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Exclusive Interview: Robert Patrick on his very current villain in “TONE-DEAF”

Wednesday, August 21, 2019 | Exclusive, Interviews

By MICHAEL GINGOLD

In writer/director Richard Bates Jr.’s new TONE-DEAF, genre regular Robert Patrick plays a guy with a lot of issues—particularly when it comes to the younger generation—and expresses them violently. Read on for RUE MORGUE’s exclusive chat with the actor.

TONE-DEAF, which Saban Films releases to theaters and VOD this Friday, August 23, casts Patrick as Harvey, a widower and staunch believer in traditional values who resents what he sees as millennial apathy and disrespect. He gets the chance the inflict some payback when Olive (Amanda Crew) rents his remote, expansive house for a weekend, anxious for a break from her troubled professional and love life. Occasionally breaking the fourth wall to address his views directly to the audience, Harvey is a dangerously eccentric and obsessive addition to Patrick’s long roster of memorable characters.

This is a different sort of role for you; how did you become involved with TONE-DEAF?

Well, for that very reason. I’d been doing SCORPION for four years for CBS, playing such a good guy who’s part of a team and a family, and a father figure to a group of geniuses, and I was looking for projects as far as possible at the opposite end of the spectrum to do during my hiatus. I got turned on to this Richard Bates Jr. cat, who had some really out-there movies that I watched, and I read TONE-DEAF and was blown away by it. He’s an incredibly gifted filmmaker and had a very clean, fresh idea. The way he constructed this script, I felt it was so part of the current culture and mood of the country that it really inspired me. It was the opposite of what I had been doing for 10 months out of the year, and it gave me a chance to do some different things.

You’ve played villains in the past, but this is the first one I can think of who’s so politically motivated, for want of a better term. Was that part of the appeal?

Absolutely. We’re all aware of what’s going on in this country, and the rhetoric on both sides and the discourse we have right now. What I liked about this movie was that it takes a look at it through a very heightened and comedic reality, thought it deals with a lot of the frustrations we all have: generational, politically, gender. It’s a fun movie for that reason, and if it makes people sit back and look at these issues, and maybe they can take something away from it, that’s great.

The appeal of Harvey was that he’s a man who has lived his life with certain standards and institutions he’s believed in, and now he thinks that this younger generation does not share those, or have the same appreciation for them, and he’s annoyed by that. And his mental stability is not too good; his wife has committed suicide, his son is gay, and that’s had an effect on him, and there are all these people he doesn’t think appreciate the country or him and everything he’s done. And then, he has a lot of his own questions about what he’s done. He’s looking at himself, and I believe he’s disappointed.

Did you model the character in any way on anyone in real life?

Sure. I know I’ve had conversations with my father, who’s no longer with us, and I’ve listened to other men older than me talk with contempt about younger generations. It’s not that they just have contempt for them, but they point out things they think are shortcomings. You know, we’re all going to get old, and as we do, we start to have questions and look back on our lives and how we’ve lived them. A healthy attitude is that it was all worth it, and an unhealthy attitude, like Harvey has, is that he doesn’t know, and this whole psychosis or whatever is plaguing him is starting to expose itself.

You could also possibly interpret it as an echo of an older generation of Hollywood actors looking down on the young up-and-comers.

Well, it wasn’t that personal for me, but you could definitely see that in there too, sure. There’s always that generational thing going on, like, “Back in my day, we did such-and-such, and look how easy you’ve got it today.” I’m sure some of the contempt could be that way, looking at the younger actors: “We didn’t take our phones on the set when we were actors. There were no cell phones! There was no video playback! I come from a time when you showed up prepared and you were early,” things like that. I’m not talking about anybody in particular, but those are the kind of things that come out and make people say, “There was a time when you didn’t look at your cell phone while you were driving,” you know what I mean?

Did you bring any dialogue or moments of your own to the character?

The only time was when I added a line that Ricky liked, when Harvey orders a Shirley Temple and I said, “Don’t hold back on the cherries.” That was the one ad-lib I had; the rest of it was all Ricky.

How was Bates as a director on the set?

Oh, he’s fantastic. As I said, this script came while I’d been playing a good guy with a lot of virtue, really just a fantastic human being, on SCORPION, and on my breaks I tried to do things that were totally different that I could get excited about. This came up, and Ricky is a unique filmmaker. He writes his scripts and makes his movies the way he wants to make them, and he’s quite an auteur. I found it to be very inspirational working with him; he’s fantastic with the camera, he has enthusiasm on the set, he’s very positive, creatively he’s very secure and willing to try things. And it was a very unusual script for this day and age, when it’s hard to find truly original material coming out of Hollywood. I was lucky I found it.

Is there any concern that tackling those sociopolitical themes might get the movie in trouble, after what happened with Universal dropping THE HUNT?

Well, you have to be aware that this is a film about the differences between generations. It could be the differences between political beliefs, and there is a lot of hostility out there, obviously. I think this is a healthy way to look at it, since it has that heightened sense of reality. It could be a catharsis for us to view this movie and talk amongst ourselves in a healthy way—but yeah, it could potentially offend some people.

Can you talk about achieving the delicate balance of horror and comedy in the film?

I believe the violence is so over-the-top—I would put it on the level of what’s in ONCE UPON A TIME IN HOLLYWOOD—that it’s an extreme version that does elicit some laughter. And there are some very strange weapons used. But you can also look at it with a very serious tone: Why does Harvey do what he does? It’s something he’s never done, so what pushed him over the edge? That’s very current right now. Why are some people out there doing what they’re doing? Why do we have such a lack of appreciation for human beings? It’s shocking to us all, and TONE-DEAF takes the point of view of trying to find out what makes people tick. Harvey’s not stable mentally; how did that happen? What in his environment created the conditions for him to lose his mind and go on this journey? What was the straw that broke the camel’s back and set him off?

I think that’s what we’re all trying to deal with right now: What is it making people so unstable? There are so many questions: Where is this coming from? Is it the food we eat? Is it movies and video games? Is it the rhetoric we get on TV now instead of the news? Is it that human beings just don’t get along, and we’re just now finding that out? What is it that’s making everybody believe their agenda is the only agenda: If you don’t agree with me, I’m gonna kill you, you know what I mean? What the fuck is that? I believe that what Ricky is trying to say is, hey, people, we’re all full of shit. He’s trying to answer some of those questions—and he’s got a lot of them.

Michael Gingold
Michael Gingold (RUE MORGUE's Head Writer) has been covering the world of horror cinema for over three decades, and spent 28 years as a writer and editor for FANGORIA magazine and its website. In addition to RUE MORGUE, he currently writes for BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH, SCREAM, IndieWire.com, TIME OUT, DELIRIUM and others. His book THE FRIGHTFEST GUIDE TO MONSTER MOVIES (FAB Press) is out this fall, and he has contributed liner notes and featurettes to a number of Blu-ray and DVD releases. Among his screenplay credits are SHADOW: DEAD RIOT and LEECHES!, and he is currently working on THE DOLL with director Dante Tomaselli.