- The Washington Times - Thursday, July 13, 2017

Time was when Ryan Phillippe played a teenager being stalked by a masked killer in the likes of 1997’s “I Know What You Did Last Summer.” But the actor, now 42 years old and with teenage children of his own, is at a point in life when he needed to “grow up” a bit in order to come back to the horror genre.

“I think that’s just the natural progression of things,” Mr. Phillippe told The Washington Times of playing the father in the new horror romp “Wish Upon,” opening Friday. “It’s also to me valuable — the idea of being able to pass on information and knowledge that I’ve accrued over my time in the business, and to see if I can help these [younger actors] navigate the [industry] a little better.”

In “Wish Upon,” Mr. Phillippe co-stars alongside one such budding thespian, Joey King, who portrays Claire, a motherless teen being raised by father Jonathan (Mr. Phillippe) in their small suburban town. One day Claire finds a magical box with Chinese characters on it that appears to grant wishes — but at a terrible price.

Mr. Phillippe said it was the young star’s being the same age as his own daughter, Ava, that attracted him to the film.

“I thought it was something I could be a part of that my kids could actually see and their friends would like,” Mr. Phillippe said.

(Ava’s mother is Mr. Phillippe’s ex-wife, the actress Reese Witherspoon.)

Furthermore, Mr. Phillippe said that unlike the “Saw” films and the so-called “splatter porn” genre that has become popular, “Wish Upon” doesn’t traffic in gratuitous gore. Rather, it relies upon thrills, jump scares and suspense to unnerve its audience.

“It reminds me of those thrillers of the ‘90s,” he said. “Tonally it feels kind of like ‘Scream’ or ‘The Craft.’

“I enjoyed it as a quality popcorn movie, and that’s what I believe it to be,” he said. “I think adults and teenagers are both going to enjoy it.”

Mr. Phillippe, who made his first film at 17, says that the young actors coming up now have to deal with pressures he never did as a young man, including social media and its impact on their careers.

“There are people winning roles over others because of their ‘following,’” he said. “They’re dealing with a whole new digital realm of influence that wasn’t here when I was young.”

Mr. Phillippe said he encourages budding thespians to also be choosier about their roles and not to simply go for an “easy paycheck” and wait to “work with great filmmakers and find scripts written by quality writers.”

It appears the New Castle, Delaware, native has abided by his own advice, having collaborated with such industry greats as Paul Haggis on 2006 best picture winner “Crash” and “Flags of Our Fathers,” the Clint Eastwood-directed story about the famous photo of U.S. Marines raising the American flag over Mt. Suribachi during the fight for Iwo Jima.

“Both of my grandfathers fought in World War II, so there were many elements that made it so special,” Mr. Phillippe said of the film, which he called one of his life’s greatest achievements. “I was playing the father of the author of the book (James Bradley), who was also on set every day watching me portray these heroic moments that his father (John H. Bradley) actually experienced” during the historic 1945 campaign for the Japanese island.

Throughout his career, Mr. Phillippe has played several military roles, which is one reason he is proud to support veterans. Mr. Phillippe was recently in the District to testify on Capitol Hill about veterans issues alongside former Sen. Elizabeth Dole. Mr. Phillippe has worked often with Mrs. Dole’s foundation, which aims to support veterans’ caregivers.

“I’ve spent a lot of time with enlisted men and women, so that’s carried over into my charitable efforts as well,” the actor said, adding that his current USA Network series, “Shooter,” has impressed upon him the need to continue such efforts. “It’s very, very important to me.”

Mr. Phillippe has also been to the nation’s capital before as an actor. For the 2007 true-life espionage drama “Breach,” Mr. Phillippe portrayed FBI agent Eric O’Neill, a green fed whose all-but-secret mission from the top brass was to spy on his boss, senior agent Robert Hanssen (Chris Cooper), whom the had bureau long suspected of smuggling U.S. secrets to his Russian handlers.

“I think we were the first movie to ever film in the actual FBI building,” Mr. Phillippe said of the bureau’s Pennsylvania Ave. headquarters, which, until this week, was scheduled to be replaced by a modern suburban campus. “One of the cool things about being an actor is that you get this access to other worlds that other people just don’t,” Mr. Phillippe said.

Mr. Phillippe fed lines to his Oscar-winning “Breach” co-star Mr. Cooper even when he himself was off-camera. Mr. Phillippe said he became so engrossed in Mr. Cooper’s performance at such moments that he would often forget his own dialogue.

“I really feel he’s one of the most gifted actors. … That was a privilege for me, and I tried to learn as much from him as I possibly could,” Mr. Phillippe said of Mr. Cooper.

Additionally, Mr. Phillippe still keeps in touch with Mr. O’Neill, the FBI agent who, in real life, left the bureau not long after the Hanssen case went public. The real and fictional versions text one another regularly, Mr. Phillippe said, and meet up when they can.

“He’s big on the lecture circuit now in security and the espionage realm,” Mr. Phillippe said of his friend. “He keeps me up to date on where he is and what he’s doing. Continuing to be friends is a really special experience.”

Mr. Phillippe hopes that this weekend’s moviegoers will be thrilled by the experience of sitting through “Wish Upon” and also ponder over the moral and ethical questions the scare film raises.

“You kind of put yourself in her position: What would I do if I had these seven wishes? And then she starts to find out that the wishes come with a blood price,” Mr. Phillippe said. “It’s sort of be careful what you wish for.”

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