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Addison Heimann and Barbarella Discuss Mental Health, Casting, and HYPOCHONDRIAC

Hey friends, Barbarella here. Addison Heimann has a new horror film called HYPOCHONDRIAC that looks at mental health through a darkly comedic lens. The independent film, which will be in theaters July 29 and on demand and digital August 4, 2022, boasts a cast that includes Paget Brewster (“Criminal Minds”), Madeline Zima (“Californication”), Peter Mensah (“Spartacus: Blood and Sand”), Devon Graye (I See You), and Zach Villa (“American Horror Story”). I had the opportunity to speak with Addison about the movie, and after commiserating about trying to determine if symptoms are COVID or allergies, we got into chatting about the film that was inspired by an experience he had a few years ago. Check it out!

Zach Villa as Will in the horror/LGBTQ+ film, HYPOCHONDRIAC, an XYZ Films release. Photo  courtesy of XYZ Films

HYPOCHONDRIAC opens with the statement that it's based on a real breakdown. Should I assume that you, the writer, had a breakdown at one point? 

 “Me, the writer, me, the director, me, the idiot, had a mental breakdown. Yeah, it was about three and a half years ago. The shortest version of it is, basically, I lost complete functioning of my arms after a work injury. I couldn't text, I couldn't shave, I couldn't eat food with a fork, and Dr. Google was telling me that I was dying of ALS, which I really thought I was. Then my mother, who's bipolar, was leaving me voicemails, telling me not to trust my friends, so that confluence of events caused me to shatter, and thus, HYPOCHONDRIAC was born. I wrote a version of a draft and people were like, "Addison, this isn't interesting." I'm like, "So you hate me?" And they're like, "Well, obviously, yes. But also, just because it happened doesn't mean it's interesting." And I was like, "I hate everybody for telling me this.” 

“Turns out, sitting on a couch for six months while you're just waiting for your arms to heal while watching Scandinavian detective dramas on Netflix is not that interesting of a visual, so I had to come up with a story. Ultimately, I'm very grateful, because what I ended up settling on was more of an emotional retelling of what it was like to crack, versus the actual series of events. But yeah, ultimately that's what it is based on. And then, I added some extra stuff for flair.”

I think I might have watched some of those same Scandinavian dramas as well, detective stories and stuff. They're fun.

“Yeah. they're so fun.”

  (L-R) Chris Doubek as Dad and Zach Villa as Will in the horror/LGBTQ+ film,  HYPOCHONDRIAC, an XYZ Films release. Photo courtesy of XYZ Films

I find that more often these days, movies and television are addressing mental health. What do you think the reason is for more discussion around it?

“Because we, as millennials, have now realized that it's the only way through. It's like every generation talks about it a little more. All of us are like, "Oh no, we're fucked up." And then, the younger generation is like, "So are we." And the older generation is like, "You know what? We are too." And we're like, "Oh, no." But ultimately, I don't want to be like, "The pandemic did it," but I feel like that was the initial thing where neuro-divergent and neurotypical people get to get together and be like, "Oh, we all know what it's like to be alone. We all know what it's like to suffer in silence now." And so now we're able to kind of unlock that level for ourselves, I guess.

“But also, I think it's happening a lot in genre too, because I feel like genre's the best way to not be preachy about anything and to get people to unlock their inner struggles without necessarily being overly prescriptive. When we get to include that specifically in horror, you're just like, "Oh, shit. I've dealt with this." You're not necessarily being chased by a monster. It’s more of a tangential metaphor than a banging over your head with a hammer, as it were. In a way, that does allow you to unlock something deeper.”

Zach Villa as Will in the horror/LGBTQ+ film, HYPOCHONDRIAC, an XYZ Films release. Photo  courtesy of XYZ Films 

I found a lot of the supporting characters reminded me of people whom I've actually encountered in my life, so I'm curious. How many of these characters are similar to people that you actually know and how similar are they?

“Yeah. Yeah. So the only person that doesn't exist in real life is the boyfriend. He was an amalgamation of friends that I combined into one character, but everybody else is based off a real [person]. Every doctor is based off a real doctor. The first doctor I saw was way too hot for his own good. It was literally like, “What the hell is happening?” And it's just that thing where you're like, "You're too close; I'm in pain. But also, I don't know what's going on." How do you trust somebody with your life who’s that hot? I don't know. And yeah, I had a boss like that. I had a coworker like that, and obviously, my mom and my dad. The voicemails that the mother sends in the movie are actual transcriptions of voicemails my mother sent me.”

Oh, wow. I was also surprised to see so many recognizable faces on an independent film. How did your casting director get so many of these actors, and who was the person you were most surprised to get?

“Yeah, Basically, it was like we were in casting forever, so we really got to take our time because we were ready to go in March 2020, but then something crazy happened. I don't know, some kind of global disaster that paused us from going for a year and a half. We were like, "Let's just get the best actor as possible." And then Zach, who was in “American Horror Story” auditioned, and then we started filling the crew. For [some of] the more recognizable faces, Maddie Zima auditioned, which was crazy, but it was only because of the relationship with my casting director, Michelle Lewitt, who was such a supporter of the movie. Maddie was the first yes. As a person who's never made a feature, she basically went on the strength of my script and the strength of Michelle’s word. Then we got Paget, and then Adam saw the people who were involved. He did a show with Michael Cassidy, and my producer knew Peter Mensah, and my other producer knew Debra Wilson, so all of it kind of came together. 

Zach Villa as Will in the horror/LGBTQ+ film, HYPOCHONDRIAC, an XYZ Films release. Photo courtesy of XYZ Films

“I think, probably, the surprising one was Paget, because she was like, "Addison, I have not done live action in the entirety of the pandemic. All I'm doing right now is cartoons and voiceover work, but when they sent me the script, I was like, 'I'll read it as a courtesy.' And then the script was so good I had to do it." And I was like, "Well, that is the sweetest thing I had ever heard in my life, and now I can die happy, especially because my sisters were huge “Criminal Minds” fans. I was like, "Paget Brewster is going to be in my movie," and they're like, "Fuck you." And I'm like, "Mm-hmm." But she's also just the sweetest person in the world, and I would love to have her on set all the time, because she's just such a malleable actor, so hardworking and obviously really, really talented. Yeah.”

That's awesome. Did you guys do any kind of chemistry reads with Devon and Zach? Their chemistry was really strong.

 “We didn't do any chemistry reads, because maybe this was stupid of me, but the way I cast was I basically had them send a self-tape, and if I thought they were good enough based on their credits, I would just talk to them for an hour. Zach ended up being like three hours, because he wouldn't hang up the phone, which made me go like, "All right. All right, you can be in it." But also he was perfect for the role.

“What we ended up doing was we narrowed it down to a couple people. And then Zach and me and then the person we were thinking of for Luke would talk. And Zach and Devon hit it off right from the get-go, and then they hung out a bunch, again, because we had so much time. That ended up being the crux of the movie. I didn't necessarily find that until the edit where I was like, "Oh my God, this chemistry on these two dudes is so fucking good that I need to include everything, and I need to actually build more in, because I think his relationship with Luke is the best answer for why he doesn't go down the path further. And it's really because the two of them have such strong chemistry.”

(L-R) Devon Graye as Luke and Zach Villa as Will in the horror/LGBTQ+ film, HYPOCHONDRIAC, an XYZ Films release. Photo courtesy of XYZ Films

What was it like directing the sex scene? I mean, are there any protocols in place since #MeToo and all that?

“Basically, we had an intimacy coordinator, and we had a meeting in which I said everything I wanted to say. I wanted full frontal. This is why. I feel like seeing him literally exposed psychologically and bodily does something really powerful for the moment, and she was like, "Okay, cool." Then, she would go to Devon and Zach and be like, "Hey, this is what Addison wants." And they'd be like, "Okay. This is what I'm comfortable with." And then Carly comes back to me and tells me that, and then we have it all written in documents, exactly what's going on, and then we sign it, and then we move on. When we get to the day, we all have an exact idea of what we're doing.

“Obviously, with permission to play, but that's what all the preparation indeed offered us to do, is play. So our intimacy coordinator was there obviously to be an advocate for the actors, but also there to make the storytelling both sexier, scarier, more intimate, et cetera. There’s a moment where I remember, she turned to me, and she's like, "If he moans breathier, it's going to be sexier." And then I gave that note, and we watched it on the screen, and we're like, "Oh, shit. That really does that." 

“I'm only going to do nudity and sex if it's integral to the story, and because it was for this movie, we were able to just be professional about it, and then just get to make the scariest, sexiest, gayest sex scene we could do.”

That’s where we wrapped up our chat, because I enjoy ending on a discussion of a scene I hadn't expected that proved far more impactful than I would have anticipated. From the power of that scene to the off-beat characters whose personalities cover the gamut to its portrayal of a man dealing with his own unraveling, HYPOCHONDRIAC offers something unique and bizarre. The film will be in theaters this Friday, July 29 and on demand and digital August 4, 2022. Check back later for my interviews with Paget Brewster and Zach Villa. In the meantime, check out the trailer.


Barbarella out!

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