Steve Carell and Domhnall Gleeson did extensive research on therapists and patients before embarking on FX’s 10-episode series, The Patient. But they knew they couldn’t create characters based on other situations.
“You don’t play with the research,” explains Karel. “Because then it’s very thin. You try to arrive on the first day as prepared as possible. But once you’re there, it’s either inside you to some degree or it’s not.”
Gleeson adds: “All I could do was play the person in front of me. There are different types of people who kill people and Sam was incredibly specific.
In the series, Gleason’s Sam Fortner is a serial killer. He has taken a therapist (Carell’s Alan Strauss) hostage, and in the course of their relationship reveals details of his past. To make sure he doesn’t try to escape, Sam pins Alan to the bed.
It was a challenge for the film’s director to make sure that a story in one room was interesting from a cinematic point of view.
“It looked completely different depending on the time of day and night,” director Chris Long says of the set.
For Karel, it was an interesting “what if” scenario.
“We were really into it all day,” he says. “When I was chained up inside, it was a real lock with a real key, and I thought, ‘Boy, if there’s an earthquake or a fire, I hope somebody thinks about letting me out of here.’ It all added to the atmosphere of the space.”
Both actors did not consider The Patient to be a TV series or an extended film.
“Breaking it apart in terms of form wouldn’t be helpful to me,” says Gleason. “I was just talking to the guy in front of me and trying to figure out what the connection was.”
As a result, The Patient has episodes of varying lengths. “Some days you’re like, ‘This is going to be such a hard day because we have to go somewhere really dark,'” Gleason says. “And finally you’ll have the best time and go home.”
While Gleason could pace the room, Karel could not. This limits his options, but it also comes with other advantages: Gleeson’s character is a foodie, so he brings his hostages elaborate dishes.
This trait is designed to make the serial killer a “fuller” human being, says co-author Joe Weisberg. “You never associate a serial killer with food, so it seemed like this would be good.”
Karel mostly listened.
“I would like to delude myself that I would be a good therapist,” he says. “I like to listen to people, and that’s probably the most important aspect of it. But I don’t think therapy means someone is going to solve your problems. I see the therapist as someone who helps you connect the dots and asks you things that can lead you to find and draw your own conclusions.
Early on, Weisberg says, he and co-writer Joel Fields were eager to explore the idea of a serial killer who wants to get better, “instead of just being the crazy killer that you usually think of. We had to do some research to find out if this was a real thing or something ridiculous we just made up. We realized pretty quickly that it was realistic.”
Both the actors say they had a great time doing the series.
“One of the things I liked about working with Domhnall was that he’s very serious about his work, but he doesn’t take himself too seriously,” says Carrell. “For me, it’s the perfect combination. When it comes time to achieve what you both set out to do, you are on one mind and you do it.
“There were moments of ridiculous levity between the most horrific moments. But we teased each other about it and I think we were very fired up.”
Gleeson adds, “It was a perfect work experience for me.”
“The Patient” premieres Tuesday on Hulu.
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