Politician Patrick Wilson Can’t Keep His Pants On In ‘Zipper’

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Director Mora Stephens makes serial cheater Patrick Wilson seem sympathetic in "Zipper," a political sex scandal that's seemingly ripped from the headlines. (Photo courtesy 'Zipper')
Director Mora Stephens makes serial cheater Patrick Wilson seem sympathetic in ‘Zipper,’ a political sex scandal that’s seemingly ripped from the headlines. (Photo courtesy ‘Zipper’)

It’s ironic that a female filmmaker made a sympathetic movie about a man’s sex addiction. In “Zipper,” the always impossibly good-looking Patrick Wilson plays successful federal prosecutor Sam Ellis. His devoted wife Jeannie (Lena Headey of “Game of Thrones”) gave up her law career to become a mom. He loves and respects her, and they have lots of hot sex.

The trouble starts when Sam risks everything for one escapade with a classy escort (Alexandra Breckenridge) that turns into a compulsive catastrophe. The film makes clear the cause of Sam’s unraveling: His now-dead alcoholic mother had groomed him to be the next JFK. His wife, plus everybody in his professional world, wants that for him, too, and the pressure on Sam is the roadmap of his downfall.

Wilson, Kelton DuMont and Lena Headey in a scene from 'Zipper.' (Photo courtesy of 'Zipper')
Wilson, Kelton DuMont and Lena Headey in a scene from ‘Zipper.’ (Photo courtesy of ‘Zipper’)

Wilson is an underrated actor, but in “Zipper,” you’ll see that he becomes Sam through nuanced expressions and just the right degree of physicality. Sam’s demons show through the trappings of his tailored suits and cushy house. His propensity for pornography and an attraction to a gorgeous intern (Dianna Agron of “Glee”) are the first signs of a perfect life cracking.

Memories of the phrase “zipper problem” in tabloid headlines from the Clinton era come to mind. Writer-director Mora Stephens says she was most inspired by former New York governor Eliot Spitzer’s 2008 escort service scandal that first broke in The New York Times. Mix in a few more sex scandals — Anthony Weiner and John Edwards — and you have a realistic portrayal of a simmering man boiling over despite the blatantly obvious risks.

As for the cast, you may recognize Breckenridge from “The Walking Dead” or “American Horror Story,” and Penelope Mitchell (“The Vampire Diaries”) gives a noteworthy performance in two powerfully emotional scenes. Ray Winstone plays a veteran journalist while Richard Dreyfuss appears as a sleazy political strategist.

Wilson and Dianna Agron in a scene from the film. (Photo courtesy of 'Zipper')
Wilson and Dianna Agron in a scene from the film. (Photo courtesy of ‘Zipper’)

Before the film, if you had said I would have empathy for a serial cheater, I would’ve laughed at you. But the combo of Wilson’s acting and Stephens’ compelling script made Sam surprisingly sympathetic. He reminded me of a pitiable alcoholic trying to fight off drinking.

“Zipper” premiered at this year’s Sundance Film Festival and Alchemy beat out other aggressive bidders for the movie distribution rights.

Director Stephens is a member of the Los Angeles chapter of Film Fatales, a supportive collective of female directors whose website states, “In an industry where less than 5% of the top grossing Hollywood films and less than 15% of independent features are directed by women, Film Fatales provides a space for female filmmakers to support each other, share resources, and help get their films made.”

Stephens is also a big fan of Gamechanger Films, a nonprofit organization that “provides equity financing for feature films directed by women.”

Dorri Olds landed an exclusive interview with Mora Stephens for TheBlot Magazine.

'Zipper' director Mora Stephens. (Photo courtesy of Mora Stephens)
‘Zipper’ director Mora Stephens. (Photo courtesy of Mora Stephens)

Dorri Olds: Sam loved his wife, and they had a strong sex life, yet he was willing to pay hookers $1,000 per hour. Why?

Mora Stephens: As a woman who has watched movies about adultery, it always bugs me when it’s implied that somehow it’s the wife’s fault. I wanted his wife to be a real partner to him, really smart, sexy, strong and with a good sex life to make it more about him. I wanted to challenge the audience so they wouldn’t say, “She’s too busy with the kids” or “She doesn’t want to have sex with him” or “She’s a total bitch.” I wanted to avoid any of those stereotypes or easy justifications. I didn’t want to lay any of the blame at either characters’ feet. Sam becomes addicted to having sex with different women. It’s an addiction, and he’s in denial.

How do men vs. women respond to the movie?

I was fascinated by how men and women review political sex scandals differently. The feedback I’ve gotten from audiences showed men tended to feel like they are Sam in the story, and women tended to view it as a mystery to solve.

Did you research political scandals?

Yes, I read and researched everything I could. I tried to understand with a Rashomon point of view — different perspectives, different angles. I spent time with U.S. attorneys in L.A., I worked with a New York Times journalist who had covered the Spitzer story, and Mona Fortuna, who was the voice [on the phone] of the booker in the movie. Mona had been the booker at big escort service in New York. She was also a consultant on the film.

How do you feel about sexism in Hollywood?

The numbers are still appalling. Sexism is still a very real and pressing issue, but I’m hopeful about it changing. I came out of NYU graduate film school, which was almost half-women when I was there. There’s a need for more movies produced by and made by women. The directors are out there. More people need to take chances with financing and distributing these films made by talented women. It’s encouraging that more people are talking about this issue and more people are aware of the power of female audiences. I’m grateful for organizations like Film Fatales and Gamechangers that are fighting for change.

“Zipper” hits theaters and On Demand Friday, Aug. 28. Drama thriller. Rated R. 117 min.

Watch the trailer:

Dorri Olds is a contributing journalist for TheBlot Magazine

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