There's a scene in "Cheap
Thrills," a new dark comedy from first time director E.L. Katz, where Pat
Healy's character Craig considers chopping off his pinky for $15,000.
That morning, Craig had been laid off from his job and discovered an eviction notice posted on the door of the apartment that he shares with his wife and baby. While commiserating at a bar with his high school friend Vince (Ethan Embry), the duo is approached by a wealthy couple (David Koechner and Sara Paxton) that offer them cash in exchange for outlandish deeds. From there the film delves into areas of depravity that have lead to it being described as, "'The Hangover' taken to an absurdly nihilistic degree." It asks, in its own corrupted way, how far you would go for financial security.
"It's analogous to anybody in any walk of life," Healy said of the cash-for-crazy scenario. "It's analogous to my life. Unfortunately we have to chose between happiness and creativity and commerce, when those things should go together."
Thankfully, Healy doesn't have to cut off any appendages to earn a living, but he's no stranger to balancing his creative endeavors with economic stability. For years he's supplemented his leading roles in independent films with small, bit parts in larger movies that offer a bigger paycheck.
"It's not exactly financially rewarding yet," Healy said of his busy year. "I'm putting a lot of the time in, and you know I'm not complaining. I've been given great opportunities to do things I haven't before and it's exciting. But I must say it's a little more difficult to make a living doing this. "
Healy has been seen alongside Julianne Moore in Paul Thomas Anderson's "Magnolia," has acted for Michael Bay in "Pearl Harbor," with Christian Bale in "Rescue Dawn, and across a table from Brad Pitt in "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford." But his lead roles in smaller, independent films have been way more satisfying.
"They're more rewarding," Healy said. "I get to really spread my wings and show what I can do. I enjoy playing a character from A to Z. They sort of hand the baton over to me to lead the show."
Among those more substantial roles has been the spectacularly creepy Officer Daniels in Craig Zobel's disturbing drama "Compliance." Prior to that he played a lovesick ghost hunter in Ti West's "The Innkeepers." Both of those projects, as well as the down-on-his-luck Craig in "Cheap Thrills" have allowed Healy to build a character from the ground up, a method he says he's held on to since his training in the theater.
"Deep script analysis and using your imagination, that's the homework you do before you show up on set," he said. "It's that stuff that's sort of part of my DNA."
Healy figured out that he wanted to be an actor when he was 12 years old and his mother took him to see "The Pope of Greenwich Village" with Mickey Rourke.
"I was like, that's what I want to be," he said. "This very serious, brooding actor."
From that point on, Healy focused his energy on becoming the next Robert De Niro or Marlon Brando. He acted all throughout high school and into college at Illinois State University. He then did an internship at the Steppenwolf Theater Company where he admired the work of John Malkovich, whom Healy calls a big inspiration.
For much of his career, Healy has pounded the pavement in Los Angeles, playing one or two episode characters in many a television procedural and hitting up auditions during pilot season. It was only when he started writing that he found himself in a position where he could actually afford to act. Writing his own screenplays lead to acceptance into the Writer's Guild, which then lead to multiple jobs as a writer-for-hire.
"It wasn't a conscious decision but it afforded me the ability to go do movie for three weeks or a month, even though it doesn't pay anything because I'm making money with my writing," Healy said. "And it just so happened that those were the movies where I had a more significant role and they all happened to be good. And the right people saw them."
Like any actor, Healy says he got into the business with hopes of fame and fortune, but as the realities of the business have set in, he's found that there's not only one definition of success.
"We [actors] get into this profession for one reason or another because we don’t feel like we got the love that we needed as kids and some people never grow out of that," he said. "But I had to sort of grow up as a person and figure out that what was important to me was the work and it's also what's enjoyable to me now. I had to do years and years of psychoanalysis to get to the point where I'm doing it for the love of doing it."
So does he long for the careers of Christian Bale or Brad Pitt, his co-stars in those bigger films?
"You know I kind of feel like I have the career I would want to have now, but it didn't go down the way that I thought it would," he said, laughing. "There were all these digressions, and it didn't happen in a direct fashion but yet I sort of ended up in the place where I wanted to be. I just want to be good at what I do and want to make a living at it. I don't want to have a certain level of fame where I can't lead a normal life."
Healy's plan appears to be working. Next up he had a smaller role in the Kevin Costner project "Draft Day" followed by a few more indies down the road. He's even working on a screenplay with "Cheap Thrills" director E.L. Katz. But that doesn't mean the big studio fare can ignore this guy for much longer.
"Look I'd love to cross over and do bigger roles in bigger movies," he said. "And they certainly pay better!"
"Cheap Thrills" is available on VOD and in limited theaters Friday, March 21.