Hey, friends. Barbarella here after speaking with Zach Villa, the lead in HYPOCHONDRIAC, a horror film that peers at mental health treatment through a darkly comedic lens. Written and directed by Addison Heimann, the story takes an honest approach at how one deals with his own blossoming mental health issues amidst an assortment of personalities, who all may seem to have his interests at heart, but who perhaps don’t know the right ways to assist. I appreciate that the movie shows actual techniques used for panic attacks, but also parodies the professionals who occupy this world, all while showcasing the writer’s own experience with a breakdown he had years ago. Also starring Devon Graye, Madeline Zima, and Paget Brewster, the film just became available on demand and digital today.
Speaking with Zach Villa about the film was such an enjoyable experience, I genuinely felt like I could’ve easily had a three-hour conversation with him about a number of topics. When I spoke with his costar Paget and writer/director Addison earlier, both said how wonderful Zach was, but I didn’t grasp how completely on point those compliments were. He’s one of those people who’s made my list of those I’d love to take out for drinks if they ever came to Austin. In fact, Addison and Paget both made that list, too. I'm always up for conversations with great people. At any rate, check out our brief chat.
“What's up, Barb?”
Hey, Zach. Not a whole lot. How are you?
I'm going to jump in with my semi-awkward question, because that's how I want to roll. Set the tone for the whole interview, right?
As thankful as I was that the Me Too movement brought so many inequities and issues to light, I was also concerned that, to some extent, it would erode the artistic expression of sexuality in cinema. I feel like people would feel uncomfortable filming things like that, and maybe they would feel like they're being exploited and wouldn't want to do those scenes in film, so I was really delighted and a little shocked to see the sex scene between Will and Luke, because it kind of went there, you know what I mean? And I love that it did. How was that experience for you? What was the mental preparation going into that, and what kind of discussions and stuff did you guys have?
“Oh, man. Yeah. You really just went for it. I love it. That's so good. And then you brought in social consciousness issues, too, and I'm like, “Oh my God.” Okay. Yo, so check it. Wow. Me Too movement, yes. This is so great because this actually opens up an amazing conversation. I didn't feel exploited or worried about that scene really, in the least. I think the only question I had was - And it's a question that I have with any sensual or sexual scene in a movie, and how graphic it is - How is it serving the story? What are we showing the audience? How does this inform the viewer or enlighten the viewer as to the relationship that is being portrayed? What does it reveal? You know what I mean?
“Just an example, is the unhealthy relationship dynamic portrayed in a physical or sexual way? Or the opposite? Is it super loving and amazing? And then we get to feel what the characters are feeling by osmosis. In this film, yes, there is a very intense gay sex scene, which is awesome. Queerness being portrayed on film and on camera in such a way that is raw and truthful and normalized, just like any heterosexual sexual relationship may or may not be, I think, is really important.
“That’s why we went there was, I guess, for society's sake, but also to normalize the fact that yeah, Will's gay. This is how he has sex, and that's okay. And that's fine. So to some people who aren't as familiar with that, then yeah, it might be a bit shocking at first, but good. I think that people need to see that and need to understand that this is okay. And furthermore, I think what is revealing about Will's character and state of mind is that he's put into literally one of the most vulnerable positions, both mentally and physically, that one can be in at one of his lowest points. And as that scene starts, it's kind of like ... I think at least as an actor, I was like, “Oh, I have hope, actually, that through this sexual experience that Devon Graye who plays Will's lover, is portraying this care and this intimacy.
“You actually hope that maybe this shores Will up somehow, mentally, physically, emotionally. And he's like, “Oh, I'm not alone.” You have hope going into that scene that it's going to be this supportive and loving experience that's going to embolden him to face his challenges. And in fact, it turns out to not be that.
“But I think that's just sex, if I'm going to put it bluntly, in general, right? In our own lives. That's why it's vulnerable. It can be an empowering experience and/or you can lay yourself bare, both metaphorically speaking and physically speaking for someone, and they can take that trust and they can completely ruin it. And that is power. That's why sex is so vulnerable, period. Putting this character, going through what he's going through, at this point in his journey, into that scene is just a really brave piece of filmmaking, in my opinion, because we get to see how he's going to react.”
All right. Well, that's all my time. No, I'm just kidding.
“(Laughing) Sorry. I talk a lot. And you also asked one of the most potent questions I've ever heard. What do you want from me? Come on!”
(Laughing) That's how I roll. No, no, I love it. There are a lot of fun and interesting characters in this. And I found more than a few of them reminded me of people that I've actually encountered in the real world. Which character was most like someone you know or have encountered in real life?
“Well, all the doctors. I've been to all of those doctors. Listen, it's kind of a parody for those of you who haven't seen it. It's like, it kind of pokes fun at how the mental health system can sometimes be a roulette game. Sometimes you get somebody who really gets you, but doesn't actually have the skills. And then you have somebody else who has all the tests and all the information, but their bedside manner is just the worst, and they're the last person you're going to open up to. That's a really interesting and fun depiction.
“I also think that Maddie Zima ... Maddie Zima, I love her performance in this as the boss of this high-end pottery studio in what we assume is Beverly Hills. She is just exquisite in her portrayal of that dick boss that you really love to hate. So look, we've all been there, right? And everybody's quitting their jobs right now. It's kind of on trend, so shout out to Maddie for portraying that quite well.”
Related to characters, there are so many recognizable actors in this. Who were you most surprised to see? And with whom did you have the most fun working?
“Oh man, what a loaded question. First off, everybody was wonderful. Oh, man. I have to say, I really enjoyed working with Paget. I've been a fan for a long time. Her work in the procedural world, which is one of my guilty pleasures, was how I first found her and then found her other work. She's just such a lovely human being and such a wonderful actor. And then, on top of that, she's just really supportive and gets the work. She was just there for me, beat by beat, in a very intense psychiatry scene. And she was just always there to set me up, just lining me up for these spike shots, so it's like, that was really wonderful.
"And then, I'm a huge "Buffy" fan, so working with Adam [Busch], who plays one of the doctors, was also really fun. I think we're going to probably write a two-man, adventure movie, or road-trip movie for the two of us, because I just think that would be one of the funniest pairings, he and I. And we'll take that show on the road. So yeah, it was great.”
That sounds fun. If you were trapped on a desert island and you could choose between being trapped with either a medical doctor or a therapist, which would you choose and why?
“Oh, fuck. Okay, man, listen. Okay, to avoid boredom, trapped on a desert island ... Okay, is the island dangerous? Or is the island paradise, just no people?”
Let's go with kind of a blend. It's more paradise, no people, but there's a little bit of danger, perhaps.
“Oh, man. Okay. Okay. I think I'd have to choose a psychiatrist. Here's why: I don't want to be bored. I'm pretty thrifty and handy, so I feel like I could catch food and build shelter. We all went a little prepper during COVID, and I'm like really good at it now, so I feel like I could kind of handle myself, so the psychiatrist is going to be helpful only because when I start really losing it, hopefully they'll be able to talk me out of it, and I'll have someone interesting and smart to talk to. Although, if you're not as handy, and the island is dangerous, the medical doctor would be the correct option if you want to survive. You know what I'm saying?”
Well, you could die of boredom too.
“Who's going to fix your broken arm when you fall trying to pick a kumquat off of a cliff, and then you fall and you break your leg. That's it, dude. Game over. I don’t know. I don't know, but I'm going to go with psychiatrist. That's my final answer.”
Hey Zach, I am sorry to report, I am out of time, but this has been fun.
“Well, I'm glad we figured out how to survive on a desert island together. If we did nothing else, we did that.”
We did that, and I hope we also gave people a glimpse into what an awesome guy Zach Villa is. Oh, and of course, I hope we promoted the movie HYPOCHONDRIAC, which is available now on demand and digital. Check out the trailer.