Patrick Wilson on the epic, painful, life-changing challenge of running a marathon By Chris Rovzar Styling by Brian Coats
You’re behind. Speed up.” The firm female voice behind the MapMyRun app is scolding Patrick Wilson from inside the back pocket of his Reebok shorts. She informs us that he and I are running at about 9:19 per mile. Wilson is normally closer to a 7-minute mile.
A Golden Globe- and Tony-nominated actor who’s starred in 32 films, 5 Broadway shows, and a pair of television series, Wilson has two buzzy roles this summer: a paranormal investigator in the sequel to his 2013 surprise hit The Conjuring and a supporting part in The Founder, a biopic about McDonald’s late chairman Ray Kroc.
Right now, though, he’s training. And I’m holding him up. “The marathon time is 7:25,” he says as we cross through a blissfully flat area in his hometown of Upper Montclair, N. J. “It’s a 3:15.”
Translation: Three hours and 15 minutes is the time he needs to beat in a race if he wants to qualify for the Boston Marathon, which has been one of his goals since he first ran 26.2 miles in Philadelphia in 2012. Today he’s taking me on a 4.5-mile loop around his neighborhood, along high, leafy roads with clear views of the Manhattan skyline 15 miles away. This picturesque suburb, which explodes with pink flowers in the spring, is pushed up against a steep ridge where brick mansions and midcentury wooden boxes hide among ancient trees.
Wilson is a lifelong runner. “I’ve always looked at it as athletes’ meditation,” he says. “It’s time that I can get away and think or not think. I wish I was more of a yoga person, but I’m not. This is it.” In his practice runs he tries to drill 7:25 into his head, to train his feet and body to know what it feels like. “I don’t have that [pace] for 26 miles,” he says. Whether he runs Boston in 2017 will be a decision he makes over the summer. “If I’m going to do a movie where I need to be big, then I won’t do that marathon. I won’t be able to keepthe weight on,” he says. “I have a long head. If I lose too much weight, you see it in my face.”
I’m a runner, too, and was captain of my high school’s cross- country team. Like Wilson, it took me until my 30s to want to run a marathon and until last year to try my first, in Philadelphia. But he’s fast, so I’m huffing along beside him as we chat. (This isn’t even his first workout of the day. When he pulled up to meet me in his platinum Ford F-150 pickup, he was still sweaty from a CrossFit session at a nearby Guerrilla Fitness.)
It’s easy to see why directors include running scenes in so many of Wilson’s projects—the CBS show A Gifted Man, the political thriller Zipper, and the suburban drama Little Children. He has an aura of graceful strength, an easy masculinity that translates naturally on camera.
The MapMyRun voice is still chirping at us as Wilson explains how he decided to do his first long- distance race. “I wanted to do a marathon by the time I was 40,” he says. “We were in Wilmington, North Carolina, shooting Conjuring, and I saw there was a half-marathon and a marathon in town in two weeks, and I was like, Let’s try a half- marathon. So that day I ran 10 miles.” He was 39.
The race gave him a taste of what he could do. “I saw these people running the full marathon, and I was like, I gotta do that. So then I trained for New York.”
As he did, his body began to change. “When I started working with him, on the first Insidious [ in 2010], he was really trim,” remembers James Wan, who’s directed Wilson in four films. “And then in between that and The Conjuring, he started getting into these marathons and started getting physically active. I saw how he would change back and forth for his different roles. I think that’s a sign of dedication, and not only to the characters he plays and how he wants his characters to look, but to fitness as well.”
Wilson trained for the 2012 New York City Marathon, but that year, Hurricane Sandy had other plans. The race was canceled just days out. “It was a total mind f---,” he says. “So I hopped on Philly, which is two weeks later.”
The Philadelphia marathon is a popular entry-level race; it doesn’t have a lot of hills, but it does have a mentally challenging second half, a maddening 13- mile out- and- back along the Schuylkill River. Wilson went prepared physically, but on race day he made a rookie-marathoner mistake and deviated from his training routine.
“I mismanaged my heat: I had a hat
on,” he says. “I mismanaged my intake. In practice runs, I never drank Gatorade, because it upsets my stomach, and I don’t like all the sodium. Of course, 15 miles in, if you hand me a chocolate cake I’ll eat it.” I know the feeling. When I ran that heartbreaking back half, people were handing out cups full of Yuengling. I partook. “I took everything,” he says, laughing. “I was like, Wow, you’re stupid. You don’t train with pizza and beer!”
He finished with a 3:36, for a split time of 8:15 per mile. “I literally limped across the finish line and felt like, That was the dumbest idea I’ve ever had,” he says. “And then I woke up the next morning and looked online for the next one.”
Every half-mile, the MapMyRun lady goads us to go faster. We’re at a 9:06 split now. The app’s 20 million users are networked, sharing their routes, times, and achievements. When Wilson travels for film shoots, he uses it to find paths other athletes have mapped out. I use the app, too, but I don’t remember her sounding this stern when we’re alone.
Wilson grew up in St. Petersburg, Fla., the son of a voice teacher and a local TV anchor. He was a good all-around athlete, the jock who played soccer and baseball through high school until he gave it up for theater. After a few Off-Broadway and regional productions, he scored the lead in a musical adaptation of the film The Full Monty, a role that earned him a Tony nomination in 2000. He followed that with another nomination for his Curly
in a revival of Oklahoma! Although he doesn’t work in the theater as frequently now, he and his wife, actress Dagmara Dominczyk, decided to raise their two sons here instead of in Los Angeles so he has the chance.
It was his stage work that got the attention of director Mike Nichols, who cast him in the HBO adaptation of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America, alongside Al Pacino and Meryl Streep. Since then, Wilson has worked onscreen at a breakneck pace. He’s played an over-the-hill superhero in Watchmen, a charming predator in Hard Candy, and a doctor who has an unexpected liaison with Lena Dunham in an episode of Girls. “My lawyer always is like, ‘ You work more than most all of my clients,’ ” Wilson says later as we have coffee outside his local java joint. When I ask him to describe his career in a sentence, it comes easily: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”
Wilson doesn’t usually run with headphones. He doesn’t like distraction— this is his chance to think, to zone out. Plus: Bears have been spotted in the hills around this part of New Jersey in recent years. It’s the kind of silly cinematic subplot that seems perfect for this Pleasantville- style town. “I like to keep an eye out, because this is all woods,” he says. “Every now and again you’ll hear something rustling.”
Running, for Wilson, is an act of cleansing for his body and his spirit. It’s for “my soul, my skin,” he says. “Honestly, I can tell if I don’t run,” he adds, gesturing at his face. “I put makeup on for a living, so I have to get out and sweat. I’ve got to get all that crap out of me, or I just don’t feel good.”
Before we wrap up our jog, we come to a fork in the road. To the right there’s a very steep incline up to a neighborhood with giant brick homes and vast, sloping lawns. I quietly pray we’re not going in that direction. “This is a bitch of a hill, and then there are two more,” he warns, sounding a little like our MapMyRun taskmistress. “You can’t stop. You have to run all the way up.”
“I literally limped across the finish line and felt like, That was the dumbest idea I’ve ever had”
+ Hoodie by Thom Browne, T-shirt by Orlebar Brown, shorts by 2XU, watch by Casio, dog leash by Wagwear, sneakers by Nike Opposite: Windbreaker by Prada, T-shirt by Orlebar Brown, shorts by Polo Sport