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Simon Pegg's dramatic turn in indie film about mental illness

The New York Daily News - 5/2/2019

May 02-- May 2--Simon Pegg's name generally brings to mind an onslaught of Edgar Wright-directed comedies and American mega-franchises like "Mission: Impossible" or the rebooted "Star Trek" films.

His newest role could very well change that.

Katharine O'Brien's directorial debut, "Lost Transmissions," premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival on Sunday, starring Pegg alongside fellow British actor Juno Temple ("Atonement").

The film is inspired by an experience O'Brien had with a schizophrenic friend and centers on Pegg's Theo, a record producer. Successful on the outside, Theo is soon revealed to struggle with schizophrenia himself. His semi-symbiotic friendship with Hannah (Temple), a songwriter whose creativity is floundering under the influence of antidepressants, is the film's lifeline.

Though heavily inspired by having to look after her friend, O'Brien's film was further informed by experience with her grandmother, who, though now in a facility and receiving treatment, also suffers from schizophrenia.

"It presents very differently for different people. Some people are more functioning," she told The Daily News.

A notable aspect of Theo's particular manifestation is his ability to present as lucid in moments where it will benefit him, for instance, when he tries to convince doctors to release him from the facility where he's being monitored.

"Often times, people with schizophrenia are functioning in every other way until they just get on the delusion that they have," O'Brien explained. "And so it can be really confusing, 'cause you could be having a perfectly fine conversation that we're having and then I could also tell you that there is a man in a hoodie standing right outside and he's following me all around Tribeca Film Festival."

The dynamic between Theo and Hannah hints at vague romantic chemistry at the beginning, before quickly becoming clear that the two are wholly platonic. "It's not a love affair," Temple says, despite the initial flirting and Hannah wondering whether she might in fact have a romantic interest in Theo. "That [platonic nature] was something that was also very important to me in the script, that actually they are truly friends. ... [As Katherine said] the relationship between a producer and an artist is sort of like a therapist and a patient, it's really quite dependent but also a very nurturing one."

Though Pegg's role is a far cry from the titular Shaun in the zombie horror "Shaun of the Dead" to quirky Benji in the "Mission: Impossible" films, a role he's held since 2003, he didn't always see himself devoted to comedy alone. "I had aspirations to be at the [Royal Shakespeare Company] when I was 16, doing Shakespeare," Pegg told The News, but he "drifted into comedy as a way of having some autonomy."

Pegg was tapped for the role of Theo after O'Brien saw his predominantly comedic, though notably manipulative role in Wright's "The World's End," which reminded her of that friend. His decision to accept the role, though, was also fueled by Pegg's desire to make a feature film directed by a woman, something he'd never done before. That fact "felt kind of, well, remiss of me in some respect, but [was] not really my fault. You know, it's kind of, that's just the way everything landed."

Though this wasn't his first time playing a schizophrenic man -- Pegg did so in a play during his college days -- he was determined to avoid ticking the boxes, as it were. He undertook extensive research to inform the role, even meeting with "people who experience [schizophrenia], who suffer from it, who are on the other side of it, who are in the midst of it."

During filming, Pegg held onto a piece of advice offered by O'Brien: "'Just imagine you can hear people talking to you all the time.'"

It looks like this dramatic role won't just be a one-off for Pegg, who hopes to "diversify a bit" with upcoming projects. "I don't do the big [films] so I can do the little ones. I love doing the big ones and I take great pleasure in them and value them, and there is a place for pure entertainment. It isn't always just frivolous and throwaway. ... And that cinematic experience has great value, but yeah, I'd love to do more serious stuff."

"Lost Transmissions" will next screen at Tribeca on Friday, May 3.


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