About The Production (Cont'd)
The Love of Two Mothers
"Because this is primarily Nic and David's story, it would have been simple
to reduce the roles of
Nic's mother and stepmother to tropes," says Gardner. "The businesswoman and the
artist. But they are
both really good mothers, in very different ways, and essential to the story."
As Karen Barbour, Nic's stepmother and David's wife, Maura Tierney reveals
unmistakable strength, as well as a profound affection for Nic. "Maura's
performance as Karen is
beautiful," says Kleiner. "You are aware that there is a deep bond between her
and Nic. But when his
behavior crosses the line, she feels violated and protective of her younger
children, Jasper and Daisy."
Tierney, a Golden Globe winner for her role as Helen Solloway in "The
Affair," says she loved the
way the script incorporated an important, specific issue into a much bigger,
universally accessible story. "I
think addiction has a lot to do with the feeling of being seen or feeling
invisible," she says. "People self medicate
so they don't have to care. Initially it seems that Nic has just gotten a little
off track and David
and Karen address it right away. But things are not always as we hope for them
Meeting Barbour before filming gave her a perspective on the character as
more than just "the
stepmother." "Her relationship with Nic is special," notes Tierney. "She's a
well-known artist and they
loved to paint and draw together. They spoke French with one another and played
word games. She had,
and still has, a very warm and loving relationship with him."
Working with van Groeningen was a special experience, says the actress. "I
trust Felix completely. I
felt really comfortable doing whatever he said, which is not always the case. I
think it has to do with the fact
that Felix has a specific vision that includes allowing for something completely
unexpected and unplanned."
Vicki, David Sheff's first wife and Nic's birth mother, is played by Amy Ryan.
Vicki has remarried
and is living in Los Angeles, where young Nic spent holidays and summers. The
revelation that Nic has a
serious drug problem comes as a bombshell for her.
"Like Karen, she also is a rock for Nic and takes over when David is unable
to continue," says
Ryan immediately related to the dilemma that Vicki, David and Karen faced
when confronted with
Nic's addiction. Was it their fault? What was the best solution? "As a parent,
you're always going to
question whether you could have done something different," says the actress, who
was nominated for a
Best Supporting Actress Oscar and a Golden Globe for her performance in Gone
Baby Gone. "All three
parents struggle with that. At times they have different ideas about what's best
for Nic, but ultimately they
are there for their child."
Like the other actors in Beautiful Boy, Ryan came away from the experience
with the utmost
respect for the director. "Felix usually knows exactly what he's going for," she
says. "And on the rare
occasion when he's not sure, you can see his wheels turning. Other directors
might feel they have to have
the answer and put up this faĆ§ade, this toughness. With Felix, you get drawn
into his process. It's infectious
- you want to figure it out with him."
Van Groeningen is a true auteur, she believes. "His films are beautifully and
fiercely poetic. The way
the films are shot, the pictures he paints, the way the characters move through
their world feels different
from other films. And there's hope in all of his movies."
Ryan was delighted to reunite with Carell, with whom she shared a playful
onscreen romance in
"The Office." The first scene they shot together on Beautiful Boy comes late in
the movie, when Nic has
overdosed and his divorced parents immediately fall into a painfully familiar
pattern. "It's a highly
emotional scene," she remembers. "But when we first saw each other we just
started giggling. I think Felix
was slightly confused at first."
Kaitlyn Dever plays Lauren, a former classmate of Nic's and a fellow addict.
When they meet up in
San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury neighborhood, he is 18 months sober and Lauren
has been substance-free
for four months. "It's pure happenstance," explains the actress. "They're young
and looking to party. She
had done meth before but not heroin until then."
Following a three-week bender of alcohol, meth and heroin use, Lauren ODs.
"She is partially
responsible for Nic's relapse," says Dever, "but her near death is also the
impetus for Nic to try to get a
grip on his life."
Dever's research for the role included watching documentaries about meth use
and how it affects
people's lives. "It was devastating to see how addiction tears families apart."
Timothy Hutton was cast as Dr. Brown. Hutton's character, an eminent
authority on the
devastating effect of crystal meth on the brain, is a composite of the many
medical professionals David
Sheff consulted over the years. "It is very powerful stuff," says the Oscar
winner. "I responded to how
emotionally deep this story is, particularly the relationship between a father
and son. This is not just about
drug addiction. It's about how this family faces a crisis. It has a brutal
effect on everyone." Andre Royo,
who portrays Nic's then-AA sponsor Spencer, says that for him the role felt like
coming full circle from
Bubbles, the sympathetic character he played on "The Wire." "Bubbles was a
heroin addict who was able to
get clean," says the actor. "When I read this script I just felt like this is
what Bubs would be doing now.
"This script is layered in truth and grit," adds Royo, "and it represents a
lot of people's experiences.
Spencer doesn't know how much of an impact he'll ultimately have on Nic or how
much help he can be.
He knows that sometimes just being there is as important as anything he can do."
The book Beautiful Boy is filled with references to the deep connection Nic
and David have
through music, from classic rock to early punk and grunge, so creating an
eclectic and personally
meaningful soundtrack for the film was a major undertaking for van Groeningen.
Early in the process, he
brought in a composer to create original music for the film, but he soon decided
to take a less conventional
approach. At the suggestion of editor Nico Leunen, the director decided to
construct a score entirely of
existing music, including songs that were important to the Sheffs.
"I always planned to include some of the songs that Nic and David mention in
their books," says
van Groeningen. "The title Beautiful Boy is from the John Lennon song. It has
special importance for David
because he had interviewed John early in his career."
David Sheff admits to being "somewhat obsessed" with music, especially as it
is used in film. "This
music is extraordinary," he says. "They use the Lennon song in a beautiful,
subtle way. Steve is singing to
his beautiful boy and it breaks away into John Lennon singing, which is just
gorgeous and heartbreaking."
One of David's favorite musical moments comes when he and Nic are in his car
and the Nirvana
song Territorial Pissing plays. "Nic grew up in the era of Nirvana and that was
the first time he educated me
about music," he remembers. "In that scene, Timmy is sort of head-banging and
Steve is looking at him
with real affection and appreciating that moment. It's beautiful and that song
is so powerful. It says so
much about the anger and the power Nic was experiencing during that time."
Finding the right songs, getting clearances, editing them to the right length
and weaving them into
the narrative was a huge undertaking, according to the director, but it is hard
for him to imagine the film
without this music. "One of the ideas behind it was that some of these are songs
David had listed as ones
he couldn't listen to anymore," says van Groeningen. "In his book, he tells the
parents of addicted children
to watch out for these songs because they are going to make them cry."
In addition to rock icons like Lennon and Neil Young, the soundtrack features
some alternative acts
including ethereal Icelandic avant rockers Sigur Ros. "I liked the eclectic
nature of the songs we selected
because David and Nic have eclectic tastes," the director explains. "The Sigur
Ros track Svefn-g-englar works
amazingly well. It's moody, dreamy, indie pop music. The music climaxes at the
moment Nic shoots up and
you realize that he's just relapsed in a huge way, which is exactly what you
don't want to happen. The music
doesn't prepare you for what's coming and because of that it hits you even
Behind the Camera
For his first American production, van Groeningen brought with him a pair of
collaborators. Cinematographer Ruben Impens has photographed five previous
features for the director,
including the award-winning films The Broken Circle Breakdown and Belgica. This
is also the fifth film that
editor Nico Leunen has worked on with van Groeningen.
Impens and Leunen were on hand even before production started, sitting in on
the two weeks of
rehearsal with van Groeningen and the actors. "I know it's not the norm to
rehearse in the U.S., but it is
very important for me," says the director. "I want to have the time to explore
things with the actors while
we get to know each other. I like to try different things, but once you're
shooting and the clock's ticking,
it's harder. Having that 'play time' upfront is crucial."
With Impens on hand, van Groeningen can also begin blocking the scenes before
he gets to set.
Sometimes the cinematographer even films rehearsals, so the director can
evaluate a scene before finalizing
it. On each of the films he and Impens have made together, says van Groeningen,
the cinematographer has
been an essential part of the process on every level. "We know each other so
well, it just flows," the
director explains. "It's not just about the frame for us. It's about story,
characters, mood, locations.
"What works for Ruben and me is not having to talk about it anymore," he
adds. "When we start a
new movie, we always want to do something different. We just don't try to pin it
down too much in the
beginning. Then slowly it starts to settle in and we begin to choose an aspect
ratio and the camera we're
going to shoot with, whether it will be handheld or not. It's never etched in
The manipulation of time has long been a signature of Groeningen's work. But
while Beautiful Boy
includes numerous flashbacks to happier times before Nic became addicted, it is
told in a fairly
straightforward manner compared to some of his previous films. "We played around
with time in the
beginning in order to grab the audience's attention before diving in head
first," he explains. "And we use
flashbacks to show what the family has lost, or what they're about to lose."
For Leunen, it's a given that a van Groeningen film will unfold in a
not-strictly linear way. "We take
the entire story, rip it apart again, and put it back together as if the footage
was just raw ingredients,"
Leunen says. "We've worked this way since our very first film. I rely on my
faith in the fact that it will
The way Beautiful Boy's narrative is structured, Leunen says, mimics the way
memory works. "At
every crossroads in your life, you think, how did I get to this point? It's a
very natural thing for people to
do, which is why they respond well to that kind of storytelling. The secret to
making it work is that every
cut back and forth has to have some kind of emotional logic. The biggest
challenge was to find the balance
between David's and Nic's characters. It is both their stories and so that was
Watching van Groeningen, Impens and Leunen work together was a revelation for
all know each other's rhythms and understand how the combination adds up to
something unique," she
says. "It comes from their history together."
Creating a Home
Design is an essential element in storytelling, notes executive producer Nan
Morales, and production
designer Ethan Tobman was meticulous in ensuring the film's visual environment
was organic to the
Sheffs' story. "When that occurs, magic happens," says Morales.
Before setting pencil to paper, Tobman had many conversations with van
Groeningen and Impens
about the look of the film. "Felix and Ruben are unlike any director and DP team
I've ever worked with,"
he says. "They finish each other's sentences - often in Flemish, which is their
first language. They create a
framework and then invite you to think outside of it. It's important to them
that there are things the
audience has to discover for themselves. Visually, we talked about not wanting
things to be predictable."
Finding practical locations in Los Angeles to match the Sheffs' coastal
environment took some time. A visit to their home in Inverness, a small bayside
town in Marin County,
demonstrated how important art, nature and architecture were to the family. "We
saw from how they live
that they have a very strong sense of design," says Tobman. "There were some
departures for cinematic
reasons, but we maintained the integrity of their identity. It's an environment
that feels like the last place a
child would want to escape from."
The Sheffs' home is classic Marin, marrying weathered wood with sophisticated
rustic elements and raw industrial materials all coexist, creating a style that
the designer dubbed "Bohemian
Academic." "There are poured concrete counters next to aged wood floors," he
says. "Huge windows
embrace nature as it surrounds them. There's lots of grass, greenery, stained
glass and semi-transparent
materials with colors that sort of bleed into the rooms."
Kleiner offers high praise for the care Tobman put into meticulously curating
the key locations to
highlight the drama. The designer poignantly captures the light-filled optimism
that defines the Sheff family
home, contrasting it with the dark moments they faced in it. "When David is
dealing with Nic's addiction,
his office becomes a prison," Kleiner says. "This house that had been a place of
joy becomes a kind of
The Sheff house was shot in two different locations. First was a house in
Calabasas, a well-heeled,
rural exurb of Los Angeles, where they filmed exteriors and scenes set on the
first floor. "The house
absolutely could have been in Marin County, surrounded with heavy oak trees, and
dense canopies of
green," says van Groeningen. "There's even a brook running through the back of
the property. Ethan
added a lot of color and changed things to make it more beautiful and cinematic.
It was a wonderful,
fruitful and exciting collaboration on many levels."
For the home's second floor, Tobman designed and constructed a set on a
Hollywood. It was the first time that either van Groeningen or Impens had shot a
film on a soundstage.
"We did extensive miniature work, 3-D modeling, experimenting, location scouting
and movie watching,"
recalls Tobman. "I drew up each of the rooms and then I cut them up on pieces of
paper and presented
them to Felix and Ruben like a jigsaw puzzle. We would assemble it in different
configurations, then tear it
apart and put it back together again."
Nic's bedroom is based on pictures of his real-life childhood room. "So many
drug addicts and
people in pain want to shut nature out and live in shadow," says the designer.
"So Nic's bedroom is
designed in opposition to the rest of the house. The windows have blinds and
heavy curtains. The walls are
a darker color. Nic is an incredible illustrator. He made collages and did pen
illustrations that were pretty
On a lighter note, Morales points out that the only connection between the
set and the non-existent
first floor was a false stairwell that went down only around six feet. "So as
the cast descended to the stage
floor, they would literally bend their knees so it looked like they were going
The Sheff's seemingly unlimited creativity came into play when recreating the
family home. Karen
Sheff's acclaimed art can be seen on an easel in a scene when Tierney is
painting and on the walls of the
Marin County house. In addition, Jasper Sheff, now in his 20s, worked as a
production assistant on the film
and created some of Nic's artworks including the ones in a journal David
discovers adorned with sexually
explicit and violent images, as well as facsimiles of work that he and his
sister Daisy created as children.
"We discovered an incredible resource that we didn't know we had in Jasper
Sheff," says Tobman. "His
drawings look exactly like Nic's."
On April 30, 2017, the Beautiful Boy cast and crew decamped for Marin County
Francisco to film exteriors. They began at Goat Rock Beach in Jenner,
California, where David and Nic
regularly surfed. They also used local landmarks like Tomales High School,
Bodega Market, Point Reyes
Lighthouse, the Point Reyes Bear Valley Trail and North Beach, as well as
driving shots in and around
David and Karen Sheff visited the set on North Beach, where a scene featuring
a "healthy" Nic
playing with his younger brother and sister was filmed. "It was almost like we
were watching one of our
home movies," says David, "if it had been directed by Felix with cinematography
Tobman says shooting in Northern California naturally elevated the visuals.
"It felt like those great
movies where nature plays a character. There are twisted trees and
weather-beaten homes that speak of a
beautiful place that's met with saltwater and hardship. It was the least
set-designed part of the film."
Other, more urban exteriors were shot at the Ohloff Recovery Center (Nic's
first rehab facility), at
Fort Baker's 19th-century concrete battery with panoramic views of San Francisco
and the Golden Gate
Bridge, and throughout the city's Haight-Ashbury and Tenderloin neighborhoods.
"The scenes we shot in the Tenderloin with Nic and Lauren are heartbreaking,"
"They help to explain why the two keep going back to this life. When you look
around the Haight or the
Tenderloin, to a young person it can seem so carefree - just your contemporaries
walking around looking
to party or hook up."
Dressing the Part
For costume designer Emma Potter, Beautiful Boy was a wonderful chance to
help tell an
important story through wardrobe. "David and Karen were very helpful in
providing us with a wealth of
family snapshots," she says. "There were so many funny little details, but one
of the key things I noticed
was the ways Nic changes."
In the photos, Nic goes from insecure teenager to self-centered drug addict
and then vulnerable
adult. "The earlier, happier versions of him wore a lot of primary colors. As
his drug use begins, he moves
through more secondary colors and as an adult it's all neutral tones."
Potter's work with Chalamet had the added challenge of accommodating the
young actor's weight
loss and gain. In preparation for production, Chalamet had lost 20 pounds. "He
was losing weight as we
were doing fittings," she says. "We began the movie when he was at his thinnest
and backtracked from
The gritty street photography of Lincoln Clarkes, Jim Goldberg and Mike
Brodie documenting life
on the streets in the late 1990s and 2000s inspired the wardrobe for Lauren and
the other denizens of the
Haight. "One of my favorites was of a girl who was clearly in a very bad way
with drugs," Potter
remembers. "Yet her little backpack had a Disney character on it. We also hired
local street people in San
Francisco as extras. They already looked the part with long dreads, lots of
tattoos, unusual colored hair and
bits and pieces."
A Message of Hope
What sets this film apart is its point of view. "It feels like a window onto
the disease of addiction
that we hadn't seen before," Kleiner says. "Addiction is the great equalizer.
We've been trained to associate
it with income status and moral failing. In reality, addiction is a disease that
is rooted in non-moral
circumstances, but it is taboo in our culture to talk about it that way. If you
acknowledge it as a disease, it is
not something that should create shame.
"In addition, most films that deal with addiction do so from the point of
view of the addict," adds
the producer. "Looking at this through the perspective of a father who is trying
to keep his family together
Together, the books Beautiful Boy and Tweak cover a period of about eight
encompass visits to seven treatment centers and 13 relapses for Nic Sheff. While
the books deliver an
unflinching look at the uncertainty and pain families like the Sheffs endure,
they also paint a compassionate
and optimistic portrait of a father and son held together by a love that
transcends their problems. The
movie Beautiful Boy, say the filmmakers, chooses to concentrate on the latter.
"Addiction is in the DNA of the movie," Kleiner says. "But what makes us care
is this loving but
conflicted relationship between father and son. The story is heartbreaking, but
also inspiring and hopeful. It
puts forth an ideal of parenting as not giving up in the face of difficulty. As
David, Steve Carell embodies
the kind of parent that we all would like to be. It's easy to love when things
are good. It's very difficult
when your son is in the throes of addiction."
Nic Sheff, who continues to write and is also an advocate for families
struggling with addiction, says
that even though Beautiful Boy is largely faithful to his and his father's
accounts, it has provided a fresh
perspective on his own experience. "Watching the film, I got a chance to relive
my past and see events in a
way I hadn't thought about," he says. "Plan B, Amazon and Felix gave me and my
family an incredible
reminder of everything we went through. Beyond experiencing the film as a work
of art, it made me
grateful to be alive and healthy.
"It was so surprising to see just how much it got right and how real it
felt," he adds. "You don't see
anyone wanting to get high because it's fun. It comes from a place of pain, and
that's an important thing to
show. I hope people come to understand the feelings that were driving me and
have driven so many others
to use. I hope people who are using know they are not alone and there is a way
David Sheff has also become an activist, educating groups and individuals
about the disease of
addiction and treatment and recovery. "As many as 150 people die every day from
overdoses," he says.
"The only way we're going to surmount that problem is to recognize this as a
disease. A lot of people still
feel like addiction is a choice. No one chooses to be addicted."
When he visits schools, community centers and hospitals, David hears
countless stories from
people whose children didn't make it through. "A kid might have been prescribed
Vicodin or OxyContin
because they broke their leg," he recounts. "Soon they started using heroin and
then they overdosed and
died. When I saw the movie, I was reminded every second of how blessed I am to
have my son."
Home | Theaters | Video | TV
Your Comments and Suggestions are Always Welcome.
© 2018 80®, All Rights Reserved.