Combustible Celluloid

Patrick Warburton

Working Hard

by Jeffrey M. Anderson

The six-foot-three Patrick Warburton, who supplied the voice of Superman on a Jerry Seinfeld American Express commercial, and will play the live action version of The Tick this fall, sits in his chair wearing a Hawaiian shirt and a backwards baseball cap, just an ordinary guy like you or me.

He is in town to promote an 18-month old film called The Woman Chaser that has been slowly picking up momentum since its appearances in the New York and Sundance film festivals. "It's been a very pleasant and wonderful kind of ride for me. After we finished it, I went to Australia for a couple months to work on a little film with Sam Neill called The Dish. By the time I came back, I started hearing word of things like, 'we're in the New York film festival and we're in the Sundance film festival.' Positive things have continually happened with this film. It's just the little movie that won't die, and it keeps kind of building and building and building. We've been invited to a lot of film festivals in Stockholm, Sweden, Athens, Greece, all over. But now we're getting released, and it's like one city at a time, New York and then Los Angeles and here in San Francisco, and Sacramento and Berkeley. New cities and dates keep popping up. Word of mouth has just been a really good positive thing on this."

The Woman Chaser is based on a novel by 1950's pulp writer Charles Willeford, best known for Miami Blues and Cockfighter. Warburton has not read the novel yet, but he has a good reason. "I actually have a copy of the novel, but it's a vintage copy and I'm afraid I'll hurt the pages. My wife found it on the internet for $250. It's in pristine condition. It's all wrapped in plastic. It's a $250 version of a 50 cent book. At this point it's an heirloom."

Warburton adds his assurance that the screenplay, by director Robinson Devor, stays faithful to the book. In addition to not reading the novel, Warburton admits that he did not complete another task assigned to him by Devor. "He gave me a copy of Kiss Me Deadly (1955), which he rented. I never watched it. So this is over a year and a half ago, and I still have that copy. He probably owes about a thousand dollars on it. I think I should watch it now. But I didn't want to watch it at the time, because I felt like I had a clear enough idea of character and style. I didn't want to watch another performance no matter how good it was and try to emulate anything. I just thought, there's enough unique aspects to this project, let's just try to keep it that way. So I never watched it. My only job as an actor is to try and understand the character and, to the best of my ability, bring this character to life. And just leave it at that."

Warburton suddenly decides the mood of our interview has become too serious. "Maybe I'm just a fucking lazy..." He goes into a whiny drawl, "I don't want to see this movie. What if I don't like it? I wanna watch Caddyshack again! Why're you making me watch a movie for homework? Why in God's name would I want to watch a black and white movie?" He laughs. "I always try to make it look like artistic choices, but I'm just lazy."

Warburton seems to have gone on instinct alone on the movie, but he does have his own take on his character, Richard Hudson. "He's just a brutish, self-serving ass. There's something very boyish about Hudson. He's dangerous and he scares you, but then there are times when he's just like a pathetic little boy. Maybe that's why you can empathize with him a little bit, 'cause you just see what a pathetic creature he is and how lost he is. I don't really know why people find it in their hearts to forgive him, or at least care about him a little bit. I'm just glad that they do. I'm very flattered. I just look at it this way: as long as I've got 'em fooled. I've got three kids I'm going to have to put through college. Four! I've got a fourth on the way."

Despite being a family man, Warburton had the opportunity to seduce many women in The Woman Chaser, even though none of them are what you'd call "supermodels." Warburton's wife Cathy was merely amused. "Yeah, she definitely got a kick out of a lot of that stuff. And if she has to see me do a love scene she'd just as soon they're with someone other than Angelina Jolie or Ashley Judd. Personally I don't think things are going to change. We'll watch movies and she'll say, 'I don't ever want to see you doing a scene like that!'"

Further proving what a normal guy he is, while working on his new movie The Dish in Australia, Warburton met Tom Cruise at Sam Neill's house. "We had the opportunity to chat for a while, and played ping pong, and the whole time, I felt like a kid, 'oh Tom Cruise!' He's a real star! It's trippy being around someone like that. He's an icon. He's like James Dean. Bigger than life."

Someone out there seems to think Warburton himself is an icon. A simple internet search reveals a page full of pictures from an obscure 1987 flick called Dragonard, Warburton's first film. Warburton says, "Dragonard is truly one of the great pieces of shit ever made. And you know what? I'm the worst part of it! Oliver Reed's in it; at least he's watchable. He might have been drugged, but he's still dangerous and watchable. That's one of those things that I really would feel more comfortable if some old grotesque nude pictures of me surfaced all over the internet everywhere as opposed to that movie. With the pictures I could explain, 'hey, I'm naked all right? Big deal!' Bad acting, there's no excuse."

"You know what?" Warburton jokes as he looks at the pictures. "These aren't so bad! It's like, hey, got the chains going. I got good hair back then. I was in great shape. I was rowing crew three years before that. I had 2.5% body fat. I got about 20% now."

Though he is now a leading man in The Woman Chaser, audiences may know Warburton from a variety of other works. He recently appeared in Scream 3 and has done major television commercials for M&M's, Bugle Boy jeans, Cadillac, and American Express. He is probably best known as Elaine's boyfriend "Puddy" on Seinfeld and as Johnny Johnson on News Radio. He has just completed the pilot for the live-action series based on The Tick comic book and cartoon (he plays the Tick himself). "It was a lot of fun to do." Warburton says. "I'm not going to say that wearing the Tick costume is the most pleasant thing in the world. But I think it's an honor to get to be the Tick." In addition, he has completed two more feature films; The Dish and one for Tick director Barry Sonnenfeld called Big Trouble with Tim Allen, Rene Russo, and Janeane Garofalo. Whew.

Warburton is just happy to be working. He has no aspirations for stardom or any grand plan. "If a big commercial comes along that's a great role, I'd [take] it. Right now it's mostly the independent film stuff where the best opportunities are presenting themselves--the best roles. To me that's still the most important thing right now. I think, ultimately, if you're in position to score lots of great roles in major pictures, it would be a great place to be. But I'm not there right now. But I'm having fun doing what I'm getting to do. We'll see what lies in the future."

"I'm amazed at the fact that I have three children, mortgage payments, and right now I don't have to worry about [money]. 'Cause there have been times that I had to worry about, 'what am I going to do next month for rent?' I remember when we were living in a condo in Van Nuys. I had to go help my buddy pull fiberoptics out of walls. Motherfucker didn't even pay me. That's what friends are for! But I was doing stuff like that to get our mortgage payment--$1000 a month for a condo. It was scary."

"And I don't do the things to slow me down like I used to. I used to like to party all night long. Back in my 20's, a road trip to Vegas with a bottle of vodka and an 8-ball was a good thing. My nature is to want to go out and do damage--hellraising. There's no way in hell I'd ever do anything like that now. I can't. It's that yin-yang thing. You don't want to break your children's hearts or destroy your kids. But it's all good [now]. God's been good to us. When you have kids, I think, somehow, you get luckier. The responsibility becomes overwhelming. Even as an actor. Your concerns, your responsibilities, everything just becomes a little bit more real."

July 12, 2000

color photo courtesy Rob Blackwelder

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