Can a man-mountain from Memphis make a living as a Hollywood menace?
Hulking Patrick Cox intends to find out. Six-foot-five and down to a trim (for him) 305 pounds, Cox left his hometown a couple of years ago to flex his muscles and bare his teeth as a movie bad guy.
The summer debut of the much-anticipated Batman sequel, "The Dark Knight Rises," was to be the highlight of Cox's acting life to date, but a real-life villain killed more than joy when he entered an Aurora, Colo., theater on July 20. The tragedy made worries about careers and movies seem insignificant, not just for bit players like Cox but also for celebrities like director Christopher Nolan and star Christian Bale.
After eight years of struggling with his new status as a wanted vigilante, Batman must contend with newcomers Catwoman and the brutal and villainous Bane.
Rating: PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, some sensuality and language
Length: 164 minutes
Released: July 20, 2012 Nationwide
Cast: Christian Bale, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Anne Hathaway, Tom Hardy, Gary Oldman
Director: Christopher Nolan
Writer: Jonathan Nolan, Christopher Nolan, David S. Goyer, Bob Kane
"I was surprised by how much it affected me," said Cox, 37, who three days before the theater shooting sent out this enthusiastic "tweet" via his rambunctious Twitter account: "Keep any eye out for me getting my arm snapped by catwoman in the dark knight rises."
Said Cox: "I know (the shooting) had nothing to do with me or with the movie, but it was weird and depressing being part of something that became part of such a horrible event."
Almost five months later, "The Dark Knight Rises" — which is still screening locally, at the Bartlett 10 — again is being discussed for its significance as a movie rather than for its role in a tragedy. On Monday, the American Film Institute named the conclusion to Nolan's Bat-trilogy as one of the 10 "outstanding" movies of the year, and last week the film made its debut on Blu-ray and DVD from Warner Home Video, just in time for the holiday gift season.
The discs will come in especially handy for Cox and his friends, because the actor's brief moment in "The Dark Knight Rises" is easy to miss without benefit of the "Pause" feature on a remote control. Even so, the role — he's billed as "Huge Inmate" in the movie's end credits — will be "very good for my career and my wallet," said Cox, who will receive residuals for his appearance. (Another former Memphian, Chris Ellis, a Hollywood veteran for more than two decades, has a much larger role in "The Dark Knight Rises," as an orphan-protecting priest.)
Cox is eager to play sympathetic parts, and he can be a gentle giant as well as a threat, as he demonstrated as a lovestruck dognapper in the title role of writer-director Drew Smith's "The Book of Noah" (2007), a low-budget indie made in Memphis.
So far, however, "Huge Inmate" is more typical of Cox's billing. His credits represent a roll call of rogues: "Biker," "Bouncer 1," "Henchman 2," "Big Guy in Bar," "Son of a Bitch." In two Memphis projects, he was not just menacing but also murderous. In Jeremy Benson's "Live Animals" (2008), he helped kidnap victims for a modern slave ring, and in the Craig Brewer-produced MTV production "Savage County," he was Kasper Hardell, a surprisingly articulate backwoods behemoth in a Phantom-of-the-Opera-meets-Leatherface mask.
"The Dark Knight Rises" gave Cox a chance to work on a huge production with one of the movie industry's top auteurs. His few seconds of screen time represent the spare-no-expense result of "hours and hours" of rehearsal and three days of work, not to mention many days of preparation — including what he calls "top secret" machinations. His audition was for a fake movie called "Magnus Rex," and the lines he read had nothing to do with Batman: It was a "stealth" hire, so to speak.
After Cox got the part, his "script" was delivered to him in a "very clandestine" manner, as if he were a member of the IMF task force in "Mission: Impossible." He received a call from an unknown number, and "they asked if I was home. The next thing I know, a guy shows up at my place and makes me sign for a sealed envelope. Inside the envelope was a red folder ... I open it, and it's one line — my one line. They could've e-mailed it to me; they could've whispered it into my ear over the phone ... ."
The scene was shot near the end of the summer of 2011, Cox said, in an old prison outside Los Angeles. The experience was almost surreal. He said Nolan was direct and friendly. "He's telling me to call him Chris, and he's shaking my hand, and he knows my name, and all of the sudden me and Anne Hathaway are discussing our scene. And I bump into Gary Oldman — literally bump into him."
In the film, Cox is the orange-jumpsuited inmate who makes a crude pass at Catwoman when the similarly garbed professional thief is paraded past his cell by security guards after her arrest. ("Little closer, baby," Cox growls.) In response, Catwoman grabs Cox's hands, performs a cartwheel-like flip, and snaps his wrist.
In the actual film, you can't really see what happens, only that it probably hurt. For whatever reason, Nolan opted not to show the effect clearly, even though "I spent about 15 hours in makeup before shooting. They covered my arms and chest and neck in thick latex and hand-drew these tribal-looking tough-guy tattoos." The tattooed latex was supposed to be the inmate's skin. They also made a cast of his arm to create a replacement prosthetic arm for Catwoman to snap.
Helped no doubt by his size, Cox got an agent two weeks after arriving in Los Angeles, he said, and "within a month I'm booking parts." Commercials and TV are his bread and butter. He's appeared all over the television dial, from Nickelodeon ("Big Time Rush") to FX ("Justified"). He'll be seen as the security guard for real-life World Air Guitar Champion Justin "Nordic Thunder" Howard in an upcoming Dr Pepper commercial.
And he'll continue to hope for more roles in which his imposing physique is more than a sight gag or set dressing. "I would love the opportunity to show people I could do more than stand there and scowl," he said.