Adam‘s Hugh Dancy Starts Diagnosing 90% of the Population” width=”560″/>
Hugh Dancy does the near impossible with Adam — he makes you feel what it’s like to be autistic as his character has Asperger’s syndrome. Since his diagnosis isn’t immediately obvious to his neighbor (played by Rose Byrne), the two embark on a romance. Love — with or without disability — is not without its complications, as Dancy explains.
Q: Before the movie reveals that Adam has Asperger’s syndrome, he reminded me a lot of some of the more socially inept geeks I’ve known…
A: One result of learning about Asperger’s is that you start diagnosing 90 percent of the people you meet, even yourself. One of the traits that’s really universal, particularly among men — they’re more likely to be men — is that trait of burying yourself in something, be it Marvel comics or X-Box, you name it.
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I don’t want to soft sell Asperger’s. But some of us could benefit from having that insight and passion and curiosity. That inability to read nuance can translate as a refusal to take anything at face value, and it’s a valuable quality to have.
Q: You observed people with Asperger’s to prepare. What sort of traits did you incorporate to embody Adam?
A: The main observation I had was the enormous variety of people
with this syndrome. It was a useful lesson for me, personally, and a
reminder that any one group is comprised of individuals. It gave me
permission to be selective. I didn’t have to represent all forms of
Asperger’s. I also learned that the stimming, or self-stimulation, which could be repetitive behavior or even conveying repetitive information, was calming to them.
Q: How do you think the Asperger’s community will respond to the movie, compared to “neurotypicals,” as they call us?
A: Well, I know because I’ve watched the film with people with
Asperger’s in the room. While it might take someone else a while to
figure out what’s going on, they get it right away, and so a lot of the
laughs and comedy is from that recognition. And ultimately what they
take from the movie is what someone who knows nothing about the
syndrome takes away, because it’s a universal story about the
difficulty and desirability of making a connection. There aren’t a lot
of models of this in film.
Q: Well, there’s a few autistic characters in film, but they’re
usually portrayed as children, save for the occasional adult male, such
as in Rain Man…
A: The only movie that feels close is Being There, with Peter
Sellers. But that’s a very different tone of a movie. That’s a fable, a
satire, and we weren’t trying to make a fable. The difficulty for me
was that Adam himself needs to remind you of normal people. People with
Asperger’s don’t scream out to the world that they have a quote-unquote
“condition.” They can pass, if you like, and they’re constantly passing
as neurotypicals, like you and me, because the gulf between them and us
is not so huge. And so people don’t make exceptions for them on the
grounds that they need help, because they don’t see it. I wanted to put
him in that gray area.
Q: So we can actually understand what it must feel like.
A: That’s the aim. The whole central quality of the condition is
they can’t empathize, so there’s something mildly paradoxical about
empathizing with them. The point of the character is to be as specific
as I could get to where you can identity with Adam, and imagine seeing
through his eyes. But we’re not here to teach about Asperger’s. We’re
delighted that it has that effect, but that’s not what we talked about
on set. The story is about Adam, but like any story, any love story,
any romance, you’re trying to see the world through some other person’s
Q: Do you agree with Amy Irving’s character, when she says, “Feeling loved is important… but loving is the necessity”?
A: It’s not like I have it tattooed on my arm! [Laughs] But yes, it
states the case, the alternative case, very strongly. I like that the
movie leaves it open, so the line resonates. I don’t know if that’s
necessarily the moral of the movie. When people ask about the message,
I don’t think it has to have just one. I think it has more than one.
And it’s not a happy ending that wraps it all up in the end. It’s more
broadly hopeful, and more the way life really works.