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A Gifted Man – Patrick Wilson on hanging out with dead friends

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A Gifted Man, 1.01 - Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson
Episode 1.01 "In Case Of All Hell Breaking Loose" - Anna (Jennifer Ehle) and Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Acclaimed, award-winning actor Patrick Wilson (Running with Scissors, Insidious, Watchman, Angels in America) is making his TV series debut with his new drama A Gifted Man. He portrays Michael Holt, a brilliant surgeon living the good life. But that life changes dramatically when his deceased wife Anna (Jennifer Ehle) appears to him, teaching him the meaning of life from the ‘hereafter.’

Wilson spoke of his venture into weekly television at the TV Critics tour.

How are you finding this as it’s your first series encounter?

A Gifted Man, 1.01 - Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson
Anna (Jennifer Ehle) and Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Well, it helps that [we shoot it] in New York, so I can go home and sleep in my own bed. I think if it was somewhere else, then I might not be here.

So it’s nice to be able to work at home, which is a luxury that you don’t get a lot whatever your job is, but certainly as actors you’re usually a traveling troubadour.

That’s actually one of the things that’s very exciting about the potential of it being a success, not only artistically and commercially, but for the most important things, which are spending time with your family.

Are you happy with the timeslot CBS has given you?

When I found out we were on Friday at 8:00, it made me feel like we were going to have room to play, because I know it wasn’t one of those coveted best time slots or most watched slots of the week.

I felt a lot of creative freedom, because we’ve been given nothing but just the most respect and love and a long leash, at least during these few months, from CBS to give us real confidence to find our feet, because we’re dealing with some very different issues, and getting our tone right will be something that we set out to do the first few episodes.

Do you think it’s a plus or a minus, or relevant at all, that you’re coming off Insidious, so a certain percentage of your audience is going, ‘Ghosts again’?

A Gifted Man, 1.01 - Margo Martingale and Patrick Wilson
Rita (Margo Martingale) and Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

I don’t know. I never even thought of that. Look, if Insidious fans, which are typically a younger crowd that love scary movies, tune in Friday or DVR us, then that’s awesome.

Could you talk a bit about this character’s arc? He’s starting to see, literally, the light, but he’s still fighting it? Are you going to have to slow down that awakening in order to get more mileage?

That’s something Neal (Baer, the series’ executive producer) and I talk about constantly, because we’re doling it out in very small pieces as we’re finding it ourselves.

We’re very conscious that because we alluded to the fact that she’s a ghost in the first episode that [the viewers] don’t assume that by the next episode I’ve got these dead friends that are hanging out with me.

I want to struggle with that. I think it’s only natural. I want to play it as weird as it would be.

A Gifted Man, 1.01 - Jennifer Ehle and Patrick Wilson
Anna (Jennifer Ehle) and Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

I want to play out every facet of accepting her, being frustrated by her, being heartbroken. Whether she was alive or dead the feelings of seeing his ex?wife clearly bring back a sense of youth. Maybe it didn’t end the right way and maybe we should have given it another chance when we were alive.

I think we’re going to continue to explore all those feelings. But as I’m finding out, because this is not a movie or a play, we’ve got to give it out in small doses. So that side of the arc I’m incredibly interested in, because I want people the entire time to go, ‘Oh, no, he accepts her.

She’s definitely a ghost. No, are you kidding me? The guy’s crazy. He’s imagining her, nobody else sees her.’ So we’re trying to find all those moments.

Is it hard for you to slow down the pace of the character’s growth, as you will have to stretch it out over seasons hopefully?

A Gifted Man, 1.01 - Patrick Wilson and  Jennifer Ehle
Michael Holt (Patrick Wilson) and Anna (Jennifer Ehle) © 2011 CBS Broadcasting

Yeah. But I think within each long arc, just like within each movie or play, you have arcs within each scene, so you go from a beginning to an end. So we’re dealing with it episode by episode, and in each episode what do we learn?

I don’t really think, from the acting perspective, too far ahead, if that makes sense. We concentrate on talking about the next episode, what we want to do, what kinds of scenes we want to have or what [the writers have] come up with and that seems to be working so far.

You’ve said that you want stage work to remain a part of your career, but if things go well with the series that could leave a limited amount of time for that.

Well, you just have to take it as it comes, I suppose. It does come back to the fact that we’re in New York which at least enables that for me. I don’t think I would do what I did when I was doing Angels in America.

We were shooting during the day and I was doing Oklahoma at night, and I wouldn’t do that again. But those are high-class problems, as my mother would say.