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SYFY WIRE Interviews

Robert Patrick discusses his T-1000 legacy and the cultural divide of his new movie

By Brian Silliman
Robert Patrick (Tone-Deaf)

Actor Robert Patrick may be best known to genre audiences for one particular role, but the man has far more depth than that. There's no doubt that his cold and villainous T-1000 in Terminator 2: Judgment Day is a legendary and iconic performance, but Patrick has a range that goes far beyond the killer cyborg's sword-shaped arms. He demonstrates as much in the new horror film Tone-Deaf.

Written and directed by Richard Bates Jr., Tone-Deaf finds a young millennial (Amanda Crew) renting a house from Harvey, an eccentric and old-fashioned widower played by Patrick. The cultural divide between their two generations becomes very clear very fast ... and Harvey's issues with that divide soon turn homicidal.

Patrick definitely brings something different to Harvey, and though he's the murdering villain of this slasher film, we can kind of see where he's coming from. Harvey is not the result of cold, hard programming — he is very human, very angry, and very lost. As we'll discover, he's the equivalent of a man who loves Norman Rockwell being confronted with Jackson Pollack. He copes with these problems by performing horrible, bloody, and slasherific acts.

SYFY WIRE caught up with Patrick to discuss his role in the film, as well as his enduring legacy as the T-1000 ... because how could we not?

Patrick agreed that this was an altogether different kind of killer role for him. "It's kind of comedic. I don't want to say it's tongue-in-cheek, but I'm aware that hopefully you're having fun watching me be this way," he says. He is aware that audiences may be bringing their T-1000 baggage in with them, and he remarks, "The T-1000 is something I carry with me everywhere I go. An actor shows up to every project with a bag of all of the stuff that they've done before."

Patrick wasn't sent to do this film by Skynet, so what drew him to the project in the first place? For one thing, he was on hiatus from working on the TV show Scorpion, in which he played, as he says, "a virtuous guy." When time away from that kind of virtuousness comes up, he says, "I look for something to do that's kind of the other extreme."

Patrick soon found out about this project and met with Bates. "I certainly understood what he was trying to say with Harvey, and I found Ricky [Bates] to be just an incredibly bright filmmaker with an interesting point of view," Patrick says. "I thought this film was a part of the zeitgeist, a part of the culture we're living in right now. I thought that it approached it from an interesting point of view, and Ricky is a real risk-taker."

"When we first met he described a Norman Rockwell painting, Norman Rockwell had always done all these wonderful, naturalistic, true interpretations," Patrick adds. "My guy is looking at a Jackson Pollack painting, which is paint splattered everywhere." It was that comment from Bates that drew him in there most, with one generation looking to another with disrespect. "It was a fascinating kind of disconnect," he explains.

Is that disconnect the main reason Harvey starts, for lack of a better way to say it, slashing people up? It's not that simple, and generational disconnection certainly does not justify murder.

As Patrick says, "Harvey's obviously mentally ill. So all the differences in the generations ... it's one thing to have contempt for people. To act out in a psychotic way, that's mental illness. Something's not right with him. That's what's interesting. As a person, I understand, and I know a lot of people who have a lot of contempt for millennials, and younger generations, and just think 'These kids today, they don't know.' But I think that's just a part of human nature itself, I think that's been going on for generations and generations … for as long as humanity's been around, I'm sure."

Robert Patrick (Tone-Deaf)

Even though Harvey is an unhinged antagonist, Patrick couldn't judge him in any way — not if he was going to find the truth inside of him.

"I don't judge the character, I just want to sort of live it, and find it in myself, things that I can identify with," Patrick says. "Hopefully you have some sympathy for this guy. Don't have sympathy for him when he's burying a tomahawk in a homeless person's head, but that's the thing. There's so much disrespect between everybody. Everybody is disrespectful now. It's a total lack of civility that we can find in our present culture."

That fundamental disrespect turned out to be the thing that Patrick could latch onto when playing Harvey. "It was such a rich character from that point of view," he says, "because you are sitting back taking stock on your life and what you've accomplished, the things that you do, and do people appreciate what I've done, do my kids appreciate it, does society? And you know what? Why the f**k do I even give a s**t, really?

"You can go on these tangents, you can catch onto it if you don't watch out, and if you're not healthy and doing something spiritually for yourself that's nurturing, taking care of yourself, then you're going off the deep end."

Patrick says that he loved the character "for the questions that he asks of the audience," and those questions are helped by Patrick bringing multiple dimensions to life when playing him. Patrick calls Harvey "very, very unique," and adds that he definitely wanted to go on this journey with Bates, who he calls "a very gifted filmmaker."

"You're trying to find things that are compelling to you, that get you excited to go to work, and showing up and trying to execute what he's trying to do. It was really something I could sink my teeth into," Patrick says. "I do think it's a real part of the culture now, and I think it's a very 'now' kind of movie. I hope it offends people, and it makes them think and ponder."

Does the scale of the production have any effect on him or his performance? According to Patrick, there are differences between a smaller-scale film like this and a giant James Cameron blockbuster. At the end of the day, however, it's still just him doing his job.

"You approach it from your point of view as you're going out there with the character. The logistics of how the film is being made, those things are happening around you, but you are present and you are filling out that character. You can't let the logistics of the movie, how big it is, swallow you up. Nor can you let how small it is effect you either," he explains. "Smaller films are faster and more intimate, and bigger films are just big. They get a lot more time, money, and care. But once the cameras are rolling and you're on your mark, then it's really you living that moment for that director."

Because we couldn't not ask about the T-1000 and something Terminator-related, we did ask him about the possibility of the T-1000 returning in the newly reborn franchise, which is now seeing the return of Linda Hamilton. Might we see Patrick go liquid metal once more?

"I don't know, and over the years I've been asked that question. It's definitely the most iconic role I've ever done," Patrick says. "I've spent the rest of my career trying to do interesting work, and continued to grow as an artist. I think I did a really good job on that film, I'm really proud of the performance."

"There's certain things that I ask myself, like could I go back and play that, like physically I'm 30 years older," he adds. "I don't know if I could do it, that I could do it as effectively as I did it, and that performance is a physical performance. The whole character is the physicality, the way he moved and ran and walked, and all those things that made him iconic."

Patrick mentions that he's been willing to spoof the iconic role in movies like Wayne's World, but is on the fence as to whether he'd even want to do it again for real.

"Part of me says, no, that's it, I can't do it again. Part of me says, s**t, maybe I could do it even better? I don't know," he says. "I don't know if I'll ever get the opportunity, but I will say this: I am damn proud of it, and I am damn proud that people still love it and that it's still a film that they enjoy watching. Just to have that as part of your career, I'm one lucky guy."

Tone-Deaf is in theaters right now, and is also available for viewing on demand. Go and see Robert Patrick go wild with knives and other stabbing weapons.