When Patrick Heusinger read the script for Absentia Season 1 Episode 1, he decided he had to play the role of Nick Durand, a man caught between his current wife, and the one he thought was murdered by a serial killer.
Patrick chatted with me about the psychological complexities of playing a character surrounded by trauma, filming an entire series in Bulgaria, how he missed out on meeting co-star Stana Katic on the set of Castle, and much, much more.
I’ve watched all of Absentia, and it’s one heck of a psychological thriller. What drew you to the project?
Oded Ruskin, the director of our show. I mean, the first thing that happened was that I got the script, and I read that, and I absolutely fell in love with it, because I only got the first one. But I just really liked that when I got to Alice’s character, how fleshed out she was.
Usually, characters like that tend to be straight two dimensional. They tend to be sort of a foil to the lead character, and when I saw that, I thought it was a great compliment to the writing. Here was this fully realized, great character, and then I sort of realized that they were doing that with a lot of characters. I became interested through that.
I continued reading, loved the plot and then I thought to myself, this needs a great director. It has to have a great director, no matter what kind of talent they get on this show, and then I said, who’s directing? And they told me this guy, Oded Ruskin, and I asked if I could see anything he’s ever done?
And they said, no, because it’s not available anywhere online yet. Now his new show is available on Hulu, but at the time his first show that he had done called False Flag, in Israel was not available anywhere, but they gave me links.
I got lucky. I sat down and watched the first season of his show in literally one sitting and did not get up. I called them back the very next morning. I called casting, and I said, I know we made a tape yesterday for an audition for the show, but if he doesn’t like it, please call me back because I want to go back in and I want to do it again because I need to work with this man. He’s brilliant.
Then they called back, and they said as luck would have it you don’t need to come back in because he’s only interested in one actor and that’s you. So there was a little bit of kismet that way, and that’s what sucked me in.
I really enjoy doing projects where I can go and learn something, where I can try and take some risks, and this has been a part where I thought I was going to be able to do that.
Talk about a small world; you actually had a guest role on Castle Season 6 Episode 4, Stana Katic’s former hit show. Were you able to meet Stana during your time on the set, because I don’t think the two of you shared any scenes in that episode?
No! We literally had never met until this project. Never met her. I didn’t know anything about her. I got to work with a lot of her costars. It was a nice set. I think I was in the show in 2013, or something. I had a lot of fun.
That was in a section of my life where, you know, anything I can get to make money. I need to pay the bills. I need to eat! And a funny story about that Castle one though, is that I had shot a week prior an episode of Bones (Bones Season 9 Episode 5) and I was the killer on Bones, and then I was the killer on Castle.
Weirdly, they ended up airing on the same exact night, so if you watched procedural crime shows, then you saw me as the killer on one show and then you could change the channel and watch me again. You would be like, I think that guy’s going to be the killer because he was just the killer.
It was pretty fun. But no, I never ran into her. We never even like shook hands or anything. I never even saw her. We were just in different scenes.
I understand that most of Absentia was filmed in Bulgaria?
It was all filmed in Bulgaria. There were a few plates, as they call them, where the director had gone to Boston by himself with the Director of Photography, to pick up kind of wide shots that we would use while we were driving, because all of the driving scenes were, for the most part, were green screen drives.
So they would use that for the green screen. But none of the actors were ever in Boston. Any time you see us on screen, we were all in Bulgaria.
What was it like to film there, and how long were you in Bulgaria?
We were there for about four months. We did some preproduction before Christmas of 2016, and then we all went home for Christmas, and then we were back on like January the 2nd. It was right away, and then we started shooting on the 4th or the 5th. It was pretty quick. And then we were there until the end of March. So off and on, four months-ish.
I can tell you about everything I experienced on set and with the crew. My sister’s husband happens to be Bulgarian. I had never been there but I obviously already had an affinity for the Bulgarian people because I love my sister’s husband and that only grew once I got there. They were such wonderful people, I mean, the crew there were wonderful, very hard working.
When you get a film crew, you never know what you’re going to get. You don’t know; sometimes when you go to cities that aren’t New York, or LA or Atlanta, or Vancouver, where they do a lot of shooting, you don’t know what you’re going to get with a crew because sometimes there’s a hodgepodge of experience.
But this was a wonderfully experienced crew. They were really good at their jobs, and the people who were new to it were very eager to learn. That was fun for me to watch, the people who were new develop into great talent because they were surrounded by such wonderful leaders on the crew.
So that was mostly my experience with the people because I did not get out much. Not many of us did. We were shooting six days a week, and we had one day off. I think I had like three alcoholic beverages for the duration of the shoot because I just couldn’t do it. I couldn’t go out and drink and be hungover and ruin the whole next day.
Most of the time Stana and I would be shooting every single day. If you think about it, every time you see her, usually I’m not too far behind her as the show goes on later. But in the early part, we were together all the time.
So, we would always be shooting, and if she was on set in the morning, I’d be there in the evening on the same exact location, or I’d be in the morning, and she’d be in the evening at the same location. It was very grueling and very exhausting, but that took away the opportunity for me to get out and do any sightseeing.
That said, I will be changing that if we get a season 2. I’ve made it a mission of mine to make sure that I visit more than the one cathedral that I did. I think I went to like two restaurants or three restaurants the entire time I was there because I was eating at home every night.
Absentia has a pretty dark tone. Did the cast do anything to lighten things up on the set behind the scenes?
No! When we had larger off days, we would do what we could. I mean, I think we had a big party in the middle of shooting, right around the halfway mark to keep it loose. That was one of the nights where I had some beverages, and we all did. We had a great time, and then towards the end, we had a wrap party and that kind of thing.
But it was such intense material that there wasn’t…I think there are some actors who are capable of being total goofballs and then pressing play and shooting, but Stana and I both, there wasn’t a lot of goofing around.
To bury yourself, I think, in order to pull off the kind of post-traumatic stress that Nick Durand was experiencing, I didn’t think it was going to be easy for me to be laughing and then just suddenly drop into character.
It’s akin to when English actors are on American sets, frequently they’ll speak in an American accent from the moment they arrive on set until they leave, and then maybe they’ll put on their English accent when they get to the hotel because it’s hard sometimes to just drop in and out of that.
Nick Durand is a man caught in the unique and unenviable position of being caught between two wives. What was that like to play?
As an actor it’s easy. You just do what’s on the page. But for the work, it’s very complicated. Generally, it’s interesting because how I would handle it in my own life, if I were ever in that situation, I would hope that I would be doing everything I could to try and facilitate some sort of understanding between the two.
I would be heavily involved in the recuperation process with my missing wife. You know what I mean, but that’s not what the writers did.
The writers gave me a man who’s introverted and didn’t understand how to navigate complicated emotional waters. They gave me a man who is not a great communicator. He does not know how to have that conversation because he’s incapable of that. That’s just not the way he was raised.
That was a big challenge for me to try to understand the psychology of this human being who was deeply traumatized, not once, when he thought his wife died and experienced severe trauma through that. He literally mourned her loss and figured out how to put the pieces of his life back together.
He's managed just sort of being on the edge of doing that properly, half for the sake of his son and half for his own sanity, and then suddenly she’s back, which is like this whole other type of trauma to experience.
And then those scenes when all three of us are in a room, myself, I think I would stand there and try to make sure that everybody understood what was happening, but Nick is terrible at making sure that somebody knows that they’re loved, and making sure that somebody understands the new boundaries of this new relationship now that they’ve returned.
It was very difficult. It was a challenge, but one I think where I played into the writing that I was given. We had a lot of fun as a team, exploring what those relationships were.
The fan reaction to Absentia that I’ve seen has been very positive. Have you heard any news about the possibility of an Absentia season 2?
I don’t know. What have you heard?
I haven't! I was hoping you had. I guess we're both left waiting.
You’ve done so many different and interesting roles. From the plays Next Fall and Bent, to playing the villain in Jack Reacher and now Absentia. Do you have a favorite or most memorable role so far?
Well, first of all, thank you so much for looking up all of that stuff. I take a lot of pride in creating these very different people. This character is very different than the villain I created for Jack Reacher, very different from my role on Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce. Very, very different than both of those plays you just listed.
I enjoy playing traumatized people. Like, I enjoy digging into the psychology of human beings and the behavior of human beings, especially when people, like the person that I’m playing, exist in the world.
One of the first things I did with this job, I actually went to the FBI at the Boston field office, and I sat with them and met with the men and women of that agency and was able to ask every question from, 'What’s it like raising a family with this job?' 'What’s it like being married with this job?' 'Do FBI agents actually marry each other?' Really digging into what is the psychological goal.
They are very similar to the way that I played it, that they are cards close to their chest. They don’t hand out their emotions freely when they do it’s private. They don’t give away all of their facts right off to anyone.
We talked about that, and one of the gentlemen I was speaking to said that there are things that he can’t share with his family simply because it’s classified. You know, so that’s fun. I enjoy that.
On that note, to answer your question directly, I think the most challenging role, the most fully three-dimensional role that I’ve played to date was the role in Bent. I mean, that was a role that was originated by Ian McKellen. It was the role that made him famous. It was a role where I had the opportunity to work with the playwright who wrote that play.
Then Ian McKellen himself actually came to see the play, and that was one of those kinds of life-altering experiences. It really changed the trajectory of how I approach this, of how I approach acting. It changed the trajectory of how I choose the projects that I want to work on, and for that, I’m very grateful.
But, to be even more direct, in all seriousness, as trite as this might sound, my favorite role to play is the one I’m doing then, the one I’m doing in that moment, because my favorite thing, more than the performances, more than watching it back, my favorite part is the process.
My favorite part is when I have the opportunity to do all of this research that I was talking about.
I mean going to the FBI, learning about these people, trying to authentically portray them onscreen. Researching the way that I did with this psychologist who deals with post-traumatic stress. Watching interviews of people who have lost loved ones who have been abducted and had them returned to them. Watching interviews of people who have had loved ones who have been abducted and not returned to them, and seeing the difference in how they handled that.
And then in this particular case, getting to explore an introvert the way that I did, because this guy is not like a lot of the characters on the show who say what they think, and they say what’s on their mind, and they kind of spill it all out there.
This is a man who is not comfortable being in the spotlight and doesn’t want to be because that was sort of Emily’s role in their relationship. She was the star FBI agent, and he was totally cool being the sous chef, or the line chef. He enjoyed that role and being a father, more than he did an active agent.
Wow, that was a very long answer to a very simple question.
Do you have another project in the works? Anything your fans can be on the lookout for?
No, this is a unique time for me because it’s the first time in my life where I have had the opportunity to breathe a little and kind of take stock of my own life. This is the first time since being a professional actor where I’ve been afforded that opportunity.
One of the things that I’ve done is that I’ve traveled for the first time in my life. I had the opportunity to visit these amazing countries that I’ve never seen in my entire life this year, including Japan, and Spain, and Sweden, and Italy, and most recently Iceland.
That was something I never thought I was going to get to do, and I had the time and the opportunity for the first time ever, so I took advantage of it. I’ve been doing that, and in the meantime, I’ve been using a lot of energy starting to learn a language because I can only speak one language, and I don’t want to die monolingual.
And the other thing is that I think I’m going to start taking a philosophy or psychology class because I’m really, really interested in that on an academic level and as a byproduct, it’s only going to help me dive into the human beings that I’m trying to create.
I’m being able to kind of relax for the first time in my life because I’ve been primarily doing TV and apparently when you get on a TV show you’re not allowed to do any other TV.
When you’re playing the lead guy in a show, you are not allowed to play a series regular on anything else, which I learned doing this. I was like, oh man, I can’t audition for TV anymore?
So I’m on the lookout, I’ve been taking a lot of scripts, and I’ve been reading them, and I’ve been saying no to a lot of things because I’m just not excited. I want to do something that’s going to excite all of the artistic bones in my body if I can. I think that’s an impossibility.
I don’t think that anyone gets to that unless they’re creating it themselves. But I’m very interested to see what kind of challenge comes next. I’m curious because I don’t know what it’s going to be.
If you want to see more Patrick Heusinger, you can watch Absentia online and check out my Absentia Season 1 reviews here at TV Fanatic.
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C. Orlando is a TV Fanatic Staff Writer. Follow her on Twitter.