Beautiful Boy x Everyman Exclusive Interview
The author of Beautiful Boy discusses the film adaptation of his memoirs and his family’s experience of addiction. Here's what he told Everyman exclusively...
Beautiful Boy is a very personal story which lays bare the trials and triumphs of addiction. Was it hard for you to revisit it for its depiction on screen?
When I began writing I wasn’t thinking of a book; I wrote to get through sleepless nights and to try and make sense of the chaos and terror, almost like an exorcism. That’s how personal it was. I only decided to share the story publicly when Nic had been clear for a year. We think a nightmare like addiction can’t happen to our children, but I learned the hard way that it can happen to anyone. The sharpness of the pain about Nic’s addiction was a vague memory until the movie brought it all back. Suddenly I was reliving it in a movie theater with 3000 people. When the movie ended, I was shattered but also swept over by an emotion I hadn’t anticipated: gratitude, because I was reminded that we are so, so lucky.
Was it agreed from the beginning that your book and your son’s book would be combined for the film? How did you go about deciding to combine the two, or was this choice made by the filmmakers?
The producer Jeremy Kleiner contacted Nic and me soon after our books were published. He said he wanted to make a movie based on both Tweak and Beautiful Boy. I was dubious, because the books chronicle our experience from diametrically opposite perspectives, radically different from one another. Jeremy saw that as a challenge though and a worthy one because true understanding and healing only come when we see the world through one another’s eyes. In the movie they pulled off what I thought was impossible, interweaving the two perspectives with an emotional thread central to both Nic’s and my books and our experience.
This is Felix Van Groeningen’s first English language film, what was it about him as a director that made you think he was the person to direct such an intimate, harrowing and authentic story?
One day Jeremy called from Europe and said he was sending a DVD of a movie he’d just seen. The movie, Broken Circle Breakdown, had been nominated for an academy award in the best foreign language category. It was heartbreaking and beautifully shot and told. My wife Karen and I watched it riveted and saw what Jeremy saw: this was the guy who should make Beautiful Boy. It was scary to entrust our story to anyone and this director was only in his early thirties, but he had uncanny insight beyond his years — he wasn’t yet a parent but somehow knew what it meant to be one.
There have been many films about addiction. What made you want to see your memoirs committed to film? Was it to raise awareness, or something else?
We wanted to raise awareness about addiction, as well as something that Felix, Jeremy, and Dede committed to at the outset. Most addiction movies tell a familiar story and portray the addicted as stereotypes — junkies, criminal, immoral, and lacking willpower. We rejected these clichés and wanted to show the reality of addiction — it’s not easy or black and white. The addicted aren’t immoral or lacking will power, they’re ill and suffering. We wanted to show the messiness of addiction, without easy answers. Most Hollywood movies end tied up with a pretty bow, but that’s not life, definitely not life with someone who’s addicted.
Steve Carrell and Timothée Chalamet have been praised for their portrayal of you and your son Nic in the film. What preparation did they undertake to capture the dynamic between you?
Steve told me to relax as he was committed to the story’s emotional core rather than copying my mannerisms. It moved me when he said he was drawn to the role not because of experiences with drugs — he hadn’t any — but because he was a father. Steve reassured me, but Timothée told me that he was the one who needed reassuring when he met Nic. Timmy wanted to do justice to who Nic was, so Nic took him to visit the places he’d hung out when he was using and living on the street. I don’t think Steve and Timmy could have convincingly portrayed the depth of the relationship between a father and son if their connection wasn’t genuine — it’s obvious that they adore one another.