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At the Artios Awards with Patrick Wilson

Patrick Wilson On Monday night, some of today's hottest actors came to the new Times Center in New York City to honor the industry's top casting directors at the 25th Annual Artios Awards. Back Stage spoke with actor Patrick Wilson ("All My Sons," "Watchmen," "Little Children") at the pre-ceremony reception, before the lights dimmed and he presented several of the night's awards -- and he actually seemed excited to see us!

Back Stage: Does this mean you used to read the Back Stage casting notices when you began your acting career?

Patrick Wilson: I started pre-internet! Absolutely, my first job was from Back Stage, though.

Do you remember what that first gig was?

I used to get Back Stage when I was in college – well, I had friends who got it and would tell me about it, and my friends and I would drive up from Pittsburgh [to auditions in New York]. I auditioned for so many things then, let me think... My first job was "Miss Saigon," which I got out of Back Stage West.

But even though I had an agent, I would still go to open calls or EPAs, you know. It's what I tell young actors now: Just because you get an agent doesn’t mean the work stops, or the pursuit stops. A couple times you’ll get cross-referenced, like "Yeah, so I got you an appointment," and you're like “Oh yeah, I already went in for that." And they're like, "What?"

Did you lose a lot of agents that way?

No, I've always had great agents. (laughs)

So what brings you to the Artios Awards tonight, and what do casting directors mean to you as an actor?

I got a call from [Artios Award-nominated casting director] Ellen Lewis, actually... But casting directors in New York have almost the same view as in London. Actors in London are always put back in forth in TV and film and stage, and it's great here that casting directors really appreciate that, and have that very same sentiment.

Do you feel that’s different from the approach in L.A.?

I remember being in L.A. to audition one of my first movie jobs out there. I’d already, I think, been nominated for two Tonys here. So I’d certainly made a little bit of a name for myself. I had a resume. I think I’d been doing it for eight years or something.

And I said [to the casting director], "Hey, nice to meet you," and literally the response I got was, "I thought you were British." And I was like, "Why?"

They said, "Well, I don’t know. I’m sorry, but you're 30 and I’ve never heard of you, and I know you did a lot of theater." (laughs) "So I’m British?"

That’s an absolute true story. But you know, more often than not, the great casting directors know everybody, and that’s the great thing about these awards. The love that they have for actors is really, really strong and so evident. It's so easy to come to something like this, not just because they have your destiny in their hands – because you know, it's such a fickle business and you never know who pulls the triggers. It's not like we come here for a favor. I come here to support all these people that I’ve known that have hired me a lot, or that have not hired me a lot.

You’ve been part of a lot of great ensemble casts, like "Watchmen" and "Angels in America." Do you think ensembles accentuate the strengths of the casting director?

I mean, that is all about casting. Truthfully, I’ve heard two very well-known and established directors who said directing is 80 percent casting.

Meanwhile, Ellen Lewis told me earlier tonight, "I do my job as the casting director, but it’s really the director’s movie, and film is a director's medium."

She’s so humble about it. But I mean, look at "Little Children." [Director] Todd Field comes into town and says, "I need actors." And the great thing is, Todd Field didn’t care about who had done how many movies. Ellen gets together the best actors, even if it's not the hottest up-and-comer or this and that. You look across the board and so many of those smaller parts [are actors] that have been in so many Broadway shows or Off-Broadway shows, and they're great actors. And that’s when an ensemble like that works, because the casting director's like, “Yeah, I know you have the jobs for the leads, but how about these actors for the other six roles that are going to really bring it all together?"

Your relationship with Jackie Earle Haley was the strongest part of the "Watchmen" movie cast, in my opinion. Do you think that was because you had worked together on "Little Children" previously?

Oh, thank you. Yeah, because [director] Zack Snyder’s wife was our producer, and she was the one who saw "Little Children" and said, "You should look at these guys." Even though we actually only had one scene [together in "Little Children"], we overlapped a lot, so I would see him quite a bit on set. But anytime you've got a common bond going into something, there is an understood language.

I visited him two weeks ago on a shoot, you know, while he was working in Vancouver. We’re really good friends.

So in the end, the casting director kind of brings people together and creates new friendships?

Absolutely.

Visit BackStage.com for more coverage of the Artios Awards, including a complete list of winners and nominees. And read our Blog Stage Q&A with 2009 Artios Awards host Janeane Garofalo on Blog Stage.

-- Daniel Lehman

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