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‘Beautiful Boy’ resonates for a country gripped by addiction

A harrowing, timely film that premiered at the Toronto International Film Festival earlier this fall opens around the country today. "Beautiful Boy" chronicles meth addiction and recovery through the eyes of a father and his afflicted son. Jeffrey Brown speaks with stars Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet about the story’s resonance, their career trajectories and a “raw new energy" in film today.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    A film that premiered at the Toronto International Film festival earlier this fall is now set to open nationwide.

    And, as Jeffrey Brown reports, it takes on a harrowing subject affecting families in every corner of the United States.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    When I tried it, I felt better than I ever had, so I just kept on doing it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In the film "Beautiful Boy," a young man enters the hell of drug addiction. A father struggles to understand what's happened to his little boy. And the two go through cycles of recovery and relapse, a seemingly never-ending world of heartbreak.

    It's a tough subject, also one very much in the psyche of a nation in the throes of an opioid addiction crisis.

  • Steve Carell:

    It's the reason I chose the movie.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    It is?

  • Steve Carell:

    Yes. I felt that it was about the most timely thing you could choose to make a film about.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Steve Carell plays the father David Sheff, a Northern California freelance journalist whose life comes crashing down.

  • Steve Carell:

    My son has gone missing. And I wanted to check to see if he had maybe been brought in or — or if there had been an accident.

    I have a 14- and a 17-year-old. And every night, I go home, and I would look at them and I would hug them. And it's — you know, it sounds like a cliche, but you can't help but have stuff like this get inside as you're doing it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Timothee Chalamet plays young Nic Sheff, living a secret life that spins out of control, in his case from addiction to methamphetamines.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    Dad, I'm really sorry about everything.

    Today, we live in a really confusing world. And this is an out in many ways. This is a crisis in our country right now. It's a crisis with people of all ages and genders and race.

  • Steve Carell:

    This is a story about a family and about a deep love and connection between this father and son specifically.

    And that's how I approached it. I didn't — I didn't approach it as an addiction drama or a recovery trauma. I thought of it as a compelling story.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    I have worked on projects that are fiction, and it feels like there's a responsibility to the author. And here, I thought, like, there was an added layer of intensity in that regard, because these are real people who lived these lives and had this experience.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    The film is based on a true account, two accounts, in fact.

    The real-life David and Nic Sheff each published a memoir of his experience, offering director Felix Van Groeningen a kind of duet of voices, sometimes in synch, other times sailing past one another.

  • Felix Van Groeningen:

    The things they talked about where the same, but written in a different way and seen from a different point of view.

    So, I'm balancing those two points of view and understanding the two of them, even as it leads to almost a tragic breakup, I thought was really powerful.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Steve Carell is known as a brilliant and versatile comedian, perhaps still most of all for his role in the TV series "The Office."

  • Steve Carell:

    That's what she said.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    But he's now taken on a number of dramatic roles, including the 2014 "Foxcatcher."

  • Steve Carell:

    What do you hope to achieve, Mark?

  • Channing Tatum:

    I want to be the best in the world.

  • Steve Carell:

    Good.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Timothee Chalamet, already a veteran actor at just 22, burst into larger public awareness with last year's "Call Me By Your Name."

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    Just watch. This is how he will say goodbye to us when the time comes. Later.

  • Steve Carell:

    I have been doing some research.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    Been doing some (expletive) research. You got to be kidding me, dad.

  • Steve Carell:

    You think that you have this under control. And I understand how scared you are.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    In "Beautiful Boy," the two are comfortably together and horribly apart, sometimes, as in this scene, at the same time.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    Like your special creation or something, and you don't like who I am now.

  • Steve Carell:

    Both keep trying in their own way to reach the other, but it's almost like one of them is underwater, and one of them's on a boat, and they're trying to talk to each other.

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    By nature of playing the symptoms of meth addiction, there's a spontaneity to that. And Steve is a major improv legend. And I bring that up because I could see immediately.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Does your improv experience come into play in a scene like that?

  • Steve Carell:

    Not so much in the context of improvising dialogue, but it was more the physicality of improv, the trying to suss out where the other — the other character is within the scene.

    I don't know. It's — God, I have such a hard time talking about acting.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    You do?

  • Steve Carell:

    I do. I really do.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Because?

  • Steve Carell:

    I always sound so incredibly pretentious talking about…

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    And you don't like it?

  • Steve Carell:

    You talk about craft.

    Sometimes, it works, and, sometimes, it doesn't. And I think so much of it is just who your partner is, who you're working with.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    No one's surprised to see you doing these serious films anymore, I don't think. Are you — are you? Is this what you wanted to do?

  • Steve Carell:

    To be pretentious, yes. That was my ultimate goal.

    (LAUGHTER)

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    To have people like me asking, like, about this serious film?

  • Steve Carell:

    Exactly. Yes. I have finally made it to PBS. That's — that was it.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Congratulations.

  • Steve Carell:

    Thank you.

    There's no sort of specific career trajectory that I was looking for.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    Do you have one? I mean, because you're just starting out. People are getting to know you, and know you big time now, suddenly,

  • Timothee Chalamet:

    No, I — there's no road map. I feel that I just want to work on a good things and keep working with good people and people I can learn from.

    And it's a new world in many ways. I think it's a beautiful thing for creatives, period. There is a great, raw, new energy.

  • Jeffrey Brown:

    "Beautiful Boy" opens nationwide this week.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Jeffrey Brown at the Toronto International Film Festival.

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