Will Patton has seen it all. Or a lot of it.
The veteran actor, who plays Captain Weaver on TNT's Falling Skies, has portrayed characters who have worked in politics, space exploration, law enforcement and sports. But he finds himself facing something alien in the cable network sci-fi series, which airs its Season 2 finale on Sunday at 9 p.m. ET/PT.
On hiatus, he's calling from the mountains of North Carolina and worries about the cellphone connection. But his distinctive voice is loud and clear.
His face is familiar, too.
Patton, who prefers not to talk about his age, played opposite Kevin Costner in the 1987 movie No Way Out. His character, Scott Pritchard, the assistant to the Secretary of Defense in that movie, was an antagonist to Costner's character.
He was a member of Bruce Willis' character's shuttle drill team in 1997's Armageddon.
And his character was the coach who stayed on to help Denzel Washington's Coach Herman Boone in 2000's Remember the Titans.
You name it, he's probably played it or read about as a reader of audiobooks. He doesn't take the experience of walking in someone else's shoes for granted, but realizes that he probably really only scratches the surface when it comes to his characters' areas of expertise.
"At the time, I really do get into (the roles) pretty far and find out a lot about stuff which is very exciting, but then I'm on to learning something new," he says. "So what I retain is pretty shallow compared to the actual people who do it. But it's true. I feel lucky that way so that I have a better understanding of other human beings in other walks of life."
As for Weaver and Falling Skies, well, it's a bit of a surprise for Patton that the gig has lasted this long. "When I first got the script, I called Bob (Rodat, series creator) and asked, 'So what's the deal?'" Rodat told Patton that the character was supposed to die in the third episode. "I thought, 'OK. That's fine.' And here we are … he's entering the third season."
The show was promising from the start. Falling Skies is executive-produced by Steven Spielberg and his colleagues at DreamWorks. The series follows a resistance movement that seeks to overthrow an occupation by alien forces. After the Season 2 finale cliffhanger (what else?), fans can indeed look forward to its return.
In fact, Patton was about to set off on his drive back to the Canadian set of Falling Skies the day after this interview. How long would the drive to Vancouver be? "I'll stop and see a couple of friends and you know, it probably won't take more than five days," he says.
Captain Weaver, who is in charge of the 2nd Mass, a regiment in the resistance movement, would probably find that an easy trip. Weaver, a construction worker with some military experience, leads a group of soldiers and civilians from the Boston area as they fight the alien takeover in some very extreme conditions.
The responsibility is daunting. "In order to do that, he's had to perhaps be a different type of person than he actually is," Patton says. "One thing about Weaver is that he wears masks and he's very hidden about who he is — which I think makes the moments when he does reveal himself all the more powerful. He's an interesting character that way. In order to command, he's had to put on this mask of command and maybe not be as nice as people would like him to be or show the kindness that people are expecting."
Patton's tough character has formed a strong partnership with Tom Mason, a Boston history professor played by Noah Wyle, who is also a leader of the 2nd Mass. And by the end of this season, the two have rubbed off on each other. Patton explains. "What's happened recently is that Tom has become a little tougher and Weaver has become more human," he says.
Patton acknowledges that there are similarities between him and his character. "There always are," he says. "I can't really do a character unless I find something about my life that corresponds." But he would prefer not to elaborate. "Eh, I'd just like to say that there are similarities."
How did Patton become Weaver? When he read the script, he was impressed. "I really like Bob Rodat's writing and there's something really compelling about it … something really sort of different about the way he laid out his characters in such an extreme world."
So he decided he wanted the role. "I love things where I can be physical and I so love high stakes, and you usually don't get that unless you're doing a play or an action movie," he says with a laugh. "Action movies aren't what you always want to do but this had some human stuff along with the action that I thought was really good."
And Patton is well aware that the series' story and plotlines could go on indefinitely.
"It's interesting because when you first start working on a series, you think, 'this is good, I'm finding something interesting to me and I like working on it,'" he explains. "And then, as you get further into it, you begin to really care about the other characters, about your guy, about the world of the show, and you become committed so that something in you just wants it to go on, because it becomes like your family and this one version of your life that you feel protective of. And particularly in this situation where I'm like taking care of the 2nd Mass, so I feel it doubly. I have a great affection for all the young people on the show and I care about them. And I want them to do well. So I'm committed now."
That doesn't mean you won't see him in other projects.
"I just finished shooting this movie with Michael Pitt (Boardwalk Empire) called You Can't Win, which was based on a book that was written in the 1890s by a guy named Jack Black but not the Jack Black we know," Patton says. "The guy was kind of a thief and a vagabond and a hot head. (It's) a true narrative that was written by this guy who kind of rehabilitated himself in prison. So it was about a bunch of these guys that were kind of criminals that took care of each other out on the road in the 1890s, hopping freights."
But right now, he is looking forward to going back to the future and arriving at the Falling Skies set, where new sci-fi adventures await.
"I'm sure I'd be very unhappy if it was a procedural — you know, a lawyer show or a doctor show," he says. "I like that this is sort of so far out and that what's going to happen next is usually just like 'WOW!'"