Patrick Sabongui is one of those people. He’s taken his amazing career as an actor and enhanced the effect he has on people by portraying some of the most creatively realistic people on-screen to date. I spoke recently with Patrick about one such character, Hassan, from Crackle’s “The Art of More”.
The Art of More recently premiered on Crackle. Tell us a bit about your character, Hassan. Who he is, and where he comes from?
The story follows Graham Connor, who is this ex-US soldier who was stationed in Iraq for a while and while Graham was in Iraq, he kind of partnered up with a couple of local Iraqis and started this smuggling operation. Smuggling antiquities and ancient artifacts out of Iraq. I play his closest friend who was running that operation back in his Iraq days. Fast forward to when our story takes place, Graham’s left the military and now he’s a an account exec at one of these high-end art galleries in New York City. Hassan shows up basically on his doorstep with more antiquities that he’s gotten into the United States that he needs help moving. That’s kind of where we pick up their relationship, and they kind of rekindle that smuggling operation.
Awesome. It’s absolutely amazing for far. Now I realize it’s probably a broken record for you at this point, but what drew you to the role, and how did you prep for it? I understand you did a little more than just museum hopping for research?
I did, I did museum hoping and I did a bunch of research into the black market. Things that you can’t tell by visiting a museum, where artifacts come from. The series kind of explores the whole underbelly of the high-end art auction world. There’s a lot of backroom dealings, and a lot of forgeries and smuggling and theft, and doctored change of title. It’s this whole veil of secrecy and anonymity around that whole aspect. I tried to look into how common is that business, how prevalent is it. You’d be surprised to learn how much of the artifacts end up in auction houses and museums have questionable change of title. We’re not sure how they traded hands and got into the hands of the current owners.
One thing I have to say about the role of Hassan that really attracted me was how topical it was to have a character coming from the Middle East.
We’ve heard in the news that the Taliban used to do it, and still do it. ISIS does it. They’re either stealing artifacts or blowing them up and destroying them. That was really interesting to me, how these warlords in these war-torn countries, when lawlessness essentially descends on that region. What people do with the ancient artifacts that they have, what people do with precious art pieces that they have. You’re still hearing about artifacts or art pieces that are recovered from the Nazi regime in Germany back in the day.
Art and artifacts are one of these items that kind of trade hands when the control of a region switches hands, and so I was really curious to dig into how locals from Iraq feels about that, what would drive good men, essentially, which Hassan is, in my opinion, what would drive a good man to smuggling and to these survival tactics where it’s kill or be killed sometimes.
And Hassan’s doing it for his wife and his family. It seems, like you said, he really is just a good guy trying to make his way in the world.
Exactly. Events happen and he’s reactive. I’m not saying Hassan, he’s not a rocket scientist, and he’s not a gangster. He doesn’t have it all figured out. That was really exciting to me too. He’s kind of careening through this life, and things are happening around him and he’s reacting and he’s surviving, but at what cost?
You’ve played these action packed physical roles throughout your career, so what’s it feel like now to play Hassan, a character with such a vastly different kind of skill set?
It was refreshing. It was stimulating. It was exciting. Hassan’s such a passionate guy, you make these intellectual choices when you’re kind of breaking down the work and when you get into the scene, you can let it fly. You can lose control a little bit, emotionally and intellectually. He doesn’t always rely on his physical aspects either. Getting to play those scenes with someone like Christian Cooke, who’s phenomenal, he’s one of my favorite actors to work with. We get into a scene and it’s no holds barred. We’re there for each other, I have absolute trust in him as an actor, and we can really push the envelope. That was very exciting for me, showing up to work every day and getting to work with a scene partner like that.
You pretty much hit on my next question, which also expands upon a Twitter question from Arlene. The level of talent that has the pleasure of working with you is just phenomenal. What are things like on set? You have everyone. Not only Christian, but Cary, Dennis, Kate …
Yeah. Everyone’s really committed to the story, and everyone’s really excited about it. There’s something about working on something completely original, that’s not a remake, it’s not an adaptation of a graphic novel, it’s an original piece that was kind of growing and evolving as we’re inhabiting the world. I think the whole cast, as talented as they are, all had their creative juices flowing. We’d show up to work and there’s this enthusiasm about getting the story right, taking it further, what else can we do with this. Having that level of talent, that level of commitment just created an incredible working environment on set.
Well, the creativity definitely flows watching it. We talked about the story coming out. Speaking of the story, tonight’s episode, today’s episode, whatever you want to say, is there anything you can tease about that?
It’s hard to say where people are at, right, it’s streaming so everything is there for everyone to consume. Depending where you’re at in the story, the one thing I really enjoy keeping an eye on is what’s driving Hassan. Things change from week to week and new items might pop up and just when you think you’ve gotten rid of everything or you’ve crossed all your Ts and dotted all your Is, something else tends to happen that you didn’t expect, so it’s really kind of an uncomfortable experience for Hassan. Watching what surprises him and how he deals with it is kind of exciting to watch.
Something new is always falling into place. Touching on some of the negative critiques, some have claimed the characters are one-dimensional, and that the narrative is uninteresting. While I disagree, what would you like to say to folks to convince them not to listen to these naysayers?
I would say that you have to give the story time to develop. I have a feeling people saying that haven’t given the show time, haven’t watched enough of it. We had that luxury of having 10 episodes to shoot right off the bat, so we could allow for the story and the discovery of these characters to take a while. If your first impression is that they’re one-dimensional, that’s just the one dimension you saw this episode. How much of that is true, and how much of that is going to be reverse in the next episode? You discover and learn about these characters as the season progresses. I understand if people watch 1 or 2 episodes and made up their minds about the whole storyline based on that, that’s their prerogative, but really it’s crafted to tell a story over a period of time. Over 10 episodes.
You learn about the characters. Like I said, first impressions aren’t everything. That’s just what you learn about them that day. You got to tune in next time to see what else you can learn about them.
That again touches on pretty much my final question, which is something that gets repeated at each of my interviews. The answer’s always unique to who I’m talking with. What is something that you hope people learn from Hassan, from your portrayal of Hassan?
That’s a great question and it’s something that as an actor, as an artist myself, I ask myself often. Why am I in this? What part of humanity am I hoping to kind of shed a light on for the broader public? With Hassan it’s kind of in line with what I’ve been exploring lately is kind of what we’ve been talking about.
You can’t be too quick to judge anyone. You don’t know that person’s story. You don’t know what’s driven that person to crime, to murder, or to whatever survival tactics they’re using. You don’t know what’s driven them to that situation, you don’t know what would have to happen to you to make that exact same decision. I hope that the audience learns to not take things at face value, not prejudge individuals too quickly. It’s too easy to do that. It’s too easy to write someone off, to say oh, they’re a criminal, they broke the law. That’s it. They’re a bad dude. In our everyday life we need to do that as well. Is judge every individual based on what you learn about them, or what you actually know about them, not just what your preconceived notion of them is.
Could you tell people, if you don’t mind, where they can watch The Art of More?
In the States, it’s on Crackle, it’s sitting right there on your Apple TV or your Roku or your smart TV. It’s kind of like a Netflix situation, so you can find it on any of those devices. Crackle.com/watch, I believe. You can just stream it live there. If you’re in Canada, it’s playing on Show Me Canada, which is the same type of thing. It’s a streaming service on all your devices.