Cultured Vultures spoke with actor Patrick Kilpatrick, whose career as an actor, writer, and stuntman speaks for itself. He’s been in over 170 films and television shows and has worked with greats like Tom Cruise, making a name for himself in the industry. He’s most known for playing the villain in action films and has done some gnarly stunts, like being run over by a bus or being shot time and time again. He talked to us about what goes into making these stunts look realistic, the precision with which they’re executed, and how it’s all shaped some of the biggest thrills and moments of his life.
Having had such a fruitful and thrilling career, Patrick decided to write a book called, “DYING FOR LIVING – Sins & Confessions of a Hollywood Villain & Libertine Patriot.” In his book, he talks about his childhood and dealing with his mother’s infidelity, being in a life-threatening car crash as a teenager, and how he used these experiences to push through in his career and make a name for himself.
Our conversation was incredibly insightful, educational, and wonderful and I think you guys will enjoy reading it just as much as I enjoyed talking to him. Check it out below!
How did you get into acting and what about it confirmed that this was the career for you?
I was a journalist and advertising writer, which I loved doing but after almost a decade of doing that, I was a little bored. So after that, I took a break to write a novel and to make money I moved out of Manhattan and I took a sabbatical from Time, Inc. where I was a staff writer. I split a house to save money with an actor who was becoming a huge Broadway director, John Killinger, and at one point, he had three Broadway hits going simultaneously and one in the West End of London as well. And so, in short order, I found myself running around with Richard Dreyfuss, Christopher Reeves, and Stockard Channing and so I started working to pick up extra money as John Killinger’s assistant director. So instead of the novel, I ended up writing a play and it got produced. I was then asked to join a bunch of theatre companies in New York as the play selector or literary manager. And then I started acting in the plays and it took off, it was meant to be. I studied around New York but it almost took off right away. I just realized that the universe wanted me to explore this around 1982 and it just went from there.
You’ve played the role of villain time and time again, and worked with everyone from Tom Cruise to Arnold Schwarzenegger. Are there any other actors known for similar villain roles who inspired you? Did you ever get a chance to work with any of them?
There’s plenty! Javier Bardem, Alan Rickman, Jack Palance, Walter Brennan, James Cagney. Currently, I really like Mads Mikkelsen, he’s terrific. I’ve worked with a lot of different people and I admired a lot of them. I think with my journalistic background I’m always observing people and got to write a lot about my experiences in my book.
I admire Sean Connery, Steven Spielberg (who is on the production side), Tom Cruise (he’s very dedicated at getting out a really good action movie), Mark Harmon, and Naomi Watts. There are many more people obviously and I’ve loved working with all of them!
Being a villain means all kinds of death scenes. What have been some of the most memorable ways you’ve died on-screen? You’ve done your own stunts in the past! What was that experience like and is it something you enjoyed doing?
I was always an athlete and started out as one when I was younger. It was rather natural that I would end up doing a lot of physical acting parts. I like doing it because you can get a better shot and even the best stuntmen give an emotional quality to the action, but not everyone does. A lot of them do it by the numbers and I think you get a better shot when you have an emotional quality to the action. I did have a stunt double who did some very, very lethal things, some of which I did as well. You’re putting yourself at risk and risking your life and even with pads, etc. there is something wonderful about surviving that. That’s what drives Tom Cruise to do what he does, it’s this amazing feeling. I liked doing stunts when it was a one-off thing, I didn’t like it if it was repetitive. I had about 15 years where every job I had, had massive amounts of fights. I know how to do that and I know how to do it well and but the repetition is not something that enthralls me. I like doing something I’ve never done before, whether that’s blasting through a window or being yanked back on a ratchet. Let me explain what that is – when they’re showing guys getting shot and they’re blown backward they often put a harness on them that’s connected to a pneumatic grill which pulls them back. I enjoyed doing that, I wouldn’t want to do it every day because it is dangerous.
I’ve had some fun ways of dying. I think my favorite is one from a movie called Parasomnia, in which I played a mesmerist, so I was able to use my eyes to hypnotize people to do evil things or kill themselves. The lead actress, who I’m obsessed with, took two screwdrivers and stuck them in my eyes to kill me. We had an apparatus that was built that had two screwdriver handles poking out of it that was attached to my face – that was kind of fun. Another was being hit by a school bus and another was having my head yanked off by a forklift – those are some memorable ways. I was shot a lot, so let me explain how that works for those who don’t know. They put squibs underneath your clothing, you’ll wear a special version of your costume that has squibs attached to it, squibs are bags filled with fructose syrup dyed red and little explosive packs so when you get shot it’s all wired to an electrical board. They hit the electrical board and the little bags explode making it look like you’ve been shot and killed.
You have a book coming out called “Dying For Living”. What inspired you to write this book and what do you hope readers will take away from it?
As I said earlier, I was a journalist through an entire generation of action films and action television shows so I had a lot of tales. Obviously, there are a lot of behind-the-scenes tales. When you write a book like this, at least for me, there are several legs you want to stand on. I hope that people will laugh, be appalled, and get some insight into how the craft is carried out. I talked about the politics of Hollywood, which are very unique and what it is that is required in order to generate the finer stones. The book has been doing well, and it seems people have been really responding to it. But after all, is said and done, there is craziness to the entire process.
Do you have any favorite stories from the book and what about it makes it special?
I don’t know about favorite, that’s like asking what one of your children you love most. Obviously, there are things from my upbringing, like my mother’s infidelity with my coach which was very striking. Working with all the people I mentioned, each individual bears very memorably. I’ve been hired a couple of times to be the kidnapper/rapist and that is a very special experience when you’re working with actresses especially now that you have the #MeToo movement.
How do you tackle a situation such as that?
In some ways, it’s a no-win situation. Let’s suppose the actress really likes you. I go to the actress and say that this isn’t me, this is the character and I have to come after you, not necessarily physically, but verbally. I ask them to understand that it isn’t me and you talk it through and work out the dance of the physicality. But still, it’s a traumatic situation, particularly when it goes on for days. The funny aspect of it is, that if the actress was ever attracted to you beforehand, they certainly aren’t going to be when it’s over but what’s important is what goes up there on the screen. You can’t ever surrender your character’s goals. The same thing goes for physical things like if you’re fighting somebody like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal, you go through it and the steps. You map out the craft of it and then go for it. Somebody on both sides is going to get hit sooner or later, but that’s not important, it’s how you react to that graciously and do everything you can to minimize that breakdown in the craft.
You reveal many details about your life in the book. What prompted you to share them and was the process of writing a solo project or a collaborative effort?
I’ve been a writer for 50 years now, so it comes relatively easy with me. My fiance is a wonderful editor and I also have an editor and agent, they all chime in, so in that sense it’s collaborative. You really want that because the proofing alone is mind-numbing. If you don’t have more than one set of eyes then mistakes will filter through. If you’re writing something, in your head it’s clear, but if the reader is not getting it then you’re not truly communicating what it is that you want to say. Sometimes you’re overly poetic, etc. but the point of it is that people need to understand what you’re trying to write. So working with others helps you understand what’s not clear. I also collaborate with a photograph archivist who helps me to pull all the photographs to go with the book. I’m polishing volume 2 right now which is all about show business and there are a lot of photographs, around 476. I’m very grateful to have him working with me. You also collaborate on cover design, publisher, and all kinds of things! Largely, I’m left to my own devices as far as the writing goes.
As a former journalist and as a person, I think the truth is important and there are some truths about Hollywood, my upbringing, and the people I’ve worked with that I felt needed to be presented to a wider audience. I have a always been a rather bold person so I’m not given to leading a hidden life. I’m willing to share my life in the sense that hopefully, it serves other people. I look like I’m really physically fit and have everything together, but everyone has challenges and everyone has to overcome those. I hope its demonstrative to people and helps them to overcome the challenges they have. When I was 17 I was in a severe car accident and instead of being crippled I ended up doing my own stunts in 170 films and shows. How did that happen? It happened because I worked really hard and I learned about healing modalities and rehabilitative massage and chiropractic medicine. It helped a lot because I could resurrect myself after working for 18 hours straight doing stunts. So, I hope that it not only entertains but helps if someone is feeling limited and makes them realize that maybe they can move towards their dreams in a concrete way and achieve something.
What is your creative process like?
What gets me started is an oatmeal latte (laughs). Playing serial killers and writing screenplays/books usually involves some amount of caffeine sooner or later. But I think the experience having worked with magazines professionally removes the blockages that a lot of the people have to writing. You learn how to sit down and start and keep the flow going. So the mystery of writing is not removed but I don’t suffer from writer’s block like a lot of people do. I can write anywhere and get it done but it does take energy and there are many energies within a long-form. You can write a song really quickly but if you’re going to do a 300-page book you are going to be stopping and starting and moving and taking time and so there are many energies that end up being visited in the manuscript. I just put all of that in there, and I’m aware I can do it because of my professional experience. I don’t really understand how people who have never written for a newspaper or magazine expect to just sit down and pop out a novel. You learn what’s compelling and that’s ultimately what you’re going for.
Another thing is to do what I call “commune with the masters”. If you read Hemingway or Fitzgerald, I think: how did those people do it? It’s the same thing with filmmaking, you can study Kubrick or Spielberg. How the masters did it shows you the way to be able to do it and create something new beyond what they did.
You’ve had multiple roles over the course of your career – an actor, writer, producer, and director. What advice would you give for someone aspiring to do something similar? Is there one role you enjoy more than the other?
There’s a bunch of things. We have a mentorship program for young actors and what I call “entertainment warriors”. They all learn how to write, produce, direct, and act because you need to know how to do all of those things and chemically it makes you better. The things I would recommend would be first to get a good performing arts education at a great performing arts high school–get on the stage as much as possible but also write and produce some of the projects because that will give you a psychological and economic sanctuary if you can create your own work. As for the writing goes, I’ve already said work for a magazine and local paper and jam on that and learn what it means to be on professional deadlines.You can get into extraordinary creative writing programs in college or try and attend one of the great acting schools (Juilliard, UCLA, USC, etc). You want to get really well educated but get out and start doing it. The reason Spielberg is Spielberg is that he started making films when he was nine years old so just get out there and do it. Start experimenting! Sometimes starting at a point that doesn’t come from all the regular school positions allows people to come up with something new. But just start learning your instruments, using your tools. And putting on a show! It’s called show business for a reason.
What is something you wish someone would have told you when you were first starting out and how would it have made a difference in your life specifically?
The only thing I can think of is that to a certain extent you have to know when to switch to the upper agencies. I think after Minority Report I wish I had jumped to CAA or someone else. I think there’s a lot to be said about loyalty and I was very loyal to my agent, and still am – I’m still with him. But at some point, particularly if you’re a young person, you’re going to have to move to those larger agencies if you’re going to flourish at the highest level because there is so much packaging that goes on and so much entwined at the highest level, and you’re going to need to be connected with that.
I was very lucky when I started because I had John Killinger as a mentor, he was always there to give me advice and to steer me towards excellence. The problem most people have when they’re starting off is that they don’t know where excellence lies, and they don’t even know what the excellence is. I would urge them to find really quality teachers and mentors, because there are a lot of people out there that don’t know what they’re doing – they’re collecting a lot of money from actors and entertainers who have dreams, but these people aren’t going to get them where they want to go. They have to be connected to people who know what they speak and know the realities of delivering the goods and business they are.
What’s next for you? Do you see yourself retiring anytime soon or do you plan to do this as long as possible?
My energies are all on volume 2 which I hope to have out by the fall. The acting – I never know when it’s coming but I’m certainly not ready to retire. I have a number of scripts that I’ve written that are unfortunately really extensive but I’m doing what I can to get them funded at a pretty high level because that’s where the money is. But, I’ve definitely got a lot of stuff going on!
I do want to let your readers know that they can get the book on Amazon (hardcover, paperback, Audible, Kindle), and if they want an autographed book but can’t make it out to our signings then they can contact me through my website and we’ll get them out an autographed copy.
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