Patrick Wilson on ‘Bone Tomahawk’s’ extreme gore: ‘I’ve never seen that on the screen’

Patrick Wilson has starred in such big-budget Hollywood movies as “The Alamo,” “The Phantom of the Opera” and Zack Snyder's “Watchmen,” but his latest film — writer/director S. Craig Zahler's bleak horror-Western “Bone Tomahawk” — wasn't exactly flush with money. Which, as far as Wilson is concerned, actually helped his performance as Arthur O'Dwyer, a young, crutches-saddled frontier man who goes on a mission to save his wife from a tribe of cannibalistic Native Americans:

“I think this might have been a different movie…I felt this way actually about 'Hard Candy,' too, years ago — you probably would have had a different performance, certainly in some takes, if the movie had been shot over three or four months,” Wilson told me while promoting the film, which also stars Kurt Russell, Matthew Fox and Richard Jenkins.

See below for more highlights from our conversation, including why he likes to stick to the script, what his reaction was to the script's extreme gore, and what we can expect from James Wan's forthcoming horror sequel “The Conjuring 2.” 

“Bone Tomahawk” is out in limited theaters and on VOD now.

1. He is not an ad libber.

“One of [writer/director] Craig Zahler's many attributes is — if you could see the script, and by that I mean like literally read the stage directions — he has such a way with language that he does a lot of that work for you. …There's part of me that also, just being a theater actor at heart, the script is always the thing for me. The play's the thing. So…even on a contemporary movie, if somebody gives me the lines, I'm gonna say the lines. I'm not gonna go, 'let me ad lib this in my own version.'” 

2. The movie's extreme gore took him aback.

“I think you're right saying there are scenes [where the film] does get very bleak. I think there's also a lot of heart, both with my character and with Richard [Jenkin's] character, and well, actually all four of us. …and that's exciting to play. And so when you have that, coupled with some of these scenes — especially at the end, I mean some of the gory stuff, I've just never seen anything like that. When I read it, I thought man, if you pull that off, I've never seen that on the screen.”

3. The film's low budget forced him to do things he wouldn't have on a studio movie.

“When you're only doing certain scenes, when you only have a couple takes — there's one I think where I'm kind sliding down the hill, or falling down a hill or something…if that scene had been shot on like a big budget movie, it would have taken hours and hours and hours, and you don't just sort of run up and grab the shot. And that was one of those moments where it's like…'I'll tell you what, why don't I go up to the top of the hill, I'll just roll down. Let's just do it.'

“And that was a lot of what the movie was, just 'Let's just do it. Let's just get it. It'll look real and cool and let's go for it.' So that's when shooting on this kind of schedule actually helps the performance, cause there is sort of a desperation to just get the shot.”

4. One thing you can look forward to in “The Conjuring 2”: Ed and Lorraine's groovy matching outfits.

“I think what you can look forward to is a number of things. I mean, Ed and Lorraine Warren in matching plaid outfits getting off a train in London is pretty sweet. [Laughs] So there's that. You know, there's a lot of — what I love is, you know, I'm so proud of the first film. And all these little sides of Ed that we brought out, they brought out, I brought out — and I think Vera would say the same thing about Lorraine — but we push those things even further. It's backbone, it's humor, it's love for his wife. It's a desire to help, it's Ed's desire to weed out the skeptics. You know, we touched on that a little. That's something that we push even further, just speaking from the perspective of Ed Warren.

“And then you have this story that is one of the most revered — if you can use that word when you're describing a tragedy like this — stories about the Enfield Poltergeist. It's as important to them as Amityville is to American audiences, I think. It's a story that I think a lot of people in the U.K. know. So it's exciting to bring that to the screen.”