For their first on-screen pairing, fellow Oscar nominees Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet tackle some of their darkest material in Felix Van Groeningen’s “Beautiful Boy,” which follows the pair as real-life father-and-son duo David and Nic Sheff as they struggle with Nic’s drug addiction. And yet there’s at least one light element to the film’s production: Chalamet’s prodigious affection for “The Office.”
“I think I didn’t want to scare Steve away,” Chalamet joked of his fandom in a recent interview with IndieWire. While the actor was too young to watch the show in its original run, he got innovative when it came time to check out reruns. He watched the NBC comedy “on Xbox Live, because Netflix made itself available as an app on Xbox, and this was before the smart TVs and everything.”
“My dad would be kind of amazed that on my video game console I could just pull up Netflix and all this streaming was available at the fingertips, which is true now, but I’m talking when I was 13, 14, 15,” Chalamet said with a laugh. “So it was kind of like at the forefront of it.”
He continued, “I’d get on my soccer beanbag chair, and he’d lie down next to me, and we’d put on ‘The Office,’ and we’d watch like three, four episodes in a row, and not hit the skip theme song in the beginning, and watch it each time.”
Carell cut in, “Incidentally, we all voted on the theme song.” Chalamet’s eyes lit up.
“We had four different versions of the theme song from different artists, and Greg Daniels, the producer, sent us all versions,” Carell said. “And as a cast, we voted on what was going to be our theme song. It’s kind of cool.”
Funnily enough, the film also functions as a reunion between Carell and his eventual “Office” wife, Amy Ryan. Both actors have adeptly moved between comedy and drama, and seeing the pair, so charming as the show’s goofy Michael and Holly, take on heavy material is both inspiring and a little weird. For Chalamet, however, it was just another neat aspect of the experience.
“It was so cool to hear Amy and Steve discussing, “Do you feel there’s a new generation of people tapping into “The Office”?’ and I’m like pulling my hair out of my head,” Chalamet said. “Our producer DeDe’s daughter, she’s 10 years old, she like went through already a couple seasons. So it’s just so good.”
That Carell and Chalamet would seek out a bit of levity while making and promoting the film isn’t surprising. It’s tough material, made even more risky by the fact that they’re not just telling a visceral story about opioid drug addiction, but that it’s couched in a true story about a real family.
“That was the toughest. That was the biggest challenge to it,” Carell said of the two-pronged requirements of portraying a real issue through real people.
Van Groeningen and Luke Davies adapted their screenplay from two memoirs written by the Sheffs: David’s “Beautiful Boy” and Nic’s “Tweak.” Playing a pair of creative people who understand what it means to make material your own was a big help to both Chalamet and Carell.
“They have their own creative processes,” Chalamet said. “I think they know intrinsically [about] the process of doing well as an artist by doing a lot of bad around it. I find a couple of bad takes can lead into a good one. And they really got that and they feel like that gave us liberty.”
Carell emphasized how free both Sheffs made the actors feel when it came time to tackle the most horrific times of their lives on the big screen. “I think they understood what the process was going to be,” Carell said. “I think we were holding ourselves more accountable than they were. They let go of the reins and they allowed for all of these strangers, essentially, to take this story and to interpret it.”
The result is a raw film that doesn’t feel beholden to glossy interpretations of addiction and relapse, one that rejects the normal parameters of drug addiction drama to find something more honest.
“The art takes place in the head of audience members, everybody will have their own reaction, interpretation,” Chalamet said. “My film knowledge isn’t excellent, and I know I haven’t seen every movie that deals with the subject matter and the canon, and yet I find there’s like these two poles, one that really leans into the tragedy of these kinds of situations and one that makes raw [the situation]. I feel like that’s what we were trying to do, is walk a fine line [between them].”
“Beautiful Boy” premiered at the 2018 Toronto International Film Festival. Amazon Studios releases it October 12.