TORONTO — There are two stories in “Beautiful Boy,” the new drama starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet.
One is based on journalist David Sheff’s 2008 memoir, “Beautiful Boy: A Father’s Journey Through His Son’s Addiction.” The other is based on Sheff’s son Nic’s 2008 memoir, “Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines,” which looks at the trajectory of addiction from the other side.
Both stories make for a heartbreaking film, which is one of the reasons Carell said he chose the project. The movie — which also stars Amy Ryan as Nic’s mother and Maura Tierney as David Sheff’s second wife — attempts to be an honest examination of substance abuse with no easy answers or false happy endings.
After “Beautiful Boy” had its world premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, in September, Marshfield’s own Carell talked about the significance of the story. He also spoke about what it was like to work with rising star Chalamet, and what it’s like to be home in Massachusetts.
Q. What about this project spoke to you?
A. It seemed to be very honest. The script was honest; the [books] upon which the script [are] based are honest and raw and timely. Important. I just felt the whole theme was extremely relevant, and I wanted to be a part of it.
Q. The film doesn’t try for a happy ending. There’s no feeling that “everything is better now.”
A. And that’s one of the things that drew me to it. There’s a massive gray area in this subject matter, and reading David’s book, in particular, I sense that the more he learned, the less he felt he knew, and as a journalist, he wanted to research. He wanted to tackle it and understand [addiction] in a more clinical way. And while helpful, it doesn’t solve anything. And as soon as you start to think you understand or have a handle on it, it changes. It’s amorphous; it’s not a tangible thing that I think people can just put their finger on and correct.
Q. How much time did you spend with David Sheff before you portrayed him?
A. I spent a bit of time with him, but I didn’t want to study him. There was something unseemly about that to me. I found him to be such a generous, kind, intelligent, and really brave man, and I think he was very courageous to allow this story to be interpreted by, essentially, a bunch of strangers. But he gave me free rein. He didn’t give any parameters for what he expected in a performance, and [his] and Nic’s opinions — and Timmy [Chalamet] will back this up — they were more important to us than anything else. We wanted to do justice, as best we could, to their story.
Q. Can you talk about working with Chalamet [“Call Me By Your Name,” “Lady Bird”]? He’s a star now.
A. He’s everything you’d hope he’d be. He’s considerate and kind, and genuine, and he’s grateful. And I think he has a level of intelligence and maturity that is going to serve him well. He’s approaching all of this in a very measured and thoughtful way. He came in to audition and, by far, there was no consideration after he walked out of the room. There was no way he wouldn’t get the part. It was just a beautiful, simple and yet complex [performance]. I don’t know, it was great. He’s just great.
Q. He’ll be in our neck of the woods [around Boston] this fall filming Greta Gerwig’s adaptation of “Little Women.” It’s very exciting. Have you given him local tips?
A. No, I haven’t yet. I actually need to.
Q. I mean, I’m assuming they’re filming it around Concord. I hope they are.
A. Yeah. And I grew up in Concord.
Q. How much are you home in Massachusetts, in general?
A. We’re there mostly for the holidays and most of the summer. And within the next few years, it’ll probably be half the year there.
Q. I hope you mean the right half of the year. Not the February half of the year.
A. The right half. Although don’t give that away because I don’t want my house robbed.
Q. But people do seem very respectful of your space and privacy when you’re there. I mean, they’re cool, right?
A. You know, what I love about Massachusetts is that you walk around a supermarket, and people give you the “high” sign and say “Hey.” You know, they call you by your first name, whether they know you or not. They say, “Hey, Steve. Don’t get too cocky,” and say it with a smile. “Don’t get cocky on us, Steve.” Like, “We’re all from here. You gotta make us proud.”
Q. I just heard that in a Boston accent.
A. [In a Boston accent] Don’t get cocky.
Q. When you’re home and relaxing on either coast, what are you watching?
A. My wife and I just watched, sort of late to the game, “Sherlock,” and we just finished “The Night Manager.” Loved that.
Q. Are you a binge watcher?
A. No. We spread it out. We like to savor it. Especially if it’s something we love, we don’t want it to end too quickly.Meredith Goldstein can be reached at email@example.com.