Hugh Dancy is a British actor who not only studied Asperger's syndrome, but perfected an American accent in order to take the role. Dancy has held his own with such legends as Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep in the 2007 film, "Evening" (another co-star, Claire Danes, became his girlfriend).
Asperger’s syndrome, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “a mild autistic disorder characterized by awkwardness in social interaction, pedantry in speech, and preoccupation with very narrow interests.”
The title character in Max Mayer’s “Adam” (which opens here Friday) has to deal not only with Asperger’s syndrome but with the loss of his chief protector, his father, whose New York funeral Adam attends as the film opens.
Adam is played by Hugh Dancy, a 34-year-old British actor who not only studied the disorder, but perfected an American accent in order to take the role. Although he met with several groups of people who have Asperger’s syndrome, he didn’t single out one person to imitate.
“There’s a saying within the Asperger community: if you’ve met one person with Asperger’s syndrome, you’ve met one person with Asperger’s syndrome,” said Dancy during a Seattle visit. “Within this condition, beneath this label, the variety of personality, of humor, of behavior, is infinite.”
Most Read Entertainment Stories
- Meat Loaf, 'Bat Out of Hell' rock superstar, dies at 74
- 3 movies open Jan. 21 at Seattle-area theaters; here's what to see — and skip
- Alec Baldwin sued for defamation by family of slain Marine
- 10 things to do in the Seattle area this weekend
- Now streaming: 'The Last Duel,' 'A Hero,' 'Munich: The Edge of War,' 'Last Night in Soho' and more
“That was the most profound thing we learned in the meetings,” said Mayer, who wrote and directed the film and accompanied Dancy. “I think that freed him to create a character and take it to a deeper level.”
“I talked to several people who spoke very specifically, very generously about their lives,” said Dancy. “Some of them were close to Adam in the externals, in that they had held down jobs, they’d been in romantic relationships, successfully or not so much.”
Mayer chose Dancy partly because he was impressed that he held his own with such legends as Vanessa Redgrave and Meryl Streep in the 2007 film, “Evening” (another co-star, Claire Danes, became his girlfriend). Dancy has also matched wits with John Hurt in the Rwanda drama, “Beyond the Gates,” and Helen Mirren in “Elizabeth I,” for which he earned an Emmy nomination.
He considers a 2000 television production of Dickens’ “David Copperfield” to be his big break, partly because it was carried by Hallmark and TNT in the United States (he encountered one American interviewer who wondered if he knows any magic tricks). He’s never worked with a budget as low as the one on “Adam.”
“This is the first time I’ve ever worked on a shoestring, and my basic resting assumption was that no one would ever see the movie, even if we did a good job with it,” said Dancy.
“Although I didn’t instantly sign off to it, I was drawn immediately to Max’s script. One reason is I realized how little I knew about Asperger’s. But it was so well-written, and not something you can absorb on first read.”
After meeting with Mayer for about an hour, he tried to think of reasons not to do the film.
“I realized how many different ways I could screw the whole thing up,” he said. “Another way of putting that is that I realized how nuanced Max’s script was, and how many different turns we’d have to strike to do justice to that script.”
He especially liked the ambiguous way Asperger’s symptoms are introduced in the film’s opening scenes, as a neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne), gets to know Adam. In perhaps the most startling scene, he introduces her to a makeshift planetarium that has taken over his apartment.
“We really did shoot it all in a tiny apartment, so every time you’d have to move the camera, you’d have to shift all these projectors to shine against whatever wall you were filming,” said Dancy.
“I wish we’d had a little bit more money for that scene,” said Mayer, who was pleasantly surprised when the picture was picked up for distribution by Fox Searchlight at the Sundance Film Festival. Searchlight did provide extra money for an expanded ending that takes place in an observatory.
Mayer, who has his own theater company, New York Stage and Film, started writing the “Adam” script about six years ago, while he was working on episodes of “The West Wing” and “Family Law.” (Several members of the theater company, including Amy Irving and Peter Gallagher, have supporting roles in “Adam.”)
“I was listening to NPR,” he said, “and a young man who has Asperger’s was talking about how the world felt to him. I was really moved — by his struggle, and his desire to connect. I’m not moved that often, so I thought I’d do some research.
“The more I learned about Asperger’s, the more it suggested a metaphor for human relationships in general. And then these characters sort of came out of that.”
John Hartl: firstname.lastname@example.org