Robert Patrick Talks The Rising Hawk, Revisits His Legacy in The X-Files, The Sopranos and More [Exclusive]
Robert Patrick first rose to prominence as the T-1000, the relentless machine squaring off against Arnold Schwarzenegger’s OG model in Terminator 2: Judgment Day. Autograph seekers at genre conventions are just as happy to talk to the 61-year-old actor about Agent John Doggett, his character in the final two seasons of The X-Files. Movieweb jumped at the chance to chat with him by phone, in the run-up to the release of The Rising Hawk, directed by John Wynn and co-directed by Akhtem Seitablayev. An action film set in the Carpathian Mountains of the 13th Century, The Rising Hawk is based on 1833’s Zakhar Berkut, a work of historical fiction by Ukrainian author and poet Ivan Franko. Patrick spoke with us about playing one of the most famous fictional heroes of Ukrainian literature; working alongside fellow Sons Of Anarchy veteran Tommy Flanagan; going up against the late James Gandolfini, as indebted gambler Davey Scatino, on The Sopranos; the early internet trolls who plagued him and Annabeth Gish when The X-Files shook up its cast; and his wish to join the cast of Peaky Blinders.
I’ll start by saying I’m a big fan of historical fiction – anything with highlanders, Vikings, Mongols, that stuff will always get my attention.
Robert Patrick: Me too. As an actor, I loved it. I was thrilled when this came to me and for the very reasons that you mentioned.
Akthem Seitablayev, who co-directed The Rising Hawk, is a Crimean Tatar. I would imagine having someone from that region working on this movie really helped tell the story.
It really put the emphasis of the importance of the film, to them and their culture, and what they’re going through as a country. They’re embracing democracy, and freedom, and declaring their independence from Russia. And they go back to this novel that has been part of their culture for a long time. And, you know, that’s what we’re fighting for in the movie, freedom, defending your family, defending your way of life, from a conquering horde, and standing up to it against all odds. I just was invigorated by that. It was very inspirational. It had a profound impact on what we were doing and how serious we had to take that responsibility not to let them down.
In the scope of human history, it wasn’t that long ago.
Yeah, when you think about it like that, absolutely. These people value the same things we value. This is how civilization and we as human beings have evolved. At the core, it’s always been about family and protecting what’s yours. And, you know, we’re going through that every day. We’re still fighting for that. We’re still fighting against tyranny. It’s a common thing. My character, Zakhar Berkut, is important to the people of Ukraine. I wanted to give him a sense of nobility, reverence, and respect. It’s the kind of character I want to play. I don’t want to always play the villain. And to be able to play somebody who is part of folklore, it was very exciting for me.
I wish the experience would have lasted longer. I came in and shot my scenes up until the big fight scene, went back to America, then came back after several weeks to shoot the final big showdown. So, I had a little bit of a different experience than the other actors. I think Tommy and I were the ones that kind of came and left. The other actors really got immersed in the whole culture and spent a lot of time over there in Ukraine.
Your character is definitely important. The original book is named after him.
But it’s actually the story of the son. The son leads the people into battle, because by this time, I’m an old warrior, even though I get to show my stuff out there, it’s really the son’s story.
Speaking of “sons,” as a fan of Sons Of Anarchy and Mayans MC, it was great to see press shots from The Rising Hawk with the Presidents of SAMCRO and SAMDINO side by side.
Yeah, that was cool! Tommy and I are guys that have a mutual respect for each other. We didn’t get to interact that much on Sons Of Anarchy. But when this film came together, we know enough of each other that we knew we were gonna have a good time. I just love him. I just think he’s just fantastic. There’s so much about Tommy. He’s a bigger than life kind of guy, and he really came in and delivered a powerhouse performance, I thought. And he always has such compassion and strength with his roles and what he does. It was neat squaring off with him. It was just awesome. Just awesome. We had a script reading at his house in Malibu. We were all there, the whole cast. He sort of looked at me and went like, “We’ve got our own little Braveheart here.”
Braveheart definitely feels like one of the reference points for this movie.
Yeah. That’s my favorite film of all time. I really love Braveheart. I think Mel Gibson did a great job with it. I’m Scots Irish American. I mean, my family has been in America since the 1600s, but our ancestry goes back to Scots Irish. My grandmother was a Wallace. She’s not a descendent of William Wallace, per se, but of that clan. I’ve always been intrigued by Braveheart. Mel Gibson did such a great job acting and directing in that. That wasn’t lost on me when I read the script. I agreed with Tommy. I was like, “Yeah, it is.” It’s the same kind of standing up for what you believe in, protecting your way of life, fighting for your freedom. I think that’s why the film was so hugely popular in Ukraine.
Speaking of family, I just finished my fourth re-watch of The Sopranos.
Great show, great show.
It’s like comfort food now. Of course, I notice new things about it every time. “The Happy Wanderer,” “Bust Out,” and “Funhouse” are, without a doubt, three of the best episodes.
Oh, that’s so cool. Thank you for that. I appreciate that.
How you played against type, when we thought of you as the villain from Terminator 2, then to see you as this very flawed, very vulnerable character who gets himself in way over his head.
You know, that’s exactly how that all came about. I met David Chase for a film a couple of years prior to him coming up with the idea, or at least selling the idea, of The Sopranos. Then he sent me the script for “The Happy Wanderer” and said, “I see you in this role. It’s against type, you’ll never be cast this way, but I think it’s a brilliant idea.” I don’t know if he came up with it; I’m pretty sure it was David. I gave it a read. And Ryan, at the time, I was getting ready to do All The Pretty Horses for Billy Bob Thornton, where I played Matt Damon’s father, and Billy Bob asked me to go on a starvation diet, really lose some weight and try to look deathly for this character. I was in the process of doing that when The Sopranos came up. I was very slight and very vulnerable, weight-wise, which affected me psychologically, at the time I read the script. I really I went, “Wow. This is just perfect timing. Because I don’t feel much like a villain nor like a fighter right now.” Certainly, James Gandolfini is, you know, an intimidating fellow. Maybe if I had a little more girth and a little more weight behind me, I would want to go toe-to-toe. David didn’t know that I was that light and that vulnerable. But anyway, it just worked.
It definitely looks like Gandolfini roughed you up a bit.
Yeah, yeah, and man, we did that in, like, one take. I pissed Jimmy off after the script read through, purposely. I had never met him. We were at Silvercup Studios [in New York]. I was already off book by the time the cast assembled. We did the readthrough, then we were both sitting outside. I think he was kind of feeling me out; trying to get to know each other a little bit. And I said, “Well, listen, tomorrow, you know the big fucking scene tomorrow? You gotta throw me around and shit. You’d better bring your fucking A-game.” He flicked his cigarette at me and said, “Oh, don’t you fucking worry about it. I will, pal.” And he walked off. That next morning, he came in, and his first question to me was, “How’s your balls?” I said, “I’m alright, I’m alright, Jimmy.” We proceeded to do the scene and he fucking didn’t hold back, I’ll tell you that much. What a guy. What a guy! I’ve got to tell you, just a joy. I’m so grateful I got the opportunity to work with him. Just a mammoth talent, and sorely missed.
What’s interesting, as we’re talking about physical stature, and how that informs the character, is on the other end of the spectrum, there was David Proval, as Richie Aprile. He’s short and slight, but from the first moment you see him onscreen, when he’s introduced, it’s just like, “Here comes trouble.” It’s like seeing the shark’s fin in Jaws or something.
Oh yeah, just intimidating, he really did put you off your game a little bit. He’s an intense guy, such a great actor. They were all good. And that was at a pivotal point in my career. I benefited, hugely, from being on The Sopranos. I felt like it’s really opened some doors for me in Hollywood, because all of Hollywood was watching it.
There are multiple podcasts now, never mind the forthcoming prequel movie, The Many Saints of Newark. I mean, I’m not alone as someone who regularly re-watches the show.
Do you remember when that theme music kicked in? We all wanted to be there. We all wanted to watch that. I mean, I was addicted to the show. I watched every episode. It was it was such a phenomenon. When we filmed those episodes, we got a couple of scenes in, and then they all had to fly to L.A., for the Emmys. They came back [as winners] kind of realizing, “Yeah, we’ve got something pretty good. This show is pretty damn good.” They were emboldened a little bit.
I’ve heard interviews with cast members from the pilot who were thinking, “What is this? Is this satire? What are we making here?” They kind of made that whole first season in a vacuum.
HBO has been very, very kind to me over the years. I did a nice little arc on True Blood and now Perry Mason. [Executive Producer] Timothy Van Patten and I kind of knew about each other. He [directed episodes of] The Sopranos and then went on to Boardwalk Empire, which I did not get in on, but needless to say, we were both really excited about working together. It was such a joy working with him on Perry Mason. It still had that kind of Boardwalk Empire thing, which goes all the way back to The Sopranos.
Yes. All branches from The Sopranos tree: Boardwalk, Mad Men. And Matthew Rhys, who stars as Perry Mason of course, came from another fantastic Emmy-winning show, The Americans.
You know what? It’s the golden age of television that transformed television. I mean, we’re gonna go all the way back, that was, like, 2000. Was it not?
Yes, Season 1 was 1999 and then your season aired in 2000.
And right after I did The Sopranos, what did I do? I called my agent and said, “Hey, this is the best writing. We gotta find something like this. I really I really need to find something to do on television.” And I ended up doing The X-Files.
That’s right! I was going to mention, your X-Files partner, Annabeth Gish, also had a recurring role on Sons Of Anarchy. I’d love to see the two of you share some scenes on Mayans MC.
Wouldn’t that be neat? I love Annabeth, and I’ll tell you something neat. Her husband, Wade Allen, was the stunt coordinator on Perry Mason. She met Wade on the set of The X-Files. When I met him, I was studying Krav Maga with him. I think [X-Files creator] Chris Carter was, too. Wade came to the set one day and I mentioned to Anna, “You should go out with this guy. He’s a great guy.” They went out on a date and they ended up getting married. How about that? She’s a sweetheart. Everybody from The X-Files is working. Everybody’s moving on down the line.
It’s often a thankless task to have to replace beloved characters, but, I have to say, I champion your era of the show. I felt like it really rejuvenated the show for its final stretch.
I really appreciate hearing that because there was so much hesitation by the fanbase. Remember, the Internet was brand new. My wife was showing me the Internet, like, “God, these people hate you!” I was going, “I didn’t even do anything yet! What are they getting on my case for?”
Fans were mad when Heath Ledger was cast as the Joker.
I think we won them over, though. I go to these fan conventions and I see people there, you know, they love John Doggett. You know, once they realized he wasn’t really a threat, he was there basically to protect Gillian [Anderson’s] character, Scully. And Agent Reyes was my love interest. I was like, “We’re just trying to keep the show going for you, folks.”
As much as I love The X-Files and shows like it, they can sometimes get so bogged down in their own complex mythology that it becomes stale. Your era brought it back to basics.
I think it’s hard for anybody that is a showrunner, that is the creator of a show, to know when to close it. I mean, when do you know? Chris Carter on The X-Files, my buddy Kurt Sutter on Sons Of Anarchy – how long do you want to go? Of course, as an artist, you always feel like you have other things you want to do. As an actor, I’ve always wondered what it would be like to be on a show for, like, 16 years, playing the same character. I think I’d just go completely stir crazy. The fact that I’ve been able to go back and forth, from film to television, allows me to get on something like The Rising Hawk. I’d always wanted to do a period piece [like that].
You get to carry medieval weapons.
Yeah. I’ve always wanted to do that, and the opportunity presented itself. I am excited about this film. I hope people really enjoy it. I think the themes are universal.
I was primed for it too, because I just binge-watched The Last Kingdom on Netflix. Danes vs. Saxons, culture collisions, conquering hordes, as you said. Very similar themes.
I love that show. I was a fan of that show before I did The Rising Hawk, for the same reason. You know, you mentioned Highlander, and all that. I love that stuff. We need to be reminded of our history like that. We are the product of that now roaming the earth.
I love how The Last Kingdom isn’t just heroes and villains. There are strengths and weaknesses on all sides, people who are well-intentioned and pure of heart, those who are not, all around. The way all of those things intersect makes for such a great story.
And what’s going on in the world, as far as religion. “Are you pagan? Are you Christian?” That’s something that’s also in The Rising Hawk. Zakhar is a pagan. His people have gods, and the land, in the environment. It’s very important to them. Sacred ground, sacred things. And along comes Tommy Flanagan, as Tuhar Vovk, espousing Christianity. Some of our countrymen convert. Then we get these Mongolians and their perspective and way of life; we’re all going to clash. While we’re talking about [shows like The Last Kingdom], Peaky Blinders. Do you watch that?
Yes! I’ve been through it twice. Tommy Flanagan is great in that, too.
I know. I told I told Tommy I would love to be on that show. I would. I would so love to be. The only thing intimidating to me is going in there and trying to do an Irish accent or something. It’s supposed to be in there somewhere. It’s in my genes.
Robert, I super appreciate you taking so much time out chat.
Well, it’s my pleasure. What a thrill. Thank you.