Robert Patrick has had quite the astounding career, from being the Terminator in Terminator 2 to his powerful turns in dozens of films such as Walk the Line to Flags of Our Fathers. But it was his work as part of the ensemble of Billy Bob Thornton’s directorial effort Jayne Mansfield’s Car that saw him perhaps finding his greatest joy. Besides working alongside a friend and someone he has appreciated for years in Thornton, who also stars in the movie, he got to share screen time with two legends: Robert Duvall and John Hurt.
As teased in the Jayne Mansfield’s Car trailer, the film follows a Southern family in the 1960s, and as change is enveloping the world, one group of kin is trying to keep it together when the matriarch of the family dies. Now, she ran away to England decades before our film began and married another man other than her Southern gentleman husband, played by Duvall.
How this English widower (Hurt) and his family deal with his deceased wife’s wishes to be buried with her family in America is the crux of this outstanding drama.
We caught up with Patrick for an exclusive interview where he talked about the magic of Thornton, the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for “breathing the same air” as Duvall and Hurt, and also we found him looking back on his career, while simultaneously hopeful as he looked forward.
Movie Fanatic: How does it help, or is it just different, having a director who is also an actor?
Robert Patrick: Billy Bob and I have known each other for a long time and I was actually in his All the Pretty Horses when he just directed. This is the first time I’ve acted with him. I enjoyed the hell out of it. He’s a wonderful director. He understands what being an actor is. He shoots very similarly to another director I’ve worked with twice: Clint Eastwood. They trust that you show up prepared. They shoot the rehearsals. Your first take is your first take. I remember shooting the final scene with Billy. I literally was thinking it’s a wonderful thing to work with an actor and look into his eyes and know he knows what you’re going through.
Movie Fanatic: You’ve known him for years, what was it like just personally for you, to be able to share your profession onscreen like in Jayne Mansfield’s Car?
Robert Patrick: Our relationship has always been a professional one and I’m a great fan of his work. He’s a great fan of my work. We trust each other. We have similar sensibilities. We’re both from the South. I had a real appreciation and understanding of the material for this film. I’ll work with him anytime, anywhere and I hope I get to.
Movie Fanatic: There’s one scene, and I won’t spoil anything here, but there is such joy between you and your onscreen brothers -- Kevin Bacon and Billy Bob. Was it as much fun to shoot as it was for us to watch?
Robert Patrick: It was. We filmed in chronological order where it was towards the end of the picture. We’d been through so much and been on each other’s case, like brothers. It really captured the dynamic of a real family, particularly a Southern family -- to be able and sit there as brothers and reminisce and be nostalgic. It was really real. Kevin is a guy I’ve known socially and this is the first time I’ve gotten to work with him. He fit right in there. You just believe that we could all be related.
Movie Fanatic: I could have watched you guys go on for another 25 minutes.
Robert Patrick: Believe you me, we shot enough we could have done twice that [laughs].
Movie Fanatic: You had a front row seat to watching Mr. Hurt and Mr. Duvall and their acting fireworks. They are two legends. As an actor, what did it mean to you to share scenes with those two and did you learn anything from them?
Robert Patrick: I felt so blessed that I was even breathing the same air as those two guys. It was really exciting and such a unique opportunity to watch them and learn that they do the same kinds of things that I do. They were having a lot of fun together too!
Robert Patrick: I didn’t have a plan, to be honest with you. My plan was just to come out here and get into the movies. I had the great fortune of working with Roger Corman and did a bunch of films with him. When the Terminator hit, that was the role of a lifetime. I’ve spent the last 23 years since that movie came out just trying to do as many different things as I can. I’ve taken roles that scared me, like on The Sopranos where I was mixed up by James Gandolfini, doing things that I felt challenged me. I have had fun and have done a lot of things. I figure I got another good 20 years left in me and can’t wait to see what I do next. I just hope I’m as good an actor as Bobby Duvall is… he’s still going strong at 70 years old! That’s something to reach for.