A Gifted Man, premiering on CBS on September 23rd, tells the story of a brilliant surgeon named Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson), whose life changes forever when his deceased ex-wife, Anna (Jennifer Ehle), begins teaching him the meaning of life from the hereafter. Michael’s materialistic life of luxury is thanks to his work-obsessed career, and his powerful and wealthy patients. But, that world is rocked when the idealistic love of his life mysteriously appears to him, making him re-evaluate everything that separated them in the first place.
During a recent interview to promote the drama series, actor Patrick Wilson talked about deciding to do television so that he could play such a complicated and challenging role, how he’s getting skilled at the medical terminology, and how he’s enjoying the luxury of getting to go home from work and sleep in his own bed. He also talked about his role in the upcoming dramedy Young Adult, opposite Charlize Theron and directed by Jason Reitman. Check out what he had to say after the jump:
Question: What made you want to go through the grind of doing a TV series?
PATRICK WILSON: There are tons of different reasons why you do this and why you don’t, and how it’ll affect your career, and all that. Without a doubt, it has always come down to the script for me. I’m an actor who wants to do great parts, and I’ve been very fortunate, for a long time, to get meaty roles, and sometimes some of them are meatier than others. This was a role that just felt very complicated and a challenge. As far as the grind, I usually go after things that frighten me, to be honest with you. I don’t quite know what that means, but at the end of the day, to have this great role, and to know they wanted to move it to New York, where I could be with my family – my son is starting kindergarten – it was too good to pass up.
How would you describe your character’s relationship with his ex?
WILSON: One thing that we’re trying to establish is that they are exes. So, it’s about, “Why did their marriage fall apart? Were they too young? Did they not see eye to eye?” You get the feeling that he wanted something much bigger and grander, and she didn’t. We’re figuring that out. I don’t want to have the ex-wife just appear. I keep having to remind myself that this is not the movie Ghost, where her soulmate dies and it’s present. This is someone that was in his past. The most curious part is, “Why is this happening?” She had been in the city for eight years, so why is she there? It drudges up all these feelings that I think he thought he had dealt with. Very few people in the office even know he was married. That’s an interesting take on it.
What is it about this character that you relate to most?
WILSON: We look similar. I don’t know. I don’t really think of it, on those terms. He’s more cagey than I am, so if anything, I’m fighting those urges to want to be completely open. He’s a pretty guarded person, which I guess I am too, but when push comes to shove, I’m more open than he is.
What sort of guidance did you get, in playing this character? Do you ultimately know what’s going on with him?
WILSON: We find out his backstory, which will slowly be revealed. For now, we’re just battling all the things, like the hospital that I run and working at the clinic. We’re just trying to set the tone right, in the first few scenes.
What is your theory for why he’s seeing this ghost?
WILSON: I think there’s got to be some void in his life. I live in New York and it’s the pinnacle of a lot of careers. A lot of what appealed to me, outside of the spirituality of this, is that you can look at people at the absolute top of their game, and a lot of surgeons definitely have a God complex, and there’s a reason for that. So, I look at it like, “What is that cost?” If you’re pushing everybody out of the way, to get to the top and run the show, at what cost is that, to your soul? Whether it’s a marriage falling apart or being distant from my family – and all those things that are so much a part of my life – it’s really curious to me where that fits into his life.
Are you a spiritual person?
WILSON: Yeah, I’m a spiritual person. I grew up in the South and went to church a lot. Yeah, I’d say I’m a spiritual person.
Have you ever had a situation in your life that made you re-evaluate things?
WILSON: I don’t know. Things probably got put into perspective with my kids being born. I have two. That puts things in perspective.
How do you see the arc for this character’s redemption?
WILSON: That’s something that we’ve talked about constantly because we’re doling it out in very small pieces, as we’re finding it ourselves. Just because we alluded to the fact that she’s a ghost in the pilot, don’t assume that, by the next episode that, it will all be okay now. I want him to struggle with that. I think it’s only natural. I want to play it as weird as it would be. I want people to assume, especially when we talk about faith versus science, that he’s the most scientific man there is. He has an answer for everything, which is why, when Pablo Schreiber’s character, who’s a shaman, comes into play, he’s unbelievable, for that reason. He is this connection to this spiritual world that I don’t even give two cents about. I don’t get it. I don’t understand it.
That constant struggle will continue to be explored. I want to play out every facet of that – accepting her, being frustrated by her, being heartbroken – whether she was alive or dead. The feelings of seeing your ex-wife is something we’re going to continue to explore. But, because this is not a movie or a play, I’m learning that we’ve got to give it out in small doses. I’m incredibly interested in that side of the arc because I want people to wonder if this guy is crazy. I want them to wonder, “Is he imagining her? Nobody else sees her.” So, we’re trying to find all those moments. Within each long arc, just like within each movie or play, there will be arcs within each scene. We’re dealing with it, episode by episode. I don’t really think of it too far ahead. We concentrate on the next episode, what we want to do, what kinds of scenes we want to have, or what they’ve come up with, and that seems to be working so far.
Are you personally interested in medicine?
WILSON: No, not really. Not in the serious sense. I think there was a time when I was about 13 that I thought, “I’ll be a sports medicine doctor,” but that’s only because everyone said, “You should be a doctor,” and I wanted to play sports. Somehow in my mind, I put them together.
Is it difficult to learn and say the medical terminology?
WILSON: I’m getting skilled in all that. It’s a different language, certainly, but I’m working on it.
With this being your first TV series encounter, how are you finding the schedule?
WILSON: I live in New York, so I can go home and sleep in my bed. If it was somewhere else, then I might not have done it. It’s nice to be able to work at home, which is a luxury that you don’t get a lot, whatever your job is, but certainly as actors. You’re usually a traveling troubadour. That was actually one of the things that was very exciting about the potential of it being a success, not only for the artistic and commercial aspects of it, but for the most important thing, which is spending time with my family.
When you were at Carnegie Mellon, was acting for television something you were ever interested in, or were you more interested in stage and theater then?
WILSON: One of the great things about that school is that acting is acting. I didn’t really think about it, in terms of technique. I didn’t decide that I wanted to do musical theater until I got into school, actually. I was auditioning for other schools and I just wanted to be an actor, so Carnegie Mellon helped shape that. I knew things were leading towards Broadway, and I felt like I would eventually get into TV and film, when the time was right.
What is Young Adult and who do you play in that?
WILSON: That comes out in December, and I play Charlize Theron’s ex-boyfriend from high school. She comes back to break up my marriage because she wants to take me away from my wife. The only problem is that I enjoy my wife, so that’s going to be a little tough.