“Adam” is the tale of an unconventional romance between a bright, sophisticated young woman and a mysterious, sheltered, brilliant young man, who try to find ways to connect, even when they can’t possibly see the world the same way.
Adam (Hugh Dancy) has had a sheltered existence all his life, due to the odd behavior and strange intensity that are a result of Asperger’s, a syndrome that is responsible for his shockingly straight-forward truth-telling and lack of concern for social conventions. When Beth (Rose Byrne) moves into the same building, Adam finds himself falling for her, in spite of all the obstacles they face. Hit the jump to read the interview.
Playing someone with Asperger’s Syndrome was quite an undertaking for the British actor. He not only had to learn all of the particulars, since he had no idea what it was prior to being cast, but he also didn’t have much time to do his research. With the amount of controversy surrounding why people even get autism, he had to sift through the extensive information to decide what would help him in telling this unusual love story.
Here’s what Hugh Dancy had to say about , at the film’s press day, about playing someone so unlike himself:
HUGH DANCY: I wasn’t familiar with it. I was ignorant, but I was intrigued by the structure of the script and the clear intelligence and good writing in it. I could say it was good, as a framework, but with all the other stuff, I had to start from scratch, and it was a steep learning curve because I didn’t have a great deal of time. I came to love the character a lot, in some ways.
I had to weigh how much of it was the condition and whether the two could be completely separated? I actually don’t think they can. But, that said, I was determined, not just to play Asperger’s. The beautiful thing about the script was that Max waited 30 or 40 pages before having Adam say that that’s the condition that he has, and I wanted to do justice to that intelligence.
One of the biggest things in acting is being able to look at the other person and react, but your eye contact always had to be slightly off, above the forehead. Is that something that was very difficult for you, in scenes where you had to be reacting?
DANCY: Initially, it was difficult because what he is actually doing is listening, in a very pure way. He’s just hearing the words. He’s not always hearing them the way they’re intended, but he’s very present. It’s a strange combination, and it took me a while to arrive there. Initially, I remember on day one or two, Max coming up and very sweetly said, “You look a little bit like you’re playing a blind person.” That was not a great moment, but it was actually a very helpful, loving note.
With only one day of rehearsal, what was your preparation process for this?
DANCY: Actually, that day at rehearsal was useful for a couple of scenes, but I think it was a good thing that we didn’t have a great deal more time together because the experience wasn’t about us getting on to the same page. It was really putting a few pages between us. So, most of the work I did was on my own or with Max. And, eventually, when I got comfortable enough, there were people who helped me, who either worked with Asperger’s or who have Asperger’s themselves.
First of all, there’s a huge amount of information that you have to process and absorb and, while doing that, try to figure out what of that information is going to be useful and what is going to be a hindrance. There is an enormous amount of controversy about why people get autism and where it comes from. It is fascinating, but it was not my concern. And then, you’re looking for things that will grab your imagination and take you back to the script and help layer it.
DANCY: I wouldn’t say I felt like that all the time. But, I couldn’t have asked for better support from a director, in that way. I was aware of the richness of the script and I knew all the different things I would have to do to get it right, so I also knew how many different ways I could screw everything up.
Is this the hardest thing you ever had to play, and the furthest you’ve ever had to go away from yourself?
DANCY: Yes, I think it probably is. It’s not just a question of different life experience or a different era, all of which is ground that you could make up by learning and making the leap with your imagination. But, this guy, as well as having a very different life than me, really has different wiring. There was a sense in which I felt like I could just about make up that little bit of distance, but it was a constant effort to get myself there, and a constant act of reminding myself that it was never just going to slip into fifth gear and come naturally to me because you’re asking for a new brain.
It was a fascinating challenge, and there was something eccentrically paradoxical about trying to empathize your way into the mind of somebody you can’t understand. The whole process felt like trying to understand a paradox.
We all have handicaps that we have to deal with in life, and we learn little tricks to get us through them. What would be your handicap, and what little tricks have you learned to cope with it?
DANCY: I was talking to a friend about this the other day, but it’s the way that some people carry a sense of themselves that is not actuality. You meet really attractive people who say they don’t feel attractive. I was speaking to my friend and we both said, “I’m quite a shy person.” He looked at me and said, “What the hell are you talking about? You’re not shy at all.” And, I told him, “Well, neither are you.” He’s one of the most outgoing people I know.
But, those are things that you carry over with you from a totally inaccurate sense of self, usually from when you’re an adolescent and you’re painfully self-conscious. I suppose that’s just another way of saying that none of us know the gulf between who we are and who we think we are. You hope that it’s narrowing, but it may be getting wider.
DANCY: Yes, I feel quite able to talk about it. If an actor is going to espouse some kind of cause, they really need to know what the fuck they’re talking about. On the other hand, I have never really walked in the shoes of somebody with Asperger’s. It’s fascinating and relatively misunderstood.
People don’t know enough about it. I’ll be very happy that this movie maybe brings the opportunity to talk about it and open peoples eyes to it. It’s not why I set out to make the film and, if you carry that kind of thought too heavily in your mind and you think, “This is an important story,” then you lose track of the goal and ultimately forget your first priority, which has to be to tell the story and to entertain, very simply.
Aside from showing what this condition is like, wouldn’t you agree that this film is also a love story?
DANCY: I completely agree. If I’m describing this movie, I start out by saying that it’s about two young people in New York, who fall into each other’s lives, and they try to make a connection, and then there’s the complication of the Asperger’s. But, that’s not the starting point, for me.
My favorite line in the movie is, “Being loved is great, but loving is the most important thing.” Do you agree with that?
DANCY: Yes, I think I do. I don’t know that one is entirely possible without the other. I think sometimes people lazily semi- fall in love with somebody because that other person loves them and it’s convenient, but I’m fortunate in that I don’t think I’ve ever fallen in love with somebody who hasn’t fallen in love with me. I actually think it’s quite rare that that happens, in a true way. So, yeah, I agree with that line.
What would you say you admired most about Adam?
DANCY: His bravery. I was going to say his honesty, but I think that’s involuntary, on his part, which almost makes it hard to admire. We’d all like to think we could be more honest, but his honesty is incredibly difficult and it’s what makes his life so hard. I admired his persistence. His bravery must have given him a really hard life.
Do you like how the movie ends?
DANCY: Max said that audiences have a 50/50 response, as to whether these two will be together at the end of the film. Without wanting to give it away, for people who haven’t seen it, I would have been really disappointed by any ending that had suddenly attempted to tie everything up, or suggest that somehow he was cured. So, yeah, I was very happy with the ending.
Was it hard for you to drop this character and move on, when you finished the movie?
DANCY: We finished the movie on December 22nd, or something, and I immediately left New York and went back to Europe to spend Christmas with my family, which actually prevented me from going cold turkey. It was quite a strong, intense experience, not just the character, but working with these people and working hard.
The other thing that helped was that the ending to the movie was subsequently re-shot and expanded a bit, even though it was essentially the same ending, so we hadn’t shot the end of the movie yet. We shot it in January, the following year, in L.A., so I had that dessert to come. It was really a very nice way to make a movie. If I got to that every time, I’d be very happy.