Books to Film: "Beautiful Boy" An Interview with David and Nic Sheff

Seira Wilson on November 06, 2018

BeautifulBoy220.jpgThe movie Beautiful Boy is now playing in theaters nationwide with a remarkable cast (Steve Carell, Timothée Chalamet, Maura Tierney, and Amy Ryan) and a powerful story.  Adapted from two memoirs, David Sheff's Beautiful Boy and Nic Sheff's Tweak, the film looks at what happens to a family when addiction takes a seat at the table.  David Sheff is a father who watched his creative, smart, vibrant son become a meth addict.  Nic is David's son, and his story about becoming an addict shows the other side; what led him down that path, and the struggle of recovery. 

The dual perspectives add a unique quality to the books and film--we aren't just watching the father wonder where his son could be, what he could be doing, we also get to see the answers through Nic's story.  Addiction is a tough subject, but Beautiful Boy isn't a drug movie, it's a movie about hope, and love, and the lengths parents will go to help their children. 

I recently had a chance to sit down with both authors and talk about the movie based on their lives--how it felt to see an incredibly difficult time replayed on the big screen, and what they might add to the afterword of their books, a decade after Beautiful Boy and Tweak were published.

*See below for the movie trailer and ticket information

Seira Wilson: When you published your memoirs you both took the risk and exposed your lives for public scrutiny—does it feel like you're doing that all over again with the movie?

David Sheff: Definitely. It’s scary.  When we published the book I was nervous and then it didn’t help that a friend of mine who was a journalist read the manuscript and said, “you cannot publish this. Your family is going to be exposed to all kinds of scrutiny and people are going to judge you and they’re even going to judge the littler kids, Jasper and Daisy, never mind Nic.”  So I was really nervous, but committed to doing it. The book came out and the reaction was exactly the opposite. People came out and just embraced us and offered to help us and said “I’m so sorry, I wish you’d told me you were going through this” and I learned that when we tell our stories, and the more honest you are, actually empowers people and I think the reason they’ve responded that way is because people can see their own truths in it.

Nic Sheff: It kind of allows people to be open themselves and honest in a way that is really refreshing, I think, and with the movie coming out we just felt like hopefully it will be like it was with the books just on a bigger scale, and really encourage conversation and help de-stigmatize this disease.  A movie reaches such a wider audience and we’d gone through it already so it couldn’t be as bad as it was with the books and all the fear that we had.

Was it difficult to watch the movie for the first time, to sort of have to relive that time in your lives?

David Sheff: It was so hard…

Nic Sheff: I saw it with my really good friend and we were in the theater, just the two of us.  The first thing, one of the opening scenes, Steve Carell is talking on the phone and he says “I’m looking for my son, Nicholas Sheff, S-h-e-f-f” and just him saying our names was like, what!? This is so weird. And I almost started laughing but then by the middle of the movie my friend and I both just started bawling and I don’t think we stopped until the ending credits were over.

David Sheff: I didn’t want to see it, I was too scared, but I thought: okay, these guys made this movie, and yeah it’s based on our books but it’s their thing, it’s their movie and we have to let go of it, detach in that way. But of course I had to see it at some point, so I sat there and I kind of realized that I couldn’t really watch the movie. I was too defended and I was kind of watching it like through a scrim, and just trying to inure myself a little bit to the onslaught of emotion.  Of course I couldn’t. I went with Karen, my wife, and Jasper, our other son, and reading about it and talking about it is different than watching it. It’s really, really different.  It was really hard to watch some of the kind of graphic drug use scenes and it was like, no that did not happen to Nic. But it was also sort of amazing to laugh when the kids are playing and there’s all these really poignant moments.

Nic Sheff: It’s funny, to me the tougher thing than the drug use--I guess it doesn’t make sense--but I still feel like one of the lowest points in my using, even more than overdosing or getting this horrible infection in my arm, and all these things that were outwardly huge and impactful, was a scene in the movie, which is a true story, where I stole money from my little brother’s piggy bank. Watching that scene replayed on the screen in front of me and seeing the actress who plays my little sister crying, and my brother crying, that was to me the hardest to watch and the hardest to re-experience, seeing it acted out in front of me like that.  It was just such a shameful thing to do and I felt so awful that I put the little kids through that.  But also amazing that we’ve gone through that and repaired our relationships and are really closer than ever, is such a testament to the love that our family has, and I think the movie captures that too. 

And I will say, that’s a cool thing about this process--even though it was so painful, the fact that we both wrote these books; we had to read each other’s books, we had to go on these book tours, talk about it, we went on Oprah talking about it, and now we have this movie made—I feel like we’ve talked about everything we went through in so much detail, we really had to hammer out everything, any underlying resentment, and now I think there’s nothing we can’t talk about.  There’s no lingering resentment. We’ve gone through it all and I think that’s kind of a cool lesson.  The more you dive into something and process it, the more you’re actually able to move past it.

David Sheff: Ten years of the most intense family therapy [laughs]

It’s been 10 years since your books came out – if you were going to add one line to the afterwords of Beautiful Boy and Tweak, what would it be?

David Sheff: Don’t give up

Nic Sheff: I’d say, the help is out there if you ask for it.

>Look for tickets in your area to see the movie Beautiful Boy

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