Patrick Wilson is part of team reopening South Orange movie house as ’boutique theater’

patrick wilson interview

PATRICK WILSON

“I’m calling you from London from the set of ‘Aquaman 2’ and that’s all I can say about that,” said genre-defying actor and producer Patrick Wilson, who has been appearing onstage and in film for more than 25 years, capturing attention with his intense performances. “Aquaman 2” (whose actual title is “Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom”) is the sequel to the 2018 superhero film that grossed more than $1 billion worldwide, and will be released in December 2022.

Born in Norfolk, Va., and raised in St. Petersburg, Fla., the gracious and understated Wilson lives in Montclair with his wife, actress/writer Dagmara Dominczyk, and their two children. He often can be seen at the local coffee store or at charity events, including Montclair Film Festival “Glitter Ball” fundraising concerts at which he showcases his strong voice. (see video of him performing George Michael’s “Freedom” at a “Glitter Ball” show, below)

Despite his busy schedule, he has carved out time to support the community by joining Cinema Lab, a movie theater development and management company with a mission to reopen theaters in New Jersey and possibly elsewhere. The Village at SOPAC (South Orange Performing Arts Center) will be Cinema Lab’s first movie theater to reopen, on July 22. The five-screen theater has been closed since November.

Movies to be shown in the theater’s first week include “Summer of Soul,” “The Forever Purge” and “The Boss Baby: Family Business.” Visit cinemalab.com.

According to press materials, Cinema Lab plans to open approximately 15 venues in the next five years, including The Bradley in Bradley Beach, which will reopen later this year; and The Maplewood in Maplewood, which will reopen in 2022.

Cinema Lab intends to create intimate theaters with knowledgeable staff and features tailored to the needs of its community. Wilson said that when you watch horror movies and comedies in a theater, rather than streamed at home, audience members gather for “both the scare and the cathartic relief of laughter … when you are with a group of people sharing that experience, it’s similar to being at a rock concert where you feel safe in letting your emotions down.

“How many people cry in the movies, but maybe don’t cry as much at home?”

Patrick Wilson in “Aquaman.”

Describing the vibe in a movie theater feels to him “a little like talking about why do me and so-and-so have chemistry, because there’s just something in that room. It’s all the people that have put their heart and soul into that movie projecting it out to you and you’re giving it back … it’s the sacred space in the middle between that person watching attentively, open and wanting to share a laugh, share a scare, a tear.”

The Village at SOPAC will show a variety of films from small and mid-sized studios, including independent and documentary films, and host conversations with filmmakers. It also will offer preview pricing for all movies for a limited time, and will be open for private screening rentals.

It is not easy for Wilson to find time to save cinemas, one theater at a time. He is a classically trained and prolific actor who has been nominated for two Tonys (for “Oklahoma!” and “The Full Monty”) and an Emmy (for “Angels in America”) and has been given the nickname The Scream King for his work on horror films. Along with Clifton native Vera Farmiga, he stars as a paranormal investigator in the film “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It,” released in June.

He’ll make his directorial debut in the next “Insidious” movie (the fifth in the horror franchise), which will begin shooting in the spring. He also co-stars in the science fiction film “Moonfall,” written and directed by Roland Emmerich; featuring Halle Berry, Donald Sutherland and John Bradley West; and slated to be released in 2022.

“Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom” is his sixth movie with director James Wan. “I’m back with the same crew and a lot of the same cast,” he said. “The pandemic was hard for everybody, but we were surrounded by a lot of family and then I started prepping for this (about four months ago). I’ve tried to keep myself in decent shape since we shot the last one about four years ago. It’s a lot in my late 40s.

“We kept healthy, cautious. We had nine people in our house, which became 10 because my sister-in-law had a baby … It was not lonely and good for the kids to have cousins. We all get along well. A lot of cooking and swimming last summer. We tried to make the most of it like everybody else and keep creative. My wife took up painting, I was writing and working out a lot and just tried to keep moving forward.”

He moved to Montclair in 2011 because he and his wife wanted a suburb with an easy commute and “a lifeline to the city, and we wanted an open and liberal environment and a creative environment” to raise their children.

His wife, originally from Poland, grew up in New York and was initially reluctant. “We came out for the afternoon around Halloween and I thought this is awesome,” he said.

Patrick Wilson with Lena Dunham in “Girls.”

Wilson’s credits, in addition to the films listed above, include “Hard Candy” (2005), “Little Children” (2006), the second season of the FX series “Fargo” (2015), “The Founder” (2016), “Midway” (2019) and many others. His role in HBO’s series “Girls” as a doctor briefly involved with series creator Lena Dunham’s character, Hannah, reached an audience glued to the popular and groundbreaking series about young women living in New York.

“Some people only know me from horror movies, some people know me from one episode of ‘Girls,’ ” he said. “Early on, I tried to keep myself as versatile as possible and I was very conscious of wanting to do different genres, because I am a movie fan first and don’t just love one kind of movie.”

Though his characters change, his nuanced performances remain a constant.

He prepares for these parts by approaching each script with an openness. “For me it starts with the script … like walking into a party: If somebody wants to have a good time at a party, you walk in with a positive attitude, open, ready to have fun, right? When I open a script and start reading it, I’ve got to be open and willing to roll with it and find my way in. There’s usually something about the character that I go, ‘Okay, I get that.’ It might be a totally whacked out character but there’s usually something … a kernel that I can relate to. So as long as I’ve got some way in … You just have to be open.”

He said he wants Cinema Lab to create community within its theaters, with knowledgeable staff and an intimate environment. “I want someone that comes there to have a personal experience,” he said. “I want people who work there to know about the movies that are playing. Like when you go into a bookstore … I love that when you walk into a bookstore and say, ‘Hey, I don’t know what to read,’ they say, ‘What do you like? … here are 30 books.’ I want that experience from the people who work in our theaters.”

Theaters, he said, should cater to the need of their communities. “So if we know that our crowd in South Orange is gonna love a certain film, then we will focus on those,” he said. “We want to rebuild theaters around the desires of the community.”

He said morning or maybe afternoon screenings for senior citizens would be good “as we are moving out of COVID times,” and he hopes the theaters offer discounts to low-income movie-goers.

Patrick Wilson with Vera Farmiga in “The Conjuring: The Devil Made Me Do It.”

Before the pandemic closed all theaters, he was part of a team that was trying to acquire and renovate Montclair’s Bellevue Theatre, which opened nearly a century ago and has been closed since 2017. This project was of personal interest as he enjoyed movies there with his family.

He got involved the day the theater shut down by talking with his friend and fellow Montclair resident Luke Parker Bowles (a film and TV producer who founded Cinema Lab this year) about keeping it open. Despite several years of planning, negotiations ended this year. Though disappointed that he could not bring his vision to his hometown, Wilson welcomes the theater’s reopening by its current owner “for the benefit of the community.”

He feels confident that his vision for building a unique theater experience will be realized via Cinema Lab.

“I’m super excited about SOPAC,” he said. “Cinema Lab will put its stamp on it in terms of look and feel over the next few months. The important thing is to get people back in the theater. We are so excited to jump in there.”

I asked Wilson if Cinema Lab will partner with Montclair Film Festival, the organization re-opening Montclair’s Claridge Theater in October as a six-screen art house.

“If the opportunity presents itself, we will,” he said, calling himself a “huge supporter” of Montclair Film and saying he hopes to be involved with the festival’s next fundraiser.

The South Orange Performing Arts Center.

When Broadway, where he launched his career, closed, he worried for his friends who have been out of work. “I’m fortunate I work in film now,” he said. “I felt worse for my friends that work in theater … but I’m an optimist and I believe that Broadway will rebound. Theater has been around for thousands of years and is not going to go anywhere.

“I’m fortunate to work in two genres that not only survive in this climate but really thrive, which is superhero movies and horror movies … But ultimately, I believe that there are very few events that change every week (like) new movies coming … whether it’s your first date, your last date, or you are taking your kids or going by yourself, there’s really nothing like that all-encompassing movie experience. I knew it would rebound.”

Even prior to the pandemic, he said, “you could see big box theaters were suffering or needing to shift, and then really small theaters weren’t working, so the sweet spot was three to six (screens) and reserved seating and a comfortable environment, a safe environment … that’s why we started Cinema Lab. The pandemic magnified that as far as safety and the kind of money you have to have to remain open. The financials that factor in and the experience lends itself to the boutique theater.”

For more about Cinema Lab, cinemalabmgmt.com.

For more about SOPAC, which is presenting shows now for limited capacity audiences but will begin full-capacity shows in September, visit sopacnow.org.

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