Born and raised in Los Angeles, Patrick Fischler is a successful working actor in both film and television. Having had memorable roles on two iconic television shows – as Jimmy Barrett on the Emmy Award-winning series Mad Men and as part of the Dharma Initiative on Lost – he also had Big Sur, adapted from the work of Jack Kerouac, premiere at the 2013 Sundance Film Festival and the action-thriller 2 Guns, starring Denzel Washington and Mark Wahlberg, opens later this year. On top of all that, Fischler and his actress wife, Lauren Bowles (she plays Holly Cleary on HBO’s True Blood) decided to star in and executive produce their own short film (which she also wrote), called The Test, about a couple at a critical juncture in their relationship.
During this exclusive interview with Collider, actor Patrick Fischler talked about what inspired them to make a short film, how being a real-life couple only added to the experience, the process of finding the right director, how one of the musicians in Snow Patrol ended up writing an original song for the short, how emotional it was to see the finished product, and how he’s inspired to create another project again, in the future. He also talked about the experience of working with Denzel Washington on 2 Guns, making Big Sur, being a part of both Mad Men and Lost, and what his dream role would be. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
PATRICK FISCHLER: We went to the Santa Barbara Film Festival because Lauren’s sister (Julia Louis-Dreyfus) and her husband made a short film that had premiered there. We often go up to Santa Barbara because her sister has a house of there. So, we went to the festival and saw her short and, when the short program ended, we turned to each other and said, “Let’s do one of these.” I don’t mean to make it sound like it’s so easy, but that’s literally how it happened. We love Santa Barbara. We just think it’s such a great place. So, in the moment, it felt like, “Let’s make a short and let’s premiere it there.” And then, for some lucky reason, all of those things happened. That was literally the impetus. When we came back from the festival, we started to brainstorm. I came up with the idea, and then Lauren wrote it.
Had you ever thought about making a short before, or was that the first time you had considered it?
FISCHLER: That was really the first time we’d even considered it. We’ve talked about doing our own stuff. At this point, we both work all the time and we just have no control. You start to feel a little bit powerless. So, we’ve talked about it, but we’ve never really said, “Oh, we’re actually going to do it.” But this time, we really did.
Did something inspire this specific idea?
FISCHLER: I’m an idea person, and Lauren is the writer. When we first moved out here, after college, we had a theater company where I was the idea guy for the original works and Lauren wrote them. An idea tends to just come to me, and that’s what happened with this. I was driving and I thought about a couple taking a pregnancy test, but at a precipice of their life that is a little different than most couples taking a pregnancy test. So, I told it to Lauren and had the details of how it could last for a 12-minute short. Obviously, each test goes a little bit wrong. Something goes wrong with each one, so they have to keep taking them. It really just came to me, and we didn’t have any other ideas. I said that one, Lauren loved it, and she wrote it in two days. And then, we moved forward from there. It was all really quick.
And it was always something you knew you would act in together?
FISCHLER: 100%. We didn’t necessarily know it would be only the two of us, but we knew if we made a short, it would be for us. We wanted to play characters that we don’t often get to play. For both of us, we got to just be a normal couple, which is not exactly the parts I get to play. So, it was always a vehicle for us.
Were you guys nervous about working together, at all, or do you feel like it can only work to your advantage when you know your co-star so well?
FISCHLER: I would say definitely the latter. I have moments of being nervous because you bring it home with you. But, we’ve known each other for 24 years, so that kind of stuff is never going to come home, in a bad way. It may come home with us and we may argue about it, but ultimately, we’re both really strong, really smart, really talented people with good ideas. I would absolutely say that it can only make the work stronger, and you see it on the screen. You see our jokes. You see all of it. The fact that we are together in real life only added to it.
Was it nerve-wracking to have to find a director to come in and be the third component to this?
FISCHLER: Yeah, that was actually one of the harder parts. We got ideas from different people. There’s a guy we know, who we went to college with, named Joe Daley, who is a producer, and we asked him to produce it. That was the first thing. We needed to find a producer before we found a director because I knew that I couldn’t do a lot of the work that a producer does. I could do the executive producer work, but the actual producer work, I needed a little bit of help. We’re both so busy with other work, that that was going to be hard. And he introduced us to this director, named Anthony Diblasi, who had done a bunch of horror films and wanted to get out of the genre. He is fantastic. We met him and knew, right away. We saw a bunch of people’s reels that we didn’t respond to. And we were actually at Julia’s house in Santa Barbara when Joe emailed us Anthony’s reel. We watched it there and we both turned to each other and were like, “That’s it. That’s our guy.” We just hoped we liked him, and we ended up loving him. He fit right in. He had the hardest job because he had to direct a couple who are opinionated, and who wrote it and were producing it. So, kudos to him. He listened to us. We told him that we wanted a fly-on-the-wall feeling. We didn’t want it to be a pretty short. It didn’t need to be Hollywoody. It was quite the opposite. We wanted to look like a regular couple. We didn’t need to be glammed up. We wanted you to feel like a fly on the wall in these people’s bathroom, and he totally listened to us and gave us what we wanted.
How did you end up screening this short for one of the members of Snow Patrol, and getting Nathan Connolly to do an original song?
FISCHLER: Anthony, our director, is friends with Nathan, and he randomly said to us, “Would you guys be open to Nathan Connolly doing an original song for it?” We laughed and were like, “Are you kidding?! You know him?” And he said, “Yeah, and I think he may have time to do this.” So, we were like, “Absolutely!” He said, “What do you want? What are you going for?” We told him, and he did it. He was in England, where he recorded it and sent it to us, and we loved it. It was really serendipitous. Lauren and I were like, “We’re so lucky!”
FISCHLER: It was actually different for Lauren and I, to be totally honest. For me, it was pretty much exactly what I had pictured. For Lauren, it was not. That was an interesting challenge. She loved it, and loves it now. Now, she sees it as perfect for the movie, but when we first got it, we both had different reactions. It was instantly perfect for me and for Anthony, and that happened sometimes. There were three of us, so if two of us loved it, the other one would have to deal. But, once we saw it in the movie, then Lauren was like, “Oh, okay, I totally get it.” It really made a difference for Lauren, when she heard it in the movie. It’s a great song! He wrote this amazing song for our little movie. It’s pretty exciting.
After getting everything together and seeing the final cut, did it become an emotional experience because you were so close to it and such a part of it?
FISCHLER: Yeah, it did. It also was so exhausting because there were so many cuts. The hardest thing was post-production. We made it really cheap. We did not spend a lot of money on it, so there are areas that we had to really scrape together. But, we had really professional people working on it for no money. It became really emotional, as you see it all done. When we saw the final, final version, we were both like, “Oh, my god, it’s our movie!” And seeing it with an audience that didn’t really know what was going to happen was the culmination of all of it.
What’s the running time of the short?
FISCHLER: It’s 12 ½ minutes.
Looking back on the process of it, are there things that you’re most proud of, or that you feel most accomplished in actually getting done?
FISCHLER: Yeah, just getting it done. The fact that we did it. We had an idea, and we made it happen. It’s not like we spent $100,000 to do it. We really spent nothing, and we were able to do it. That is incredibly satisfying. I could give you different things that have been gratifying, but it’s just the overall. We said to each other, “Let’s make a short,” and we did it and love it. We’re so happy with it. Luckily, we’re not watching it like, “It’s not exactly what I pictured.”
Did the experience inspire you to want to try it again, or to try a full-length feature, at some point?
FISCHLER: Oh, without a doubt. We would maybe do a short again next because a feature is financially a whole different thing, but I don’t know if I want to do a short again. I don’t know if that will be as satisfying. Lauren and I have one kid, and we’re done. We’re not going to have any others. Sometimes we’re like, “She’s so perfect, I don’t want to have another one because what if they’re not as perfect?” It’s a little bit like that experience. I think it may not be as gratifying. But, I don’t know. I wish we just had the money to make our own feature. Sadly, that’s a whole different issue. But, this has definitely opened us up, 100%, to creating our own stuff, whatever that is.
FISCHLER: The number one thing was that the first part of that character, I’ve played a million times. The nervous, “Oh, my god, they’re after me! Help me!” guy, I’ve done a lot. So, what drew me to it was the twist of having him be the actual killer. I loved that! I loved that Keyser Söze from The Usual Suspects type of thing. It was funny because that came to me right after Scandal, which was a very similar part. It was not quite the same thing, but he turned out to actually be a bad guy. They didn’t take it quite as far on Scandal, so it wasn’t quite the same thing, but they were both offered to me around the same time, which was hilarious. But, I had such a blast working on Castle. I know Stana [Katic]. I did this movie Big Sur with her last year, so it was great to work with her again. I’d never seen the show. I do a lot of shows I’ve actually never seen, and I hadn’t seen Castle or Scandal, but it’s fun to just go into someone’s world for eight days and do your thing, and then leave.
Was it intimidating to do Big Sur, knowing that it’s taken from the work and life of Jack Kerouac?
FISCHLER: Oh, it couldn’t be more daunting. Luckily, I didn’t direct it, so the pressure was off of me, and it was on Michael Polish. But, I don’t think there’s anything more daunting. I think that a lot of his work is un-filmable. What’s great about Big Sur is that Michael filmed the book. If you loved the book, you will have that experience, watching the movie. If it’s not your thing, you will not like it. It’s not a please-all film, which I’m always all for. I love things that people hate. I hate middle-of-the-road stuff. It never really interests me. That was an amazing experience. It was this group of us, up in San Francisco, in Big Sur, for six weeks, really living the life. Obviously, we were not drinking as much as these characters were, but we were living the life up there, and it was a really interesting experience.
How was the experience of doing the Denzel Washington/Mark Wahlberg movie 2 Guns?
FISCHLER: When your two leads are Denzel and Mark Wahlberg, you know that people are going to see the movie. My number one selling point was that most of my stuff was with Denzel. That was a no-brainer. Working with him is an acting class, all in itself. He’s very quiet. He stays to himself. He’s not someone I chatted with a lot. But, when the cameras roll and he’s looking in your eyes, every time he looked at me, I was completely lost. I was just like, “Wow, you’re so talented!” I had to bring myself back to acting, with him. It didn’t take long, but I was just so lost in how amazingly talented that man is. I didn’t get to work with Mark Wahlberg. It was a great experience. It was so much fun!
FISCHLER: I play a vet who deal drugs on the side. He’s not making it as a vet, and he’s taking care of all the animals.
It’s not often than an actor gets to be a part of a show that becomes part of television history, but you’ve had that experience with both Mad Men and Lost. When you think back about your time on those shows and being involved with projects like that, what stands out the most for you?
FISCHLER: They were both really different, so to tackle them together would be hard. Mad Men still lives in my life as the best job that I’ve ever had because I thought the character was genius. It was so well-written. And I love that show, so much. When I got cast on that, I felt like it didn’t really happen. It all happened very quickly. I worked so hard on it and put so much into it. A lot of the jobs I get, I don’t have to put quite as much work into because I know it and know that I can do it. Jimmy Barrett was not one of those characters. I had to really work on it, and it was so satisfying. I always think, “Oh, this is going to be shown 20 years from now. My daughter will be like, ‘Oh, my god, Mad Men is so great,’” and I’m on it, and got to play a really important, interesting character on it. I can’t speak highly enough of that experience. And then, with Lost, it’s so weird to be cast on shows that you love and then you go into that world, and I can’t explain the experience, but it does deflate the world. I was like, “Oh, these are the beaches. That’s where the plane crashed. This is not real. That’s not Sawyer. That’s Josh [Holloway].” That really does happen to me. And on Lost, it happened tenfold. I was a little bit obsessed with it, and had been, at that point, for four years. I was on the fifth season. So, that was a really intense experience. And my wife was pregnant at the time, while I was in Hawaii for six months. When I got it, it was just one episode. But then, I would get scripts and they’d be like, “Okay, you’re going to peek in here. You’re still here.” So, I flew back a little bit, but I was mostly just there. It was just surreal to be hanging out with all those people by craft services. I remember the Dharma jumpsuit. God, I wish I could have taken that. Oh, my god, I wish I had that Dharma jumpsuit. But, the best word for Lost would be surreal. And ultimately, my character wasn’t anyone that a lot of people would even remember, but I had such a great time doing it, it didn’t matter to me. I was just like, “Are you kidding? I get to be a part of television history! I’ll hang out with these guys and live in Hawaii for a couple of months. This is great!” When I get stopped on the street, it’s for a variety of things, but I’d say Lost and Mad Men are two of the top ones.
FISCHLER: I don’t know if I have an answer to that, actually. I really don’t. I would love to play a regular guy in a family drama. This is Where I Leave You is a fantastic book about a dysfunctional family, and it’s being made into a movie that Shawn Levy is directing. That kind of thing, I love. I love group settings. My favorite movie of all time is The Big Chill. I would like to play a part in a dysfunctional group of friends, who’s a very real person and not an over-the-top character. That may be a really lame answer, but that is what I’m really jonesing for. I go see all of the big blockbusters, but we just need more quiet, small movies because they’re just so gratifying.