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Westwood local makes it big on small screen

By Cameron Small

Hometown Weekly Correspondent

As the leaves change colors and fall to their deaths on sidewalks; as the nights get colder, prompting additional blankets on the bed; as shorts and t-shirts get packed away in favor of hoodies, sweatpants, and sweaters –- fall and Halloween season is in the air. 

For a lot of people, this means curling up with a hot drink, a fire in the fireplace, and a movie. Thirty years after its initial success, “Hocus Pocus” is returning as a popular Halloween-time film in the form of a sequel, “Hocus Pocus 2”, which was an instant success for Disney+. In its first weekend of streaming, “Hocus Pocus 2” garnered a total watch time of over 2.7 billion streaming minutes, surpassing “Encanto”, which has “only” 2.2 billion streaming minutes.

But for Westwood resident Patrick French, “Hocus Pocus 2” hits a little closer to home than simply being an excellent seasonal film. French, a local thespian, soccer dad, and improv actor, appeared on screen in “Hocus Pocus 2”. French played the self-described (and potentially biased) “most important townsperson, Townsperson number 4.” 

Without going too far into spoilers, “Hocus Pocus 2” follows the Sanderson sisters thirty years after the action of the first movie. At the beginning of this film, however, viewers see the Sanderson sisters as children, getting kicked out of 1600 Salem. French’s Townsperson Number 4 is seen early as “one of the angry townspeople who are urging our reverend on as he kicks the girls out of town.”

While other townspeople -– the less important, non-numbered ones –- got pitchforks, French’s character did not. He did, however, get a line in the scene with actor Tony Hale. (Hale has several large productions to his name, including “Arrested Development”, “Veep”, “Toy Story 4”, and “Captain America: Civil War”). Without spoiling French’s big line, it does come out of concern — for Hale’s Reverend Traske, and not the Sanderson sisters.

Prior to his Disney+ streaming debut, French has also appeared on other streaming services. In 2013, French appeared in the HBO miniseries entitled “Olive Kitteridge”. He appeared as Mr. Manhattan, per IMDB, and had a scene with Frances McDormand.

Despite the allure of the small screen, the experience was not as glamorous as people romanticize show business. “It [being on set] was honestly great,” French recollects. “The only tough part was having a 4 a.m. call time down in Lincoln, Rhode Island… And there was a nor’easter that rolled through… it was raining and cold and it actually made the set look even more authentic. It was kind of a bit of a quagmire and gray. So, you know, annoyances aside, that was a very fun part of the experience. I had a little trailer to myself, as well.” 

While having a trailer to yourself as a movie star might seem fancy, French says, “It’s not that fancy.” 

French’s part was shot over the course of three days at an outdoor set built to resemble Salem. “During the course of the three days of being out in the elements, a lot of the production assistants and directors, they would kind of be, you know, as an aside to us actors, saying, like: ‘Hey, you want to be in the movie business, this is what it is. That’s what it’s like.’”

French also remembers spending forty-five minutes every morning in a chair to have a wig clipped to his head. 

Another part of the movie-making experience is downtime. No one is immune, not even big names like Tony Hale, who French described as “very personable and very nice.” After his 4 a.m. call time and getting ready, French recalls, “The first day, I was in my trailer for probably five hours.” 

During his downtime, French says he should have written a novel. Instead, he did what most people do during downtime these days: scrolled through Twitter and other social media. He also chatted with other actors and learned about what other projects people were working on, perhaps hearing about a part for which he might want to audition.

French’s theatrical talents are not limited to the small screen, however. He is currently working as an understudy to three roles in “The Play That Goes Wrong” with the Lyric Stage Company in Boston. He also has an admittedly sporadic ongoing improv comedy show called “The Angriest Show in the World”.

For anyone looking to get into theater or the movie business, French does have some advice: “The best thing you can do is put yourself out there.” He recommends for adult actors to get their information to a casting agency, so that perhaps they could break into the business as an extra. 

For kids, French has other advice: “If there’s a theater program at your school or community theater, certainly audition for those things. Even if it is scary to you, the best thing you can do is get out there and give it a try and have confidence that you’ll get better and better.”

Outside of his theatrical exploits, French stays grounded as a part of the Westwood community. He has his regular day job. He coaches his kids’ youth soccer team. He leads theater and improv workshops for kids and adults. He watches the Premier League of soccer. And he walks his dog -– while running lines for his next production.

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