The opioid crisis is fueling a rise in Hollywood movies based on substance abuse
Original Source: marketwatch.com
Actress Chloe Sevigny vowed she would never play a heroin addict because she didn’t want to glamorize hard drugs.
Yet she can currently be seen playing Mary Shannon, a mother addicted to heroin, cocaine and alcohol, in “Downtown Race Riot,” a play being produced by the New Group that has just opened at the Pershing Square Signature Center in Manhattan’s Times Square.
“Downtown Race Riot,” by Seth Zvi Rosenfeld, is set against the backdrop of a 1976 riot in New York’s Washington Square Park.
“I took on this role because you see the deep humanity and suffering of addiction come out in the play,” Sevigny told MarketWatch.
“So many people now suffer from addiction,” she said. “It affects the relationships in their lives and with their loved ones so it’s a seductive problem for a playwright to tackle. It’s also very relevant with the Oxycontin problem in America so it’s something that people are becoming really curious about.”
They certainly are. The number of plays and movies about substance and alcohol abuse is soaring.
“People, Places and Things,” which chronicles a drug- and alcohol-addicted actress’s journey to recovery, just completed a sell-out run at Brooklyn theater St Ann’s Warehouse. The play, which starred Irish actress Denise Gough, transferred from London’s National Theatre and opened one day before President Trump formally declared the opioid crisis, which is estimated to cost the U.S. more than $500 billion a year, a “national emergency.”
Director Jeremy Herrin said he was taken aback by the response the play received. “An American recovery story is different from a British recovery story. Ours was a bit more spiky and uncomfortable,” he said. “But I was thrilled that American audiences seemed to find it so refreshing and engaged with our story in a different way.”
Other current off-Broadway shows that feature substance abuse include David Cale’s “Harry Clarke,” a one-man play starring Billy Crudup at the Vineyard Theatre, and Drew Droege’s “Bright Colors and Bold Patterns” at the Soho Playhouse.
“Addiction is in the national psyche, especially now,” said Scott Elliott, director of “Downtown Race Riot.” “People are talking about it so much and realizing that a lot of sophisticated people have opioid addictions. That has woken people up and permeated through the culture.”
Film and TV Take on Addiction
While Hollywood has previously tackled addiction with classics such as “The Man With the Golden Arm” and “The Lost Weekend,” the genre peaked in the late 1980s with “Less Than Zero,”“Bright Lights, Big City” and “Clean and Sober.”
Drug and alcohol abuse returned as a prominent theme around the turn of the century with movies such as “Leaving Las Vegas,” which won Nicholas Cage a Best Actor Oscar, “Blow,” starring Johnny Depp and Penelope Cruz, and Darren Aronofsky’s “Requiem for a Dream.”
Movies released this year that featured addiction or alcoholism include “The Glass Castle” starring Brie Larson and “Stronger” featuring Jake Gyllenhaal. This month alone, actor John Hawkes — who previously played drug addicts in “Winters Bone” and ”Lowdown” — is an alcoholic ex-cop in “Smalltown Crime,” while drugs play a significant role in new movie “The Tribes of Palos Verdes,” starring Jennifer Garner and Alicia Silverstone.
“Dunkirk” actor Tom Hardy will play heroin-addicted war correspondent Anthony Loyd in the movie version of his memoir “My War Gone By, I Miss It So.” Filming will soon start on Anthony Jerjen’s “Inherit the Viper,” about the opioid epidemic in West Virginia, starring Josh Hartnett.
New web comedy series “Halfway There,” starring Blythe Danner and Matthew Lillard as mother-and-son recovering alcoholics, will debut at the Sundance Film Festival next month.
Addiction also seems to a popular subject for actors getting behind the camera. “Criminal Minds” actor Josh Stewart has just finished filming “Back Fork” in West Virginia, depicting the effects of opioid addiction on a young couple, part of the budget for which he raised on Kickstarter.
“The Bold and Beautiful” actress Heather Tom earlier this year directed a short film, “Serenity,” about addiction. “If we can use the film as an educational tool or to inspire activism or policy, then that’s my goal,” she told Chicago Now.
“Filmmakers like to reflect on, and be inspired by, what’s going on around them and with the opioid crisis affecting so many people, it’s no wonder they’re attracted to this subject in increasing number,” said comScore Senior Analyst Paul Dergarabedian. “Addiction is rife with cinematic and humanistic sensibilities.”
Movies about substance abuse have a notoriously patchy commercial track record (even an acclaimed Oscar-nominated film such as “Half Nelson,” starring Ryan Gosling, barely made more than $2 million at the box office). But Dergarabedian added, “While their commercial viability remains to be seen, 2018 may well see more films about addiction come forward in Hollywood. After all, the prescription-drugs epidemic is not going away.”
When billionaire film producer Peter Guber read Paul Solotaroff’s account of the fentanyl epidemic afflicting the suburban communities of New England in Men’s Journal, he was so moved he bought the rights for his Mandalay Sports Media (MSM) group. MSM is currently developing it as a one-hour drama for cable or streaming platforms entitled “Toes Up.”
Depth of Character Study
Dominique Morisseau, a playwright who has written about addiction on Showtime’s long-running dramedy “Shameless” and in plays such as “Skeleton Crew,” says the trend is driven by demographics, not just headlines. “There have always been drug crises,” she said, “but when it’s hit the white, rich communities, there’s a different kind of urgency around it.”
The recent high-profile deaths of actors and musicians from substance and alcohol abuse, such as Prince, Philip Seymour Hoffman and Amy Winehouse, are also a factor, Morisseau added. “We’ve seen some of our most beloved artists in theater or music pass away through overdose or drugs.That might be on our minds,” she said.
But she noted that addiction will always be catnip for the writer. “Addictions are fuelling something that isn’t being addressed or being covered up. Artists try to investigate the human hurt and addiction is one of the ways to do that because it is guaranteed to hide a deeper pain.”
British playwright Torben Betts, whose play “Muswell Hill” is currently running off-Broadway at the Barrow Group Theatre, concurs. “Everything I write centers about booze — it’s not intentional but it’s always been a part of my plays,” he said. Betts said his upcoming play “Monogamy,” about a TV chef in a downward spiral, features an alcoholic, a cocaine addict and a “millennial puritanical reactionary son.”
“People loosen up when they’ve had a few drinks and the negative s–t in their lives come out and it makes for entertaining theater,” Betts added. “Alcohol helps my characters go to situations and other places where they don’t want to be in. By contrast, people who are sober skirt around issues and are very polite.”
Yet Herrin, director of “People, Places and Things,” stressed the power of art pales in comparison to real-life stories of rehabilitation from drugs and alcohol. “If you think the [“People, Places and Things”] company’s remarkable work is exciting and jaw-dropping, that’s true,” he said. “But for some people going one day without drinking or using without recovery is really impressive.”