About a year before he auditioned for USA's new lawyer drama "Suits" (9 p.m. Thursday, USA; ** 1/2 stars out of four), Patrick J. Adams was fired from an acting job.
"I don't even remember exactly when it was; I've conveniently put it right out of my head," he said, laughing. "But I was fired from a job and it stung. It goes straight to your fears and sort of confirms all of the doubts that a person has about himself."
Adams brings up the "abject misery" of the months after he got canned to demonstrate that he can relate to Mike Adams, the character he now plays in "Suits." Mike is a brilliant college dropout with a photographic memory. But he's something of a slacker, making quick cash by charging people fees to take their law school entrance exams for them.
In a scene from the series premiere, Mike decides he wants to finally live up to his potential. He just has to convince high-powered Manhattan attorney Harvey Specter (Gabriel Macht) to hire him as a summer associate. Without a law degree. Or any experience.
"He needs to deal with the reality that if he wants the things that he said he always wanted, he needs to step up to the plate," the 29-year-old Toronto native said. "And that moment, for me, in my own life, is totally fascinating."
Adams had to read that scene for the "dozen or so" auditions he did to get the part. The firing weighed heavy on his mind during the process, but he approached it just like Mike does.
"I was just like, 'I'm going to sit in this room and convince these producers that I need to get this job,'" he said. "That I'm ready for this job, that I've been kicking around for years and I'm ready for this. This is my time."
And so far so good, he confirmed, laughing, "I haven't been fired yet."
Adams, who has guested in such series as "Lost," "Lie to Me" and "Pretty Little Liars" (where he met his girlfriend, Troian Bellisario), talked about his love of photography, working in suits, his Twitter bio and the lesson he learned from Dustin Hoffman.
Hey Patrick, how are you?
I’m good. I’m lost in Niagra Falls. I can’t find the large waterfall that everybody’s talking about.
Do you have your eyes open?
Have you been to Niagra Falls!? This place is crazy. All I see is Miax theaters and Dave and Busters and things like this. Anyway, I’m heading back to Toronto.
Are you on vacation?
We shoot in Toronto so this is the closest border crossing. I’m getting this thing called the NEXUS card so you can go over the border faster; you don’t have to wait so long when we do border crossings. So we’ll see how this interview goes, because I’ll tell you, I just went through the most heinous interview with the customs guy. So do your worst, Curt.
This won’t be that bad. In fact, I’ll open with a compliment: I love your photography.
Oh cool! You checked it out, I appreciate that. Thank you.
I really liked the Silver City shot.
Oh, from Burning Man? Yeah. We actually built all of those ourselves. They’re called the yurts, I guess. They’re made of this like hexafoam material and in Burning Man if you’re out in the desert, the climate is so punishing. Those are really the best way to stay cool and have a dark place to go and fall asleep when you need to. It took us like two months as a group to build them all. That picture was the first time we had them all put up together. So it was a triumphant moment. [Note from Curt: I couldn't find the exact shot again, but Patrick's Flickr Photostream has similar ones.]
How many times have you gone to Burning Man?
Last year was my first year and I had the time of my life; it was a really spectacular experience. We brought a school bus as well. That picture is actually taken from the top of the school bus. Because we brought a school bus, I think we feel like we need to take it to Burning Man a couple of more times before we retire it. [Laughs.] So I’m going to be going back again this year. Yeah, it’s great.
The photo of the Toronto alley reminds me of Chicago.
Oh yeah, that’s actually the view from my window. I’m subletting this place now that I’m back living in Toronto.
Are you interested in photography, in cinematography?
I am totally, totally interested. This is actually one of the things that’s just been the most fun about doing this show is getting work so closely with our amazing DP, Patrick Caddee [sp?], and then also to work with new directors every single time and just see how many many different approaches there are…
I’ve directed a lot of theater before and I’m obviously very interested in still photography, so I think the next logical step will be at some point just to try and to combine the two and direct something.
So when you’re not in front of the camera, are you sort of underfoot and watching?
[Laughs.] I’m definitely a camera dork, so I’m already talking to the camera department and asking about lenses and what very single button on the camera does. … They let me put on a steady cam the other day for the first time.
I saw the photo you posted online of that. (Find the photo at Patrick's Tumblr)
Yeah, that was awesome. I’ve been wanting to do that for years, but you never have time on set … But one of our camera operators was cool enough …, he threw it on me. I can’t believe how heavy that thing is. It’s a monster. So again, newfound respect for these people that do that incredible job …
All right, so we should probably talk a little about the actors.
Let’s talk about the show. Now that said, let’s talk actor stuff. [Laughs.]
Give me your take on Mike Ross. I have my ideas about him, but let’s here yours.
I’m curious to hear your ideas about him. [Laughs.] What I was attracted to from the beginning was that, in the TV landscape, it’s filled with like the coolest people that you know. You know? You turn on the TV and that’s what a lot of people want to see. They want to see somebody that’s just really amazing at what they do and their gifts are so present and it’s already so fully formed. And with Mike I saw somebody who that wasn’t the case. He has those gifts, but if anything, he’s squandering them. He doesn’t know what to do with it. He doesn’t know how to make it work for him yet. Suddenly it’s not about how gifted Mike Ross is or how great his brain is and how intelligent he is and how quickly he can remember information. And that comes in and it’s fun and exciting to see it happen …
Aaron [Korsh], in creating the show, has created a character that you actually care about. And Mike’s relationship with Harvey, it just exposes that he’s someone that he could learn from and he could be this amazing mentor. And so this show is about that relationship and it’s not just about the procedure of law and the gimmick of how Mike Ross’ brain works.
Harvey is sort of that other kind of character that you were talking about. He’s the one that’s got it all going on at the moment. But he’s lacking too in that he doesn’t care about anyone.
Yeah. The pilot focused a lot of its energy on getting Mike Ross to take risks and to jump into the deep end, but I think that the sort of longer story of that is really the discovering more and more about Harvey and what makes it so difficult for him [to care], because there’s a lot of dance around whether or not that’s the right way to go.
His ruthlessness as an attorney has been so successful for him and he’s obviously gotten to great places, so he’s in less of a situation where he needs to listen to me. But the more cases that I take on he sees that this ability to empathize with people actually ends with similar results and at the same time likes make people’s lives better. Then we find this really interesting middle ground between ruthlessness and empathy.
You shot the pilot inNew York but you’re filming the series in Toronto. Is it nice to be back home?
Is it nice to be back home? [Laughs.] It is. It’s interesting. Again, it’s a full-circle kind of a thing and that part of it is pretty special. I’m driving around in Toronto now and getting to go to work on a TV show. I remember being her over 10 years ago and imagining the idea of being an actor. I mean, it was just so far fetched. I don’t’ come from a family that knows anything about acting. That’s just not a reality. I knew that it was something that I could do in high school and I liked doing plays. But the concept that I might actually get to be doing a great television show with terrific people seemed so far-fetched to me.
Now I’m driving around the same city, seeing all the same buildings, driving by my old high school, going to dinner with my mom at my old apartment that I used to sit in and just wonder if I was just fooling myself that this was something that I could do. And now I get to be here and do it and bring my mom to the set. And it’s like wow, it’s been 10 years and it’s happened; it’s finally arrived. So it’s pretty special being here for that.
Mike bluffs his way into situations. Have you ever done something similar?
I’ve definitely gotten a few jobs by pretending like I knew what I was talking about. I actually dealt Black Jack for a summer. … I had to teach myself [cards]. To get a job as a Black Jack dealer, you have to be able to count very quickly. Obviously you need to do at least math, adding up to 21 very quickly. And so I remember sitting at home and flipping through cards quickly and trying to count them as fast as possible and then pretending like I knew what I was talking about.
We’d get into trouble a lot in school and I could sweet talk my way out of it. I was really a charmer, I was the guy who would get to the office, the principal would sit me down and within 10 minutes, we’d be like talking about some movies or something. I would sort of derail the conversation into something far away from why I was there in the first place. And then by the end of it there was, “Oh great, get back to class, don’t do that again.”
You dealt Black Jack at a casino?
There’s this city up in northern Canada called Dawson City, an old gold mining town. … It was like the biggest city north of San Francisco during the Gold Rush. And now it’s about 5,000 people. And there’s this one little casino called Diamond Tooth Gerdie’s, and yeah, I worked there and dealt Black Jack for two months, three months.
It was during college. I’d been in L.A. for two years and I didn’t know what I was doing and thought, “I need to get out of here and have some life experience.” I just kind of got the impression that being an actor, you could learn all about acting and that was great, but if you didn’t have any out-in-the-world life experience, then none of it was really worth that much. So I kind of went for an Alaskan-Yukon adventure for three months. It was great. It was a really good idea.
Tell me about the actual suits. Can you tell the difference between the $100 suits and the really expensive ones?
I am terrible at this, to be perfectly honest. I am in awe at all of the different things I am getting to learn about suits and the different cuts. At first when we did the pilot, all I knew is what felt OK, and it was funny because most of the things that I liked were the $100 suits—the J. Crew suits or the Brook’s Brothers. … And [the costumers] were like, “Yeah, we’ve got the $1,200 and $2,000 suits over here in this corner.” And I’d be like, “No, I don’t like that one much.”
But now I think my tastes are a little more refined. I’m starting to learn the designer’s names. And my tastes are getting a little better.
Are they going to be missing some of those expensive suits at the end of the first season?
I have no idea what you’re talking about, Curt.
OK, I won’t say anything
Yeah, we’ll just keep that part quiet.
Let’s talk a little bit about your co-stars. First of all, I wanted to ask, are you a “vanilla chop?” I saw your tweet about Rick Hoffman calling you that.
A “vanilla chop!” OK, you have done your research. What is a “vanilla chop” is what I want to know?
He was like created on a different planet, Rick Hoffman. And it’s a planet where the funniest people in the world are made, and he was sent here to Earth to make us laugh. When he is on set, literally, that kind of laughter that you almost wish wasn’t around because it hurts so much, like you can’t stop.
He just comes up with stuff just off the top of his head. And the other day, he was talking about when we first met each other and how he was sitting at a table and he walks in and looks at me and says I’m just this little vanilla chop. And you have to understand, when he said that, it just comes out of him; it’s not even like a premeditated concept. … Rick Hoffman is just, in so many ways, he’s kind of the life force of the show because when we get tired or the hours have been long and he comes on set, I think everybody just wakes up. It’s like laughter is the best medicine kind of situation.
And I cannot answer for you what is a vanilla chop is.
You’ve done a lot of guest spots on tons of shows.
In lot of very popular shows. Was there any stand-out experience?
There were standout experiences; tons. Getting to cut my teeth on all of those sets was just the most valuable thing in the world. All along the way, every show I really learned something different. On “Lost,” it was a lesson in putting away your fan [boy attitude]. I was such a fan of “Lost” before I went to shoot that, so “Lost” was really a lesson in, put that away when you arrive on the set and do the job.
Every one of the jobs, for me it was all about the actors and watching how people experience having their own shows, how they interact with their crew, how they dealt with the long hours and the last-minute revisions. And just really just getting to sort of clock all of these different ways that people have of doing the same job, which is a really tough job, it turns out. As a guest star, I don’t think I ever fully appreciated that part of it. It was just how these are long hours. It is hard work. I just have a profound amount of respect for all of the people who do it so well.
So those were the five years of my career, learning that.
And the most vaulable lesson?
The most valuable experience to me, to be honest, would be sort of the more recent one. Funny, you’d think it would be something sort of earlier on, but between this pilot shooting and when we got picked up as a series I did a sort of three or four episode arc on this show, “Luck,” on HBO, and I got to work with Dustin Hoffman.
I had all these scenes with Dustin and my first day out with him was probably the most valuable experience I’ve had as an actor yet, in terms of just the sort of a day at work. I sat down with him in the scene, it’s an interview scene where he’s sort of interviewing my character and sort of really putting me through my paces to see if I have what it takes to do a job for him.
Dustin, being one of the world’s great method actors—and I didn’t really understand what that meant—so the whole day there was this sort of this attitude coming at me, this sort of you-better-bring-it-today attitude. Not in any kind of mean way or anti-social way, but it was there.
When we sat down to do this scene, I came out of the gate running, like ready to go, ready to just blow his mind and be the best actor I could be. We do the scene and the director comes out and says, “We need to see you’re a little bit more affected by Dustin.” And Dustin, I see, clocks this note.
We start the scene and Dustin just stares at me. He doesn’t say a word. And I’d stare at him and I’d say the line again and he goes, “I heard you.” And I’m just stopped cold. I don’t know what to do; I don’t want to like start improvising, so I’m just sitting there staring at him. Dennis Farina’s to my right.
And then Dustin just sort of stops and looks at me and says, “Oh, I see what’s going on here. You’re just some young actor who thinks he memorizes all of his lines and you show up here on this set and you…” He just lays into me. And he gives me this monologue that just terrifies me, and it drops the bottom out of me.
And I remember thinking in that moment, “OK, its fight or flight. I got to get out of here or I’m just going to lose it.” My hero has just sort of dismantled me here on camera. And then I just had this moment where I looked at him and I was like, he’s doing this on purpose. Of course he’s doing this on purpose. This is your guide. And in that moment, I was like, I see what you’re doing, I’m not going to let you get away with it.
In that moment, I just kind of figured out what the best acting in the world is all about, which is that. It’s creating that moment. He created a situation where I connected to what I had to say. And much like my auditions and my experience with “Suits,” he created the experience in real life that we were trying to act or replicate on screen.
For the next three hours of shooting that scene, I can’t even remember what happened because it wasn’t about what I was trying to act or the ideas that I had about the script. It was really one guy trying to convince another guy that he belonged in that room with him.
Talk about having to face your fears. That was a moment where my first instinct was to run as fast as I could from this room because everything in my being was telling me, I don’t belong there. And Dustin Hoffman really gave me this gift. By saying, “You don’t belong here,” he was basically saying, “You belong here. Now do it. You got here, you got this far, let’s do this.”
That to me has been the single biggest gift I’ve gotten in my career from another actor, and it sort of charged me up for this whole process because I feel like, again, if I can do that, then I can do anything.
Did Dustin Hoffman anything afterward, like that he was happy you figured out what he was doing?
That’s how brilliant he is, because he was very kind to me before he did that that day. When I arrived, he was like, “So happy to have you.” He had personally had to OK my tape and he was really welcoming as we were getting our hair and makeup done and everything. So I knew that he wasn’t just angry at me [when the incident occurred].
But he had given me any real like, well here’s like how it’s going to go down, then it wouldn’t have been effective. And to be honest, I don’t even think that he knew I think, and this is just my observation, but I think that it is such a muscle in him, I mean watching someone like him work and there’s no premeditation to any of this. I think that he sat down with me and in an instant read me up and down and knew what to do. And I have talked to other people who had worked with him before, you know, and it’s that same experience, and it’s not something that he sits at home and thinks I’m going to go in there and just torture this poor young guy. I think what he does and what great actors do is just stand and response to what they get. I think he saw in me, and I think that’s so moving to me and to which I will hold on to, during the rest of my entire career, which is that he saw in me something that he trusted to deal with that. And so he went right for the jugular.
And so in any moment when I question my own strength or my own fortitude in this business or my talent, I can look at that and say, “That’s the guy who saw something in me and he knew that I could handle it.” And afterwards, he gave me sort of like fist pump, sort of a nod of the head.
Like I said, I had been fired from that job not long before, so I still thought for sure I was getting fired. I went home and sort of steeled myself to the idea that this was all over. And I was about to get a phone call saying, “Sorry, thanks kid, but no thanks.” And I was OK with that. I got to work with Dustin Hoffman.
And a day went by and I still didn’t get that call, and another day went by and I still didn’t get that call. Then all of a sudden I was back at work thinking, “Oh my God, I have to do it all over again. Oh no!”
They were filming when that happened, right?
Yep. I’ve spoken to the editor actually at the Christmas party … They have all of this; they’ve had to sit and watch hours of me going beet red, terrified. I haven’t seen any of the work; I can only imagine that scene is going to be pretty interesting to watch for me.
Years from now when you’re on “Inside the Actor’s Studio” you can share that story.
Oh man, that’s my story from now on! I’m going to try to refine how it’s told. I have to try to get like the short version of it and the longer version.
I’ll have to write this up really fast so I have it first.
One more thing from Twitter. Gentleman, rogue or scholar, which order is it?
[Laughs.] Look, it’s different some days. If I’m at Burning Man, it would be rogue first, for sure, then gentleman and then scholar. I think scholar probably comes last every time. But rogue and gentlemen could be switched out on any given day.
And @halfadams, is there any story to that?
That is something that I shall not reveal. There’s got to be some mystery, Curt. There has to be some. [Laughs.]