Patrick J. Adams talks to Jack Walsh about Burning Man, his ending for Mike Ross and being a protégé of Dustin Hoffman
There’s a reserved energy to Toronto-born Patrick J. Adams. A distant stare, an uncertain confidence in his surroundings, all the signs of the superb casting decision Aaron Korsh made in giving Adams the role of Mike Ross, a character echoing each man in different ways. “I wish I could say I was a better actor but pretty much every part of Mike is me.
“That whole naivety in the first season, I’m falling over myself and tripping and dropping files that was me just going ‘I’m terrified’. All actors are supposed to be beacons of confidence and any young professional is supposed to exude this confidence like you know what you’re doing. I was in a format where I was able to play out those nervous qualities.”
Suits follow the trials of Ross (a university dropout with an eidetic memory) as he traverses the corporate legal world of New York City. Adam’s performance is an act built upon thirteen years after leaving his mother’s apartment to attend the University of Southern California, where he studied Theatre; a feat he describes as his Dawson’s Creek romantic ending.
This is a journey Adams simplifies as, “There was a lot of struggle, a lot of difficult times, made a lot of mistakes, and I mean a lot of mistakes. I do think that’s the time to do it though. Those four years that I had were all about making as many mistakes as possible and learning from them as quickly as possible.”
One of those mistakes involves a casting mix up, in which Mike received word of a pilot known as Mad Men. The problem? Another pilot (albeit a wild comedy) was also receiving auditions, also called Mad Men. Adams appeared in front of the future Emmy winning drama’s creators, and in his own words, “I auditioned for the drama Mad Men in its first year believing it was a comedy. I made a fool of myself, but I also got a call back.”
In eventually discovering Mike Ross, Adams discovered a role fitting for a actor of his kind at this stage in their career. Speaking about the character, Adams said, “It’s a part that was really about this young kid who despite having not followed a conventional path and who saw an opportunity to take advantage and prove to himself that finally he could do the things he thinks he’s capable of doing.
“I really related to that, and the audition was very very easy for me, because I got to sit there in front of network executives to do this scene with Harvey Spectre saying that I deserved this. ‘Give me my shot, this is me, this is my time’. It was just sort of meant to be, it was easy”.
Mike Ross has emerged as the calling card for Adams. His primary inspiration for advice came however in working with Oscar winner Dustin Hoffman on the HBO Horse Racing Drama Luck. Cast as Nathan Israel, Hoffman “saw in me someone who he could teach and mentor over the course of filming Luck, which we worked on together”.
He continued, “We keep in touch still, he’s just been so supportive and so kind and I think he really knows the struggle of a young actor and his story of being 30-years-old when he became successful and so he knows how hard it can be. I think he saw that I had the right intentions and that I was working hard and he saw over those few weeks me really grow up not only as a man but as an actor.”
The breakout moments within the show are often times the exchanges between Mike Ross and his legal mentor Harvey Spectre (Gabriel Macht). A show known for its witty remarks, Adams admits his most difficult scene came in the season two episode “High Noon”.
Spectre and Ross spend a time engaging in drinking and smoking weed, which inevitably opens age old wounds the two never knew existed. It was an important scene, and one unexpected from the usually dapper programme. “That was why it was one of the most difficult scenes to film. The relationship between Harvey and Mike is that those lines were never crossed again.
“That’s why I believe the scene was so funny and worked so well. I remember in person, it was about twice as long as it was, and when we started doing it I was like stoned people don’t move that fast. So we started taking out time, it was suddenly the dynamic of Mike and Harvey had changed. After that, the relationship became much closer, but they had to go through that
. Once you go through something like that with someone, you can’t go back”.
With a new guard of established names darting through the Suits cast, most notably Michelle Fairley and Conleth Hill (Catelyn Stark and Lord Varys of HBO’s Game of Thrones), many question the strength that the relationship between Harvey and Mike have in the shows dynamic. “It just gets stronger and stronger. We are still good friends and we have a lot of respect and support for each other and to have Michelle come in and spice up the cast was incredible.”
He continued, “Every time an actor like that comes into the mix, it brings everyone else up a notch. It forces us and allows us to take it more seriously and work harder and encourage them to give their best performance as well.”
For Adams, as an artist, it is become apparent that his ambitions don’t merely limit him to work in front of the camera. “I definitely will be directing an episode of Suits next year. I’m excited, I don’t know which one, I can’t tell you which as this may be a disaster. I’ve been shadowing directors; I directed a lot of theatre and I’m a photographer, so I will spend a lot of time working on it”.
When an actor in television establishes themselves with a role to emote day-in-day-out for a specific vision of a person, it’s only customary to want the best for them. Adams had a glint in his eye, excited and looking forward to seeing what Ross becomes.
“With that final few moments in Suits I hope it is a tease to what this character will become following Suits that he goes from a falling all over the place disaster, a person who was uncomfortable and unsure of who he was as a person and that it is left open for the audience to see who he has become.
“Not just a Harvey Spectre model 2.0, but a model of himself that people have invested so much time and energy into the show all over the planet which is so insane that so many people do but it’s our inspiration,” said Adams.
Aware that the show also draws in lots of different kinds of viewers, Adams said, “There are so many young people that watch the show and I know a lot of different people watch it for a lot of different reasons and not just Mike, but I think that Mike represents that sort of hope and that drive for something more. He is that part of ourselves that is reaching for the next step and I hope that type of people who watch the show are satisfied with whatever that final moment is.”
Gratification can come in many forms for an actor. Monetary gains, social standings, award shows. Adams experienced his whilst walking through the Nevada based Burning Man festival. “I met this guy who started telling me about how he and his wife watch suits on a weekly basis and how moved they were. Not just watch it, but they love it and believe it’s a story about mentorship.
“She was a mentor and she used the show as a means to teach some of the kids she looks after. It was an amazing moment in the middle of all of this. That’s when I knew that just maybe we had gone from being just a cool trendy television show to something that people really invested in.”
When asked about what his original motivations and intentions were to study acting, the cheerful Adams became solemn, and asked if it was ok to get real for a moment, “My father was a journalist; he was a man who sold stories. I knew that wasn’t the direction for me, I loved fiction and storytelling.
“Being a part of an imaginary world, there was just some part of me that was so transported by that type of work and be able to take the feelings that were in my own body and so much in our daily lives I had been told not to feel things and not to experience things and not to express things.”
He continued, “To hide everything away and be cool, always be cool. I was never cool. I was the type of person who couldn’t help but say what he was feeling and would talk about what I was going through and hear what other people were going through and so acting when I saw it for the first time was live and onstage and when I saw the effect it could have on me and other people then I knew there was nothing else in the world that I want to do.”
As a child, Adams wanted to be Michael J. Fox, and when asked about actors he admired as a youth said he “couldn’t believe that human beings could be completely capable of transporting us.”
As children, there are interests and beliefs that slowly and surely stop being special. Some stay. As an adult, Adams describes his process as an actor as, “[It] pulls me out of the fear and doubt and all that stuff and all that stuff inside each of us that sort of pulls you down and makes me feel like I’m part of a huge community of people and I’m part of something bigger than myself.
“I think when someone finds that thing in their lives that makes them feel bigger than themselves or makes them feel like part of something bigger then that’s when you have to pay attention to it, and at this point it has been acting. I don’t know if it’s always going to be what it is, but for now that’s still what it is.”