Paper Napkin Interview: Talking Southern with Patrick Wilson

We chatted with the actor and singer about his upcoming film Big Stone Gap, bow ties, and his penchant for Coke and peanuts. 

Story by Lacy Morris
Patrick Wilson Interview
Patrick at Tipsy Parson in New York, NY
Photo: Miller Mobley/ Redux

Hometown: Norfolk, Virginia

Occupation: Actor/Singer

What's on his Plate: The Release of His Latest Film, Big Stone Gap, with Costar Ashley Judd. It's Set in the Heart of Virginia's Blue Ridge Mountains.

Growing up, my brothers and I would spend some summers playing in the woods in a little coal mining town called Big Stone Gap, Virginia. We still have my grandmother's house there on Wilson Road—half of the people on the street are related to us. Even though I never lived [in that town], it's where I feel my Wilson people are from.

Big Stone Gap [the movie] is based on a novel by Adriana Trigiani. I stayed in my grandmother's house [while filming]. It was really special because I got to act with my brother. He never pursued acting as a profession, but it was something he did in high school and college. Watching him was the reason I got into it. To be able to be in a scene with him was amazing.

The best Southern phrase I ever heard was my grandfather describing my high school girlfriend. He said, "She's as cute as a speckled pup under a Studebaker." I've never been able to pull that off in real conversation. I tried to in Big Stone Gap, but my character is a coal miner, so it just never quite worked out.

My two older brothers and I grew up as die-hard Van Halen fans. We formed a band for fun—we're not trying to change the course of history here—and someone dubbed us Van Wilson. I said, "If we're going to be stupid, let's at least invert it." So our band is The Wilson Van.

I treasure when I get my family to have a sit-down meal. It doesn't happen every night, but it's a big priority. My dad went to work when I got home from school—he was a TV anchor—so the only time I got to see him during the week was at dinner. Family dinner became very important.

I gave up soda, but I still have this penchant for Coke and peanuts. It's such a Southern thing—pouring peanuts in glass bottles of Coke—that I've kept with me all these years. I always loved that as a kid growing up in [the South].

When I was in southwestern Virginia filming Big Stone Gap, I found a hookup for moonshine. When I came home with it, people were like, "You're the only guy in New Jersey who has moonshine at a party." I have a variety of flavors, and [when people drink it] I try to give my little spiel about what has higher proof.

I'd love to go toe-to-toe with Al Pacino again. It was a real thrill for me to act with him in Angels in America. That was my first proper [project]. And not that I'm not proud of my work [in it], but 10 years and nearly 30 movies later, I think I have a little more of the technical prowess.

I don't like wearing bow ties because I think I have a long head and they look silly on me. I was getting fitted to perform at the White House for the Kennedy Center Honors, and a salesman said, "You can actually wear a long tie instead." So I did. And then President Bush joked, "Thanks for dressing up." The next year I performed, Colin Powell said, "What, you can't wear a bow tie?" I guess that's just going to be my thing.

"Bless her heart" gets you out of any trouble. You can be bad-mouthing someone like, "She looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch all the way down. Bless her heart." For some reason that [phrase] justifies everything. Men can't really use it well, but women certainly can.