Interview: Pat Healy talks about The Innkeepers
Ti West did it again, in The Innkeepers Pat Healy stars alongside Sara Paxton in the scary yet gripping horror movie. Read our review here.
I recently watched and reviewed The Innkeepers, and really enjoyed it. How did you find working on it, and with director Ti West?
I had an excellent time, I hadn’t done a horror film before and it was a unique experience. I’m a fan of Ti’s work, in particular House of the Devil, and when he asked me to do The Innkeepers I was really excited. We filmed The Innkeepers in the hotel in which the story unfolds, which was a really strange place, a strange town in Connecticut. And the hotel is reportedly haunted. We lived there as we made it: we stayed there, slept there, ate there, and shot the film there. It was a short shoot, only 18 days, but we had a really had a good time, it was great fun to make.
I liked that central idea of the film, of a spirit or ghost being trapped in certain place just as people are trapped in a certain job. And I liked Luke’s dry sense of humour, it showed a real understanding of that sense of not going anywhere, of being stuck in a certain place. Luke brings both a certain cynicism and a certain humour to that reality, which is one so many people face. And then, there’s also hope in the film, in Luke’s character – the feeling that Claire, that a young woman, could bring some kind of escape.
I was intrigued by the character of Luke – in the interviews and press releases I’ve read he and Claire’s attitude towards the supernatural in the first half of the film seems to be entirely conflated. But I got the impression he was entirely cynical about supernatural phenomena and was just manipulating people’s beliefs for financial gain, before he is shocked out of it. What did you think?
I think that initially he went into it, into building his website and investigating psychic phenomena, believing in it all, but he became cynical over time because he didn’t see any evidence. That’s something that happens with lots of people, in relation to lots of different beliefs. But through the course of the film, and largely because of Claire, he becomes excited about it again and so invested in it again. At least, he would very much like it to be real, although it’s hard to re-discover belief, to find that excitement again once you’ve begun the process of losing it.
A particularly revealing scene for Luke’s character was his response to Lynne, the psychic who comes to stay at the hotel and who Claire is drawn to. Luke interprets Lynne’s involvement in the supernatural very cynically, seeing it as an insecure old actress’s attempt to find purpose and self-importance.
I think that pretty accurately reflects my own attitude towards the supernatural, and quite accurately reflects Ti’s views as well. But the film begs the question, is this happening is someone’s mind or is it really happening? And moreover, is it really any less horrific if it’s only happening in someone’s mind? It can be just as scary to watch someone else go through it as it is to experience it.
Were there any scenes or moments in the film that you thought worked particularly well, that had particular power or chemistry?
I thought the late-night drunken scene, the one in which there is some kind of confession attempted by Luke, an attempt to express his unrequited love, was particularly powerful. I was actually trying to play it as very lovelorn and heartbroken, but it came across as quite funny – and I think this is because it came across as very true and very honest. We’ve all been in that kind of situation, on both sides of that equation. And the scene directly after that – in which Claire and Luke go down into the basement – is very powerful too, again because it’s a particular fear that a lot of people share. I like the technical aspects of that scene a lot: the way it’s cut, the use of sound, the way it’s lit… And the acting has an intensity that I’ve never had the chance to do before. It was really great to see it once it was all put together, I wasn’t sure how it would turn out but it worked wonderfully.
I think these scenes and the film in general work so well because Ti, both in writing and directing, and the performances manage to build real characters and relationships. So when these characters are put in peril, there is real tension: we really do care about what happens to them. This is quite rare in horror films these days and it is the film’s real asset. We are waiting to see what happens to the characters, not just for the next big shock or bang. I know that Ti’s goal was to build realistic characters so people would care about the outcome. I think we really achieved that.
So to consider your acting career beyond just The Innkeepers, what have you most enjoyed working on? Are there any particular characters you’ve especially enjoyed getting your teeth into?
In the last few years I’ve been able to do some larger roles. I recently did a film with Craig Zobel, Compliance, which is coming out later this year. Compliance provided me with a particularly juicy and interesting role based on a true crime event that happened here in America. A prank caller phoned a fast-food restaurant and got the employees to do some insanely awful things. Like The Innkeepers, it was psychologically very powerful and interesting. I like to take on roles in which I can find a window into real behaviour that I’ve seen in myself or in other people. I like characters that have a basic component of humanity that I recognise.
You’ve been in quite a variety of films in the past – admittedly broadly indie-American ones, but there’s been quite a mix in terms of genre: westerns, teen drama, strange sprawling character studies, horror. Do you have a genre or style you particularly enjoy working in?
As a cinephile, I think I love westerns the most, as well as action films; but you’re right, I’ve been able to do a lot of things. For me as an actor, it doesn’t matter what the genre is, what is more important is the writing, who the characters are and what situation they’re in. It doesn’t matter if it’s horror, western, comedy or action: the basics remain the same. Having said that, I would enjoy the opportunity to do more work in comedy. I started out doing sketch comedy. While I like the fact that most of my work has been on the dramatic side, I would definitely enjoy doing some flat-out comedy.
What ambitions did you set out with as an actor, and how have they changed in years that you’ve been in the industry?
As a kid I fell in love with movies, and so it was always an ambition of mine to get involved with them. The younger generation today has great access to video and editing equipment, but as a kid, I didn’t have that, so acting was my way in – I went to school as an actor and then went to Los Angeles to train. But my intention has also always been to broaden out, to start writing and directing. I’ve filmed some shorts and now have something of a dual career as an actor and a screenplay writer. So really nothing has changed all that much, I’m still trying to do the same things I did as a six, seven, eight-year-old. Though my awareness and savvy with how the business works, with the politics of it all, has certainly increased a great deal. I get to do pretty much exactly what I want to do and what I’ve always wanted to do: use my imagination, be creative and come up with ideas, have fun, play; to work with other people and play and create with them. I guess that’s the lesson there: acting is an extension of the desire to play, to imagine and to create. At its best it is like child’s play.
Don’t forget to enter our competition here and win two tickets for The Innkeepers’ premiere in London, Thursday 24th May.
Watch The Innkeepers trailer here: