Patton, Paula

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Paula Patton



Paula Patton grew up in Los Angeles, California, in the backyard of the movie business. Though she dreamed of acting in films and attended a high school that focused on the creative arts, she was too shy to consider acting a realistic career choice. Yet after she earned a college degree in filmmaking and began working behind the scenes in the movie industry, her desire to perform persisted. Deciding that she had to at least try to succeed as an actor, she took lessons and began auditioning. In a business where success often comes after years of painful rejection, Paula Patton was cast in a leading role in her third film. Patton's warmth and generosity on screen coupled with an enthusiastic willingness to work hard have endeared her to both filmmakers and audiences at the beginning of her acting career. Aware that, in her early 30s, she was already considered "old" by Hollywood standards, Patton refused to accept such limitations. In order to break down barriers of race, gender, and age, she applied the same determination that helped her overcome shyness and insecurity to become a breakout movie star.

Raised for Film

Born in 1975, the daughter of a lawyer father and a teacher mother, Patton grew up very close to the Twentieth Century Fox studios in Los Angeles. Inspired by the movies that were being made close by, she spent her childhood playing dress-up in the vintage gowns her mother bought for her at second-hand shops and putting on neighborhood productions. She attended Hamilton Magnet Arts High School, where she continued to perform in school plays. One of her favorite roles was the part of Abigail Williams, a girl whose schemes and lies are central to the plot of The Crucible, Arthur Miller's drama about a witch-hunt in Salem, Massachusetts.

The summer after her graduation from high school, Patton attended a summer film program at the University of Southern California, where she made two dramatic short films using a super-8 camera. That summer, she also heard that the Public Broadcasting System was seeking young aspiring filmmakers to participate in a new reality show, created and produced by Shauna Garr, who had previously produced pro- grams for the MTV cable network. More than 250 teenagers sent in letters and tapes, auditioning for the show, which would be called The Ride, and would feature six young filmmakers traveling throughout the United States, making films about the diversity of American youth.

The 17-year-old Patton sent in her application letter, and Garr selected her to participate in The Ride. Patton put her college plans on hold and eagerly joined the project. The crew of six young filmmakers traveled together for three months, making films about a wide range of issues of concern to young people, such as eating disorders, school, ethnic identity, and gangs. The films were aired on PBS in eight 30-minute episodes in 1996.

Began Career in Production

Patton's experience in filming The Ride inspired her to consider filmmaking as her career. Though she entered the University of California at Berkeley as she had planned, she soon transferred back to the University of Southern California School of Cinematic Arts, where she earned her bachelor's degree in critical studies in 1997. She sought employment in the entertainment industry and became a production assistant, working on several television documentaries and the Howie Mandel Show, a syndicated talk show that ran during the 1998-99 season.

Being a production assistant often meant little more than running errands and fetching coffee for the cast and crew, and Patton soon tired of the work though it would forever give her an appreciation for the role that low-level workers play on a production crew. Working as a production assistant also helped her to understand that a film is much more than the product of the actors and the director. Everyone working on the set contributes to the success of the final product. When she became an actor and was given star status on the set, she would remember to be respectful and friendly to the assistants who took care of her needs.

Patton's next career move was into production itself, as she got a job producing segments for the documentary series Medical Diaries on the Discovery Health Channel. Though she found the work interesting, she gradually became convinced that production was not her dream job. Working on programs about life, death, and illness, she was impressed with the fragility of life and the importance of taking risks to create the life she wanted. She decided to stop working behind the camera and put her energies into fulfilling her dream of becoming an actor.

Insecure about her abilities, and worried that she might be humiliated in a class, she took private acting lessons for a year. At the end of that time, she began auditioning for film roles. Her success was almost immediate. In 2005, she landed a leading role in a pilot for a television program called Murder Book, which gave her acting experience, even though the pilot was never aired. This was followed by small roles in a little-seen film about drug use and relationships called London, and a warm-hearted Will Smith romantic comedy called Hitch.

On June 11, 2005, Patton married her longtime boyfriend Robin Thicke, a musician and singer. She has appeared in her husband's music videos and modeled for the cover of his album, A Beautiful World.

Turned to Acting

In 2006, Patton auditioned for a vintage musical film called Idlewild and was stunned to be given one of the leading roles. The film, directed by Bryan Baker, was a showcase for the hip-hop duo OutKast, the stage name of singers Antwan A. Patton (no relation to Paula) and Andre Benjamin. It was set in prohibition-era Idlewild, Georgia, and told the story of gangsters, juke joints, and the love affair between a mortician and a jazz singer. Patton played the singer, Angel Davenport. Even though she did not have a strong singing voice (her songs were dubbed by another singer), Patton's easy glamour and sultry sweetness contributed to the film's stylish glitter. While Idlewild received mixed reviews, many critics praised Patton's stage presence.

At a Glance …

Born in 1975; married Robin Thicke, 2005. Education: University of Southern California, School of Cinematic Arts, BA, critical studies, 1997.

Career: Howie Madel Show, production assistant, 1998-99; Discovery Health Channel, Medical Diaries, producer, 2000; actor, 2005-.

Awards: Multicultural Motion Picture Association, Nova Award, 2006.

Soon after the release of Idlewild, Patton was cast in another leading role, this time opposite Academy-award winning actor Denzel Washington. The film, Deja Vu, directed by Tony Scott, was a science fiction thriller about an FBI agent who falls in love with one of the victims of a crime he is investigating, then gets a chance to travel back in time and save her life. As the beautiful victim, Claire Kuchever, Patton captivated both the agent, played by Washington, and film audiences. For the role, she was given the Nova Award of the Multicultural Motion Picture Association and nominated for the Black Reel Award for Best Breakthrough Performance. As of April 2007, Patton was scheduled to star in another major film, Mirrors, a ghost story directed by Alexandre Aja and co-starring Kiefer Sutherland.

Though Patton's acting career began in a dramatically successful way, she understood well the difficulties faced by aspiring actors, especially women and people of color, and she hoped to challenge the many barriers placed before anyone who does not fit the Hollywood image of beauty. In an interview with Lynn Hirschberg in the Spring 2007 New York Times Magazine, she said, "In this business, there are just too many boundaries and boxes. You have to not listen."

Selected works


London, 2005.

Hitch, 2005.

Idlewild, 2006.

Deja Vu, 2006.


The Ride, 1996.



Back Stage West, November 2, 2006, p. 2.

Ebony, February 2007, p. 36.

Essence, March 2007, p. 46.

Entertainment Weekly, November 24, 2006, p. 29.

Esquire, December 2006, p. 49.

Interview, December 2005, p. 60.

Los Angeles Times, November 5, 2006, p. E20.

Marie Claire. October 2006, pp. 128-131.

New York Times Magazine. Spring 2007, pp. 70-4.

Oakland Post (Oakland, California), September 6-12, pp. 8-10.

Sentinel (Los Angeles, California), November 16, 1994, p. B7; November 9-15, 2006 pp. B5-B7.


"Idlewild: An Interview With Paula Patton,", (July 18, 2007).

"Paula Patton," Ask, (July 18, 2007).

"Paula Patton," Internet Movie Database, (July 18, 2007).