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Actor Charlie Plummer Discusses Schizophrenia And His Newest Film


Adam Petrazelli is 17 and hears voices. He sees people who aren't there and calls them his inescapable roommates. One day, they overtake his life in a high school science lab.


UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #1: (As character) Adam, over here. Right here, Adam.

CHARLIE PLUMMER: (As Adam Petrazelli) Todd?

UNIDENTIFIED ACTOR #2: (As character) Adam, we need to leave now.

SIMON: Adam's struggles get a diagnosis - schizophrenia. The story of his striving, falling and getting back up is at the center of the film "Words On Bathroom Walls" from the YA Novel by Julia Walton. It stars Charlie Plummer, Taylor Russell, Walton Goggins and Andy Garcia. Charlie Plummer joins us from Budapest. Thanks so much for being with us.

PLUMMER: Thanks for having me.

SIMON: This is a sometimes wrenching, touching, sweet and stirring film. What did you see in Adam?

PLUMMER: Well, I think - I mean, right off the page, his voice, just from a script point of view, was really what stuck out to me. His conversations with his psychiatrist throughout the film were originally just his narration, and that was really what got me because I hadn't read the book before reading the script. And, really, his sense of humor and his humility about his illness and his relationship with himself, really, that was kind of my entry point with falling in love with the story to begin with.

SIMON: Adam at one point muses about a classmate he remembers who had cancer and says that everybody wanted to grant them their last wish. That's not true of schizophrenics, is it?

PLUMMER: When reading it, that line especially stuck out to me because I've had many, many people who I have loved and been very close to who have struggled with mental illness in some capacity. But to hear it framed so clearly and I think for people, especially young people, who are really in life-or-death circumstances because of their mental illness, it's that much more heartbreaking when people aren't accepting and aren't encouraging and genuinely supportive but are really just trying to tear you down.

SIMON: How did you prepare for this role?

PLUMMER: I started, obviously, you know, talking to Thor, who's the director, and then Nick, who wrote the screenplay. I wanted to educate myself as much as I possibly could so that I knew, you know, when I was eventually showing up to set that I could be really confident that everything was happening as authentic as it could be. And so then that was really through talking to a psychiatrist who, you know, can obviously come from it from a personal and emotional standpoint but also from a very scientific and factual standpoint.

SIMON: One of most poignant complexities in the film is Adam is put on one cocktail of drugs after another. And even when they work, he often pays a price, doesn't he?

PLUMMER: It is really difficult for people to find that healthy balance with their medication, especially with schizophrenia. It's quite difficult. I mean, I can't even really begin to imagine what it really is like for that to be your every day.

SIMON: Andy Garcia has a featured role as the school priest, and he and Adam have some back and forth dialogues on spirit, God, love. What is it like for a young actor to work with Andy Garcia?

PLUMMER: Oh, he's just phenomenal. I mean, he puts you at ease immediately after meeting him. I think when you do have that kind of a career and you've worked with all those people and been a part of, you know, cinema history in the way that he has, I think, you know, you must have some real confidence and ease about you. And I think that quality that then he brought to this character of really such a pillar for Adam that I think Adam doesn't even fully recognize until much later on.

SIMON: I've interviewed Andy Garcia. The chance to work with someone who can credibly begin a sentence by saying, and then I told Sean Connery, I mean, is...


PLUMMER: Right. You know you're in the presence of someone. Yeah.

SIMON: I have read that you attended seven schools as a child and have been acting professionally from the age of 10. Did you ever feel like you missed out on a real childhood?

PLUMMER: Sometimes I guess I do but because I've been doing it ever since I was - like, I don't really remember a time when I wasn't acting, and it was never something I was pushed into. It was always something I was so in love with. And I really felt like every opportunity I had was something I was just really grateful for. And I just, you know, remember wanting more and more and just wanting that to be, you know, my life.

SIMON: I mean, it occurs to me as we're conversing that, you know, you go to a prom. I won't give away any plot points, but you go away to a prom in this film. Have you ever gone to a prom as Charlie Plummer?

PLUMMER: (Laughter) I haven't. That's exactly what I was speaking to. I mean, I've been able to attend a few proms on film. I had opportunities to. I got invited to a couple, but I'm a pretty shy person. And I just got - I got too scared at the final minute and I just couldn't - I couldn't go through with it (laughter). So that's OK. I'm OK with it, just living on film and, you know, they never seem to go great for me on film either. So I kind of took that as a sign.

SIMON: Oh, see, I was going to keep that quiet, but, yeah, it's not the prom experience you want.

PLUMMER: (Laughter) Well, I'm not going to spoil anything.

SIMON: Yeah. Exactly. There is a romance in this film. I don't want to give it away, but Adam, the aspiring young chef, tells his girlfriend, I think we can call Maya, everyone thinks cooking is about following a recipe, but it's not. Is that good advice for life, too?

PLUMMER: I would say so. I think something that, you know, definitely this job has taught me is really to be able to roll with the punches and to be comfortable with the uncomfortable and the unknown especially. And I think that's a huge part of life. And at a certain point, you know, we're all met with those moments where we don't have a recipe for a situation, and we do really have to think on our feet or, you know, act with our heart or whatever it is. And I think, ultimately, those are usually the moments that really are pretty formative for us and impactful.

SIMON: Charlie Plummer stars in "Words On Bathroom Walls." Thank you so much for being with us.

PLUMMER: Thank you so much, Scott. I really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.