Hugh Dancy: Adam
Hugh Dancy is fast becoming a rising talent in Hollywood having cut his teeth on quality TV here in the UK and parts in the likes of Black Hawk Down and Shooting Dogs. Most recently seen in Jerry Bruckheimer’s Confessions of a Shopaholic, his latest film, Adam, gives him a whole new challenge playing a young man struggling to come to terms with Asperger’s syndrome. We caught up with the mild-mannered actor to talk through the delicate issues of playing the part and coping with the intensity.
LF: What made this role stand out from the rest?
HD: I don’t think there are many scripts like this. I started reading it and I had no idea what the story was. All I knew was that it was called Adam. I’ve read enough indie scripts where there’s a character who is just a little different or who is special in some way and it’s ill defined. I thought it was a really brave and intelligent way to tell that story. Adam announces his condition, a third of the way into the movie so the audience and Rose’s character get to know him as a human being. Simultaneously, I realised I was going to have to do a lot of work because I knew nothing about him. I didn’t even know that Asperger’s was a form of autism.
LF: It must have been difficult to play a character who can’t really empathise?
HD: I do think of this as the anti-acting role because everything that you bring to the job, like empathy, communication and reaction, were just denied. I knew that to get to the point where the movie could be about the two main characters, I had to be specific about him and exactly who he was. It’s tough to understand rationally what Asperger’s is but it’s another being able to inhabit it. It’s almost like trying to believe a paradox, the basic distinction between the way my brain works and the way somebody with Asberger’s does. It was very different to any work I’ve done.
LF: Did you work with people who have Asperger’s beforehand?
HD: Yes, but I had to do quite a bit of ground work before. You don’t want to sit with a bunch of people and then display the fact you know nothing. The ones who agreed to sit and talk to me were very well inclined and generous and open and frank as they always are. The first thing that I realised was that their behaviour and the range of symptoms is so vast. I thought I’m not trying to play every single person who has had Asperger’s I just playing this one guy.
LF: It must have been a pretty intense role. Was there any lightness in between scenes?
HD: Yeah there was. There would be no benefit in trying to remain in character in between scenes. Rose [Byrne] is delightful. She’s really charming and easy going. It was a very quick shoot, 22 days or something, and for most of that time I had a big book which I would go and read in between set ups.
LF: Max Mayer has explained that the character is a representation of the insecurities we all have...
HD: I think so yeah. The specifics of it are alien but the broader strokes we can all identify with; the idea of trying to make a connection with someone and the miscommunication or the frustration that comes with that.
LF: Being an indie movie, did you ever think that it never would be seen by audiences worldwide?
HD: That was an assumption and a fear I had while I was making it, and then once I’d made it, I stopped worrying about that altogether. As soon as it was put out there it started gaining momentum. First of all I got the phone call from Max saying that we had got into Sundance and then Fox bought it and then the next day Barack Obama was inaugurated (laughs). So it was all good.
LF: How was this compared to working with Jerry Bruckheimer?
HD: Well it’s a lot more comfortable on Jerry Bruckheimer’s sets (laughs).
LF: In what way?
HD: The only difference is that on those bigger movies, not only do you have a crew but, there are a lot of people behind the camera. Confessions of a Shopaholic worked, it was a comedy, but it occasionally became a bedlam of too many voices. But in terms of enjoyment it comes down to who’s in the room with you, that’s essential. Beyond that the rest is insignificant.
Titles related to this article