LOS ANGELES, Aug. 21 (UPI) — Actor Charlie Plummer says his new movie, Words on Bathroom Walls, takes dramatic license with its portrayal of schizophrenia. Plummer plays a teenager who has vivid hallucinations of people speaking to him, and he sees writing on bathroom walls coming to life.
“It’s pretty rare that anyone with schizophrenia actually has visual hallucinations that are that extreme,” Plummer told UPI in a recent phone interview.
In the film, based on the novel by Julia Walton, Adam (Plummer) experiences his first episode of psychosis in the middle of science class. After a series of medications are unsuccessful, Adam enrolls in an experimental drug trial.
In his research, Plummer said he learned that auditory hallucinations are more common than the visual ones depicted in the movie. However, Plummer agreed with director Thor Freudenthal’s decision to make Adam’s psychotic episodes visually dramatic for the audience.
“He’s a kid who’s clearly dealing with what, for him, is a very real moment-to-moment experience,” Plummer said.
Plummer said he feels the film’s visual hallucinations help convey what seems real to people with schizophrenia. They might know intellectually they are experiencing a psychotic episode, especially if it is a regular occurrence for their condition.
“At the same time, it doesn’t take away from the fact that they feel like 100% that is their real experience,” Plummer said.
To research the role of Adam, Plummer said he spoke with psychiatrists, who helped him track the timeline between Adam’s first episode and his understanding that they might keep occurring.
“How much time will it take before he can really have a sense of what his new reality is like?” Plummer asked rhetorically.
In dramatizing Adam’s schizophrenia, Plummer said he hopes Words on Bathroom Walls can encourage people with schizophrenia, and their loved ones, to learn more.
“I really just see the movie as kind of a first step for people,” Plummer said. “I just really hope that this movie can encourage people to go seek that help, and keep seeking it until they find it.”
The film shows that treating schizophrenia is a complicated, long-term process. Not all medications work for everyone, and some have dramatic side effects.
The trial drug in which Adam enrolls causes him to lose his sense of taste. As an aspiring chef, he struggles with giving up his passion to mitigate the distracting visions and voices.
Plummer said he spoke with people who faced decisions similar to Adam’s, and the actor empathized with the difficult choices that could come with treatment.
He said he respected any patient’s choice to use or not use medication, as long as that choice came while being supervised by a mental health professional.
“I think it’s just a personal decision at a certain point,” Plummer said. “Hopefully, the person is always seeking help.”
Plummer was reluctant to discuss the physical and emotional toll playing Adam took on him.
“I really just think the conversation should always come back to these people that do have the reality that Adam has,” Plummer said.
Turning to acting
The actor acknowledged that making Words on Bathroom Walls brought back memories of his childhood struggles. Just as Adam escapes into cooking, Plummer said he escaped into acting.
“I think being able to hide behind a mask allowed me to feel like I could be myself,” Plummer said. “I just grew up really shy.”
Now 21, Plummer has been acting professionally since he was 10. A pivotal role came when he was 17, playing John Paul Getty III in the movie All the Money in the World.
The film’s profile increased dramatically when director Ridley Scott replaced actor Kevin Spacey in the role of J. Paul Getty Sr. Scott recast Christopher Plummer (no relation to Charlie) in the role after actor Anthony Rapp accused Spacey of making sexual advances on him as a teenager.
Plummer said he filmed Words after All the Money in the World and before the Hulu series Looking for Alaska, which aired in September. The actor said Scott taught him lessons he applied to Words and all his subsequent productions.
“I think Ridley does such a phenomenal job of setting the tone,” Plummer said. “[He is] always leading with asking questions and compassion, communication and trust in oneself and the people you’ve surrounded yourself with.”
Words on Bathroom Walls opens in theaters Friday.