Director Felix Van Groeningen has adapted two memoirs — by father and son David and Nic Sheff — into his first American film Beautiful Boy. David (Steve Carell) lives with son Nic (Timothee Chalamet) and second wife Karen (Maura Tierney) in their comfortable San Francisco home. Their family is shattered by tragedy when Nic becomes addicted to methamphetamine. Beautiful Boy follows the tortuous journey of Nic’s continuous cycle of relapse and recovery.
The promise of Chalamet’s extraordinary breakthrough performance in “Call Me By Your Name” is fulfilled by his passionate portrayal of Nic. Chalamet is astonishing, finding a level of dramatic depth and compassion for character that most actors only dream of reaching. Carrel, more famous as a comedic actor once again proves to be a solid dramatic one as well, infusing the movie with anguish and wisdom in a performance that ranks among his very best.
We spoke to both actors about the film.
Did you know about David and Nic’s story before you signed on to this project?
SC: Before my agent sent me the script, I didn’t. Once I had the script in hand I read the book and did some research and that ultimately is what enticed me to do it.
TC: I knew of it because the novel, which was in circulation for 8 or 9 years, had this beautifully striped cover with striking red and Nic’s face was somewhat obscured. I remember seeing that cover at a bookstore in New York, I think it was at The Source. When I got to read it there was an urgency to the story that makes the individuality of being a part of it somewhat ironic because I feel like Steve and I feel the same way, there’s an urgency to it that needed to be told. However, I was also dying to work with Steve, he’s already made amazing films, so, from an acting perspective, these opportunities are rare.
Was part of the research meeting the family?
SC: Oh most definitely, specifically David, he is exactly what you would expect after you’ve read the book. He’s compassionate, kind, gentle, strong and intelligent but, beyond that, I think he’s incredibly generous to have shared this story and allowed it to be interpreted as a movie, which always strikes me as a courageous act. We were essentially strangers to David and Nic, and he allowed these people to do an artistic interpretation of something so close to him.
TC: The aspects of using, I tried to understand what the physical symptoms to that would be, there are plenty of resources for that now online, but more intently, I wanted to look at what the experience would be as far as rehab goes for this drug which means being isolated from your family and your life and your loved ones and trying to make changes in your life at a very young age.
After all that, what was their reaction to watching their story on-screen?
TC: At the Q&A last night, it was tremendously moving, I don’t think I’ve ever been part of a moment like that. I’d like to think that the book and the movie operate at a human level; this isn’t a film driven by special effects, it’s about human experiences, and more importantly, something millions are going through right now, so just purely on a human level it’s beyond explanation to see David and Nic crying as they watch you playing them [laughs].
SC: I just can’t imagine what it would be like, let alone being portrayed in a movie, but to have something raw and so personal being portrayed. It shows so much courage and dedication to helping others.
Steve, as a father of two teenagers, how did you prepare? There must be a deep, emotional current going through you, knowing that the opioid crisis is an epidemic that could touch any family.
All I can say is I’m a dad, ultimately that’s all I needed because it’s the most terrifying scenario a parent could imagine. And it’s pretty easy to put yourself in that mindset because you’re not far from it any given day, like, as soon as you have kids you begin to worry about them and all you want to do in your life is protect your kids. And so, in meeting David, he’s exactly that type of Dad, he couldn’t be more thoughtful, loving and caring.
There’s a scene where Nic calls his father and is basically crying out for help, but the father, having had enough of the constant on-off relapse, makes the hard decision of saying ‘No, I can’t help you.’
SC: That is one of the toughest moments, and I think, as a father, to have gotten to that place where you have to say those words, it’s the most unnatural thing a parent can do, it goes against every fiber of my being to say no or to deny a child.
Timothee, your character is fleshed out in scarily realistic ways. You really inhabit this role. Meth as a drug has been depicted in pop culture in ways that don’t necessarily look at the sometimes insurmountable recovery that comes with it, this movie does.
TC: It’s a movie about addiction and using, in many ways, I think it’s also a movie about family, recovery and what it is to try and break habits and in particular a substance like methamphetamine which even compared to a drug like heroin has no natural properties, it devastates the areas it’s made in, it’s all bad, there’s nothing good about it and to try and beat it as an addict, given all the insurmountable rates, and then you add youth in that mix, the fact that you have people going through it that aren’t adults yet, the challenge increases.