ROBERT PATRICK doesn’t initially seem to sense the irony in his declaration: “I think I’m pretty good at being a chameleon.”
This, coming from the man who shot to fame as the shapeshifting, mother-spearing T1000 in James Cameron’s Terminator 2. Patrick, however, isn’t giving a critical reassessment of his role as the killer cyborg. He’s musing over the fact that even though he’s had a prolific and mercurial movie career -“I’ve got 55 films in my 16 years,” he points out -when he was announced as the new star of The X-Files, he was still generally referred to as “the guy from T2 “.
But now, with season eight of The X”Files having been unleashed on the world, Robert Patrick is John Doggett. “One of the good things about that killer cyborg being my breakthrough role,” he reckons, “is that I’ve been able to change my look, do other things, and I’m not quite sure that people really associate the same Robert Patrick from this with that.”
The Robert Patrick giving this interview is very much recognisable as John Doggett, though perhaps one from an episode about alien sleep deprivation experiments. The schedule of The X.:Files is a punishing 70 to 80 hours a week, but Patrick knew what he was letting himself in for when he made the decision to look for television roles. “You know, I kind of expected it. I realised that being the co-lead in a one-hour drama was going to demand a lot of time. And this show is very ambitious. And it’s hard work, it’s gruelling work. But it’s fun. It’s fun work, and that’s what I want to do. I’m having a ball. It’s a great role, great show. It’s fun to be a part of such a well-oiled machine. I don’t think I could have picked a better scenario to jump into TV.”
And that jump -despite the hours -has had its advantages. For a start, Patrick’s wife gave birth to his second child -a boy named Samuel -three weeks into production on season eight. Patrick relishes the opportunities he has to see his newborn son, though some may not be envious of an 80-hour-a-week schedule then coming home to a baby with a sleep schedule of his own. “Exactly!” he laughs. “He’s a really good boy. He sleeps through the night, and his mom’s really good, she’s able to allow me to get my sleep and take care of him. I get to bounce him around. That’s the great thing about this gig, and something I was looking forward to, because this is my second child, and with my first child [a girl, Austin], I spent a great deal of time away during these early years and missed a lot. It was one of the things that led me to really trying to find a great job on television.”
Not that Patrick was a complete small screen virgin, having guested as David Scatino on The Sopranos. It was that experience that finally convinced him to take the TV plunge. “I had started to think about it within the last couple of years, and my experience on The Sopranos really opened my eyes to the possibility that there’s some great opportunities out there to do some quality work and do some work with quality writers and find a show that suited what I would be interested in. The Sopranos was the catalyst that totally swayed me that way. I didn’t just want to do anything. I wanted to try to find something that I thought would keep my interests up and really challenge me every day and every week. ”
Not that he met with instant success. “I had done some pilots for all the other networks. I guest-starred in one, I was to reoccur in another, and I was a regular in the other. Each was for a different network. ; None of them got picked up! They were all great shows, by great writers. Lynda LaPlante wrote one called Cold Shoulder, James Ellroy wrote another one called LA: Sheriff’s Homicide, and Kari O’Salem wrote one called The Beast. And they’re all really, really great shows. ” Lucky for Patrick it wasn’t three strikes and you’re out. “I had gone in and told my agents, I want to find a gig for TV, let’s go out aggressively this season and see what we can do. Those three came up, then my wife and I went off on vacation. While we were there r made a joke, ‘Well, we covered every network except for Fox.’ Got back to town, heard from my manager that Chris Carter was interested in me possibly coming in and joining The X-Files. as a new character. ” And we had a meeting with Chris, and I expressed my real desire to be strongly considered. I just said, ‘I really want to make this work, whatever I have to do… . Let me read for you, let me audition.’ And he was, ‘No no, you don’t have to do anything like that to make me want you.’
But Fox bosses did demand an audition. Patrick obliged. Everyone was happy. The part was his. “I was lucky that Chris knew a lot of my work,” he reckons, “so when he said he was interested in me, it was genuine. He thought I would suit the character.” But maybe not everybody did. Patrick acknowledges that perhaps the reason why Fox bosses insisted on an audition may well have had to do with the public’s perception of him in villainous roles.
“I think Rick Millikan, the casting director for The X-Files, really made sure that they were fully aware of a lot of things that I had done that have not been seen by a vast audience, little obscure things that I’ve done. There’s been a lot of times where I had been the lead in some of the, smaller movies, and I had been a good guy; a guy with virtue, a guy with codes. I think Rick did a really good job making sure that they were aware of that. And then they had films to look at like Cop Land, which I was in with some pretty heavyweight actors and they saw how I worked in that. I think the thing with them was… I don’t know, I’ve never asked Chris his, but they really just wanted to check me out and see. ..I think they might have been more familiar with me just as a bad guy. I assume that Rick Millikan was trying to convince them that, ‘Yeah, this guy can do this.'”
And Patrick was well aware that Doggett was also the perfect opportunity to change the public’s perception of him. He may claim chamelionic thesping abilities, but he’s pragmatic enough to know that he’s still perceived by the mainstream as a black hat. “Absolutely, absolutely. I can get into a very long account of this.” He pauses for a moment… “And I will. The way I see it, I’ve got a body of work out there, I’ve got a lot of films out there, as I’ve said before. In most of the films that have hit a wide audience, I’ve been a bad guy. In Striptease, I was a prick husband. InCop Land, I was a prick cop. Terminator 2 -certainly the most famous thing that I’ve ever done -I was a Terminator. So really for the vast majority of the people who see The X-Files, these might be the only things they know me from. They don’t know all those little obscure things. The good thing for me as an actor is that casting directors do, and people in the industry are aware that a lot of the work that I’ve done is basically just small and obscure little films. So this is an opportunity where, yeah, I’m thrilled. I think as an actor that’s the thing that excites you, showing as much versatility as you can and having people see you in different lights. I’ve got a great opportunity here where this hits a huge audience, and probably none of these people have ever thought of me this way, and hopefully it will change their perception of me.
“I just read some article the other day about Sly Stallone. He’s a great friend and a guy I’ve done two movies with now, and he’s just kind of had to duck the Rocky persona and the Rambo persona, and that was sort of the slant of the article. He did a great job doing that with Cop Land, but Cop Land didn’t hit as big an audience as Rocky and Rambo. Still, you’re constantly trying to reinvent yourself and squeeze your own personality into characters that you’re given the chance to play, and people will perceive you differently. So what am I saying there? I’m saying that, yeah, this is a fantastic opportunity for me, and I am certainly aware of the fact that more people are going to see something like this than have seen a lot of the other things that I’ve done. ”
Probably more people than even saw T2…? “I had never realised that, but yeah. As big as T2 is one night of this, more people will see it. And that was another thing. One of the frustrations as an actor is that you do some good work and it never gets seen, but with this you kind of go, ‘Well, if the ratings keep up, at least some people are going to see this work.’ And these guys are writing me such great stuff, that yeah, I’m out there every day challenged, flexing my muscles and doing things that make me go, ‘God, I don’t even know what to do in this scene.’ But that’s exciting, because that’s what creativity’s all about -losing control, having the confidence that you can do it, and getting out there and not thinking about it. It’s exciting stuff.”
Having played Doggett for 22 episodes now, Patrick has strong ideas about what makes his character tick. “He’s very honourable. He’s got a code. He’s sort of a throwback hero. I’m not aware of everything that’s on television, but I’m aware enough that I don’t think there are that many characters like this out there. This is a very heroic guy in the way that they’ve created him.”
Doggett has also allowed writers to bring back a touch of the early X-Files into’the mix, as the new agent plays the sceptic to the once-sceptical Scully. “Yeah, and that’s what makes him interesting. That’s the whole big conflict now he’s assigned to the X-Files. So what do you do with a guy that believes in God and his country and believes in facts and not wild ideas…? What do you do with a guy like that who’s used to rolling up his sleeves and spending 24 hours going over notes and facts of a case? And that’s how he’s been such a fast climber at the FBI! And now you throw him into a situation where he’s got to take all these leaps of faith with all these cases that read like science fiction stories. That’s the interesting conflict for Doggett. He’s got to sort of try to figure this thing out. He’s got to rely on Scully to try to bridge reality.”
Patrick himself is not such a strong believer in all things X, though a few years back he did go through an experience that opened his mind a little to the possibilities of extra terrestrial life. ..but not for long. “I did a movie some years ago called Fire In The Sky which was based on a very famous, ‘true’ alien abduction story. And I met the guys -and I think the world of them – Mike Rogers and Travis Walton. And at the time I did the movie, I really believed these guys went through a very traumatic experience. This is about eight years ago. And I really believe they went through something, something that’s just hard to explain. And you have to go through the facts, and the facts are that they took lie-detector tests -and all the guys that were working on the same crew that day that experienced the same thing took lie-detector tests -and they saw something and something happened for real. ” As time goes by, I still believe that, but I’m a little less willing to believe. ..The research I did for Doggett made me realise that, you know, maybe the government has a lot of technology that we don’t know about. There are a lot of secrets. So I’m sort of getting more into this conspiracy mode that’s going on, or that I guess is already built into the show. As a person, as an individual, I’m realizing that possibly there is a lot of stuff out there that we’re not aware of, that the government can sort of censor what we do know, what the facts are, what’s going on. Maybe not everything is being explained to us.”
Sounds like Mulder’s been getting to him… “Maybe, yeah, a little bit, and that’s not to say that I’m not trying to undermine or diminish the experience that Travis Walton and Mike Rogers went through. Maybe there are some other things they don’t know, you know what l mean? My thing is, God created the universe -I believe that -and I believe it’s a vast, obviously unending universe. Potentially there could be some other life out there; if there is, God created that. If they are coming down here to visit, I haven’t seen it. But I’ll never say never!”
While Doggett has definitely brought a new dynamic to the show, he feels that it is too simplistic to say that Scully has merely swapped roles -from sceptic to believer. “She’s still a sceptic,” he insists. “She can’t make that jump to total believer.”
But she’s quite clearly less of a sceptic than Doggett.:. “Yeah, but only because of her past experience and the things she’s learned from Mulder. She certainly has scientific explanations more readily available to her than Doggett does, because he’s sort of an earthy, blue-collar kind of guy. ” Of course, after seven years Duchovny had built up a massive, loyal fanbase, but Pattick is pragmatic when it comes to dealing with fan reaction.
“The show is a great show. ..we all know that. It has a very strong legion of fans, they have some very serious fans. I just want to say to them that I respect that, and I’m just an actor, and I’ve been hired to come in and bring life to this new creation. The same people that created Mulder and Scully have created a new guy, and it’s giving them the opportunity to look at the show from a fresh standpoint. There’s new blood to deal with here. So to the fans I just say, it’s a new guy, I didn’t come in to replace anybody, the situation arose where the actor playing Fox Mulder was ready to move on, while the show’s ready to keep going. So they came up with a whole new guy and introduced me. Hopefully I’m a part of the X-Files ensemble, and I think that Doggett, Mulder and Scully. ..we can all exist together in the world of The X-Files. So to all those fans who have been with The X-Files over the years, Chris Carter created this guy and hired me, and my commitment to them and to the fans is to come in and try to do the best job that I can to try to bring this guy to life. And that’s all I’ll do, is work my ass off every day and just focus on the work.”
He admits, though, that it’s an attitude that has developed as he worked on the show. He did care. ..at first! “My opinion early on -and it’s changing, I change constantly every day -but my opinion early on was, ‘Jeez, I hope these people like me.’ I understand that they’re very loyal, and I hope they understand what’s going on. I’m just doing what I was hired to do. I’m excited about the challenge of bringing this guy to life. Chris Carter, I think, is one of the most talented writers and showrunners in the business, and it’s a great opportunity for me. I have a website, I have been on some chat rooms and just sat there silently observing. I’ve seen what people have said, I’ve seen the people that are really… well, they’re really anti-Doggett, they’re not too thrilled by Doggett, they’re not too thrilled about Mulder leaving. I don’t participate on the chat rooms. All I can say is there’s nothing I can do except work hard for you. Everybody’s entitled to an opinion, and I would rather them have a reaction to me than not have a reaction to me. So if they hate Doggett, that’s fine. I expect that. If they like Doggett, that’s fine too, I expect that as well. So as long as they have some sort of reaction, I think we’re in good shape.”
His movie career hasn’t ground to a halt, though. Far from it. He seems busier than ever, with recent parts in All The Pretty Horses (playing Matt Damon’s father), Texas Rangers (with James Van Der Beek) and the US box office smash Spy Kids (with Antonio Banderas, directed by Robett Rodriguez). So for Patrick an 80-hour a week schedule on The X-Files is a bit of a doddle really.
“Yeah. I mean, it’s a daunting task getting up and working as much as I do. The only thing that upsets me is I don’t maybe get to spend as much time with my family. But at least in this scenario, eight or nine months out of the year, I can come home every night and I know where my kids are, and I give them a kiss goodnight, and I give them a kiss in the morning before I go to work. When I was only doing features I’d be gone, and I’d be calling them from a hotel room, and I’d not get to see them that much for longer periods of time. I love the work, and this is all I do. I have a few other interests that are very small. I’m not a real social creature. I ride Harleys, I work and hang out with my kids. I don’t golf. So if I say to myself, ‘Jeez, I’d like to take some time off,’ then in about two weeks, I’m antsy.
“It’s always been that way when I was just doing features: ‘Well, fuck, I can’t sit around for two weeks l’m supposed to be working;’ What am I doing? An actor has to act. I’m a much better actor than when I’m saying, ‘Okay, let’s take a year off.’ I don’t know how I could do that. I mean, I’m not going to say never again, I could contradict myself next year and say, ‘You know what, fuck it, I’m exhausted. I have to take some time off.’ But this is what I do, and I love to do it. So you can state the obvious: yeah, shit, the pace is gruelling. But I love it. So how can I bitch? I tell you what I can bitch about -you come out here and you try to get into the entertainment business and try to do movies, and you never do it. That’s what I’d be upset about. So I plan to stack as much work as I can year round for as long as I can do it, ’cause that’s what I do.”