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Patrick Fischler: From Mad Men to Californication, the Top-Tier Character Actor Is Just Hitting His Stride

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He pushed the elevator button in Speed and helped set the mood of David Lynch's Mulholland Drive over a decade ago, yet it's in the past few years that Patrick Fischler has truly ingrained himself in the on-screen landscape. You may know him as Jimmy Barrett, the loose-cannon insult comic on Mad Men who told Don Draper off for sleeping with his wife, or Phil, the overzealous security officer on Lost who fought to maintain order until his bitter end. He spent a season on Southland as Detective Kenny "No-Gun" and appeared on a recent Castle to help the crime-fighting lovebirds through a relationship crisis before revealing himself as the killer. As Fischler showed up on his first episode of Californication last year and was so creepily good that he was woven into this year's story arc, he continued to prove that the essential idiosyncratics of TV and film tend to find their groove when they're good and seasoned. "In your 20s, it's not so great to be a character actor," Fischler says during a recent chat with Iconic Interview on an early winter morning. "But that all shifts around the 30's. And now, forget it, my God. Any time you look at any parts that are great, there are always going to be good character actors playing them."

Now in his early 40's, he's having a blast with the juicy roles landing in his lap. The Los Angeles native agreed to do Californication sight unseen out of love for the show. "And then I got that script," he grins, "and I kept reading and I saw, oh! Okay, so wait, what? Oookay!" And now David Duchovny's Hank Moody, who witnessed a certain bit of debauchery, is plenty perplexed to find that Fischler's Gabriel has followed him to Californication season six as group-therapy leader at rehab. "Hank's like, are you kidding me?" Fischler says. "This is the guy who's running this?"

Admitting that he's played some unlikable sorts, Fischler inhabits his characters as real people and lets the honesty get the audience in the gut. "Most of the characters that I've played that are dislikable," he explains, "I don't think of as dislikable; this being one of them. I think Gabriel is actually a good guy who's trying his best, and he's sober. I look at the humanity in everybody."

The actor, who's appeared on over 60 shows, sees Jimmy Barrett as the classic case in point, a guy with big ambitions and bigger obstacles who turned to insults-for-laughs as the only way to the top. "It all came from insecurity, any kind of negative stuff that Jimmy had," he offers. He's especially grateful to show creator, Matthew Weiner, who let Fischler know that the key to Barrett was that he would eventually look across the room at dapper Don and say, "I've been standing behind guys like that my whole life." "And that was in one of my last episodes," Fischler recalls. "So having that at the beginning of the character before I even started work, knowing that that was something I was going to say, really summed up who this guy was."

Fischler is married to Lauren Bowles, True Blood's blond Wiccan waitress (whose interview you can see here), and the two watch a lot of television. They were hugely into Lost, so it was especially exciting when he scored the role. "I was so thrilled and so excited to be part of the history of that show. Getting those scripts, there was nothing better than that. When you get scripts for a show that you watch, it's so exciting."

Director Michael Polish's adaptation of Jack Kerouac's 1962 novel, Big Sur, just debuted at Sundance and features Fischler as supporting character Lew Welch, a member of Kerouac's beatnik gang and unsung poet of the era. The real-life Welch, whose musician stepson took the stage name Huey Lewis in his honor, in the end committed suicide in the woods of the Sierra Nevada mountains. "We drove into places I couldn't believe," Fischler says of the shoot. "The cabin we used, we had to take these little buggies to get over rivers. It was the middle of nowhere, and it was beautiful." The performer talks of his character with a mixture of melancholy and excitement. "Playing someone who's so innately sad inside," he submits, "I love that, because there's so much you can plow for."

Also just debuted -- this one at the Santa Barbara International Film Festival -- is Fischler and Bowles' short film, The Test. It's their latest collaboration since they both appeared on Curb Your Enthusiasm in 2011, and the fun they had putting their new project together reminded Fischler of their time in the LA theater company Neurotic Young Urbanites, back in the day. He also enjoyed the unusual opportunity to play a regular guy. "She's a Southern witch and I'm, you know, playing a controlling, closeted rehab guy or a drunk poet," he says, "so it's nice to just be this couple who's dealing with issues."

What does he love about his work? "The fact that I get to do this and make a living at it makes me the happiest guy in the world," he replies. "What I love about acting is being able to take aspects of myself that are, maybe, buried deep inside me and that I don't get to put out into the world very often, and I love finding these characters where I can let a little of that loose."

For more on Fischler's work with David Lynch, Denzel Washington, and on the set of Lost, check out the full interview at IconicInterview.com.