he’s learned from Shorecrest to a new role in the highly-anticipated Alien prequel Prometheus (directed by original Alien auteur Ridley Scott) for his latest challenge – creating a rare TV drama success on Fridays.
“I try to push myself to the limits in every aspect of the character,” he said, downing another quick gulp of beer before heading off to another interview. “I remember meeting this surgeon I was based on, and he met his anesthesiologist heli-skiing; I thought: perfect. Total disregard for your safety and pushing limits. Live hard, play hard. Those are the things I’m trying to explore.”