Most people will misunderstand most mental illnesses.
One of the most misrepresented mental illnesses would be schizophrenia. Many Hollywood movies portray the illness as a representation of uncontrollable violence or even with split personalities.
In Vincent Sabella’s directorial debut, he created Elizabeth Blue, a tale of a woman who was released from a mental hospital to be with her fiancée. In preparation of her wedding, she sought guidance and help from her new psychiatrist, Dr. Bowman, as she struggled to navigate through daily voices, hallucinations, anxiety, failing medications and her judgmental, unsupportive mother. She clings on to hope that love will truly conquer all—even with mental illness.
Elizabeth Blue stars Anna Schafer, Ryan Vincent, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kathleen Quinlan. The director, Sabella, wrote the script with the story based on his life experiences as a diagnosed schizophrenic.
LRM had a exclusive phone interview with actress Anna Schafer last week. She discussed on the difficulties playing the leading character with schizophrenia and tried to portray it most accurately. She also discussed her experiences and shared stories with Vincent Sabella, Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kathleen Quinlan.
Elizabeth Blue is currently playing in limited markets in New York, Los Angeles and many other cities.
Read our wonderful interview transcript below.
LRM: I’ve checked out the film Elizabeth Blue and I thought you were wonderful in that movie.
Anna Schafer: Thank you so much. It means a lot.
LRM: Tell me on why you were attracted to this film project.
Anna Schafer: Well, I read the script. I really didn’t know a lot about schizophrenia or on what it looked like. I found that aspect fascinating and interesting to learn. But then, the story itself broke my heart. I started thinking, “What if everything you thought was real…..really wasn’t.”
Now being a new mom, it hit hard for me. I thought it was such a beautiful love story and with such a tragic ending. And I’m really attracted to really dark things. [Laughs]
I thought [Vincent Sabella] did a really great job. It’s being so authentic to a person living with schizophrenia. That was really rare. What’s in a Hollywood script, it became very real, humble story.
LRM: What was your impression of schizophrenia before this film?
Anna Schafer: Honestly, I knew nothing about it. I knew it is a mental illness. You’ll hear about bi-polar, depression and schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is the one thing that people really don’t talk about. So I really didn’t know anything. I’ve never experienced it. I never knew anyone with it. The extent was that I know it was a mental illness. That’s it. I’ve heard that hallucinations are involved. That was it. I really knew nothing about it.
LRM: When you met Vin for the first time for this project, what was your initial reaction as you discovered about the director?
Anna Schafer: When I read the script, I knew it was based on him and that it was based on his life. What I didn’t know was that every hallucination in the script—everything he saw, heard and felt—were everything he really did experience. The raccoons were a reoccurring thing that happens to him. The character, Tim, was someone he has seen since he was fourteen. Dr. Bowman was actually his real psychiatrist. To me, it made it much more interesting.
From an actress point of view, it was an incredible insight to what the character could be and on how much I can learn from Vincent by spending time with him.
LRM: Was it difficult to get into a character like this to play a schizophrenic person?
Anna Schafer: Yeah! [Laughs] It was extremely difficult. I had to go to some really dark places in my life. I used my own life to get to the inspiration to be in certain places. It was really different.
Some of the scenes, like the train scene, I really had a hard time with it. I knew on what depression looked like on where I spent moments I was really sad or know what anxiety is since I deal with anxiety on my own. But, when it comes to having this manic episode with a train coming and not knowing on where it was coming from and you’re panicking—I didn’t know what that would look like. It was really hard for in that particular scene.
I told Vincent before shooting that I don’t know on what this was going to be. I don’t know on what it was going to look like. I’m terrified of the scene. He said to me, “Don’t worry. We’ll figure it out together.”
Well, during the chemistry reads, Vinnie had his first episode in front of me. The episode was that he was hearing something. He was looking for the noise. He was searching the entire room. He was knocking things over. He was getting louder and louder. It was more manic as time went on.
His husband, who was also the producer of the film, knew exactly on what was happening as he was in the room. He grabbed him and put medicine in his mouth.
Within minutes, it was like [Vincent] checked out. They walked out of the room and came back ten minutes later. [Vincent] was completely normal. He was fully like, “Hi! I’m back!” He looked at me and said, “Did I scare you?” I said, “Yes. I didn’t know what to do.” Thank God that Joe [Dain] was there, because I really didn’t know what to do.
But, I said to him, “On the bright side, I now know what the train scene is supposed to be now.” I can now see it in my mind. It literally just happened in front of me.
LRM: Oh, wow! [Laughs]
Anna Schafer: Yeah, he started laughing. He said, “I’m so happy that it had a good outcome.” [Laughs] I was like, “Me too.” Since that [incident], I’ve experienced a few more that was less scary. Not that I was used to it. It wasn’t something that you can get used to so fast. I just knew on what it was.
LRM: Were there increased pressure to play this role correctly, especially in front of someone who has this mental illness?
Anna Schafer: Oh, my gosh. Yeah! There were a huge amount of pressure in the sense to get this right. There are so many people that lives with schizophrenia. I wanted to make sure that I can tell it truthfully. I wanted to get it exactly in the way that Vincent wanted it to be.
I don’t know it firsthand. I just observed him. I had a lot of meetings with the real Dr. Bowman to try to understand on what it is exactly, on how people behaved, and how it evolved. He was super-helpful. He asked me if I ever had a really bad nightmare where you woke up and it took you a minute to come back from it.
Oh, my gosh. I said I just had a baby and having the awful nightmares about my daughter. There were times when it wasn’t just a couple of minutes. I was affected through the day, because I was having this memory of the dream. I knew it was just a dream, but still that all the emotions were all there.
Dr. Bowman said, “Imagine you’re walking around during the daytime. And you suddenly have a nightmare. It’s not contained in sleep. You can’t wake up and say, ‘It was just a nightmare.’ And you’re not sleeping. You’re actually walking around in daylight. That’s what it’s like.”
That also hit me hard. I can’t even imagine.
LRM: This role sounds so challenging. Do you enjoy this kind of stuff?
Anna Schafer: Listen. I’m so happy that I did it. I’m really proud of the film. I think the most rewarding thing about this film is that the people who have seen it—they came up to me to speak about their experiences on mental illness on whether it was with them, their mom, friend, niece or their nephew. That is the most rewarding part of it. It opens up a conversation and people feel like they can talk to me about it.
I think it’s really important. The purpose of this film is to tell people that it’s okay. I think it’s like one in five Americans deal with mental illness. I think if we are aware and educated with people comfortable talking about it—then we have done our job. It becomes this thing that they’ll talk about it and get some help as opposed to keep it inside and it’ll get worse and worse.
The actual process of filming was super difficult for me. I was really depressed and really not in a good space. But, it was worth it at the end of the day.
LRM: Talk about working with your counterpart, Ryan Vincent. How was that?
Anna Schafer: Ryan was great. We didn’t really get to bond too much, because I was a hot mess. [Laughs] I was tired the whole time we were shooting.
I think the reason Vincent hired him was the chemistry reads, in which we did three scenes. I wanted to say we read with more than ten guys. When he walked into the room, there was this thing about him that made me become a better actress. He loved to improv. He loved to make it his own. He loved to surprise me. Every time we did a scene together, it was always new. He would always do something different.
It was very important for me character, especially in this movie. I was in such a dark place. I’m in this depressed state. He was incredible to work with. He was the light for me.
LRM: Wow. That sounds terrific. Now you also worked with certain legendary actors like Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje and Kathleen Quinlan in this film. Wasn’t that wonderful?
Anna Schafer: It was incredible! Kathleen is such an amazing human being and a legend of an actress. She was so much fun to work with. We had the best time shooting that fight scene even though it was so intense. She slapped me. She is a very good slapper by the way. She must’ve slapped me like ten times. [Laughs] It never came at the same time—it was always different. I never expect it. I told her, “I never knew when you were going to slap me.” There were even times when she chose not to.
It was so much interesting. She was so much fun. She was a pro. When I found out she got the job, I watched her first film on which she played a schizophrenic. Her first film ever, she played a schizophrenic.
LRM: No way. I did not know what.
Anna Schafer: She said, “It came full circle for me.” Every time people asked her about the movie, she responded, “I’m just happy I didn’t have the hard part!” [Laughs] She said, “I’ve been there and it’s really challenging.” She was really amazing to work with.
Adewale was just a ray of sunshine. He was so sweet and so supportive. Every time, I was thinking, “Wow. What an amazing and generous actor.” We were doing one of the scenes in the doctor’s office, there were trains that went by like every five minutes. Obviously, we had to stop filming. We had to hold for trains and for sounds. We had to wait for the trains to pass and then go again. We were doing this really emotional scene and I was really in it. I was in full tears talking about life to him. He heard the train coming and looked at the sound guy with a glare that said, “Don’t stop.” During that train, he kept on talking to me. He was there improv and to keep me there emotionally.
Then when the train passed, he looked at me to let me continue. He knew that if they called, “Cut!” and I would lose it. I thought it was so incredible that he did that for me. I don’t think I would ever forget that moment. It just proves on what a professional he is and on how he is generous to his co-stars.
LRM: Those are some pretty terrific stories that you have there. Thank you.
Anna Schafer: You’re welcome. [Laughs]
LRM: For yourself, this sounds like a very difficult project. But for you, what was the funnest part of this project.
Anna Schafer: Honestly, just bonding with everyone. For the type of project it was—cause it was so heavy—I think it brought the crew and the cast so close [together]. Everyone was so vulnerable. It just became this really close-knit family. It was the best part of it. Even on the hardest days, they would make me laugh during lunchtime.
They really got to know me not just as Elizabeth, but as Anna. They got to know my deepest, darkest secrets. It was all of those things while we were shooting. It’s to make it authentic and make it real to myself. That was the best part of it—I got to make a lot of new friends.
LRM: That sounds awesome. Let me start wrapping things up with you since we’ve been talking for a while now. Can you talk about some of your upcoming projects? Are you going towards happier places rather than dark places now?
Anna Schafer: Yes, hopefully. I don’t know on what’s next necessarily. I’m doing this amazing comedy about a girls night out. It will be very different from Elizabeth Blue. I get to do a fun, outgoing comedy. Hopefully, you’ll see it soon. [Laughs]
Now we’ve shot a film called Louisiana Caviar. It was Cuba Gooding Jr.’s first film that he had directed. It’s his directorial debut. That was very different. I have a small part in it. But, being directed by Cuba was awesome. I wanted him to scream, “Show me the money!” every time he walked into the room. [Laughs] I played a very pregnant Orthodox Jewish woman, who had children already. [Laughs] That is like the complete opposite of anything I’ve done.
I’ve also done a film after Elizabeth Blue called Brighton Beach. It isn’t out yet. I’m not sure on when it’s coming out yet. That was a fun movie too. It was a lighter character. I played a receptionist in a doctor’s office, who hated her job and cared more about her shoes.
LRM: [Laughs] Okay, they’re all very, very different. Well, I really loved your performance in Elizabeth Blue. I’m so glad someone recommended this movie to me.
Anna Schafer: Thank you so much for watching. It means a lot. We put a lot of work into this.
LRM: And you did well.
Anna Schafer: Thanks. Have a great day.
Elizabeth Blue is currently playing in limited markets in New York, Los Angeles and many other cities.
Source: Exclusive to LRM