Steve Carell and Timothee Chalamet both knew the addiction drama “Beautiful Boy” hinged on the father-son relationship.
The movie is based on the twin memoirs of David Sheff and his son, Nic, about each’s perspective on Nic’s decade-long, nearly fatal plunge into meth addiction. Toggling between nightmare and memory, “Beautiful Boy,” fluctuates between addiction and recovery, between the love and anguish of a father and son.
So when the two first met at Chalamet’s final audition to read as Nic, it was a pregnant moment.
“I think it was an open-armed hug,” recalled Chalamet of his eventual co-star’s greeting. “I was very appreciative of that because I was really quite nervous going in there.”
The meeting is vivid to Carell, too. For him and everyone else in the room, it was instantly clear Chalamet (whose breakthrough Oscar-nominated role in “Call Me By Your Name” hadn’t yet come out) was the right choice.
“I don’t think I’ve ever seen a better audition,” said Carell.
A year after Chalamet impressed audiences in his chemistry with Armie Hammer in “Call Me By Your Name,” ”Beautiful Boy” teams him with another veteran actor who has likewise been something of a mentor to the 22-year-old Chalamet. The two found they had a natural affinity for each other despite being generations apart. Chalamet grew up an “Office” fan and was most eager to hear the 56-year-old Carell’s “Daily Show” stories.
“It was natural,” said Chalamet. “I felt like we had a physical dialogue that was akin to what a father and son’s physical dialogue would be.”
“I feel absolutely the opposite,” Carrell deadpanned, cracking up his co-star.
But seriously, “he’s somebody you want to be around. He’s somebody you want to talk to. He’s such a committed actor and takes it seriously but at the same time is entirely open.”
Before shooting began, Chalamet had lunch with Nic, and Carell met David, who also visited the set several times.
“They both very bravely supported the movie,” said Carell. “There was a great sense of trust on both their behalf. They had no idea how it was going to turn out, whether it was going to be some treacly depiction of the after-school special version of this story.”
For the role, Chalamet dropped 18 pounds. But both he and Carell are cautious about playing up any of their efforts to authentically portray addiction and its toll.
“In addition to getting all the specificities of using right, it was first and foremost about the family and the relationships within that,” said Chalamet. “It’s not about mannerisms but rather the emotional truth they were living. And trying to get the moments where I’m using or high onscreen as accurate as possible without being so cavalier as to think that’s what the true experience of an addict would be.”
And as much as Carell and Chalamet focused on David and Nic, and their books, they drew as heavily from their own experiences with their fathers and, in Carell’s case, with his kids. For Carell, the film resonates most deeply as a story about a family that is flawed but full of love. In other words, most families.
“It was as deeply as I have felt for something and for a story of anything I’ve ever been involved with,” said Carell. “You can label this a story about addiction, but it’s really a story about the love between these people.”