What happens when you fall in love with someone for whom love itself is an alien concept? That’s the concept director and writer Max Mayer came up with his new film Adam. The story is about two unlikely neighbors who fall in love. Unlikely because Adam (played by Hugh Dancy) has Asperger’s Syndrome, an increasingly common form of high-functioning autism that is hallmarked by an inability to read what other people are thinking and feeling. Beth (played by Rose Byrne, Knowing) is a highly emotional, intuitive, socially vivacious woman who is looking for a deeper kind of love than she has ever known. She is having her own problems with family connections – so is Adam the right one for her?
Hugh Dancy sat down with me for an exclusive interview about Adam.
You’ve played several different types of characters, but this role required you to be completely open and vulnerable. Was this the hardest role you ever had to prepare for?
Yes. I had to learn an enormous amount I didn’t know about. I had to absorb it and apply it to Max’s brilliant script, but also internalize something that ultimately I’m not sure is possible to internalize for someone who is neurotypical. It’s more of a stretch than other characters you will encounter because the wiring (of Adam) is different. Also, the tools that actors rely on – sometimes too heavily – were denied me, like communication and responsiveness, eye contact and empathy. That’s because that’s not how this character operates. So it was a bit challenging from that aspect.
Adam is unpredictable in many aspects, but it’s really a surprise when he falls in love with a seemingly unattainable girl. Was it difficult to portray that innocent child-like quality which for him is more an internal thing than an external one?
There’s a black and white way in which Adam sometimes sees things. Although at times he’s very sophisticated with an understanding of things. But as far as trusting — he’s not really equipped to understand that someone might deceive him or to think to read between the lines about things. I can see the truth in a child-like persona, but that really fails to take in the whole of him.
You certainly transcended a typical character in your performance of Adam. I’ve read that you like roles that scare you. Is that true?
I don’t want to overstate that. There are lots of criteria one looks for in a script, and not feeling like you know all the answers before you start is a good thing
Having the right actress play Beth was key to your performance because your interactions were not typical of conventional communications between romantic couples. Can you talk about acting with Rose Byrne?
A lot of the time Beth does not understand me nor me her. So there’s a real contained quality to the acting, and I had to concentrate very hard to maintain that. In a sense Rose and I were like two ships passing in the night. We had to take different approaches to scenes and work out the kinks. Max and I were at that point speaking the same language, an interior language of the character. It was at that point that Rose took that and ran with it and gave Beth qualities over and above what Max had already given her in the script – a kind of brilliant worldview, an eccentricity and generosity. Beth is not just a free and loving spirit, she’s really odd in her own ways, and I think Rose brought all of that to the character and in many ways validated the relationship between the two of them and therefore the work that I was doing as well. So although it didn’t feel like a joint process like it often can, we were completely in sync with each other.
You spent time with Aspergers’ groups. What was the reaction of the group when you went to the meeting?
But it [the group] didn’t express itself in cynicism or being guarded, where any other group may have been more reserved or guarded to present a better image of themselves or to test you out.
Hugh Dancy recently starred in P.J. Hogan's Confessions Of A Shopaholic opposite Isla Fisher. Released by Disney/Buena Vista on February 14, 2009 the film has grossed more than $100 million worldwide.
Dancy's other film credits include: The Jane Austen Book Club, Evening, Beyond The Gates, King Arthur, Ella Enchanted, The Sleeping Dictionary, Black Hawk Down, and Young Blades. On television, Dancy starred in Tom Hooper's critically acclaimed series Elizabeth I opposite Helen Mirren and Jeremy Irons. Dancy received an Emmy nomination for Outstanding Supporting Actor in a Mini-series or a Movie for his role as Earl of Essex and the series received the 2007 Golden Globe award for Best Mini-series or Motion Picture Made for Television and the Emmy Award for Best Mini-series. Dancy's other television credits include: Daniel Deronda, David Copperfield, Relic Hunter, and Madame Bovary. On stage, Dancy starred opposite Boyd Gaines, Jefferson Mays, and Stark Sands in A Journey's End which won the 2007 Tony Award for Best Revival of a Play. Dancy graduated with an English Literature degree from St. Peter's College, Oxford.
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