The actress sat down with ET to talk taking creative control in her latest movie.
"The world blew up last year and the truth was revealed," Paula Patton tells ET, describing how Hollywood has changed since allegations of sexual misconduct surfaced against multiple powerful men in the industry. We have been discussing the Time’s Up movement and an initiative to create gender parity behind the camera that grew out of these revelations, the airing of which she says she hopes will finally allow healing and greater opportunities for inclusion moving forward. “Whether it's genuine or not, the doors are opening and we should run right through them. I don’t know, I just see great possibilities.”
While the 42-year-old actress is taking on her own behind-the-camera role as producer on her latest film, Traffik, which is in theaters April 20, she didn't deliberately set out to be a part of a specific movement. She says women taking the reins is just “what's happening” now.
In Traffik, Patton plays Brea, a woman who embodies the film's "refuse to be a victim" tagline. Though the thriller about human trafficking, in which a couple is terrorized by a motorcycle gang during a romantic getaway, is grounded in a real-life issue, it's not a "message" movie. "In my mind, nobody goes to the movies to go to school," Patton says, adding: "I think that people need to make up their own minds. You give them the information, and then they can decide."
Producing the film brings Patton’s career somewhat full circle. She started out at the University of Southern California producing student short films and documentaries before transitioning into acting as a 27-year-old with her small but head-turning debut role in Hitch. Patton graduated to leading lady status opposite Denzel Washington in 2006's Déjà Vu and followed it with the Oscar-winning film Precious, before landing blockbusters like the Mission: Impossible franchise and 2 Guns. She most recently garnered attention for her turn as a mother trying to prevent the murder of her 8-year-old daughter on ABC's time-twisting drama Somewhere Between.
The opportunity to return to producing came after Codeblack Films president Jeff Clanagan brought her the script and suggested she star and produce, knowing, Patton says, of her desire to be in films that entertain but also “impart some new knowledge.” She likens it to Mary Poppins’ famous “spoonful of sugar” strategy. “I guess that’s the kind of movies I want to make, and I felt like I saw that opportunity in Traffik.”
But producing also offered Patton a chance to get involved more deeply in decisions about the script and casting, taking greater creative control in a way that was a natural extension of her instincts. "I feel like I did, in many ways, what I would have tried to do on many films but I didn't really, necessarily, have the right to do,” she recalls. “I would always just push my way in and say, 'Hey, have you thought about this?'”
She continues: “Oftentimes, I would just say, 'I don't care whose idea it is. You can take the credit, I just think it might help the film.’ I think this was the first time they actually had to listen to me a little bit."
The freedom to flex her creative muscles is obviously sitting well with the newly cropped and blonde-haired Patton, who wears a pendant emblazoned with “Julian,” the name of her 8-year-old son, around her neck. She says she’s “never been more happy” with both her personal life and work life. “I think what my 42 years of life has given me is just how important it is to live your own life. You can’t care what anybody else thinks -- even though your life is out there maybe for a bit of public consumption,” she says, perhaps alluding to her public split and custody battle with ex-husband Robin Thicke.
“I used to probably say the work is what would drive my happiness, and I don't even know what my normal life was," she adds. "But now I love my life, and then I love work, too.”
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