Exploring Addiction

Felix van Groeningen is a writer-director born in Belgium, who came to international attention with The Misfortunates (2009) and The Broken Circle Breakdown (2012), which was nominated for an Oscar for Best Foreign Language Movie. He makes his English-language debut with Beautiful Boy, starring Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet, in a true story of journalist David Sheff and his attempts to get his Meth-addicted son Nic clean from drugs.

ASFF: How did Beautiful Boy start as a film?

FVG: It started with [production company] Plan B, who I met. They had seen my film The Broken Circle Breakdown, which they loved, and it sparked the idea that there was a sensibility to my filmmaking which would make sense with turning Beautiful Boy into a film. They’d had the rights for a while and tried another version of it, and it died, so it’d been laying on the shelves, and seeing my film revived the idea that there has to be a movie in this. They pitched it to me, I read the books and I totally fell in love with it.

ASFF: What did you love about it?

FVG: It just spoke to me on a lot of different levels. I love the medical journey of the father trying to help his son. He does it through research but also by never giving up and trying to find a way to deal with it. There are all the stages as a father that he goes through: encountering his own flaws and needing to adjust his expectations and coming to a point where he realises he needs to let go in order to save the rest of his family and himself and eventually his son. But what was unique was it also had this other point of view, of Nic.

ASFF: How does Nic’s book Tweak differ from David’s account?

FVG: Nic’s book was really more elaborate about his life on the streets. There was so much material…the hardest work was just boiling it down.

ASFF: What do you think about Nic’s against-the-odds survival?

FVG: It is incredible. It’s a line in the movie – it’s a miracle – but it’s true, it is a miracle. He somehow is incredibly strong physically, although he’s a very lean guy. But physically and mentally to get through this is remarkable. When Nic saw the film he felt very grateful for the fact that it’s there and they’re sharing their story and that’s why they wrote their books, to share and try and help other people. But he’s super-grateful for getting through it and for being where he is now.

ASFF: What was it like making your first film in English?

FVG: It was stressful. It’s been a long process, in the sense that I got time to grow into it; I did write in English in the beginning; and it felt strange. But I started to feel comfortable doing that. Developing a movie is four years of hard work, and a lot of very necessary discussions in English where I just grew and started to get more comfortable.

Beautiful Boy opens in cinemas on 18 January. For more details, click here.

James Mottram

Stills from Beautiful Boy.