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ATX Interview With Suits’ Patrick J. Adams

Patrick J. Adams plays newly admitted attorney Mike Ross on USA’s Suits. We had the pleasure of sitting down with Adams as a part of a roundtable at the recent ATX Festival, where we discussed Suits‘ upcoming 100th episode (which Adams will direct), what’s ahead for Mike in season seven, and the challenges that come with directing. Check out our chat below, and tune in for the season premiere of Suits on July 12th at 9/8c on USA!

Congrats on the 100th episode of Suits, you’re going to be directing!

“Thank you! Yes! Super excited. It’s really cool. What an honor.”

Why did you want to step into the director’s chair?

“This is my fourth episode directing, and it was really accidental in the way that it ended up being the 100th episode. We have a DP who works on the show who is only going to be with us for the first ten episodes of this year. 

There are all different reasons that I asked to do the eighth episode. It was earlier in the season. I’ve always done later episodes, and you have less access to the showrunner by that point. I just asked to do the eighth episode, and it turned out that that was the 100th. They said, ‘just so you know, this is the 100th episode that you’re asking to direct.’ For a second, I said, ‘oh, then you probably want that to be someone else,’ and started to back away, but then I realized I should lean in, ask for it and see if they would give it to me. I didn’t have to fight too hard, but I said I was really interested, and they agreed. I feel honored.”

Since this is the 100th episode, do you feel more of a responsibility?

“And terror? Yes! (laughs) It’s scary. The thing with our show, though, is that Aaron (Korsh) never writes an episode with something like that in mind. The fact that it’s the 100th episode will likely just be another episode of Suits. It will just happen to be the 100th episode. We’ll treat it the same way we treat any other episode. There will probably just be a little more fanfare. It’s really more of a milestone than anything in particular. 

The last episode I directed was Harvey and Donna in that dream sequence where they kiss at the beginning. That was almost more nerve wracking because you know that that’s a huge moment for Suits fans. You think, ‘I’ve got to get this moment right. If I screw this up, it’s a really missed opportunity,’ so I’ll just be looking at the script to see what it needs and hopefully be able to service it.”

100 episodes is a huge honor. Do you plan to celebrate?

“We’re here! This is the celebration. You don’t have much time in the flow of a television season to really sit back and take it all in. That’s kind of what we’re doing here. This is also one of the very few times that we’ll all even be in the same room. Gina (Torres) is not on the show full time anymore. This is rare that we all get to inhabit the same space.

Even when we shoot Suits, very rarely are all of us in one room shooting a scene. This is the celebration. There will be something that we do on set, for sure, but you only ever can celebrate with who is there to shoot a scene, which is usually just two or three people. Doing the panel will be our big moment to celebrate that.”

What’s your prep like when you’re directing an episode? Obviously, you’re in those episodes, too. Do you have to prepare as an actor, and also as a director?

“The actor prep after seven seasons is pretty streamlined. At this point, I know what he’s  (Mike) doing. Now, that being said, I can take that for granted sometimes and then end up in the middle of a scene and go, ‘you did not think about this!’ (laughs) But the prep I kind of have figured out. I just know to go over the lines and make sure you know what’s going on. 

As a director, there’s a lot more. There’s never too much prep that you can do. There’s so many different ways to think about something. You want to give notes to the writers to see if they could be into you doing a scene a little differently. You have to chart all of the characters’ trajectories through the episode to make sure you’re not missing  anything. I think it’s really important to know what’s going on for every character at every moment so that if an actor does turn to you like I just said happens to me in some scenes, and go, ‘I’m lost. I don’t know what I’m supposed to be doing, I didn’t think about it,’  I can go, ‘no problem, this is what I think is going on,’ and you can have that at your disposal. 

When you’re directing, you’re asked 1,000 questions an hour about everything- about things you never thought you had to think about. Luckily, my brain does that, anyway, so being a director puts my brain at ease because I have answers for those questions that I didn’t know I had! (laughs)”

A panelist yesterday said that the best actors to direct are the ones who just directed an episode of their show.

“They have so much patience! That’s what Gabriel (Macht) did. I think I have a recording of him somewhere on my phone where I made him say it. He said, ‘I will do whatever any director wants me to do from this point on!’ (laughs) You have a lot of empathy for that person because they’ve been through the ringer.

What you don’t realize as an actor is how much work has been done before you get there. That doesn’t always mean the work is right. I think my biggest responsibility as a director is if I show up to the set and someone says ‘well, I didn’t really see it this way,’ at least you’ve got the capacity to go, ‘cool, let’s throw it out.’ You have to have the actor on board. If, for whatever reason, they’re not seeing eye-to-eye with you, on a television show where you’ve got ten pages to shoot, you need everybody to be on the same page. You have to find common ground and make it work.

I think after an actor has been through that process, you come to set and realize, ‘oh, this isn’t just another scene for you. You have thought about this scene probably way more than I have at this point, and I should learn from you and take your word for it.’ But that being said, a lot of times, actors have a different approach. They have something they’ve thought about, and it totally informs the scene. You have to be ready to drop everything as planned and just go with it.”

Mike is a member of the bar, now. What is lawyer life going to be like for him? Is he going to have to balance advocating for his clients with playing by the rules? What challenges will he have to face?

“This whole one-on-one thing that they’re entering into is super interesting. It really represents the two sides of his character that we’ve been growing forever. On the one hand, he’s got the firm that has taught him everything he knows. His mentor, the guy who has literally taught him everything he knows about the law, brought him up. And then he has his calling, which is civil justice, helping families in need and fighting for good causes. 

He is entering into this season believing he is going to be able to balance both of these things, and that one will help him do the other. Of course, I think he’ll learn pretty quickly through a series of events that those things can be at odds. Mike is still in that place where although he has matured, he is older and he has figured out what he wants, he is still trying to play both sides of the game. This is a season where he is going to come face-to-face with the notion of ‘you probably can’t do that forever, either.’ 

It has been fun to play that. It feels like it has been a little been more nuanced. We’re in the same world. We’re in Pearson Specter and prison is over. You want it to feel like the Suits that you always knew and loved, which I know is what fans say they want, but there’s this cloud looming over which is something I think we can all relate to. You want him to be there so bad and enjoy it, but you know this is not entirely what he is supposed to be doing. And that’s frustrating.”

Do you think Mike treats being a lawyer any differently now that he is officially a lawyer versus before when he was pretending?

“Yeah, I think he goes through some different stages. I think there’s some cockiness- which is the hardest part for me playing Mike- because I’m like, ‘don’t get cocky, dude, with all that you’ve been through!’ (laughs) 

There’s some joy. He’s really happy. Obviously, his dreams have come true. Ultimately, I think there is more confidence in that he doesn’t have to hide behind it anymore. But it’s not like that still doesn’t follow him around or doesn’t color who he is or how people perceive him. 

I think he’s finally coming into his own and knows what he wants to do, but he’s not quite ready to admit it to himself, yet. There’s that struggle of figuring out how to do it most efficiently.”

We saw so much change in Mike’s character last season. Are we still going to see that- especially now that he’s a lawyer? How is that going to change the character?

“He has gone back into his old world thinking he can be his new version of Mike. He wants it so badly. It’s familiar; it’s his family. The only people he has in this world are the people in that office. His wife-to-be is working there, his mentor is working there, all of these people- he doesn’t really have any other friends! (laughs) 

But at the same time, from what happened last season, he has learned that this is not entirely the place for him to be doing his work. So he is always at odds with it. And that is fun to play. There is a lot of great conflict, there. Everyone you love is there, but the purpose of it is not quite in line with who you’re realizing you’re supposed to be. 

That’s a hard thing to do, and not just from the technical aspect of it, but the logistics. He’s very successful, he gets to work on high profile cases and be in rooms where the stakes are enormous. It is really hard to remove yourself from that. He really just wants to do good. 

I think there’s some part of his brain that is convincing himself that if he can do these, that will give him the resources to do more good. But as you can probably expect, these two worlds come clashing pretty quickly. All of a sudden, you find yourself in a situation where you really are pulled between two sides.”

For you, is there a particular moment or a scene that was remarkable from the entire show?

“The first thing that always comes to mind is getting stoned with Harvey (laughs). It was one of the first times where it felt like we could get really silly for an extended period of time. Shooting those scenes running around the office trying to figure out what Hartman was up to, I just remember having a really great time filming that whole sequence.”

Did you get to really get stoned?

“No, that would’ve been a really long day! (laughs) Or actually, multiple days, because in television you don’t shoot the whole sequence at the same time. So I would’ve had to get stoned a lot! (laughs) 

It was fun. It let us be silly, but at the same time pursue a really serious thing in the show. That’s where Suits lives best, where the stakes are real, you’re following what is important to these characters, but in the middle of it, you can have a laugh. I think that’s where Aaron Korsh is at his finest.”

100 episodes is a long, healthy run for a show. Are you at all thinking about when you might want to end the show?

“It’s not up to me. We talk about it. There’s a very open dialogue about how and when. Obviously, how do you do this? Where does it go? There are natural conversations about how these characters conclude. It’s all so far above my pay grade that it’s all just conversational and theoretical. It’s all just creative people talking through it. We talk about what it would look like. 

As an actor, if you don’t act in TV, everything else you act in, you know the ending of. You know the beginning, middle and end of a play. So I know what my character does and I can kind of build it. Television is a very interesting world where I don’t know where we’re headed. Which is really cool on a week-to-week basis because it’s a total surprise, and that’s how we live our lives. You don’t know what’s going to happen to you tomorrow, so you react in real time to it. You do the same thing in television, but there’s always that frustrating ‘I don’t know where we’re headed,’ so you’re always grasping for an idea. Just tell me where we’re going to be in six episodes so I can start to craft a performance that takes us up, and then maybe surprises us. Especially with Suits, it never works out that way.

That being said, Aaron likes to imagine with the actors all the time. So we’ll sit and talk about it and think about where this will head. I think he has some ideas in his head of how it would work, but he doesn’t totally let us in on them.”

On the show, characters can speak to each other so harshly and nastily, and be hurtful. But those characters can still turn around and get past it and have a relationship that works. Particularly, when criticism is handed out, it’s not always handed out in the nicest way. But everybody manages to take it in and hear what’s being said. Have you noticed after playing this character and being in this environment for all of these years, that impacting your real life?

“That my anxiety level is through the roof? (laughs) I guess I never really considered it, but it’s absolutely true. Has it impacted my life? Yeah, but I don’t know if it’s because of what you’re describing. When we shoot it, we’re actors playing scenes. 

There’s no great drama on our set. We all get along really well, which is not always the case. I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to shoot a show when you don’t get along with the people you work with. The act of this much work towards something where there are moments of great disappointment, great joy, or what you consider failure, the whole process of going through that and always having to come back the next day and do more work has hardened me in a good way. You don’t get the chance to walk away or talk yourself out of it. It’s taught me to have more faith in myself and trust that you’re not going to win every battle, but it’s not the end of the world. 

When I started the show, I was the youngest. I still am, because that’s how age works (laughs), but I was much younger and everything felt very personal. That’s why it’s an interesting question. Does it feel as personal now as it used to? The answer is no, which is in some ways good and some ways bad. I don’t take the criticism as personally. It’s a job. You have to be professional. You have to come in and know that this is a marathon, not a sprint. When I was young, it was a sprint, and every scene was the most important scene I’d ever shot ever. That was great for the show and fun for me, but ultimately ended up being very difficult for other people to work with because they’d say ‘we’ve got so much other stuff to do!’ (laughs) 

Now, I’ve learned to back off a little bit, choose your battles a little more and figure out what is going to help the show along the most. I would say that I’ve matured the way anyone else would. I’ve learned the ins and outs of the business, and not to take things as personally as I would have before. 

It’s funny to make the connection that that’s also what happens on the show. These people can’t afford to take things personally. They can’t, because they would be crushed. And maybe that’s why people relate to it. It’s such a high stakes world, and we live in a place where people are scared of being talked to that way. Maybe there’s something aspirational about watching characters forge through and make themselves better through that kind of criticism.”

Going back to your directing hat, do you ever notice that Mike Ross is directing Mike Ross? How do you get out of your character to go back to Patrick again?

“I wish it was that much of a character- like if it was that different than me, it might be a little more difficult. It is difficult to focus on the task at hand as a director. I love acting, but I truly don’t love acting when I’m directing. The only thing that’s good about it is I can control how fast we go. 

As a director, time is everything. You have so little time, and the way you deal with it and how efficient you are is your whole currency. As an actor, while I’m directing, I can make things go quickly. I know exactly what I want from me (laughs). I go in, I do it and then I have a supervising director there while I’m shooting my scenes. It’s the quickest note session ever. Faster? Slower? More this? More that? She’ll give it to me, and that’s that, whereas if someone else was directing me, I might put up a little more of a fight. I’m much more efficient as an actor when I’m directing. 

When you’re in a scene with someone, there’s an understanding that you’re doing a scene, then someone else is going to come in and say what they’ve seen happen. If you’re in a scene with Gabriel or anybody and say ‘cut,’ and then walk over and say, ‘okay, I think you need to do this,’ that is tough. It’s tough to give it because you’re breaking that trust, and now you’re saying, ‘now I get to say that while we were in that scene, I wasn’t really in that scene with you. I was observing your performance in the scene.’ That is really miserable. It’s not a place where you want to be. I think I’m getting better at doing it, but it’s almost not something I want to get better at doing. I like being in a scene and not thinking about that, and getting to support the other person and be in conflict with them and do all of that stuff that actors do. Wearing that other cap can be complicated, but I think I’m getting better at it. 

There was one episode that I directed where I had to leap over that. It was the last mock trial episode. Those trials have so many different camera angles you need to get. There are a lot of little pieces, and a lot of people you have to cover. They take a long time, and I just had to leap over my fear of telling people what to do.

There was literally one point where I was standing in the middle of the room, cameras were swirling around and I was like, ‘Gabriel, sit there, you stand on that light, you get up on this,’ and it’s like you’re conducting an orchestra. I was very grateful that everybody just did what I said, and we got the episode done.

It’s stressful. I’m really looking forward to directing something that I’m completely not in (laughs). I haven’t done it yet. The only thing I’ve directed other than Suits is a short film I did with Troian (Bellisario), and even that, we were both in it the whole time. Whatever the first thing is I get to direct and I’m not in, I’m doing it.”

How is it, directing your wife?

“She’s great! We met working together. Our dynamic is super. We love the work, and we’re both really eager to get to the bottom of something. There’s always a little moment where you’re like, ‘really? You’re gonna talk to me that way?’ (laughs) but we’ve always worked really well together. It’s how we met. We love creating stuff together. It’s a super easy process.”

Is that the short you filmed in Haida Gwaii?

“Yes! Nice memory! It was two years ago. We did an edit of it, and it ended up being my first film. I fully panicked and was like, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ and then we just went back and she said, ‘we need to save the film.’ We went back and reedited it, and we’re super happy with it. We’re putting it all together right now and sending it out to festivals. It was a long process of me overcoming my director fear of not wanting to put it out in the world, but it has finally found a place that I’m super proud of. Hopefully, I get to share it with you guys soon.”

You’re on Instagram and Twitter; fans have access to you. Has there been a moment over the course of the series that you particularly remember the audience responding to and coming to you with any sort of reaction?

“I’m trying to think back through the whole thing because obviously newer ones are more relevant to me. I feel like when Mike and Rachel did the nasty in the file room, that was a fairly large response. What would you think? Are there any that you can think of that you had a reaction to?”

Anything with Mike during prison, and the way he used his roommate to get out?

“I feel like people were pretty icy about all of the prison stuff. They were like, ‘get Mike back to the firm!’ (laughs)”

Have you heard from anybody whose parents died when they were young?

“I’ve been to Burning Man a few times, and I met a man whose wife had dedicated her life to helping kids to grow through mentors. These were kids who had maybe come from bad situations, like Mike. She had just passed away, and that was why he had come to Burning Man. It was really raw. This is how Burning Man works is that you usually run into the people you need to run into. I saw him across the way, and I saw him see me. He just sauntered over and said, ‘you look really familiar.’ I told him about the show, and he kind of went white. He was like, ‘it’s so good to meet you.’ It’s usually fans who just want selfies, but I could see he was having a thing and he said, ‘my wife just passed, and Suits was one of the most important things she said she’d ever seen.’ I mean, I like Suits, but I was like, ‘important? What do you mean?’ 

He said the message of mentorship in the show is so strong and people don’t talk about it or understand how profound it can be. He said to see a character on a television show who escapes a situation where their life could become one thing, and through the process of mentorship is completely transformed changed her whole career. She said, ‘that’s it! That’s what I’ve been working for, and it’s popular and people are relating to it!’ She could use it in teaching, to relate to people about it. That was huge for me. 

I think Suits is great, and I’m super proud of it, but I didn’t see it changing the world in any way. That was the first time that I realized that I shouldn’t be so quick to assume that even a lighter show like Suits can’t have an effect on someone.”

There’s a flashback episode where you see Mike get the information as a little boy and then grow up and struggle through high school. Even in real life, your parents have stories and history of what happened to them when they were kids, and it’s part of the lore of your family. You don’t necessarily think about what that was like for them. So Mike having gone through this is part of the lore of the show that you just accept as part of his story. But to actually see part of it is one of the most profound episodes.

“That’s a really good point, and that was an important one to play for me. I’ve always wished that you got to experience more of it. It was always just a story that Mike would tell in a situation where he needed to convince a client that he gets it. Not that it’s not real, or that he’s using it to manipulate, he just would use it to relate to people. 

That was the first episode where you got to actually go through the process with him. It was over a much longer period of time than it just be a little slice of a monologue going, ‘well these are my dead parents, and I’ve been through it.’ You got to actually see it, and to see Mike not really want to talk about it. That is something we can all relate to with tragedy in our lives. That was a tough episode to shoot.”

And of course, the ever evolving conversation about Mike’s hair. Fifteen year old Mike’s hair was the best hair. 

“That was the hair I was the most proud of. (laughs)”

Going back to it being the 100th episode, the show has been on the air for a long time, now. Have you noticed anything about how television has changed over the past several years? 

“The show is pretty resilient, and it is what it is. Aaron is that kind of guy, too. It’s a strength he has that he can take in other people’s ideas of what they want the show to be or think it should be. At the end of the day, Aaron is writing the show that Aaron knows in his head. That has made Suits its own thing. It’s not that it hasn’t changed, but it’s just not changed by outside forces like that. 

I know a lot of shows now will look at the tweets, see what people are saying and kind of incorporate it into the show. Aaron is really not that way. That’s still why we say the word ‘goddamn’ as much as we do. (laughs) There’s a lot of people that go, ‘that is said too much,’ and Aaron just goes, ‘that’s just what I need to say!’  In a lot of ways, I have a lot of respect for that. You can only make the show you want to make, and if you start making concessions, you probably can’t stop making them. It’s its own little world. 

TV has changed a lot. I think people are into shorter seasons of eight or ten episodes that are really intense- with interweaving plots that reveal themselves over a number of episodes. Suits, to its credit, has never said, ‘let’s try that!” It has always been, ‘no, this is what Suits is going to be.’  It occupies that same space of television that it did seven years ago. Sometimes, that can be a little frustrating, where you’re like, ‘oh, I love that show! I want to do that, that and that!’ Ultimately, if you started trying to transform it to fit that mold, it would not do what it does so well- which is resonate with people. 

Technically, I think we’ve learned to shoot it a little faster. We used to shoot sixteen hour days in the beginning as we were trying to figure out what the show was going to look like. Now, we can get home in time for dinner. It hasn’t really changed all that much.”

Obviously, some shows as they go on decline in quality. Suits really hasn’t had that. You’re the last of USA’s blue sky brand. How do you keep it fresh after seven years?

“I think that’s what I mean, too. It’s sort of the end of an era. Everything has a little bit of a darker tinge- which, as an actor, you look at and say, ‘oh, that would be fun to play.” There have also been times in the last seven years where I’ve tried to say, ‘can’t we do that? Why don’t we go darker?’  Then, it doesn’t work. It’s not our show. You can’t make Suits into Mr. Robot; it’s just not going to work that way. 

Some days I worry that we don’t keep it fresh, but then you get in and realize that even if it’s a scene you feel like you’ve done before, we try to find a way to make each other laugh in it. It’s really just about balancing it off the ideas of the people in that room at that moment. 

I think ultimately the key is that people still care when we come to work. I’ve been on shows where people don’t care anymore. Suits still, seven years later, people show up on set excited to make the scene as good as it can be. I think that’s probably the key as to why it’s still relevant.”

You have a USA legacy star (Dule Hill) joining you for season seven. Have you gotten to work with him, yet?

“I’ve worked with him a little bit, and we are so grateful. He is such a pro, and such a nice guy, which is so important on our show when we bring people on. You’ve got to be cool, first and foremost. (laughs) He is super cool and easy to work with. He’s been such a gentleman. I haven’t been working with him as much as certain other people have. I don’t want to say too much about that, but when I have gotten the chance, it’s been great.”

Does it bring a different dichotomy with him next season? He’s one of Harvey’s longtime friends.

“Yeah. He’s got a story that interweaves with Harvey’s past a little bit, and they know each other. So he’ll be in and out for sure over the course of the season, and sort of interweaving with our main plot lines and the cases we’re working on.”

There’s a certain group of fans who are very passionate about your character’s romantic relationship with Rachel. Can you what they can expect this season?

“That’s an interesting place, their relationship. They’re finally together and all the walls have been taken down. All of those external barriers to their relationship are gone. What you really find is two young professionals who are at the peak of their careers. Finally, Mike gets to be a lawyer and do what he’s always wanted to do without anybody holding him back. She has just graduated from law school, and they’re super in love. They’re together, and there’s no doubt that they’re the person for each other. 

The thing is when you’re in the middle of your career and you’re working that hard, it’s hard to take a step back from that and also invest in your personal life and family. It’s not a huge part of this season, but it’s more just me reflecting. I can relate to what this feels like when you’re like, ‘I’m here, I’m with you, I’m doing this,’but we both love our jobs so much and this is the moment where if we don’t capitalize on the energy of what we’re doing, we might miss it, or not become what we really hope to become. They both have a lot of aspirations. 

It’s cool to play a young couple in love, but not have it be everything that we do. It’s not ‘let’s go through the whole process of planning a wedding, and everything is perfect.’ These people don’t really have time for that. It’s cool to have a love story where it’s just inherent that they’re in love, and really you get to see them struggling with making time for each other when they don’t really have time for themselves.”

Do you and your wife relate to that?

“Yeah, totally. Troian and I have been together for eight years. We got married almost on our eight year anniversary. Our entire relationship, she’s been shooting Pretty Little Liars, and I’ve been shooting Suits, 3,000 miles away from each other. Learning to make both things a priority and how to balance that is a huge, complicated thing. Everyone relates to it in one way or another- everyone who wants to have a career and is working as hard as we do to do what we love. You have to make sacrifices and learn to communicate. You have to learn when to say yes and when to say no. I relate a lot.”

You’ve been coming to ATX for a couple of years. How did you first get involved and are you excited to share it with the rest of the cast?

“I am super excited. We’ve been down here before with some of the cast. I think this is my third year. Two years ago, we came with some of the cast. I’m super excited to have everyone else down here. 

Gabriel has never been here, and he’s like, ‘what is this? Where are we going?’ Sometimes, you go to things and it’s just work, but I told him, ‘this isn’t that. You’re gonna go down, there are super cool people, everything is relaxed, the panels are fun, the audiences are great,’ but he’s like, ‘okay. I don’t know what we’re doing.’ I’m very excited to bring him down and show him it’s a great time. 

I don’t know quite how they (ATX Festival founders Emily Gipson and Caitlin McFarland) do it, but they’ve crafted an environment where we can do this sort of thing that typically gives me nightmares. It’s not as easy as you might think for actors and writers and directors, but it makes it feel very informal and fun. People can be honest and relaxed, and at the same time we can see our compatriots who are working on other television shows. We get to see people we don’t get to cross paths with that often. 

There’s a real sense of community with all the people who are making television. I think that’s important, because television is one of the most powerful mediums right now. It’s everywhere, and there are a lot of important stories being told. It’s cool to get together with your fellow artists and be able to compare notes on how you’re doing, what works and what doesn’t. It’s very cool to be here.”

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