Patrick dives into his long-term grind as a character actor and the lessons he’s learned along the way.
“Right when I got Master and Commander. It was actually 18 years to the day I punched my last time clock on Mother’s Day 2002,” said Gallagher.
So, tell us who you are, how you got your start.
I got my start in Toronto. I’m Canadian. I’m a dual citizen. I went to the National Theatre School in Canada and graduated in 1993. I don’t know how people get their start down here. I have nothing but respect for people who come to this town and manage to do it. I wouldn’t know where to start to be honest with you. In Canada there was a lot of work. There’s as many productions but not as many actors. I think Vancouver has 10 casting directors, you know? It was a huge advantage for me to be able to start up there and just work all the time. Nothing huge, you know? But, you’d work 10, 15, 20 jobs in five years. Not big ones but you’d just learn how to be on set. I was really, really, fortunate to be able to do that.
What’s been happening in your world since #StayHome?
My graduating class and I have been Zooming every week. Every Saturday. Most of us are still in the business someway or another and we still keep in touch, which is nice. Sandra Oh (Killing Eve), Kari Matchett (ER), and Waneta Storms (Saving Hope), who is mainly a successful TV writer, were in that class. We were a very close class…and that bond is still there. We started about five weeks ago getting together every Saturday and just doing the Zoom. It was nice to reconnect.
What was your first gig?
Well, I was a Security Guard in RoboCop where I learned set continuity. My line was yes, hey, come with me. Get out. On the master I had to walk in and reach over with my left hand. When it came time to do the close up, I realized that didn’t work, so I had to use my right hand.
And my second job was a bodyguard in Kung Fu: The Legend Continues. I didn’t have a lot to say but I got to be on set for 5 days and figure out what the hell this was all about.
Gallagher’s 2nd Year Checkhov Workshop, ‘Uncle Vanya,’ circa 1992
What was your first major role?
The big one was Master and Commander. I still don’t know how I got that job. I was really fortunate. It was the British Navy in 1805, I looked at my agents and thought are you guys crazy? This guys Welsh in 1805. It’s a Russell Crowe film and a Peter Weir film. I thought, look at me. I’m ethnic. I’m not going to get it and I just thought I’m going to go, you never know. And somehow I got that job.
Is that when you decided you would leave for the States?
After that I was able to get Sideways because of my Sandra connection for a big Asian bartender, Gary the bartender. I did a Canadian show called Da Vinci’s Inquest, which is the first time I’d done a recurring character with any substance. So those three jobs I did in 2003 and 2004… that’s when I decided to come down in 2006 and I didn’t work for a year and a half.
Only to become the man of many faces– Glee’s, Coach Ken Tanaka. Night At The Museum’s, Attila The Hun, and True Blood’s Chow.
There is no right way to do this. It’s only the truth. Make a strong choice and go for it because they don’t know what they want until they see it. I’ve gotten jobs that were written for women. I’ve gotten jobs that were written for older, younger, different races. They’re looking for truth, you know? The only thing I try to do when I audition with a tape is to walk out and go, you know, I didn’t leave anything behind. I didn’t stop any impulses. I’m happy with that. Then you can not get the job and be fine with it. It’s just about doing good auditions.
Gallagher’s 1993 graduating class at The National Theatre School of Canada.
Kari Matchett (front L), Patrick Gallagher (back L), Sandra Oh (front R)
What’s been the biggest lesson you’ve learned since moving to the US?
It can be a tough slug sometimes. I’ve had a couple of pilots. It’s the greatest thing in the world to get a pilot. All of a sudden your life is going to change. Then the business changes and suddenly it doesn’t happen. But, I’m quite happy right now. I can’t complain. I’ve made a living at it. I haven’t had a regular job since Mother’s Day of 2002. That was right when I got Master and Commander. It was actually 18 years to the day I punched my last time clock on Mother’s Day 2002.
After so many roles, do you still get excited about the craft and the journey?
It goes in waves. I still get that same excitement I used to get when I was 23 or 24 every once in a while. At some point it never becomes boring, it becomes a job. Especially for someone like me. I play a lot of character actors and guest star actors. It’s a lot of the same thing, especially on Network Cop Shows. Some things excite me more than others. It’s always fun to work. I feel very fortunate.
You work what’s in your control, I love that.
I think what is really important is to understand the tone of the show. NCIS is not like doing A Streetcar Named Desire. It’s truthful but there is a certain, heightened level to it. I think you need to understand what the tone of the show is, which is important. A comedy is going to be different than a really, really heavy-duty emotional drama. Everything after comes down to relationships, tensions, emotional setup, and figuring out what is going on in the scene.
Episode 107: Detective William Sullivan (Patrick Gallagher) interviews Ellen Howard (Kacey Rohl) at the bank. Courtesy of CBC.
And you’ve just wrapped Fortunate Son on CBC Gem, which is a drama.
Yeah, Fortunate Son is a Canadian CBC series written by Andrew Wreggitt. Loosely based on his and his friend’s experience being US Draft Dodgers in Vancouver. Then it became a bit of spy stuff with the CIA, where the guy was playing both sides. I’d worked with the Creators at Lark Productions and Seven24 Films with them on a show called Borealis. That was one of the pilots that didn’t go. I worked with him and my friend Ty Olsson as the lead. I was sort of his sidekick. When Andrew was writing the two cops for the show, McLeod and Sullivan, he’d subconsciously written it with our voices in mind. One of the directors Stefan Schwartz said, who do you see? Who do you have in mind and he said, Patrick and Ty.
Finally, tell us about Dancing Ninja, starring Lucas Grabeel and David Hasselhoff, which was completely off the beaten path.
I just blew that one out my ass because, you know, those things they want big. They want you to have as much fun as you possibly can. That was a fun job actually. I had a lot of freedom from the director. They changed directors literally the day I got there. And so I showed up and he just let me experiment. Our job is to try things. I remember it said, it’s set somewhere in Asia so I said, I’m going to do a somewhere in Asia accent because I can’t do a straight up one. Then I said I want to do one line in every scene without the accent.
When I did Night At The Museum I remember Shawn Levy, the director, we kept trying things and trying things. He called it the Gallagher check…you would have 5 terrible ideas but I knew the sixth one would be a gem. That was so much fun because we just kept trying things and trying things. Attila was basically unwritten. We invented most of that. It was really really fun as an actor. You can’t be afraid to find gold.