Patrick Wilson on The Ledge, Reckless Faith, and Visions of Ted Bundy
The last few years have seen Patrick Wilson travel the hero route (Watchmen), the villain route (The A-Team), the romantic-lead route (Morning Glory), the romantic-foil route (The Switch), the beset-father route (Insidious) and the indie title-character route (Barry Munday). The versatile actor takes a road far less traveled in The Ledge, playing a religious zealot from under whose thumb his wife (Liv Tyler) squirms into an affair with the godless heathen next door (Charlie Hunnam). The triangle prompts a stand-off on the titular ledge, where a despondent cop (Terrence Howard) attempts to talk the heathen down. Sound crazy? It is! But in a good way.
Writer-director Matthew Chapman's latest feature (opening July 8 in limited release and available now on VOD) is part philosophical thriller, part potboiler, all head trip, with one of the wilder climaxes of any thriller you'll see this year. Much of that is attributable to Wilson, who applies his handsome equanimity to an ideologue tumbling down the rabbit hole of faith. The actor discussed the journey -- and its strange, subconscious influences -- with Movieline.
How are things?
Things are awesome. Couldn't be better.
The Ledge is kind of a departure for you. Let's just start at the beginning: How did you get involved?
They just sent me the script. Matthew says he tried to send it to me seven years ago, but somehow it didn't get to me. I think he's lying -- just trying to make me feel good. No, I got it and thought it was very original. You don't usually see... Well, not "usually." You don't ever see a thriller with a spiritual backbone. I thought, "Wow, this is really like a spiritual thriller. That's bizarre." And I'd played some good guys for a little bit, and I wanted to get a little dirty -- just have a little fun.
"Dirty." As far as your character goes, what was your first impression of Joe?
My first impression was, "Wow -- extremist and pretty unlikable for a lot of it. Let's find out why he is the way he is and go from there." I don't really form opinions about whether people are good or bad or if I like him or don't like him.
That's fair, though he's complex. Fundamentally, he's not really a bad guy until he... is. Adversarial, but conceivably sympathetic.
Well, yeah. I mean, in terms of the structure of the story he's the antagonist. He's the adversary, and I guess he ends up being the bad guy. But all those things, you can't really play. The situation he's in -- with him finding out his wife's cheating on him, and she being the center of his universe, or at least the pin that is holding him together -- once that's gone, he just falls apart. So whether he has religion or not, that emotional perspective was something I knew I could get into. He seemed very approachable -- put it that way. When I look at a character, whether he's good or bad, one scene or 10 scenes, I just have to find my way in. And it was very clear with Joe. I completely understand why he's doing what he's doing. He's completely blown out of proportion and wrong and violent and whatever, but it doesn't matter. I understand why he's doing it.
That said, considering what happens -- and let's not spoil anything here -- do you think Matthew Chapman was fair to Joe?
Yes, fair -- in the way that he crafted this story and imposed Joe's will on the lives of others?
I think so. I don't know why he wouldn't be. I mean, in terms of being fair, we stay away from saying what kind of denomination he was. It didn't really matter. He's a very specific person. It's a very singular view. There are a lot of Christian fundamentalists; there are a lot of Muslim extremists. Every religion -- Mormonism -- has something way on the side that's completely using the religion as some weird backbone for their twisted faith. It has nothing to do with their religion. I didn't look at it in terms of faith. It was very specific to his story. I just kept going back to the Bible to find more things to fuel his fire.
Like passages from the Old Testament that supported his theories. I mean, if you've got a guy and you're asking, "What would he do? How would he deal it? Well, if a wife lies with another man, then both shall be put to death." Wow. Holy moly. If he believes that, then what else would he find? I would constantly go back. I found this passage about being unclean, and I thought that was great. Matthew was very receptive to me putting in scripture that I found.
I wanted to ask about that as well: It's one thing to talk about script and character; it's another to mine these philosophical issues. How often does that kind of thing come up -- or does it?
Not really. He's a pretty open atheist, so we didn't really get into religion or philosophy other than what Joe's view is. Joe feels very strongly in what he believes, and if you're going to go into a fight, then you want to have all the right weapons. When I'm going in with Charlie, I can read the lines about what he's coming back to me with, and I'd have to keep going back and making sure that the Bible supports what I believe as Joe. And you can do that. That was thing that was so weirdly disturbing: "Jesus said to forgive you if you're ready to give up the sin. Are you?" So I constantly felt like I could challenge him, and he's got a leg to stand on. Again, I think it's a sympathetic character for a large part of the movie. You feel really bad for him for a while.
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