This morning, Suits star Patrick J. Adams became only the third actor from a USA show to ever be nominated for a Screen Actors Guild Award. (Monk‘s Tony Shalhoub was nominated seven times, with two wins, and Debra Messing received a nod for The Starter Wife.) It’s also impressive when you look at his company in the category: Boardwalk Empire‘s Steve Buscemi, Friday Night Light‘s Kyle Chandler, Breaking Bad‘s Bryan Cranston, and Dexter‘s Michael C. Hall. “To give you an idea of how unprepared and unsuspecting I was of this happening, when I saw the phone ringing, I thought what anybody thinks when they see the phone ringing at six in the morning, that something bad has happened,” he tells EW, with a laugh. “I’m embarrassed to admit it, but I didn’t even know that [the SAG announcement] was happening today.”
It’s a nice turn around for an actor who thought about quitting the business last year after being fired from the pilot of NBC’s ill-fated Friends With Benefits. That happened not long before he landed the role of Suits‘ Mike Ross, a guy with a photographic memory who works for New York City’s top legal closer (Gabriel Macht’s Harvey Specter), with whom he has to keep secret the fact that Mike doesn’t have a Harvard diploma or even a law degree.
ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: What do you think it is about the character Mike Ross that caught the attention of your fellow actors?
PATRICK J. ADAMS: For me, the thing about Mike, which has always been the thing about Mike, is the chance to embody the energy of somebody who’s in a new environment that scares them and that they’re not sure they can survive in, that takes every piece of their will power and their faith in themselves to keep them there. I think we all respond to that, actors especially. My experience as an actor has been defined by that struggle to be taken seriously, by that struggle to improve, by that struggle to get people to pay attention and give you the opportunities that you think that you deserve and that you think that you can do a good job with. So that’s always been my energy playing him. This morning when I hear about this nomination, and then I learn more about the process of being nominated for a SAG Award and understand that these are all working actors, these are union members who come together and sort of randomly pick the people that they want to nominate, to me, that says that they really connected with that struggle, with what Mike is going through trying to prove himself in a world that can be really difficult and fierce and that people sometimes fall through the cracks in.
And what’s great is that you play him as someone who can be brilliant, charming, and sexy and still be insecure, which makes him real and relatable. Beyond the work drama, I remember us talking about the love triangle toward the end of season 1, and you saying it takes a lot of confidence to end up with the woman who you always imagined yourself with and you didn’t know if Mike was there yet.
Yeah. That’s what makes him a pleasure to play. There’s so much on television and in film about the coolest guy in the room, the best guy, the guy who does everything right. Then he has one problem, but other than that, he’s kind of amazing. That’s not my feeling about myself or my work, it’s not really my experience with anybody. It’s the flaws that make us interesting. It’s the struggle. And so from the very beginning, I was really encouraged by the creator of the show [Aaron Korsh] and everyone involved to pursue that angle. That’s what I came into the audition with. You know, I was fired from a job not long before Suits happened, and I was really carrying that around with me, that feeling that nothing was really gonna work out and that there was a good chance that I was gonna walk away from the business and call it quits. And then I got this script, and I thought wow, that’s really cool that someone’s writing a character that so fits my state of mind right now. It was the perfect coming together of that. All actors who have been in this game long enough have experienced that same thing that I went through last year, which is rejection and people telling you that you’re not good enough and that you’re not ready for this job.
And that was the NBC pilot Friends With Benefits.
It was one of those shows that was really troubled, and a lot of great people who I met and worked with for about a week before I disappeared ended up getting fired and taken off of it. It’s one of those shows where everything just sorta went wrong, a perfect storm. Once a thing like that happens, even it’s something that you don’t really think is a good fit for you or that you’re already thinking is a little bit of a disaster, you still take it personally. You still think wow, if I couldn’t make this work, am I gonna make anything work?
I know you don’t start shooting season 2 until April, is there anything you can tease? Talking with Aaron after the finale, I know he said it would be a cheat for Trevor not to tell Jessica something that would affect Mike’s life seriously, though Trevor has more options than the fact that Mike isn’t a real lawyer.
Yeah, there are many options. From what I know, the writers just kind of all got back into the room together, and they’re just in the process of peeling back the layers of what they want to see in season 2.
Aaron also mentioned he’d like to see more of Mike’s Grammy.
I was always fighting for more with Grammy, because I think she’s Mike’s anchor to the world. She’s the one thing that really keeps him who he is, so I’m excited to see what we can do with that. In a more general way, I loved getting to play the bumbling guy who doesn’t get most things right, who’s making a lot of mistakes, in season 1. I never want to lose that. But I’m also excited to see the ways that he comes of age, in a sense, and becomes a man and starts owning the things that he’s good at. For me, that’s when the show is at its finest, when you get to jump from a big mistake or something that he doesn’t know to somewhere where he’s of value, and he understands that he’s of value, and you get to see him and Harvey click, and see how when they’re working together at their best how that works. So I’m excited to explore that end of things as well. The journey of Mike and of this show is to see this guy grow up and really own himself so that by the end of it, he’s a very different person than the one you started with.
In the season 1 finale, we saw Mike come up with ideas that saved Harvey. How do you think that affects their relationship moving forward?
I think that’s gonna have to be part of it. As Harvey and Mike get closer, it’s gonna become more nuanced. They’re gonna have a better shorthand, understand each other’s strengths and weaknesses, and know how to work toward them very quickly, so that will be fun. But at the same time, you gotta keep the stakes up and you gotta finds way to create conflict, and there’s obviously still a lot of things up in the air, most of all how long can Mike really keep this thing going on before the bottom falls out. And what happens when the bottom falls out? What are the repercussions for not just Mike, but also Harvey, because he’s sort of tied his fate to Mike’s? That, I think, is the strength of the show, the sense of friendship and mentorship and how that bond surprises both Mike and Harvey when it’s tested, when they find like, wow I actually really like having this guy teach me and I really like having this kid around.
With the show not coming back until this summer, I know Aaron was hoping to do commentaries for the Season 1 DVD, which will be out this spring, to give fans something new. Did that happen?
Yeah, we did the pilot and the finale commentary. We loved doing it, so we’re trying to find a way to potentially do more. You get us all in the room talking to each other and making fun of each other, and we have a pretty good time. So if we don’t do more commentary on the season 1 DVD, I’m sure we’ll get more on the second season’s.
What do Harvey and Donna use that can opener for in their pre-trial ritual? The popular theory online is that they open a can of whoop ass.
[Laughs] I’ve heard that. I think Gabriel actually came up with that. I saw an interview where he said that. What do they do with the can opener? In my mind, it’s some strange Twin Peaks thing, something that none of us would even understand if we saw it. Obviously, the first time I read it, my brain went to way different things that I’m sure you couldn’t print. But then realizing that Harvey and Donna are just not in that kind of relationship, I realized that it has to be some sort of strange tradition. I appreciate the mystery of it.
And what exactly is that gymnastics video that Mike and Jenny referenced when planning their ritual?
So much of this stuff is improvised on the set, that’s the best part. I think I had recently seen a Cirque du Soleil. I had gone with a bunch of my friends, actually a bunch of guy friends, if you can believe that. That’s what me and my guy friends do. Instead of football, we go to Cirque du Soleil. We were sitting there, and we were just kind of in awe of the contortionists. So I think I had gymnastics and contortionists on the mind at that point.
Last question: I missed HBO’s sneak peek of David Milch’s horse track drama Luck. What can you tell me about your recurring role?
I missed the sneak peek, too. It’s a very different character, a very different show. I think it’s brilliant, some of the finest writing in the world, and working with Dustin Hoffman is incredible. I’m not sure what I can or should say about it [it officially premieres Jan. 29], because I think it will be a good thing to unravel. But I did do a few episodes, and my character works really closely with Dustin’s character, to help him accomplish some things and do some odd jobs for him and be a go-between, in a sense, between him and Michael Gambon’s character. I got to work very closely with Dustin and Michael Gambon, and that was like a master class.