The world of psychopharmacology is a tricky one to navigate, and one that Jude Law got first-hand experience with playing Dr. Jonathan Banks in Steven Soderbergh’s Side Effects. In the story, the character not only faces accusations of moral misdoings when it comes to treating his patients – facing serious questions after use of a drug he prescribed leads to a violent episode – but is even shown to be a user himself. So how did the actor start looking through the eyes of Dr. Banks? With faith in psychopharmaceuticals.
With the new thriller in theaters this weekend, I recently had the pleasure of sitting down with the film’s star to talk about taking on the project, what he believes the film has to say, and the importance of keeping a performance genuine.
When did you first get involved with this film, because I know that you worked with both Steven Soderbergh and Scott Z. Burns on Contagion before thus
I read it when I had just done Contagion just because Scott and I got on very well and he wanted me to read some of his stuff. And then Steven got involved and I ended up getting a call at the beginning of the year… no, it was over Christmas break, actually, and I got on-board.
Was it something that he mentioned while you were making Contagion or…
No, no, Steven wasn’t involved by that point. He got involved later. I read it and I knew it… but they tweaked it a little bit.
How did they change it?
Just little things about order. When you got to see about [Rooney Mara’s character]’s life – her past life with her husband and all that stuff. Subtle changes.
So not like an overhaul.
Scott had been working on it for a good eight, nine years – the idea of this project.
When you first started reading it, and I guess this applies to how you work in general, what is the element that you’re really honing into? Do you look specifically at the character you’d play or are you looking at the whole picture?
Hmmm….I don’t know. Obviously you want to look at the character and see what’s in it – and is there anything you feel you can or can’t do, or if it’s something you’ve done before or is out of your comfort zone or whatever. And I like the idea of always looking for something in that capacity – something different and challenging and that’s going to prick my curiosity. And then you’re also looking at the whole thing. Does it work? And who’s directing it? What will they bring to it? What is it saying? All of those things. And you get a sense of that pretty quick. For example, you can read something that’s good, but maybe, I don’t kno0w, mystifies – but then, “Oh, they’re directing it?” and you know, “Oh, they’ll bring this to it.” You know?
Which was the case with Side Effects?
I think it was a bit of both. I wanted to work with Steven again and I loved the project, I loved the script, I loved the part! So it was a pretty easy decision.
Part of what makes this such an interesting character is the balance between his strength and weakness. He’s a guy who is not only living behind the 8 ball, but it seems like someone keeps putting him there. But he’s also a fighter and doesn’t just concede to the situation. Can you talk about your approach to balancing those sides of the character?
Well, an awful lot of that journey is in the writing. And as long as you make an attempt to bring realism and commitment to a part. We were very clear about letting his…I remember kind of grading it, as it were, and I wanted his breakdowns to be quite extreme. I wanted it to be clear that he was losing it. And I liked the idea also, and I think we discussed this on set, that one moment the audience can start to think, “Hang on, is he going mad?” That’s right around the time he goes to the other doctor and he asks for drugs and you think, “He’s losing it.” And I liked that because it plays along with the twist even more. “Oh it’s him – he’s the nut!”
Would you ever kind of exaggerate your performance to perhaps make your character look a bit more shady?
No, I’m always quite genuine with honesty of the journey. I think in this case it was so cleverly interwoven that I wasn’t manipulating. He wasn’t being manipulating and I didn’t need to manipulate him, you see what I mean? I think it works and his real reaction was going to be enough within the dynamic of the plot.
You mentioned the fact that he goes to the doctor to get pills. He clearly self-medicates in addition to the fact that he prescribes medications at the drop of a hat. I’m curious about what you think about that aspect of his character, as a user, and what you think this movie has to say about our culture where prescription medications are everywhere?
Something that I learned very quickly, and I have a lot of respect for too – it’s an area where you have to become mindful, cautious – is that psychiatrists have complete faith in their medicine. They’re committed to it. It’s their world.
Would you call it a faith?
Yeah! I was going to say faith! Because I think you’re right. It’s a commitment to it. It’s an understanding. They can tweak it and hone, and of course they have to believe in it because it’s what they preach. It’s what they give. So the idea that they would self-medicate makes absolute sense. We heard stories of that happening from our consultant, who was on set every day, who worked with Scott in the writing of it, Sasha Bardey. Who is around today, actually. He’s a really interesting man and a very successful psychiatrist. A lot of the stories and ideas came from his experiences that Scott kind of weaned out.
And in a way, in that answer is how I feel about pharmaceuticals in general. On the one hand they are remarkable things and I saw some really moving situations with some really sick people who had obviously had their lives turned around and given an opportunity to live a normal life. And equally you see other people or you hear stories about people who are just in a terrible state because they are using it as a shortcut and don’t necessarily need it. And it starts that cycle of thinking, “Oh, I’ll do it just once.” “Oh, that was good, I didn’t get that anxious.” Or, “Oh, I really slept better.” And suddenly you pop them and there’s always a price. So what this film does that I think is really clever is that it offers that on a very level playing field. It’s not preaching. It’s suggesting the conversation that should be had. And I liked that. I liked that it has a generosity – it shows it as it is.
- Watch: ‘Side Effects’ Goes Over The Counter With More Clips (theartsyfilmblog.com)