NEW YORK – When “Compliance” star Pat Healy signed on to play the role of a man posing as a police officer who manages to coerce a fast food employee over the phone into strip searching an employee, he had no idea that the film would be dubbed the most disturbing of the year.
“We certainly knew we were taking some serious risks and that it was a disturbing movie," he told Fox411.com. "But our premiere at Sundance was our first indication that it was going to be this polarizing lightning rod of a movie.”
“People are vocal and they stand up and they scream and they yell,” he said. “It surprised me.”
Healy plays Officer Daniels, a detached man with a grim character, who calls into a fictional “Chickwich” fast food store. Over the phone, he manages to convince the well-meaning manager Sandra (Ann Dowd) that a female teenage employee has stolen from one of her customers and will need to be strip-searched to help him “find the money.” The situation quickly turns into a dark and twisted one that had some viewers storming out of the theater at Sundance.
What’s more frightening is that the film is loosely based on actual events. During the years of 1994-2004, more than 70 cases were reported in 30 states of a man calling up fast-food restaurants and requesting that employees be strip-searched.
Due to the nature of the material, Healy said he felt “horrible” the entire time he was filming.
"We shot the whole thing on this soundstage where I was downstairs in my room by myself and they were up in the office and all the phone conversations were actually live, we’re actually really talking to each other. It was very lonely and isolated but I think it was right to do it that way.”
Healy’s role is so chilling, he says, because the man making the call isn’t necessarily your typical movie villain, at least in terms of appearance.
“It was an interesting way to play the character which was to not really play him as a creep or as this drooling monster, but as this sort of regular ordinary person who in his mind is making a prank phone call,” he said.
And while he initially resisted playing the role because he feared people would associate him with the character, he finally came around. “I just knew that this was going to be a great project to be involved with," he said.
“[The film] gets people talking,” he explained. “I think it does happen in our society not just this specific instance but any abuse of sort of power or authority is something I’d like people to ask questions about.”
“Compliance” opens in select theaters on August 17.