With award season campaigning in full swing, the SAG Awards TV nominating committee held a screening and Q&A for the USA Network hit drama series Suits, and Collider was invited to attend. With the fate of Pearson Hardman having been determined, things will pick back up on January 17, 2013 in a very different, weakened place, and the dynamic duo of Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) and Mike Ross (Patrick J. Adams) may also be called into question, with Mike still reeling from the death of his beloved grandmother and questioning his place at the firm. The show also stars Gina Torres, Rick Hoffman, Meghan Markle and Sarah Rafferty.
During this interview, show star Patrick J. Adams talked about how he came to be a part of Suits, how he first met co-star Gabriel Macht, the most challenging scene he’s had to do, how much improvisation they do on set, how the show has changed his life, what fans fan expect from the remaining Season 2 episodes, and how much he’s like his character, in real life. He also talked about when he realized he wanted to be an actor, how he went about achieving that goal, learning he’d been nominated for a SAG Award last year, his worst audition (which consisted of him mistakenly thinking Mad Men was a sitcom), his favorite roles prior to Suits, and what got him through the times when he was struggling in his career. Check out what he had to say after the jump.
PATRICK J. ADAMS: It’s the same story that everybody has heard, a million times, and you think that it’s a lie, but I literally had no idea. It had been the most surreal year, already. It was my first TV series, and I didn’t even know that awards were being announced. My dear friend and manager called me weeping, and when you hear somebody crying in the morning, at 4 am, you’re sure something has gone terribly wrong. He wasn’t really speaking English properly, he was just weeping and going, “Oh, my god, you did it!” And then, after awhile, I figured out what I had done. He told me, and I saw the 18 calls that I had missed. That’s how I found out. And then, you do that thing where you just get rushed around and you talk to people that you’ve never met and get cameras pointed in your face, and you try to pretend that it’s all completely normal when it’s not. That was the morning.
How did you originally get your SAG card?
ADAMS: I was Taft-Hartleyed for the movie Old School. I’m Canadian, and I was going to school at the University of Southern California. There was a cattle call, which is not the nice thing to call it, but 50 slots were given to USC students to audition as pledge brothers. I went in and Todd Phillips, who I’m sure was stoned or something, said, “Do a Scottish accent for fun?” So, I did it, and then he told me to get out. And then, I found out a month later that I had missed a fitting for wardrobe, so they called me in. I had under 12 hours to figure out how to legally begin an internship through USC, to allow me to do Old School. So, I went to the immigration office at USC and threw myself at their mercy, and figured out a way to do this film as an internship. I was going into class and writing essays about working on Old School and wrestling in lubricant with people who were writing essays about their accounting internship or their legal internship. That was my first job, and I spent a month on set with those guys. I really just got a crash course on how sets works and in comedy because that wasn’t my strong suit. I just got to watch a lot of funny people doing funny things.
Was that your first time on camera?
ADAMS: Professionally, for sure, yeah. I hadn’t done anything in Canada, and it was my second year in the States. That was my first time ever on a set, of any kind.
What was it like to work with Will Ferrell and Vince Vaughn?
ADAMS: My whole career is just terror, from beginning to end. That’s kind of my thing. A lot of happy accidents happened. I really began as a pledge brother, who was supposed to stand there and not say anything, so they didn’t have to pay me more. And then, they would come up to us and say, “Who can play the guitar?,” and I’d be like, “I can play the guitar.” All of a sudden, I was with Will Ferrell, practicing “Dust in the Wind.” There were a couple little things like that, throughout the course of the shoot, that put me at the forefront of the background. That’s the story of my life, the forefront of the background.
ADAMS: I was very young. I fell in love with acting, just going to a lot of plays. My parents went to a lot of plays, and I went to a lot of schools that would get plays for kids. I just got transported by that. I was always into film, but theater was my entry point. I always felt like film didn’t make sense to me, as a kid. It was just so magical that I was like, “There’s something going on back there that I don’t know.” But, when I watched theater, it was something that was happening in front of me. I could see a dark room suddenly be turned into something completely different, and that was overwhelming for me. So, from a very young age, my mom tells me that I wanted to be Michael J. Fox. I didn’t want to be an actor. I just wanted to be Michael J. Fox for awhile. And then, I realized that he was an actor, so I pursued that.
How did you set out to achieve that goal?
ADAMS: Anytime I met an actor, I just attacked them and said, “How did you do this?” Eventually, I began to realize that you went to school for it. I wasn’t a bright kid, so it took me a long time to figure that out. So, I decided to go to a good training program. My mom had sold a business and had become successful, and she had enough money to send me to a good school, and I knew that I wanted to come down to the States. I really loved what was going on down here versus a lot of people I knew that were going to theater programs in Canada, which seemed like it was very insular and would just stay up there. So, I applied to NYU and USC, but I didn’t get in to NYU. I ended up at USC, and that was it.
What did you see your career being? Did you want to do theater, movies or TV, or did you want to just do everything?
ADAMS: Everything! I was really hungry. I just wanted to do it all. Film and television was so strange to me because I didn’t grow up in the business, I didn’t know anything about it and I had never been on set before. But, from the minute I got on set and did Old School, I was like, “I want to do this!” I also felt like I wasn’t ready to do it, so it really forced me to take my training a lot more seriously and to get on as many sets as possible, which is how I ended up doing literally every television show ever made, for at least a day. It was great to see how that worked. That’s how I cut my teeth.
Are you good at auditioning?
ADAMS: You know, it’s still a struggle. I had an audition today that wasn’t great, and that happens all the time. It really depends on the room, it depends on the material, and it really depends on the planets aligning sometimes. So, I don’t think there’s any one skill to it. I like auditioning. I like working on material. I just love working. I like the chance to work on material. Sometimes it helps to not be going into a room cold and to know people. I’ve spent a lot of years getting to know people in the business, and that really helps. It depends. You can have some pretty terrible auditions.
ADAMS: I don’t know. There are so many bad ones. I don’t know specifically what the worst one would be. There are ones where I was crying, all of a sudden, and that’s inappropriate. You’ll love this story: When Mad Men came out, there was a sitcom that same year, also called Mad Men. This was my first time going in for Mad Men, and no one knew what it was. So, my manager said, “It’s a sitcom. Just go and you’ll love it. It’s going to be great.” I read the material and thought, “This is not that funny.” But, the thing about sitcoms is that the sitcom scripts are not that funny. A lot of times, that’s people making it funny. So, I was tearing my hair out about how to make Mad Men funny. I went in and did my thing, and I got called back. I was treating Mad Men like a full-out, big sitcom, and I got called back. I went in with (show creator) Matthew Weiner, who now has written one of the best shows of all time, and I did my thing and he just stared at me. It wasn’t in a bad way, but just like, “What’s going on with this kid? He’s making interesting choices that are a little big.” I ended up getting called back for other parts on the show, so I don’t think I offended him too badly. But, that was an example of a pretty horrifying audition, when I realized exactly what Mad Men was. The horror didn’t come until many months later, when I saw the show and realized what a fool I had made of myself. That stuff happens, all the time.
Prior to booking Suits, what were some of your favorite roles?
ADAMS: Recently, Luck was a game-changer for me. Before that, Friday Night Lights was a really amazing show to work on. That was a game-changer for me, too. That show was all about the moment between the actors. They didn’t really care about anything else. It was not about the lights or where the cameras were. They wanted spontaneity. They wanted to see those moments happen between actors. It was actually really off-putting because you get used to being the fifth thing that people are worried about on set. They want to get the light right, make sure the camera is where it’s supposed to be, get the Coke can in place, and make sure the Lexus symbol on the is showing, and then once all of that is lined up, that moment with the actors can happen. But, they did not care about any of that. We didn’t even get to rehearse. They didn’t want us to rehearse lines or block anything. They were just like, “Go!,” and there were cameras everywhere. You didn’t even know where the cameras were. That was really scary and off-putting, at first, but after you shoot two or three scenes, you end up feeling so alive and so electric and so in the moment. And they didn’t care if you did it the same way twice. It was really, really freeing, as an actor. It made me excited that there was work like that out there ‘cause I had been just showing up and being the random paralegal for an episode. I was a huge fan of Lost, so that was great. My ringtone was the Lost theme, and it rang when I was in the make-up trailer. I tried to get answers from people about what was going on and tried not to geek out too hard, so that was fun. But, Luck was really the moment I feel like I went from being a boy to being a man, in some respects, through the help of Dustin Hoffman.
ADAMS: My agents and manager found the script and sent it to me. I had been fired from a job, the year before, and I was pretty miserable. Everybody on my team was trying to find a great project that would pull me out of the whole that I was in, and along came Mike Ross. It was this perfect world where this character was in a whole of his own. He was in a real rut. He had all this potential, but he just didn’t believe in himself. He had screwed up his life, beyond repair. And then, here comes this opportunity for him to do something great. So, they put the script in front of me and I read it, and the moment I read it, I was like, “I know this guy, inside out. That’s not a challenge.” But, it was a challenge in ways that I hadn’t expected. I went in and it was just easy. It rolled off the tongue. There’s that great scene from the pilot, where I’m interviewing for the job and convincing this guy that I’m going to be the best lawyer he’s ever seen, at that was the easiest scene I’ve ever had to do, for a group of executives. I was just like, “I can do this job! Give me this job! Trust me, I can do this job!” That’s basically what the audition was, so it was simple. I think I auditioned five or six times, as is the wonderful process of testing, and then I had the part. It was the easiest part I’d ever gotten, as people say when something is supposed to happen like that. It just suddenly all falls into place and it’s way easier than you’d ever imagined.
Had you done that role that you were fired from, would you even have been able to do Suits?
ADAMS: No. I probably would be addicted to painkillers and just really unhappy, if that whole thing had worked out. It was not a great show, and it fell apart. After I got fired, I’m pretty sure they consecutively fired every single person involved, all the way down to the craft truck, and then it just fell apart. I think they aired eight episodes of the show. It was just one of those things where, from the top down, it was being micro-managed and not dealt with well. I think it was just micro-managed into the ground. So, everything happens for a reason, it turns out. That’s not wrong.
This show completely hinges on your chemistry with co-star Gabriel Macht. How did you guys meet? Did you test together at all?
ADAMS: They did not do any testing at all. I’m still, to this day, like, “How did USA pull that off?” It’s so insane to me because so much of this show does depend on that. They really just cast us completely separately. I was cast first, and then they cast Gabriel. I think there’s a lot to do with schedules and getting people together. They have to get these things off the ground, so there’s not a lot of time. I think they just trusted that it would work. They knew us separately, from being in the room with us, and they could probably tell that we had similar energies. The first time Gabriel and I met was because we organized lunch through our agents. We sat down for lunch in Beverly Hills, and we both just stared at each other for awhile. I think we both thought the other person was going to be a complete douchebag, as some actors can be. We were just sitting there, waiting for the moment that the other would reveal their internal doucheness. And then, we just got to talking about his family and the way we like to work.
I had done a lot of TV, up to that point. It’s all I knew, so I was really jazzed to have my own show and do it properly, and not do it the way I’d seen a lot of people do it very badly with a lot of ego involved. He was somebody who had done a lot of film, so he was going into television with that same sort of mentality and not wanting it to be miserable, but wanting it to be a really open environment where people feel safe to try things. So, we were just both on the same page. We became fast friends, and there was just a trust there. By the time we started shooting, that pushing each other’s buttons and messing with each other and doing whatever we could to screw with the other person’s performance became the key to the whole thing. To this day, if we’re not doing that, we know something is wrong. If we’re just playing a scene normally and having a normal back-and-forth, and we don’t add a line to the end or try to screw with the other guy, then we know we’re tired and it’s time to kick it up a notch. There are some scenes that fall through the cracks, where you just say it to get through it, but most of the time, we try to find a way to do something to lift it off the page.
Is there much improvising done on set?
ADAMS: Yeah. Our writers are great. There are a ton of great moments on the show that are all inspired by the script, but that really come from us trying to make each other laugh or mess with each other or one-up each other. It’s that masculine energy that’s there, between these two characters. We always do the script the way that it’s intended, and then we riff with it. A lot of times, (show creator) Aaron [Korsh], to his credit, includes that stuff in the show because he thinks that’s the energy of the show and a lot of that isn’t really writable. It’s really about being in the moment and messing with the prop in a way that no one would know [ahead of time]. The spontaneity is a big part of the show, for all the characters.
What’s been the most challenging scene you’ve had to pull off, so far?
ADAMS: That stone scene [in the summer finale] was tough because it was so different from the rest of the world of this show. It’s a long scene, it gets really into depth about some personal stuff, which the show does very rarely, and we’re stoned. And then, we go to the [office] and we’re jumping around like mad men. I was so excited, but terrified by that. There was actually a part that they cut out. When they come out of the elevator stoned, almost every shot was me Spider-Maning my way out of the elevator. I though it was genius, but it didn’t get in because it didn’t make any sense. It was a very hard thing to figure out how these two guys would be stoned together, after nearly two years of working together. And the love scenes are tough. Anything romantic, because Meghan [Markle] is like a sister to me, it’s very, very strange to do any of those kissing scenes, or anything like that. There are a couple of scenes coming up, in these next six episodes – which I won’t talk about too much – that were tough, in that realm. There are hard ones that come along, for sure. And then, there’s the legal stuff. Gabriel and I have a great competition about who can get through that stuff without screwing it up the most. And anything with Rick Hoffman because I just have to not laugh, which is nearly impossible. But, that’s about it.
ADAMS: My [fashion] style is really through the roof now. No. Now, people stop me on the street and say hi. That didn’t happen. That’s fun. I have not yet become [jaded by that]. Gabriel has been in the business for a long time, and he gets mauled because he’s Gabriel Macht. I’m still like, “Hey, how’s it going?! You wanna take pictures? Let’s take pictures!” I’m still like, “This is fun! This is incredible!” I still remember getting fired from that gig a little while ago, so if anybody wants to hang out and take pictures and tell me that I like what they do, it’s pretty cool. Give it another year and I’ll hate everybody. But, in terms of the work, it’s still a tough business. I think I imagined that something like this would happen, and then I would just waltz into any room and have my pick of the jobs, but it’s definitely not that. It’s still a struggle. I can still have a crappy audition, like I had today. There’s still a lot of work to be done, which I think is great. At the end of the day, it’s much better if you don’t just get handed these things because you do one great thing. You’ve gotta earn it, you’ve gotta go out there and do more work, you’ve gotta stay in class, and you’ve gotta keep honing your skill and not just think this is all going to work out because you got one great gig. There are a lot of great actors who aren’t working right now, so you’ve gotta keep yourself sharp.
What’s it been like to work with Gina Torres?
ADAMS: Those are some of my favorite scenes, Gina and I are constantly asking for more of them. I think Aaron [Korsh], the creator of the show, has got a very special place for Jessica Pearson. The amount of people that can interact in that world with her is very specific. Mike’s interaction with her has gone from being this scared little animal, every time she walked into the room, to getting to interact with her some more and having that great scene with her this season. We have some more great stuff coming up, in these next few episodes, but there’s very little and we’re always begging for more of it. It’s tough because there’s only so much interaction that an associate at the firm, especially one that happens to not actually be a lawyer, can have with the woman who runs the firm. We’re constantly begging for more and more of it because it is fantastic. We get along so well. She is such a professional. She’s like acting with a laser. It’s intense! And those dresses, oh my god! We all wait for her to walk on set now, just to see what she’s going to be wearing. She could just parade in. It’s incredible. She’s great!
What can you tell fans, as far as what’s up next for Mike Ross?
ADAMS: This whole season has been really interesting ‘cause it’s been about the firm being under attack. There was this whole Civil War. So, we find Pearson Hardman really weakened, in these next six winter episodes. Even though they’ve just dismantled and gotten rid of Hardman (David Costabile), they’re really weak from that and their clients perceive them as being weak. So, there’s a real struggle to regain their identity, and Mike plays an important part in that. And Mike’s grandmother is gone, so there’s an emotional hole that Mike is in. You find him in a place where he’s really doubting his value to this firm. His relationship with Rachel (Meghan Markle) is obviously on the rocks because of what you saw [in the summer finale]. He’s really at a place where his support systems are gone and leaving him, so he’s in a position where he needs to really step up his game or decide to get out of there. With Pearson Hardman under threat, you’re going to see Mike really under threat, as well. He has to really pick the pieces back up again, or sac up and get out of there.
ADAMS: Very close, actually. I wish that I could lie and tell you that it’s all great acting. When I read the script for the first time, it was really like reading what I had just gone through, so it’s pretty close. But, he struggles with things that I don’t struggle with as much, anymore. He’s younger, so that part of it isn’t as much a part of my life now.
What’s up next for you? Do you have anything else lined up?
ADAMS: Right now, Suits is it. I gave up. I quit acting. No. I don’t have anything going on right now. I did a play between seasons last year, that I produced, and we’re looking into potentially taking that to New York and doing something there. But, that’s very early stage conversations. There’s nothing happening right now. Working on a show for seven months is, as it turns out, kind of exhausting. I’m in the place where I’m just getting back and trying to get healthy and get my mind around it again, so when we start up again in April, I can get through it, do a good job and hopefully stick around.
For those years that you were struggling and you weren’t sure if your career was ever going to take off, what got you through the more difficult times?
ADAMS: Friends and family, people who believed in me, and people who told me that it was all part of the process. You just have to push forward and keep working. There are days where you know it’s just not working and you’re struggling and nothing is happening, so you’re beating your head against the wall. I think you know, inside yourself, when there is something that is right, and it deserves attention and work. I always knew that it was right, and I had people around me who knew it was right and family that supported me, in a really beautiful way, and just believe in me and had faith. I still have those days. You think that you’re going to get a show and not have those days, but you probably have more of them because you’re facing the barrel of that gun more often. You just have to keep pushing through and believe that you’re capable of doing things. And the more you do it, the more capable you are. I truly believe that. I’m really blessed with the people in my life who keep me on track and keep pushing me forward.
Suits returns to the USA Network on January 17, 2013.