Friday, August 24, 2012

The Friendly Interrogation Of Officer Daniels Pat Healy

Pat Healy, the writer and actor, in a photo posted on his Twitter page. 
Pat Healy


Omar P.L. Moore/        Follow popcornreel on Twitter FOLLOW                                           
Friday, August 24, 2012

I'D CALL PAT HEALY a friend and I'd call Officer Daniels my worst enemy.  What a bloody slime ball that Officer Daniels is, ordering fast-food and ordering fast-food employees around over the telephone in Craig Zobel's "Compliance".  How dare he?  Even the most seasoned phone sex worker might be alarmed by Daniels. 

Telephones play a role in Mr. Zobel's new film (which expands its release to additional U.S. cities today.)  Phones are key to the present conversation with the Los Angeles-based Mr. Healy, who plays the police officer Daniels in the much-talked about and heralded "Compliance", a drama inspired by true events at a McDonald's in 2004.  The actor talked recently about the repulsive character and many other things.

"He's the biggest creep I've ever played in my life," Mr. Healy said of his Officer Daniels portrayal.  "I did 12 hours a day for three weeks.  It was not pleasant.  But in a way playing this character changed my life.  The movie strengthened me and forced me to think about things, like the relationship I was in at the time.  I was letting loose of some demons.  I channeled all of that hurt, that pain, the way I was feeling, that low point, into the character." 

When "Compliance" was filmed in 2011 Pat Healy was in a difficult place in his personal life.  He said he was very hesitant to tackle a role he was absolutely turned off by but gave it more thought and explored the character who asserts authority over people who cannot see him but believe in his credentials.  "I believe we have full authority over ourselves.  We only let people have authority over us.  I was in a situation like that -- without getting too specific -- I was in an unhealthy place in an important situation in my own life because I was afraid of being a bad guy."

Of his own predicament at the time Mr. Healy added, "you would rather risk your own life than risk being rude, you know?"

In "Compliance" Officer Daniels makes a call to ChickWich restaurant manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) on a very busy Friday and accuses one of her employees, Becky (Dreama Walker), of stealing money from a customer at the restaurant.  Before long Sandra follows Daniels' every command no matter how bizarre, invasive, offensive or illogical.

"Compliance" illustrates how, as in the Milgram experiments of 1961 and the Stanford Prison experiment of 1971, ordinary people follow the orders of authority figures and do shocking things to other human beings at their command, even if they know those things are wrong or harmful to others.  On another level the 2003 Abu Ghraib prison scandal in Iraq, with U.S. soldiers abusing Iraqi prisoners, as well as the atrocities committed in Nazi Germany -- "I was just following orders" was used as a defense at the Nuremberg trials -- further outline the horrific things people will do when higher-ups order them to.

To play Officer Daniels Mr. Healy watched "Cops", the television show, "for hours and hours".  After a while the show's police procedurals became second nature.  "I took notes at first but eventually I would stop writing and just watch to take it all in.  The police were doing the same types of things over and over again." 

Mr. Healy admitted that it was an uncomfortable experience becoming someone he despised.  "People say that actors have to understand someone to become them, but that didn't apply to me.  I didn't understand him at all.  I didn't want to.  He was so unlikable and utterly loathsome."  The process of accessing Daniels however was made easier because of Mr. Healy's previous collaboration and friendship with Mr. Zobel, whom he worked with in the director's first feature, the 2007 film "Great World Of Sound."

"When I talked with Craig we explored a lot of different things.  There would be simple psychological tricks that we did talk about a lot.  Mind control things that were very simple to do.  There would be this pain and pleasure method I'd use where I'd be harsh and abrupt.  Then there's a vacuum in which you can swoop in and be sweet and flattering.  That way you catch your victim off guard," Mr. Healy said, describing a tactic police often use in interrogation, a kind of good cop-bad cop affectation.  (Incidentally Mr. Zobel's "Compliance" is labeled a "Bad Cop/Bad Cop Production" in the film's opening credits.)

"I remember doing a voice (for Daniels) that was more put on at first.  Then I played around with the voice and honed it.  The cadence was there, the rhythm was there, and it was right for the character."

Pat Healy as Officer Daniels in Craig Zobel's divisive, excellent psychodrama "Compliance".  Magnolia Pictures

Mr. Healy's character spends most of "Compliance" on the telephone and those three weeks on the film were spent in a basement on a set in Bushwick, Brooklyn, having live phone conversation with the Sandra and Becky characters, who were on a set on a floor immediately above.  "There was a time when the phone I used wasn't working and I had to go upstairs and say the same vile things to the actors I'd been saying on the phone.  It was very unpleasant.  And that's an important element of the story, which is, I don't think this guy could have done this in person."

While Officer Daniels may be very comfortable over the phone, by contrast Pat Healy doesn't like to talk on the phone.  "Today there are more and more cell phones -- more devices."  He lists a variety of social media apparatus including Twitter, which he's on.  "I use them all, don't get me wrong.  But I recognize that with all of those things we are less and less connected to each other as people.  I just have never really connected with people over the phone," Mr. Healy confesses. 

"I text more.  I communicate better.  I'm very good with words.  It seems to be more an expression of who I am.  To me the telephone is a way of communicating information, you know, 'what time will you be there, where do you want to meet?'  There are a few things I use the phone for.  I mean, I speak to my parents.  I don't see them too often.  And if I use the phone in other ways it's normally to quickly coordinate events or meet up with my buddies."

"Compliance" forces audiences to think about authority and people's unthinking obedience to it, and why people choose to do things that are against their own best interests. 

Mr. Healy pondered Officer Daniels and the nature of authority in general.  "The character I play was exerting perceived authority.  Really, when you think about it, most authority is really someone exerting perceived authority.  We just perceive it to be what it is.  People only have authority over their own lives."

The subject of authority is one that fascinated the Chicago-born actor, who responded to the question of why many people so readily surrender authority over themselves.  "I don't know if it is conditioning or genetics or not.  I remember in "The Avengers" where the main goal of the villain was to gain power by ruling over the masses, and he said that 'people need to be led.'  Is it that people need to be ruled, or do we create a system for that?  I saw (Paul Thomas Anderson's upcoming film) "The Master" [recently], and it's about the need to serve a master of some kind and if there's something wrong with that.  It deals with religion.  That's what religion is. 

"I think for some people who are without leaders there's no reason for them to behave in an inappropriate way.  For me, I've never thought that I've needed to do or not do something out of fear of punishment.  I'm not especially religious and I wonder: is morality inherent or taught?"

Gender plays a key role in "Compliance".  A subsequent e-mail question sent to Mr. Healy about whether the commands over the phone would have been followed by the restaurant workers if Officer Daniels were female is given this response: "there is no talking about this subject matter without a discussion regarding gender.  Whether or not a woman would carry the implied authority that Officer Daniels does is a good question I don't know the answer to.  I do believe, however, that a woman would be less likely to exploit another woman in this manner.  That's just my opinion."

In his e-mail response Mr. Healy continued: "The movie does play with gender dynamics and is particularly interesting in the Sandra/Becky struggle.  That involves issues of not only gender but age and class.  Women are often competitive with each other.  However, it's the man who ultimately exploits that rather innocent competition to devious ends.  I think we've seen gossipy-type women pit two other women against each other.  The question is, would she be able to keep them on the line?  But I would find it hard to believe a woman could be so depraved.  They don't have the sick animal brain OD does, IMHO." 

Throughout, Mr. Healy is introspective, candid and sincere.  On his blog he shares some information about his own personal struggles as well as gives voice to unknown people he cares about.  One blog entry is about a man who had committed suicide.  The actor wrote an empathetic, detailed tribute to the man.

Pat Healy - "Compliance" Portraits - 2012 Sundance Film Festival
Sundance 2012: Craig Zobel, director of "Compliance", with Pat Healy, who plays Officer Daniels.  Larry Busacca/Getty Images

You may remember Pat Healy in such films as "Rescue Dawn" and Mr. Anderson's "Magnolia" (in which he played a pharmacist's assistant who harangues Julianne Moore's character.)  Earlier this year he appeared as a nerdy employee in the cult horror hit "The Innkeepers".  Yet it is the Officer Daniels role Mr. Healy plays in "Compliance" that is getting under the skin of audiences.

Mr. Healy, who will turn 41 next month, assesses acting, actors and by extension his own career and life.  "I have respect for actors but some actors become so successful and settled they don't ask questions with their work.  They may have asked questions early in their careers but don't anymore.  Their work is to just get to the quick, easy answer.  There are actors out there who don't necessarily have the answers but are asking the questions.  That's why we do what we do."

The actor, who moved to Los Angeles from Chicago at 26, had a grandfather who was a police officer.  Mr. Healy revisited his journey as an actor and chronicled his evolution as a person.  You can sense there's a new-found freedom he has, and that the last few years have taught him much.  "Outside of hurting people, and within the social contract, I realize I can do what I like.  No one has any authority over me.  My whole sort of view of life has changed.  It wasn't until recently that I began taking more responsibility over my own life and control over my own life.  In the past as an actor I let people put me in roles.  So I wrote a film that I thought would sell.  And it didn't.  I got tired.  I felt like I was on a hamster wheel."

Mr. Healy talked more about his writing.  "I've made my living as a writer over the past five years not as an actor.  But I prefer being on the set with people as opposed to being solitary as a writer.  Recently I wrote a script in a couple of weeks -- not to sell but just to write.  It was like stepping outside of yourself.

"What I've learned about "Compliance" I can take into other work I do.  Before, there was a sense of risk-taking that I lacked.  There was something I was afraid to show people as an actor.  Now I feel I'm confident as an actor and as a person.  I've been acting for 18 years.  A lot of my early career I guest-starred on TV as a "creep".  People would say that to me and I would take it as an insult.  I wanted to be a movie star.  I was younger.  I was vain."

Mr. Healy talked about other aspects of his personal life.

"Maybe I was afraid in the past to share things about myself, and certainly online.  You have to be careful.  I try to keep myself in check with any personal information I discuss.  I must have some shred of privacy in my life.  That's important to me.  It was tough for me early on.  I grew up believing that being sensitive and showing emotion was a negative.  I really struggled with that growing up.  I always tried to bury that, to bury emotion, you know?  Only through years of therapy did I learn to embrace being vulnerable.  It's the greatest gift in my life, to be able to free yourself, to be vulnerable.  Self-loathing is something that I understand.  What was important for me was if I felt better as a person then my work is better, my life is better."

The actor sounded very confident, hopeful and appreciative of his position in life. 

"These days I'm happier as a person.  Emotionally I'm more stable.  Financially more successful.  I'm very fortunate and thankful that I have the opportunity to be able to this, to do something that a lot of people don't get to do.  And I just hope to continue to do it, to act, and act for as long as I can."

For all of Mr. Healy's introspection there's still the need to be guarded, especially as he receives more acting opportunities and more exposure at this point in his career than ever before.

"There are some things that only my therapist will ever know," says Mr. Healy, laughing.

"Compliance" is now playing in New York City, West Los Angeles, San Francisco, Washington D.C., Philadelphia, Atlanta, Cambridge, Seattle. 

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