Patrick Fabian (’87 B.F.A. Theatre), a native Pennsylvanian, has come a long way from playing one of Christopher Columbus’ ships in a second-grade play. Today he is one of the lead characters on the hit television series Better Call Saul, the Emmy-nominated spin-off prequel to Breaking Bad, airing on AMC. He says it was the time in between his early stage debut and current role that has made him the actor he is today, including his years at Penn State in the School of Theatre.
“I’ve been very fortunate and very lucky in a very tough business,” admitted Fabian. “My training at Penn State absolutely has been something that I have relied on, whether I knew it or not, especially early on. What I found was that the only reason I have a career is because of the groundstrokes that were given to me at Penn State as the basis of how to behave as a professional actor.”
Fabian used his Penn State training—including his warm-up of Gilbert & Sullivan’s “Modern Major-General” that former professor Michael Connolly taught him—to land his role as Howard Hamlin in Better Call Saul.
“The show is a real crowning achievement in a lot of ways. People ask me, ‘How did you get this job?’ I got this role exactly the same way I got my first job twenty-six years ago. I went in, prepared like Penn State had taught me, and I did to the best of my ability what I saw on the page, and in this particular instance I was their answer.”
On September 18, Fabian will attend the Emmy Awards, for which Better Call Saul is nominated for six. Earlier that morning, he will participate in his tenth Nautica Malibu triathlon to benefit Children’s Hospital Los Angeles. As the father of two young daughters, the cause is very special to him.
Fabian’s wife, Mandy, is also in theatre and is currently working on her first television feature. When the power couple is not juggling their busy schedules, the family is playing beach volleyball and, as Fabian joked, “looking like we’re in a Sunkist commercial.”
Despite his love of California, Fabian still reminisces about growing up in New Cumberland, Pennsylvania, including tubing down Yellow Breeches Creek. He continues to cheer for Pittsburgh’s sports teams and returns to visit family. At times, his Steelers and Penn State gear lead to random interactions, from friendly team rivalry to shouts of “We Are!” between strangers.
Fabian is currently working on an independent film called Shoot, in which he plays a soccer coach who helps an Iranian boy. He also recently finished an independent film, DriverX, about a man who ends up driving an Uber to support his family.
Recalling his time at Penn State, Fabian described rehearsal in the Pavilion Theatre and ice cream breaks at the old Creamery location (Borland Building). He also fondly remembers working at Zeno’s, his first and favorite bartending job. However, he wasn’t sorry to give up waiting tables as his career progressed.
“In 1992, I stopped waiting tables, and I haven’t looked back,” he proudly stated.
Fabian’s appreciation for his success is only second to his humility. He loves being recognized by fans and interacting with them through social media.
“I’m thrilled by it. I’m not too jaded. All that it tells me is that what we are doing is good. Sometimes I forget the reach and the power of television. The audience is your lifeblood.”
Despite his television career, Fabian still has a love for live theatre.
“The power of live theatre is so great. Witness the phenomenon that is Hamilton! Who would have thought that the musical genre could be turned on its head and reinvented?”
While a theatre student at Penn State, Fabian performed in midnight theatre and was in Spring Awakening, directed by professor emerita Helen Manfull, and The Two Gentlemen of Verona and Much Ado about Nothing (set in India!), directed by Bill Kelly.
Fabian said Manfull and Kelly molded him as a student, in addition to Michael Connolly, Tom McNally, Barry Kurr, Bob Leonard, Jim Hoskins, and Peg French. He particularly remembered his first impression of Penn State’s theatre department – taking an introduction to theatre history class in the Forum with Manfull.
“Her sunshine, optimism, and enthusiasm for what I thought I had decided I wanted to do with my life cemented it for me,” revealed Fabian. “She showed me that as an adult you could have an almost childlike enthusiasm for the love of art and the love of wanting to be an artist and that there is no shame in that and that one should embrace that. I will never forget that experience.”
Now that Fabian is in a position to mentor aspiring actors, he advises them to make the most of their auditions. “Trying to figure out whether or not you are going to get the job is not your job. What’s in your control, to a degree, is the five minutes you have afforded to you to go and show them that you know what you are doing. If you can do that to your satisfaction, that is your job. You’re not in control of the people across the table.”
Fabian said he is grateful for his Penn State education and proud to be an alumnus.
“The educators there gave me a base that allowed me to launch a life against all possible odds,” he explained. “I remember Bill Kelly giving us The Paper Chase speech on the very first day. I remember him saying, ‘Look to your left, that person will be gone in six months. Look to your right, that person will be gone.’ And he ends up saying, ‘Maybe one of you in this room might have a shot.’ Everybody in that room thought, ‘It’s me.’ And it turns out, at least in my case, it was.”
For more information on Patrick Fabian, visit his website: http://patrickfabian.com/