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updated: 8/25/2014 4:03 PM

Zombie, minister, nerd: Actor from Arlington Hts. does it all

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When he was a teenager, Pat Healy would read Dann Gire's movie reviews in the Daily Herald, hop on a bus to Woodfield Shopping Center, and see the recommended films.

Then the Arlington Heights kid grew up to be the guy in the movies, and in Gire's column.

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Healy, 42, built a career as a Hollywood actor in a wide range of roles, including parts on TV shows like "NYPD Blue" and "Grey's Anatomy," plus movies such as "Cheap Thrills," "Rescue Dawn" and "Magnolia."

Healy's strength is his versatility. Earlier this month, he was in Lake Forest filming the indie movie "Henry Gamble's Birthday Party," playing the role of a nice suburban dad and evangelical minister. Next, he'll play a psycho stalker and killer in Utah. He's good at comedy, too.

Acting versatility is a mixed blessing in Hollywood, Healy says, as directors tend to seek out actors with specialties, yet he's played everything from an alien slave to a shy nerd.

"I pride myself on that," he said. "Versatility is important, but the most important thing in my career has been tenacity and perseverance. There have been plenty of times I could have just quit (the business) ... but I didn't want to. You hang in, and things not only get better, but they're better than they were before."

Things have been especially good for Healy lately. He landed the lead role in the 2013 movie "Cheap Thrills," which won rave reviews at film festivals and brought him all sorts of attention and work. So far this year, he's been in 11 movies and TV shows, including his recurring role as Sugalski on Adult Swim's "Eagleheart," starring Chris Elliott.

"It's been 20 years in the business now, and it feels good. I feel like I've gotten better over the years," he said. "I don't care about being überwealthy and famous. If you love this, then it's not about being famous, it's about being good. When I started to realize this ... I started to get the attention for it."

Healy's also done some writing, including a few episodes of the HBO show "In Treatment," and the screenplay for short film "Mullitt."

He attributes his love of movies to his parents, who would watch with him and his three brothers as they moved from Lake Zurich to New Jersey, and then to Arlington Heights, where Healy spent his teen years.

Healy's older brother, Jim, also went on to a career in the movie industry -- once a film programmer for the Chicago International Film Festival, he is now director of programming at the University of Wisconsin's Cinematheque.

Pat Healy knew he wanted to be an actor before he even got to Buffalo Grove High School. He got parts in plays at the Arlington Heights Park District and Olive Elementary School (now named Olive-Mary Stitt School), where he remembers teacher Sharon Jackson supported his acting interest, despite what he recalls as his lackluster academic performance.

"It wasn't that I thought I couldn't do anything else, it just never occurred to me to do anything else. And I guess it worked for me," he said.

After studying theater at Illinois State University, Healy landed an internship at Chicago's Steppenwolf Theatre and his career took off from there. After stage shows in Chicago, he moved to Hollywood and spent years doing small acting jobs that lasted a day or a week.

"It was not a great launching pad for me. It was a very lateral sort of existence," he said. "What I was doing was getting really good at what I do, which is acting for the camera. I just logged hours and hours of experience."

Looking forward, Healy's career could go in any number of directions, possibly more writing or even directing an independent feature film.

"There is no one path," he said. "I have the career I want. If I can just continue to make my living acting, I'll just do that, because it's what I love the most."

-- Jamie Sotonoff

• Dann Gire and Jamie Sotonoff are always looking to hear about people from the suburbs who are now working in showbiz. If you know about someone who would make a good column feature, email them at dgire@dailyherald.com and jsotonoff@dailyherald.com

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