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SXSW Interview: Patrick Wilson & Jack Plotnick on ‘Space Station 76′, Character Bio’s and Broadway

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Space Station 76 (great name for a movie, btw) premiered at SXSW and writer/director Jack Plotnick and star Patrick Wilson were there to show support for the film. Not that it needed it. It was one of the more popular films screening at the festival, having more and more screenings added as the week went on.

The film is a comedic drama about a group of people (and robots!) who live on a space station in a 1970’s-version of the future. When a new Assistant Captain arrives, she immediately stirs up tension among the crew as an asteroid heads directly for them. 

Jack, who is also an actor, has  a cool story on how he wrote the film, bringing together some actor friends and improving scenes. Patrick , well you know him; Broadway, TV, film – he’s terrific in everything, including Space Station 76! I love saying that name.

I talked to both Jack and Patrick the morning of the premiere about the film and the process Jack went through to write it, Patrick talks about his character and if he’s the kind of actor who does character bio’s, Broadway and if he still keeps his voice in shape.

For the full interview, click the audio link above or download it from iTunes.

Jack, you’re known more for your acting right now.

Jack Plotnick: Yes, and my needlepoint. World renowned.

Patrick Wilson: You’re actually known for my needlepoint, which is weird.

But you decided to write and direct this. What made you decide to do this and have you done other stuff in the past or is this the first one?

Jack Plotnick: My first feature film but I have been directing since the very beginning whether, you know, in the very beginning I was putting on sketch shows and directing those. And then I directed and created the TV show called Love Spring International that we did 13 episodes of. And so this kind of grew out of everything I was doing, but I don’t know if I would’ve directed this if I wasn’t so passionate about needing this movie to be a reality because I’m just in love with this story and with the script that I wrote with my co-writers and so it had to be made. And it’s such a specific tone and idea that there really wasn’t anyone else who was gonna be able to direct it. But I did fall in love with directing and I really would love… I’m hungry to direct another feature.

How did the story come about?

Jack Plotnick: I came up with and I conceived the idea of wanting to tell a very sort of 70s suburban story but I wanted it set in space in the future of the 70s.

So I gathered my favorite actors together at my house and through 3 months of improve I would direct them through scenes and we recorded the whole thing and then at night I would type out everything that was working. So it evolved through improv, the play.

Is that how five writers came to be credited for it?

Jack Plotnick: Yes. Just five and they’re all such geniuses and they just breathe life into this idea and created these indelible characters and so it was easy to turn it into a movie because everything was there. We just needed to open the world a bit more and we added a few characters.

space-station-76

Patrick, your character. it was interesting how he developed throughout the movie and how you really didn’t know anything about him. You think of him as one thing and then as it escalated, it really changes.

Patrick Wilson: That’s interesting. I, you know, sort of was working backwards with when you saw, as you read a script and you sort of see where he goes at the end and the cathartic moments that he has and the moments with the robot and the moment at the end of the movie and coming to terms with who he is as a person, but you work backwards and cover it all up. And that’s sort of the fun part.

So when you first meet him and everything is bottled and pushed down and nothing feels, you know, it’s all very the emotions are all very real but the whole, you know, aesthetic of it is… that’s where the comedy comes in.

Once you feel very settled in with the core of it, then you can sort of fill the universe and you have this great script and great set and the design of the production design and the costumes, the way Jack was shooting it, the way he sort of understood how you fit into the rest of the movie. Then I could sort of blow him out a little bit, which was really exciting, if that makes sense. Not to be too actory.

Jack Plotnick: I love that you said that because I quite agree. When you watch it, Glenn is definitely somebody who goes through the biggest change and the one you discover the most about and I feel that when I watch it I’m like… your feelings towards him change and he does… you get so much empathy for him by the end.

Patrick Wilson: I love that. The types of comedies that I think, you know, I like to find awkward moments that are funny and some people find really either alarming or emotional and other people find really hilarious. To me, that’s the human condition, that awkward laughter, the awkward situations, and the scenes with Liv, you know, who’s so earnest and so open you want to play the complete opposite for the scene to sort of sing. Not that I put myself on that level of comedic, you know… but when you think about that it’s the Odd Couple or any sort of comedic team, it always works with the balance of how complete opposite they are. So when you see someone that’s so open and honest, you wanna really shut down and go completely the other way to have a further journey.

Are you the kind of actor who does character bios and a backstory?

Patrick Wilson: Not… I mean, if it serves the play. I’m always about what you need. It doesn’t… if some director comes to me and says, “I’ve got this whole backstory,” you’re like, “Ok, that’s cool.” And I’ll look at it and enjoy it. It’s usually informative.

But I find that for me it should be answered… a lot of that’s answered in the script. If there are major gaping holes in the discovery of your character, that’s nice to fill that in. But I find it easier to play moment to moment when you’re dealing with the relationship and not necessarily, “When Glenn was 10, he…” Ok. I mean, that’s helpful for some people. Truthfully it just depends on the role and it’s usually supported by the script, what you’ve got. You get the backstory of these people as much as you need to know. I don’t go off and write tons of stuff about it.

Any plans to do a Broadway show anytime soon?

Patrick Wilson: I mean, there’s always…

I know you’re tons busy.

Patrick Wilson: Yeah, it’s just trying to find the right one. I’m excited in a couple of weeks to do Guys and Dolls at Carnegie Hall. That’ll be a trip to share the stage with Nathan [Lane] in a role that I saw him really still probably the definitive production of Guys and Dolls. I remember seeing that in college and going, “Wow. He’s unbelievable.” So just to be up there with him will be a thrill.

Do you like doing movies more than you like doing stage?

Patrick Wilson: Well, I like stage. I mean, there’s no… it’s like the difference of a musician being in the studio and loving to get the right lick right or I made a record. But then there’s nothing like saying, “Now we’re gonna take it out and play it out to people.” I love making movies. I’ve now done more movies than I’ve done theatre and that’s sort of in a weird way sad to think, but there’s nothing like the experience of doing theatre. I constantly go back and am looking for things and get offered things and want to get things.

It’s very difficult. It’s also the complete opposite of any other schedule, so it’s very difficult for me. When you come from a lot of theatre, when you’ve done roles for a year, year and a half and stuff, it’s… and I was always the guy that if I’m doing theatre, I’m doing theatre. I don’t call in, I love that. So it’s gotta be something that I wanna live with for many months.

And that’s hard. That’s just hard to find something that you have… because even in the movie roles, it’s always about finding something really different. You know? And that’s very different in the state of theatre or the state of musical theatre to find something that is really different from something I’ve done before. That’s very difficult to find. You know? Film you have much more go from this to a horror movie to a western to a drama. I like all that stuff.

When you haven’t done a show for a while, are you still keeping your voice in shape?

Patrick Wilson: Yeah. I actually, because I got away from them for a while. I’ve been much more conscious of it the past probably 6 months, in my voice lessons that I have not had in about 20 years because of it. I wanted to because I really do. I wanna sing more. I sing a couple times a year with a band, that’s not doing it. Truthfully, doing movies is much more, especially horror movies. It wrecks your voice. It wrecks my voice. So I needed to sort of go back. And I never had any vocal trouble at all in a play. I never lost my voice for any show ever, thankfully. But movies because it’s so easy to go, “Great, just scream really loudly. We’re just gonna do a few takes of that.” You’d never do that in theatre. You’d work on it and figure out how to do it.

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