We meet David and Nic Sheff, the father and son centre of the film and hear their heartbreaking tale of struggle and recovery...
Overwhelming, expressive and emotive, is how you would express the empathetic piece of cinema by Felix Van Groeningen, and it’s also how you’d perceive David and Nic Sheff’s relationship. Put centre stage by the Belgian filmmaker, the father and son have had a tumultuous journey alike to many a family, but with theirs they are choosing to move forward and make a difference. Writing their stories in two memoirs, the Sheff’s delved into the taboo world they had grown used to, sharing a world they had so long kept private. Struggling with addiction throughout Nic’s teens, David explains that he first found marijuana in his son’s backpack at the age of 11 and by 17 “he’s tried pretty much every [drug] you could name”, progressing to an unrecognisable stage, he became unrecognisable as an addict. The film follows their story together, and whilst it epitomises the struggles of addiction, it emphasises the love Nic and David share, and the power of their love. HUNGER met Timothée Chalamet and Steve Carrell’s real life counterparts to learn about the reality behind the film, and get to know the true heroes of Beautiful Boy…
Were you a part of the casting process at all?
Nic: Steve was the first person to come on, it was pretty much all Felix. Steve was already attached when they brought it to Amazon. They saw about 400 kids for the role of Nic, but Felix had seen an early version of Call Me By Your Name and so had Timmy in mind. When [Timothée Chalamet] came in to audition he gave an amazing performance right away. He’s so committed to getting everything right, he brings so much authenticity to everything he plays.
Were you scared of letting Felix tell your story?
David: Before meeting him and spending time with him I was apprehensive. When we wrote our books, which was still scary, but we had control. So turning it over to a filmmaker felt dangerous and potentially a landmine. But when we met him and spent time with him and understood his commitment to authenticity, then we took a step back and trusted him to make the movie. He’s an artist and we loved his early movies.
Nic: I work in Hollywood now and lots of different voices interfering is a true stereotype, but Felix was so entirely authentic and he has so much integrity which I was immediately struck by. Being able to spend lots of time with him in the past two years has been amazing.
David: They go surfing all the time together.
Nic: Yeah, we’ve become like best friends.
Does telling your story in America right now empower you at all?
Nic: I feel grateful to do it. Like watching the movie together was such a reminder of what we went through, and how lucky I am to be alive. To be able to go around and talk about these issues, it feels like an amazing opportunity and I’m grateful for that too – it’s the best thing that’s come out of this.
David: I’ve heard from people that’ve seen the movie and have been through this, and how it has affirmed their experience: they’re not alone. The rollercoaster of devastation and hope over and over again is a very real experience. Seeing this is hopefully very useful for people to know that you’re not alone, we’re all struggling. People often feel so much shame.
How has it affected your relationship over the past few years?
Nic: I think it’s been good for our relationship. It’s cool to watch the movie because it captures our love and the family when it’s goods. After my little brother saw the movie he sent me a long note about how much he loved me – it’s a really cool conversation between me and my little brother. And my little sister too – she had a similar reaction. If anything, it’s really brought our family together. My brother worked as a PA on the movie actually, the production designer used my little brother’s drawings as the pictures in my journal which was really cool. For me artwork is really cool and it makes that scene so much more resonant and to come together as a family and make this kind of thing happen was really great.
So the scene where you, David, take meth can you tell me more about that?
David: [Side eye, then laughs] I didn’t do it! But that was something that works really really well in the movie. You have this dad who is so desperate to figure out what’s going on and he’s so frustrated. When Felix but that in the movie, it’s a shorthand way of showing how much you care – when I saw that I thought that’s exactly how desperate I felt. I did try meth once when I was young, but that was enough!
Nic: Seeing that and the scene where my stepmom chased me in the car – which did happen – was really so powerful because you see the lengths they re going through. Seeing myself break into my parents’ house was so painful and watching the way my stepmom just wanted to do anything to make things better and that irrational thinking that comes out of this chaos that is captured so well in the movie.
Where do you hope this film is going to lead you?
David: the hope is that a family or person in a similar situation is that the dialogue continues. Because we were lucky and Nic survived, we feel an obligation to help others and tell our story and give people help and education.
Nic: To be able to be of service to people is the greatest gift that sobriety has given me.
Beautiful Boy is out 18th January 2019.
11 January 2019