Pat Healy of 'Cheap Thrills': Get to Know the Breakout Star of Spring's Nastiest (and Funniest) Comedy

With films by P.T. Anderson, Werner Herzog and David Gordon Green on his resume, the actor reveals how collaborations shaped his eclectic career.

Actor Pat Healy plays to truth. That's both an acting methodology and a way of life. Healy's eclectic career continues to whip the actor back and forth between roles in buzzy festival films, brief appearances in major motion pictures (watch for him in Marvel's upcoming Captain America: The Winter Soldier) and scripting jobs that pay the bills.

“I understand why people say, 'It all happens for a reason.' It all makes sense. I'm in the right place and doing what I need to be doing,” Healy says of the juggling act that is his unique career.

His latest role -- and some might say his breakthrough -- is in Cheap Thrills, a nasty thriller-comedy exploring greed, friendship and the dark side of Fear Factor stunts. Healy is the leading man, a down-on-his luck father looking to make a quick buck any way he can. Even when forced to defecate on a stranger's kitchen floor, Healy's playing to truth.

It's that commitment that's made him an attractive teammate to a variety of notable filmmakers, including Werner Herzog (in 2006's Rescue Dawn), David Gordon Green (2004's Undertow) and Terry Zwigoff (2001's Ghost World). Here,  The Hollywood Reporter talks to Healy about five of his most fortuitous opportunities and the directors that believed in him:

Cheap Thrills, E.L. Katz

“He's a writer first and foremost,” Healy says. Though Katz didn't write Cheap Thrills, the actor says a uncredited rewrite shaped the tone and helped the exploitation comedy sidestep familiar beats explored in The Hangover or Very Pretty Things. “So much of our work was laid out in the script and there's so much that's done with handheld characters and long takes with all of us in it. On set, there's a great attention to actors and where they need to be at that time. It's almost like acting in a play together.”

It helped that Katz and Healy shared a taste in movies. “I'm a huge cinephile and a lot of the directors tend to be,” he says. “We'll talk about movies a lot. If we like the same things, generally like them for the same reasons, then we'll probably have a good shorthand.” The relationship continues to blossom: Healy reveals that he and Katz are working on a new screenplay together.

Compliance and The Great World of Sound, Craig Zobel

Healy detects a connection between his working relationship with Katz and another close collaborator, director Craig Zobel. “We know each other enough as friends and we've worked together on these projects that have had difficult mechanics. Great World of Sound has the reality aspect and Compliance has real-life phone calls. Craig needed someone who, as much as giving a performance, could be a right-hand man -- [someone who could be] there and have his back in case things go sideways,” he says.

Along with forging a career in independent dramas, Zobel is also a co-creator of the Internet cartoon Homestar Runner. He knows comedy, and he draws upon that aspect of Healy's background when the two team up. “Compliance is not a funny movie at all, but the character has elements of comedy because he's a prankster,” Healy says. “If you took my scenes and cut out everything else, you would think you're watching a comedy. It's like a Jerky Boys thing.”

Healy's time on the the gut-wrenching docudrama wasn't all light-hearted. There were times he required moral support from Zobel. “I felt troubled by the material and some days it was rough for me to do, especially if the phone broke and I had to go in to the room and do it to their faces. That was a completely different thing.”

Zobel is currently in New Zealand shooting Z for Zachariah with Chris Pine, Margot Robbie, and Chiwetel Ejiofor. According to Healy, who couldn't say much, the director hopes to incorporate his actor muse into the dramatic triptych, one way or another.

The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford, Andrew Dominick

“Every actor in town wanted to be in that movie,” Healy says. “I was actually up for the part that Sam Rockwell played. He was not going to do the film for some reason or another, but last minute changed his mind. So Andrew Dominick took two parts, two other brothers, and he combined them to give me more to do.” The set of Assassination was a who's who of Hollywood legends. Healy was in Heaven. He found himself acting against Brad Pitt, lit by Roger Deakins and dressed by Patricia Norris. “[She] did Blue Velvet,” Healy says, letting his fanboy slip out. “That's a seminal movie in my life.”

The balance of realism and fictional theatrics necessary it took to pull off Dominick's script is always in the back of Healy's mind. It defines “movie truth,” in his mind. “There is a school of acting now, network television school of acting, young people, who say everything flatly and rewrite the script,” he says. “It might be real but it's not interesting to watch. I realize there's a dramatic flair that needs to accompany it. The best actors -- De Niro, Brando, Streep -- their performances seem to combine a real character with something larger than life. Daniel Day-Lewis does that too. Grand and theatrical while real and believable. I'm not saying I'm there yet, but it's what I aspire to.”

Magnolia, Paul Thomas Anderson

According to Healy, there are no small roles in a P.T. Anderson film. “He's really inclusive. We had a full rehearsal day with everyone who had a scene with Julianne Moore.” Healy recalls a 12-hour day sitting around a table with Anderson, Moore, Michael Murphy, Don McManus, and Philip Seymour Hoffman (“a wonderful guy, the greatest actor of my generation,” he says).

Healy was only playing the guy who fulfilled pharmacy prescriptions, but Anderson wanted his input. “You rarely get rehearsals on a movie let alone a movie where you have one or two scenes.” Healy, a self-professed Boogie Nights nut, says he still maintains a relationship with the director. “I still see all of his movies before they come out. He invites me to screenings and I get to talk to him about them.”

Mullitt, Pat Healy

There's an alternate dimension where Healy is steadily working as an independent film director. In 2001, the actor directed himself in the short film Mullitt, co-starring Michael Shannon. The film debuted at Sundance. “I didn't know how to translate that success into making a feature film. I wrote a screenplay that was an adaptation of Mullet and it didn't go anywhere.” But he did learn to write, which caught the attention of agents and business folk. He was hired for rewrite and adaptation jobs. He continued acting while making screenwriting an essential part of his financial stability. Eventually, an agent pitched him for HBO's In Treatment, one of his favorite television shows. He wrote three episodes -- his only produced writing jobs.

“It was as far as Mullet as possible, but we're talking an eight year time difference. I love Mullet, but it's a much broader piece than I'd make today." Will Healy the writer-director make a return? “If the acting was paying the bills, I don't know if I would feel the need to do any of these other things. I like writing and I would like to direct a film, but my ego isn't pressing on me to do it.”