An Interview with Scott Patterson
Scott Patterson is an actor known for Sullivan’s Crossing, Gilmore Girls, Little Big League, and his role as Agent Stahm in the Saw films. I spoke with Scott about his baseball career, getting his first acting break, Seinfeld, landing the role of Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls, and working in horror.
Could you tell me about your baseball career, and how you got into acting? Which passion came first?
I was being scouted as a thirteen year old eighth-grader in New Jersey, but by the time my junior year in high school rolled around I had left sports behind in favor of literature, art and creative writing. Nobody in that town could fathom it because I had such a bright future as an athlete but what they didn't realize, what my coaches and friends failed to understand, and, more specifically, what I failed to understand at the time was the attachment I had with baseball revolved around my father and my father had left the family the summer between my sophomore and junior year of high school. Baseball simply didn't make sense to me anymore, there was no reason to play any longer, there was no one to please and I buried myself in great literature, great art, great music, dreaming of escape from that place, plotting a new course for my life in faraway places.
I came from a place where I had options, a high school that challenged me to seek the highest, an institution whose athletic department wasn't prepared to deal with a broken-hearted kid and forced my hand but whose English, art and music departments embraced me, allowed me to express myself unfettered and guided me onto a more satisfying, sustainable path forward. It came down to a compassionate guidance counselor and a few brilliant teachers and I am forever grateful for them.
By the time I got to college I was fully prepared to pursue a degree in Comparative Literature when, one Fall day, my roomie and I were taking a study break, tossing the football around for a bit until he noticed the cannon hanging off my right shoulder. For the next five hours he tried to convince me to get back into baseball as a profession even though I could not have been less interested. Long story short - I eventually got back into playing shape, declared myself eligible for the MLB Draft, got drafted three times in one year, signed the third time and played seven years in the minor leagues, topping out at AAA. In 1983 I was placed on the NY Yankees major league roster, went to spring training with them, didn't make the team, ended up with the Texas Rangers via the Rule 5 Draft, went to spring training, didn't make their team. They sold me back to NY Yankees and I retired after that season.
The acting bug hit me in 1981 during my second year in pro ball (Braves organization) in Durham, NC. I saw the film 'Altered States' starring William Hurt (written by the great Paddy Chayefsky) and watching that film with those performances instantly "Altered the State" I was in. I remember thinking to myself that I could do that, that I wanted to do that, that I wanted to play a role as well written and as beautifully acted as Bill Hurt acted that role. I was so fascinated by what Chayefsky had written that I spent weeks in the library reading about fugue states, dimethyltryptamine, dedifferentiation of one's genetic structure, schizophrenia, religious allegory, evolution, sensory deprivation tanks. I was amazed at the amount of research Paddy did to write that film. Three years of solid research after moving to Cambridge, Mass. to be at ground zero of where all these advanced academic movements were taking place before he set pen to paper. Remarkable. That's art - inspiration but with granular detail. Blew me away.
That winter I was traded to the NY Yankees and assigned to AAA Columbus, Ohio where I was the youngest player on the roster by five years. It was a bizarre experience for the most part, but I learned two extremely vital details about myself...one, I learned that I was a "David", as opposed to a "Goliath". I was an underdog and I thrived best when facing massive odds against. I slayed giants but I didn't want to be one and the Yankees traded for me because I slayed their best teams as a member of the Braves.
I remember being in Charleston, WV playing against the (former) Indians AAA team for three games. We had to be at the stadium at 4pm for a 7:30 game, so during the day I went to see 'Blade Runner' as it had just come out (1982). I was mesmerized by this dark, tragic, dystopian vision of Ridley Scott and I recommended it to a few teammates, who saw it the next day, hated it and demanded I refund their money. I kid you not, and I did not acquiesce.
After retirement I escaped to Europe for a year to just travel, see the world and in Italy I met an American couple from NYC who were both actors. They told me to look them up if I moved to NYC, I did and they got me into their acting class. That's when it all began, and I haven't stopped since. That was 1987. Long time ago when the world was completely different.
Did you receive any formal acting training?
I studied in NYC with many teachers. The most prominent were Sondra Lee and the legendary Bobby Lewis. I got into The Actor's Studio as an observer in the acting and playwright/producing unit, was eligible to be cast in their plays so did a bunch, started my own theatre company in SOHO with friends and we did some good productions, got some reviews, caught some buzz. So, NY theatre-trained gladiator/animal lol. This can also be defined as "We don't give a shit about anything but the "work".
How did you get your first acting break?
First acting break was a play at Playwrite's Horizon off-Broadway as the lead. I sucked but boy did I learn and was a hell of a lot better at the end of the run than at the beginning.
Who are your acting heroes?
My acting heroes are the usual suspects - Brando, Dean, Clift, Olivier, Williamson, Gielgud, Zena Walker, Burton, Harris, Lemon, Matthau, Redford, Newman. Mickey Rooney was divine, Marylin Monroe was so gifted, Peter Sellers was a master, George C. Scott a lion, too many to name. Of today's performers I love Defoe (his stage work is breathtaking). Damien Lewis, Paul Giamatti, Brian Cox, Anthony Hopkins, John Malkovich (his Burn This on Broadway 1988 was stunning), Joan Allen is superb (onstage and film), and I think Cate Blanchet is the greatest talent to come along in fifty years. Olivia Williams is up there with Cate, Miranda Richardson is up there with Cate and delivered the single most shattering scene I've ever seen on film. I love John Turturro's work, DeNiro is a giant and our most existential movie star, Pacino is obviously a master, Gabriel Byrne is marvelous, Ralph Fiennes is extraordinary and his Hamlet was earth-shattering, Billy Crudup is a very special talent...Brad Pitt has massive talent coupled with being the most comfortable I've ever seen a movie star inside their own skin. I'd put Johnny Depp right up there with Pitt. Very special talents. There are so many I could go on forever. So many talented people working today.
You appeared in the Spongeworthy Seinfeld episode. What was the experience like working on the show?
Surreal. It was surreal. Made me feel like I had a chance to do something in the business. Jerry, Michael, Jason and Julia are not only dynamic actors they are ferociously talented comedic actors and that was intimidating. The fact that they were all so helpful and supportive during the week of rehearsal only cemented, for me, this huge respect I had, and have, for them all. Just a dream come true being with them. It truly was. Multi-camera comedy filmed before a live audience is as close as it gets to doing live theatre and there is nothing more vital than that. Throw in perhaps the top comedy series ever produced in 'Seinfeld' and that's a fairy tale. Floating above the ground for a week. Jason and I had lunch a few times during that week and Michael gave me a box of Cubans. Class acts all.
How did you land the role of Luke Danes in Gilmore Girls?
The Luke Danes audition was the second of the day out of three. I was parked illegally, was late for the third and was in a rush to get to the theatre where I was teaching that night as that was my main jam at that time - teaching acting classes, doing privates all day for people with auditions. I was busy. So, I blow into the audition, nail the scene, say g'bye and they say "There's another scene. Did you prepare it?" I had only received one scene to prep so was looking through the pages and saw the second scene but the character name on the second scene was Duke so I didn't prep it. They said to take five minutes to prep it, I went outside, prepped it, went back in, nailed it, left, went to third audition, drove all the way across town to get home and waiting for me on my answering machine was a message from my manager that I got the job. Pretty cool. I guess when you're right for a role that's it. I was told they stopped seeing people after my audition, so I went into the pilot feeling salty.
What was it like revisiting the role in A Year in the Life?
That was odd. It had been nine years and I hadn't given the show or the character a thought that entire time. It took me a beat to feel like Luke again but once I let it breathe and took an actual sensory walk around the set it all came flooding back. Luke + 9 was born and off we went into the Verbal Jungle that is GG. It was so good seeing everyone. Lauren hadn't aged at all, Yanic looked younger (I believe he's an alien), Amy and Dan were still dressing in their signature Goth-Chic/Hipster style, Milo had put on twenty pounds of muscle and looked like GQ Roman Gladiator. It was just epic catching up with everyone. Sean was his usual affable self. It was a lovely time. We had a lot of laughs and we did some good work together, which is what it's all about. I particularly love that scene with Milo where I'm covered in flour, out of it and worried about Lorelai hitting the ejector button on the relationship.
Could you discuss your podcast I am All In and how it got started?
That was a mid-pandemic idea I thought might have legs and it turned out well. I know Amy Sugarman, who is the VP of talent at iHeart, bounced the idea and we had a deal within a week. It happened fast. Amy and I are like brother and sister. We get each other. We crack each other up. Cut from the same cloth. I love the dynamic with Danielle and Tara rounding out the foursome because I always wanted this podcast to feel like four friends sitting around a dinner table shooting the breeze after a huge meal and a few drinks, when everyone is feeling good and talking their truth or their smack. Just being. It's like a family to me. I look forward to recording sessions and always come away with a smile. Love these women. It's also a really unique journey for me personally because I've never seen the episodes and what an eye-opening experience it has been, let me tell you. I love these fans, they are the best fans on the planet, the most loyal and truly gracious people. I meet them at conventions and they are always so lovely and vulnerable, they express their emotions and it's an honor that they feel comfortable enough to do that in my presence. I love these people. They are the show.
You played Agent Strahm in Saw IV and V. What was the transition into horror like?
It was a chance to take over the top global franchise at that time and one of the top all-time franchises so I went into it with a three picture deal and a lot of hope, throwing myself into the role and loving every minute of it on the first one. The director was smart enough to realize that all he had to do was let me do my thing in rehearsal, colab of the finer points and we had ourselves a good working relationship and a strong result. On the second one there were some script issues and massive logic holes, but I got wall-smashed so, happiness.
I took on the role to play someone I'd never played before - an FBI profiler. Intrigued me and it was fun. I'm glad people enjoyed it and this fan base is also very hard core loyal to the bone. Terrific folks and they have the most detailed and fascinating questions when I meet them.
Is there a particular genre you would like to work in?
Right now I'm doing a TV drama called Sullivan's Crossing and I am really enjoying this work, I must say. It's this deep, emotional work every day so it's taxing, for sure, but you really get to see what you're made of as an actor. It's walking the tightrope daily as to whether you can pull it off, as well as "can I stay balanced over the long haul of a four month shooting schedule three thousand miles away from my wife and son." It's the best working experience I've ever had in terms of collaboration, depth of work, and challenging myself to rise to the level of the material. It's demanding and scary and that's exactly why I'm embracing it. As artists we have to leap into those deep waters when we have the chance and hope to survive. It's the only way we grow in our art.
You are also a musician. Is this something that you would like to integrate into your acting career?
I've been playing the guitar since I was a kid and started writing songs pretty much right away. I formed a band with my buddy in fourth grade and by fifth grade we had the sixth grade girls noticing us even though we were half their size. That band carried on through high school but I left it during my junior year.
I go on writing jags every few years where I bury myself in my studio and write for days at a time, listen to new music, get inspired and keep writing. It's a form of meditation for me - so is skiing - where I block everything out and just live in the moment. The creative process is something I crave whether it's acting, writing songs, painting, skiing (yes, that's creative in that you pick a line and then execute it but be nimble enough to change it on the way down).
As far as incorporating it into my acting? I don't really see the point. It's the same but it's a separate discipline. Acting is a group activity even though it requires this intimacy with your true self that happens to be conducted in front of a room full of people. I think a monologist is more akin to a songwriter as they are solitary artists working in front of an audience only after their "private" gold is mined. Acting is a food fight. Acting is a water balloon kid party. Acting is a family reunion where not everyone agrees with each other and then Uncle Chester downs too much Johnny Walker and starts to weep about his dead cat. It can be glorious but it's stressful. You've got to be good inside chaos. You have to be nimble and you have to be able to dance with phantoms.
You currently play a leading role in Sullivan’s Crossing. Could you tell me more about this?
My manager called me and said "There's a big time writer/producer/showrunner who wants to offer you this role in her new show. Can you do a Zoom call with her so she can vibe you?" So, I get on this Zoom with Roma Roth and we just hit it off. Love her. Such talent, so funny, so warm. Ninety minutes on the call. After, I call the manager and say, "Let's read some scripts." So, she sends some scripts and my jaw drops because this material is scaring me. I don't know if I can pull it off. It's a heavy role and it's a big lift every day. It was stunning to read - and a real compliment knowing that Roma thought I could pull it off so that was intriguing right out of the gate. I realized that this role is exactly why I wanted to become an actor in the first place - to be terrified of where it would take me, to be unsure, to be inspired to this degree, but what an opportunity to create a performance over time. I said yes and never looked back, and Roma has turned out to be the best partner in crime you could ever hope for, the most courageous, wildly talented person I have come across. Her ability to capture true emotional depth in her writing and to entrust her actors to bring that out is unmatched in my experience. She believes in us. She respects us as people and as artists. She cares more than anyone I've ever seen. She works harder than anyone I've ever seen. Season one has already aired in Canada and the show was number one every week, trending every week. Fans are loving this show. The cast and crew so brilliant and hardworking and fun and generous. Love these people. We debut in the USA this Fall on The CW Network and hopefully we get picked up across the planet. This is the type of show people can fall in love with, the characters all so unique and powerful in their way, the themes so familiar - family strife, a father longing for his daughter's return, a daughter coming to terms with a career in tatters and maybe finding new love, a community pulling together to support each other without hesitation. Real people, real places, family values grossly under-represented in the TV landscape over the last fifteen years. Well, for those that thirst for a reincarnation of 'This Is Us'.... we got you.