With the USA Network hit drama series Suits airing it’s season finale Thursday night, I recently got on the phone with Patrick J. Adams (who plays Mike Ross) to talk about the second season and director Kirk Sullivan’s short film The Come Up. In the short, Adams plays an ambitious production assistant who attempts to “pull off a daring heist on a Hollywood film set in a scheme right out of the movies, all to impress the industry’s biggest producer while (of course) pitching his screenplay in the process.” The short also stars Adams’ real life girlfriend Troian Bellisario.
During the extended interview Adams talked about his early career, getting cast on Suits, his early TV work, what lawyers always want to talk to him about, the importance of a great antagonist, season 3, Tim Hortons, and more. In addition, we also talked about this year’s Sundance, how he got involved with Sullivan’s short film The Come Up, the stunts, and a lot more. Hit the jump to watch the short film and read the interview.
Here’s the short followed by the interview.
Patrick J. Adams: I’ve never seen an episode, so you’re going to have to describe them all to me. [Laughs] That’s actually partially true, I hadn’t watched an episode of Suits until this season. Now I’m caught up and we can talk Suits, definitely.
That’s funny I know a lot of actors that don’t like watching their stuff, so are you one of those people?
Adams: Yeah, and I’m not proud of it, I think it’s almost more egotistical to take that position, even though I know people think that people think the opposite. I just had a tough time, this is my first show, so in so many ways I have to get caught up on a lot of the things that come with being a professional actor that some people have gotten used to over the years of doing it. So for me it was just too distracting. Every time I watched the show I was just so awful to myself and so angry about having done it this way and, “Why didn’t you stand up straight? Why didn’t you put your suit on properly? Why did you wear that suit?” Anything; it was just brutal. After a while it became counterproductive and making my time on set a lot more miserable. Ao I stopped watching up through the whole first season and then I went back and remembered that Dustin Hoffman, when I worked with him on Luck, he would consistently go back to the monitors, but I would see him look it at with these eyes of searing judgment. He would just look at it to assess if he had accomplished what he wanted to accomplish and then he would go back in there and either do it again or he would say “Let’s move on.” So that’s something that I sort of aspire to and I figure if I’m really honest about aspiring to that I’m probably going to need to start watching the show this year. So I’m caught up now and feel good about it and slowly but surely I’m getting a little more used to looking at myself.
I find it fascinating that actors…you’re not the only one who deals with this, trust me.
Adams: Yeah, well it’s a strange thing, you know? How many of us feel like staring into a mirror for an hour? How many of us are really going to do that? You don’t want to do that. You know, you just want to make sure that people- if the show was a disaster and not doing well then it would be a very different subject, but I know that we have found a very cool fan base and people are very supportive of the show so every time I watch I try to watch it through their eyes and that helps a lot.
We’re both living in Los Angeles so there are people who would spend an hour looking in the mirror.
Adams: [Laughs] Yes, that’s true, most of the people I know might actually be doing that right now.
I’m going to backtrack for a second, what’s interesting about your career is you did a lot of TV episodes, one-off episodes on everything from Friday Night Lights to Lost to The Ghost Whisperer, you did a lot of stuff.
Adams: Yeah, Deadline Hollywood once referred to me as a “professional guest star” I think, it was a highlight of my early career.
A lot of people strive to just get on one show and get an appearance going, what was it like for you during those years of doing one episode of certain things? What was that experience like for you?
Adams: It was a really incredible time. I was just getting by as far as making enough money for survival was going, so at the same time I was taking headshots to pay my bills and get my rent paid. There was never enough work to make me feel like “I’m on my way, here we go.” There were time where if I got a couple of them in a row I’d feel like things were happening, but I always felt like I was on the other side of the fence from the people who were really doing this for a living. Mainly, creatively, it was this amazing opportunity to see how shows work, how many different ways you can go. And I was a big fan of a lot of these shows so it was also fun to sort of cross that line and go onto…Friday Night Lights hadn’t actually aired until after I had shot my episode, but I had seen the pilot and I had read the script and I knew it was going to be great, so I was going onto that set already a fan of what they were doing. Lost I was a huge fan of. So a lot of these shows I was going into like any fan would, headed to the set, and almost a little more nervous because here I am and I have a scene with John Locke, who I’ve been watching for three years and falling in love with the incredible character that he’s created. It was an opportunity for me to learn, I guess, how to do it and how sometimes not to do it. I’ve been on a lot of sets where I could witness how people would behave, how people would treat each other, react to problems that came up, or deal with script issues, so I felt like even though this was my first series, I did hit the ground with this huge encyclopedic knowledge of the best sets that I’ve ever been on. How to behave and work, and how to make sure that you’re working a way that everybody feels like they can contribute to the thing. It was a great experience. I met a lot amazing people, I saw a lot of great work happen, and I saw a lot of train wrecks occur. I felt like it was just a really good way to cut my teeth.
Before you got Suits how close did you get to testing for networks for other gigs?
Adams: Yeah, and that’s this time of year too so I’m always hinky about it. Every pilot season I would say, was probably 10-12 times, and it grew over the years obviously as I was working more. But my first pilot season I probably went 2-3 times and my second season 5-6, so by the time I had gotten through 5 or 6 pilot seasons it was normal for me to test anywhere from 8-12 times over the course of the season. Which, I’m sure you’ve heard plenty of actors talk about it, it’s a very painful, long, drawn out, soul-sucking process. So obviously when you get a show like Suits and it works out, you just can’t believe your luck, and right now to know that that’s going on in the city and to know that people are having to sort of struggle through that and deal with all of the things that come up through pilot season, it makes me very grateful.
Adams: I did, and I don’t say that often or lightly, but I really did with this one. I had actually been fired from a job not long before Suits came along. It was this sitcom on NBC, I had been fired and I had really gone through that post firing process of, “What am I doing? This is a total mistake. I’m wasting my life.” Then the script came along and it was the story of a character who sort of felt that he was the bottom of the barrel, just scraping by and that he was sort of given this one chance, accidentally given this opportunity to beg for a chance to do what he thinks he’s capable of doing. So when I got to go in and do a test for the USA people and I just had these words on a page which were me doing a scene in front of them saying, “Guys give me a chance I promise you I can pull this off.” It was the easiest audition in the world because I didn’t really have to do much acting. So pretty much from day one…you never know, you never know if someone’s going to come in and do something magical that’s going to sort of convince them otherwise, but I felt pretty strongly early on that I got the material and that Aaron Korsh, the creator and I really understood each other, so I wasn’t that worried about it.
When you are at a bar or out in public what do lawyers always want to talk to you about?
Adams: Rachel. Rachel, Rachel, Rachel and why I just can’t seal the deal. I get yelled at about that most of the time, the first season I got screamed at, “Lose your friend!” because nobody likes my friend Trevor play by Tom Lipinski. Everybody thought he was a deadbeat. So I get yelled at about that, then I get yelled at about not being able to seal the deal with Rachel, and then if someone’s really coming at me with some lawyer concerns it’s usually the fact that I have no paperwork or that I have this silly messenger bag that never seems to have anything valuable inside of it. We’ve got two schools of people who watch the show: you’ve got the Mike sympathizers and the Harvey wannabes…and the Harvey wannabes, they think they’re Harvey Specter, so when they see me on the street they’ll just berate me and treat me like the young Mike Ross character. Then you’ll have the people who are proud of Mike Ross and they want to see him do well and so they tell me to.. get your shit together and go on and get with Rachel and make the right decisions and stop smoking pot. So we get a couple of different sorts. And then I just get the grandmothers who love me because I love my grandma. We have a lot of grandmothers who watch the show, believe it or not.
That’s very funny, you’d think lawyers are very smart people, they’d understand that things are scripted.
Adams: Nope. That’s the great thing, when people get emotional about a show, they get emotional, and suddenly it just goes out the window, I mean there are the people that just watch the show and go, “This is so unrealistic,” and they leave it alone. But people get sucked into this stuff and then by the end of it they’ll say, “There’s no paperwork you guys are ridiculous, but seriously, pull your shit together with Rachel.” People get invested; it’s really funny to watch people get so, so invested in these characters and what’s going on.
Adams: So in the next episodes, Scotty is going to come back and so that’s going to change some stuff for Harvey, and were going to see where she’s been at this whole time; Scotty played by Abigail Spencer, from the first season. She’s going to come back, she’s been in London and she’s going to bring people with her that’s going to really shake up what’s going on at Pearson and Hardman. These new folks come in, some great guest starring done by Conleth Hill from Game of Thrones, we had him there for two episodes, Abigail Spencer’s back. So we got a couple of people heading over from overseas and they’re going to try to help Pearson and Hardman deal with this whole Folsom Foods issue.
I’ll say this, as much as you root for your characters, as a fan you’re always rooting for a great antagonist, because the shows really only as good as your protagonist and antagonist, and David Costabile as Hardman is quite good. Talk a little bit about having a strong antagonist.
Adams: Having him this season, for me, changed the whole dynamic of the show. He’s such a terrific actor and I think you’re right, I think the first season we were kind of just getting to know everybody and we would sort of play the antagonistic character for a little bit and we could create some drama there. But bringing in Hardman this season, for all of us, felt like it really solidified and focused the show in a way that it wasn’t before. And now we have this terrific actor who’s there every day just being as slimy as possible and you never really knew where he was coming from. I think we learned a really valuable lesson from that and we’re going to see, as we sort of step out of these main characters now, we’re going to start to get people on the show who sort of run with that ball, people who can become more despised and more difficult and a lot more powerful than even Dan Hardman one. And we’ll also be dealing with people on a more personal level who are causing problems and friction for each of the characters. But he was terrific wasn’t he? We were so lucky to have him
Adams: Yeah, but it’s hard too, because a great antagonist…I feel I’ve learned from shows, to keep them around forever is almost impossible because eventually they become bad at what they do if they’re sticking around forever and not accomplishing what they do. We were talking about Margo Martindale on Justified the other day, this great character but she couldn’t stick around, you know, you couldn’t keep her around forever, because she had served her purpose and done such a great job over the course of one season. So you have to let that character go. It’s the sort of thing where you have to keep them around because they’re causing great conflict, but you have to make them good at what they do otherwise they become not a great antagonist anymore, because then they become ineffective and a great antagonist can’t be too ineffective.
You’re 100% right and I actually have this conversation with many people, that one of the problems, I believe, with network television or just TV in general, is that people are under contract so you keep certain characters around for way to many seasons when in actuality the show would be stronger if you, as you just said, just rotate people through. I think Hardman is an example of someone that burns really bright so you’d rather have that person come in, cause all sorts of shitstorm problems, leave, and come back at another point when you can work it back in.
Adams: I think the other great thing about Suits is that people have a really good time when they shoot our show so their eager to come back and participate again, and I think we proved this season, there’s no reason why you can’t close the one chapter on a great character, whether it’s a protagonist or an antagonist, and then bring them back again and have them serve some new purpose or have them fight you on some other thing. Especially in the world of law where you can have a case that runs 10 episodes, you can have a situation that runs 4 episodes, or you can something that’s 2 episodes. If it’s a great character they can still come in, they can still cause a lot of problems for you, then they can leave. We have a lot of great actors, who you’ve seen, we already started repeating a lot of the people we brought on to the show because they’re terrific, they’ve sort of helped create a dynamic energy on the show, and they’re interested in coming back. So I think we’re really lucky to have the actors that we have. And Conleth Hill is going to be a really excellent next step in all of that; I think people are really going to like what he’s doing on the show.
Adams: We start April 8th. I go up to Canada early April and we’ll start then. They’ve already started writing it obviously, so they’ve begun that process, but we’ll start shooting it early April. I’m not sure, we don’t have the official airdate, but it will be some time in the summer obviously.
A lot of actors I know that are on TV shows, when the renewal comes in they will buy themselves a present, did you ever buy yourself any gifts for the 3rd season?
Adams: I bought myself a home. [Laughs] I bought an apartment, a small apartment in Toronto because I was getting tired of subletting apartments while we shoot up there. So I guess that’s the big gift to myself, I bought myself a place that I’m going to call home because I kind of assume that were going to be up there for a little while now unless something goes terribly wrong.
Toronto’s also a beautiful city to live in.
Adams: Yeah, and I was born there, so it’s nice to be home again.
I’m a big fan of Tim Hortons.
Adams: Yes, well, who isn’t? It’s the best coffee in the world.
Well, we can have that conversation and debate it but I do like the food at Tim Hortons and the chocolate chip muffin, so I’ll give them that.
Adams: You like the food at Tim Hortons? Now that is some sort of strange. Now I’m worried about you.
I’m going to tell you something, when you cover the Toronto Film Festival, which I do, Tim Hortons is magic.
Adams: Oh, the Timbits and the muffins.
Anything to get me through the festival. You have to eat quickly and they have good breakfast sandwiches.
Adams: Fair enough. I won’t judge you.
I’m not saying to you its gourmet food here, but in a quick hurry it’s not bad.
Adams: [Laughs] You got to move, you got to go fast. You’ve seen 18 movies in a day, you need to eat.
Adams: I just two films. I saw the film that my girlfriend Troian [Bellisario] is in called C.O.G. which is the first film based on a David Sedaris story that he sort of allowed to be adapted from one of his stories, and I saw a movie called The East, which was made by a couple of friends of mine Zal [Batmanglij] and Brit Marling, and that was it. I had tickets to another movie, but a friend of mine was up there and they wanted to see it, so I only got to see two films. Apparently seeing films at Sundance is actually one of the harder things to accomplish.
I was at the Sundance Film Festival this year as well. I was there for 9 days so it was a little easier for me to catch some movies. I did not see C.O.G., but The East is fantastic.
Adams: Yeah, I was into The East. I was really so proud of them. It was a script that I read early on and tried desperately to get a part in, Zal and I talked a little bit about it, but we couldn’t make it work. But I was in love with the script and I’m so happy that the movie turned out so well. I’m excited for people to see it.
Definitely, I’m sure Fox Searchlight will do a wide release. It’s very hard to do a thriller like that, make it realistic and make it work. They definitely did that.
Adams: Yeah, well, Brit’s also incredible. It’s very cool to see her working so much.
I actually want to jump into the short film that you did with Kirk Sullivan called The Come Up.
Adams: Yeah, and were so grateful to you guys for running it on the site, that’s very cool of you.
Adams: I went to school with Kirk, we went to USC together a long time ago, we hadn’t spoken in a number of years. Then him and his producing partner/writing partner, Chris Boyd, sent me the script. I was in a situation where it was between when we had finished shooting the first season and the holidays, we were heading into Christmas, and they said “We could do this if we get the money together.” They were doing a Kickstarter campaign and they sent me the script and I thought, “I spend half of my year in a legal office,” and this was a chance for me to go run around on the WB lot for two days, work with stunt men and work on this whole side of the business that I haven’t had an opportunity to do before. And then sort of sugar on top they said, “We’re still looking for the actress in it, do you think Troian would be interested?” I ended up asking if she would do it and then it ended up being something we could do together, which I think officially is the first thing that we’ve ever actually shot together. So it came together like that. It was easy, two and half days with a couple guys I knew from college and opportunity to learn how to do some stuff that I don’t get to do most of the time.
How many of those stunts did you actually do?
Adams: I did most of the stuff, I didn’t actually leap off of the building, not because I didn’t want to, because I don’t think they would let me. There were some insurance concerns and also there’s only so many hours in the day, you don’t want to spend most of your time teaching an actor how to leap off a building, but pretty much everything else. I think my proudest moment was throwing a…there’s a part where I pick up, on the roof, some tape that grips use, the tape rolls that have the rope through it and then I pick one of those up and I fling it and wrap it around the legs of the person I’m chasing. They taught me how to do it and I managed to pull it off 3 or 4 times, so that was a proud moment. Most of the stuff I’m doing, I did leap over the car, they rigged me up for that, so mostly I think the main thing I didn’t do was just jump off the building, but that was it.
One of the cool aspects about it was that you guys were able to film part of it on the Warner Brothers lot, talk a little bit about getting to actually film there in terms of not having to hide that you’re on a soundstage.
Adams: It was terrific. That was a big part of their wanting to do it was that it seemed like we might be able to pull that off, and because kirk had been Joel Silver’s assistant for a long time he had, sort of through the connections he made through that job and working with Joel, managed to secure the WB lot, which obviously takes the production element of it way, way up. I think it wouldn’t have been the same film it we didn’t have that opportunity. It was incredible to actually be on that stage and spend a couple days. It was a quiet time of the year too, so we really had most of the stages to ourselves and we got to just walk around. Troian, who’s on Pretty Little Liars, shoots on that lot anyway so on our downtime we could walk around and she could show me all the secret corners of that place and we could kind of get lost. It was really, really important I think, I don’t think the movie would have worked nearly as well if we hadn’t had that kind of space to be working with.
When you’re shooting a short film that’s only shooting for 2 days, I would imagine that very little changes on set when you’re shooting a short with that little time. Did anything change along the way or was it exactly what the script called for?
Adams: I think you’re always adapting to changing circumstance, and Kirk and Chris are really good about that. We tried to stick to it as much as possible, but if something felt like it wasn’t working, or if we were running out of time, or running out of daylight, we would adapt very quickly and move along. There are always things that come up, on a short especially, you don’t have a lot of money, you don’t have a lot of time, so you have to be able to think on your feet. For the most part I think there was a lot of good preparation done, and that’s what something like that is about, great preparation and sort of knowing what to expect. They did a killer job, because if you’re doing a short film that’s sort of just a character piece with two people in a room talking, that’s a very different experience than having as many stunts as we have jam packed in the this short film. Each of those things involves a whole crew of people that are setting something up, it involves an amazing amount of light, some of it involves green screen, setting the pad, there’s a lot of work to be done in each of those things so the amount of preparation is key and they knocked that part out of the park. For us it was just tell me where to stand and run, for them it obviously is months in the making.
I’m going to switch to a completely different subject, I put on Twitter that I was going to be talking to you today and one of the things I always get from people who are on the USA network: what will it take to get a crossover between Suits and Burn Notice, or Suits and White Collar, when can this happen?
Adams: There is nothing standing in the way of it but just pure scheduling. It’s true, I guess they’ve never done it, right? No show on USA has ever had a crossover. I don’t think it’s ever been successfully pulled off and it’s because the schedules are so insane, we all shoot different shows. I think the only show that would make sense schedule wise for us would be Covert Affairs because they shoot Covert Affairs literally across the hall from us in this building in North Toronto. Maybe somehow we could find- sometimes we sneak over to that site just to say hello to those guys, but we haven’t found a way to work it into the writer’s room yet. I don’t think it’s anything but a result of a difficult amount of scheduling just to get one show off the ground, but to try and get two shows to cross over is just asking a lot. But fans are powerful; I’ve learned this over the last two years. Just to watch how they can change something is pretty epic. So if you tell people to keep tweeting it I have no doubt that something might happen.