Steve Carell and Ti­mothée Cha­la­met dig deep into painful fam­ily truths in Beau­ti­ful Boy, the real story of a fa­ther deal­ing with his son’s meth ad­dic­tion. To­tal Film meets the ac­tors and their IRL coun­ter­parts to dis­cover why this is a love story above al

Total Film - - Contents - Words Matt May­tuM

Steve Carell and Ti­mothée Cha­la­met on their heart­break­ing ad­dic­tion drama.

Wbe­hinde just nat­u­rally be­came friends,” muses Steve Carell, his eyes nar­row­ing

his thick specs. “There weren’t any ex­er­cises that we needed to go through in or­der to gen­er­ate that af­fec­tion… I think we had it al­most in­stantly.”

“Yeah, I feel the same way,” chimes Ti­mothée Cha­la­met. “I felt very… just taken in. I felt a strong warmth from Steve, and from Fe­lix [Van Groenin­gen], our di­rec­tor, and then the scenes with Amy Ryan and Maura Tier­ney as well. I felt a very pa­ter­nal qual­ity com­ing from them.” It’s Septem­ber 2018, and Carell and Cha­la­met are at the Toronto In­ter­na­tional Film Fes­ti­val with Beau­ti­ful Boy, a heart-wrench­ing ad­dic­tion drama that pre­miered to strong re­views and wide­spread weep­ing the night be­fore To­tal Film meets the pair at the swish Omni King Ed­ward Ho­tel. They’re talk­ing about their cru­cial chem­istry in the film, which casts them as real-life fa­ther and son David and Nic Sh­eff, the for­mer a San Fran­cisco-based jour­nal­ist who would later chron­i­cle his son’s down­ward spi­ral into metham­phetamine ad­dic­tion, and his own re­ac­tion to it.

Ryan and Tier­ney play Nic’s mother and step­mother re­spec­tively, but the fa­ther-son re­la­tion­ship is the crux of the film, and it’s es­sen­tial that the ac­tors have a be­liev­able con­nec­tion, to ground the film through its more tu­mul­tuous scenes. “We had a… I guess you’d call it a chem­istry test?” con­tin­ues Carell, look­ing smart in a dark brown blazer.

“They weren’t test­ing Steve,” of­fers 22-year-old Cha­la­met, sport­ing a crisp white shirt with flo­ral shoul­der dec­o­ra­tion, his wildly curly hair start­ing to grow out of the bowl cut de­manded for his up­com­ing role in Net­flix’s The King. “They were fig­ur­ing out whether I would play the role, or some­body else. But Steve was al­ready at­tached and a ma­jor at­trac­tion for me.”

It must help that Carell nat­u­rally ex­udes a love­able dad qual­ity, too? “I to­tally agree,” grins Cha­la­met. “And I’m grate­ful in real life and in the movie to have ex­pe­ri­enced that qual­ity of Steve’s char­ac­ter. It’s a beau­ti­ful thing. He would be warm and kind as a hu­man be­ing, but then, in a busi­ness like this one where we’re all fa­mil­iar with the neg­a­tive tropes, it’s kind of amaz­ing to have got­ten this ex­pe­ri­ence with Steve.”

In the next room, di­rec­tor Van Groenin­gen (The Bro­ken Cir­cle Break­down) talks TF through the cast­ing. “Well, for David, it had to be a very car­ing dad, ob­vi­ously, and very re­lat­able,” he ex­plains of how he came upon Carell. “There was some­thing very cere­bral, also, about his char­ac­ter, be­cause of his job and the way he starts in­ves­ti­gat­ing how he can help his son.” As film­ing started in early 2017, Cha­la­met hadn’t by that point ex­ploded with the re­lease of Call Me By Your Name and the en­su­ing awards (in­clud­ing Os­car) noms. “For the role of Nic, we did au­di­tions and saw a lot of tapes com­ing in,” con­tin­ues Van Groenin­gen. “And at some point, we saw an au­di­tion of a young ac­tor, not very well-known – Ti­mothée Cha­la­met.” He bursts into a chuckle. “You know, he blew us away with his bold and fear­less en­ergy, and how he could switch be­tween a per­son com­pletely strung out on drugs, and also be this very in­trigu­ing teenager try­ing to find a bond with his dad. So at some point, we put them in the room to­gether to do a chem­istry read, and I just felt it – they con­nected.”

Love is the drug

For the real Sh­effs, the fruition of their fam­ily story be­com­ing a film has been a wild ride. David chan­nelled his ex­pe­ri­ences of try­ing to save his son into first a New York Times Mag­a­zine ar­ti­cle in 2005 (‘My Ad­dicted Son’), then into Beau­ti­ful Boy, the 2008 mem­oir that be­came a cel­e­brated best­seller. Like the film, it’s a fre­quently up­set­ting and frus­trat­ing read, as David’s ef­forts are con­founded by Nic’s re­lapses, and the seem­ingly in­sur­mount­able grip of his meth ad­dic­tion. The book will ring poignantly true for par­ents fear­ful of los­ing con­trol of their chil­dren to such an un­com­pro­mis­ing dis­ease, and Nic also wrote his own mem­oir, Tweak, pub­lished in 2009.

When we later meet David and Nic in Lon­don, David ex­plains that – due to his strug­gles to even fin­ish the book be­cause of Nic’s fur­ther re­lapses – “there was not even an

inkling that some day, this could be a movie with these amaz­ing ac­tors and this cool di­rec­tor”. In per­son, David has a softly spo­ken au­thor­ity, and Nic is bright-eyed and smil­ing. “It’s sort of em­bar­rass­ing to look back on [my book], be­cause it is so raw and un­formed, but I think that’s also why it’s this amaz­ing time cap­sule from that time pe­riod,” adds Nic. “So yeah, the fact that it could go from that to be­ing in the­atres right now… I still can’t wrap my head around it com­pletely.”

Film in­ter­est in the books was im­me­di­ate. Pro­duc­ers Jeremy Kleiner and Dede Gard­ner bagged the movie rights for Brad Pitt’s Plan B pro­duc­tion com­pany, and over the past decade names such as Cameron Crowe and Mark Wahlberg had been at­tached. In the book Beau­ti­ful Boy, it’s clear that the Sh­effs are both cin­ema buffs, and fre­quently bond over movies, so a screen ver­sion of their own story must have been a par­tic­u­lar thrill. “One of the amaz­ing things about Fe­lix, also, is that be­fore Ti­mothée Cha­la­met be­came what he is now, which is like this big­gerthan-life movie star, Fe­lix au­di­tioned and looked at the tapes of a few hun­dred ac­tors, and found him,” mar­vels David. “Steve Carell is the op­po­site. He’s some­body I’ve al­ways ad­mired. He’s an amaz­ing comic ge­nius, but also in his dra­matic roles: The Big

Short was amaz­ing, and it was heart­break­ing to watch him in Lit­tle Miss Sun­shine. But it was still im­pos­si­ble to imag­ine he would play me. But God, what an hon­our to be in that po­si­tion.”

Hav­ing the books – and in­deed the au­thors – as a guide was a dif­fer­ent ex­pe­ri­ence for the leads. “It was just a tremen­dous help to have books to guide us, and de­scrip­tions of what the char­ac­ters in­ter­nally would have been go­ing through ex­actly,” says Cha­la­met. “Be­cause they re­ally take on dif­fer­ent per­spec­tives and dif­fer­ent tones in many ways.”

For Carell, play­ing David was more of an in­ter­pre­ta­tion than an im­per­son­ation. “I found him to be kind and gen­tle and gen­er­ous – all of these things I iden­tify with as a fa­ther,” he says. “There’s a cer­tain ego that you have as a par­ent, and you tend to blame your­self for any per­ceived faults you see in your chil­dren. The last peo­ple I would want to blame are my kids, be­cause my wife and I feel com­pletely and ut­terly re­spon­si­ble for

them. So that was an in­trigu­ing part of the story, too, be­cause I feel like David has that self-aware­ness.”

Nic was im­pressed with Cha­la­met dur­ing their ini­tial meet­ing. “We met at a cof­fee shop in LA, and I was just in­stantly blown away by him as a hu­man be­ing,” says Nic. “He just had this en­ergy. There was some­thing so charis­matic about him. But also, I could tell that he was some­one who re­ally, re­ally stud­ies and does his home­work. He was ask­ing so many ques­tions about the specifics of what it looks like to be us­ing, and to be detox­ing, and the emo­tions.” After their ini­tial meet­ings, the Sh­effs largely stepped back dur­ing film­ing. They each made one visit to the set, but see­ing the scenes be­ing filmed proved too painful. “It was re­ally over­whelm­ing, be­cause it was such a sad scene, an in­tense scene,” re­calls David. Adds Nic, “Es­pe­cially hav­ing to redo the scene over and over and over again – it was just way too emo­tional.”

The book, and the film, are at times emo­tion­ally over­whelm­ing ex­pe­ri­ences. Pre­sum­ably, it would be dif­fi­cult for the ac­tors to shed the weight of these woes dur­ing such an emo­tion­ally in­tense shoot? “In some ways, it was like the op­po­site,” says Cha­la­met. “I felt like get­ting home and call­ing my par­ents and as­sur­ing them and be­ing as­sured by them. Read­ing the script, I re­mem­ber telling my­self, ‘Do the scenes to the best of your abil­ity. Com­mit to this char­ac­ter to the best of your abil­ity.’ And that’s down to the weight loss, and try­ing to get the phys­i­cal as­pects right. But I re­ally tried not to make il­lu­sions to my­self about hav­ing to be mis­er­able be­tween takes or at night or not tak­ing time off. I ac­tu­ally think your work is bet­ter pro­tected when you’re not mis­er­able.”

It’s a story about a fam­ily and peo­ple who cher­ish one an­other’ Steve CAreLL

Ad­dicted to love

On Cha­la­met’s weight loss (he dropped 20lb from his slen­der frame for the role), Van Groenin­gen ex­plains that the scenes in which Nic is strung out and at his low­est points were filmed first, so that Cha­la­met could re­turn to his nor­mal weight for the hap­pier scenes (loss be­ing a slower process than gain). “It helped him phys­i­cally feel it, and hit some sort of rock bot­tom,” says Van Groenin­gen. “I mean, he was very closely fol­lowed, but at some point, we had a feel­ing he was push­ing it fur­ther than we wanted, be­cause he was so com­mit­ted to it. We did have to say at some point: ‘Timmy, stop. It’s great. We don’t want you to go into a dan­ger­ous place.’”

For all the heav­i­ness, there was laugh­ter on set. “It wasn’t like a wake,” says Carell, with a smile. “We had fun. Be­cause that’s part of be­ing a fam­ily as well. Un­der­pin­ning all of this is a sense of joy and love.” Be­cause as much as Beau­ti­ful Boy is an ac­count of the ad­dict’s ex­pe­ri­ence, and how that fil­ters out into the fam­ily, it is even more so a non­ro­man­tic love story. “I think that’s what it is, at its heart,” Carell con­curs. “A love story be­tween a fa­ther and his son. In many ways, so much of

[the talk around the film] ob­vi­ously is about ad­dic­tion and re­cov­ery. But be­yond that, it’s a love story. It’s a story about a fam­ily and peo­ple who cher­ish one an­other, and the beauty in that.” Painful as the view­ing ex­pe­ri­ence was, the Sh­effs com­mend the film for its ac­cu­racy. “It was dev­as­tat­ing to be see­ing, from the out­side, stuff that I knew had hap­pened,” says David. “I kept say­ing, ‘This isn’t us. These are ac­tors – Steve Carell, Ti­mothée Cha­la­met.’ But it was us. They got us in so many dif­fer­ent ways, and it was a re­minder of what hap­pened. I feel it re­ally showed what it’s like to live with this in your fam­ily.”

“I felt that way too,” con­cludes Nic. “I mean, it was su­per-hard, but I did feel in­cred­i­bly grate­ful when it was over. Like my dad said, they did get so many things right.

It did feel so au­then­tic. So it did just make me feel like each and ev­ery day I should be so grate­ful for my life, and for my re­la­tion­ship with my fam­ily… and just the fact that we sur­vived it, I guess, is in­cred­i­ble.”

Beau­ti­ful Boy opens on 18 Jan­uary.

If you or some­one you know is suf­fer­ing from drug ad­dic­tion, you can find sup­port and lo­cal treat­ment cen­tres via talk­

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