By Lisa Estall
Laura Dern has directed one of the five shorts in the Lifetime & Sony Picture Television's anthology film "Call Me Crazy: A Five Film." Titled "Grace" - the film stars Sarah Hyland, Melissa Leo and Aimee Teegarden.
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The story explores bipolar disorder through the experience of a teenage daughter whose mother grapples with the condition. Celebrity Baby Scoop recently took part in a conversation with Dern on the making of the movie and on opening a dialogue when things don't "look or feel right" with a parent.
On her hopes for the viewers watching the complex mother/daughter relationship with the added weight of a disorder:
"For women, my greatest hope from the series is not that a disorder is necessarily recognized or empathized with. Rather, I hope that when something doesn't feel right or look right, we speak about it. Tragically, 8-year-olds are put in that position. My hope is that even they will have the foresight and the intuition to say, 'Mom, you seem sad all the time.' They could have a mother with bipolar disorder, a mother who's an alcoholic or a mother who's had post-partum depression without realizing it. They could also have a mother who's going through a divorce and doesn't realize that she's clinically depressed at this moment and may not be in six months. I empathize so much with that feeling of being an only child raised by a single mom, because you went through all of it together - the ups, downs, divorce, losing jobs, getting jobs, her being in love and her being heartbroken. You're the person there witnessing it all.
"For that mother/daughter relationship, I wish that these pieces are a reminder that we are unafraid to admit what we're feeling, because it isn't a failure. In fact, it might be a disease where there is help for us, or it may just be pain and we need someone to talk to, a group to talk to, or a program to go to. My greatest hope is that it opens dialog.
"I have a very dear friend who went through a very difficult post-partum depression and thought she was bipolar because she was so confused. She didn't know what it was and wasn't aware that she had this horrific hormonal shift and really needed support. The hope is that this film opens the story for all of us so we can talk together and support each other."
On whether she was ever like the daughter, Grace, as a child and thought that her colorful, outspoken mother was dull like everyone else's:
"Absolutely. There's nobody else to check in with in childhood, and I think that as children, we desperately need our parents to be sane and safe. This makes us justify behavior all the time. My good fortune was having endearing and complicated actors. In the case of many friends with addiction and mental illness in the home, they justify that the behavior is normal and appropriate, because people don't want to think of their parent as crazy. I think we can all empathize with crazy even if it's in subtler degrees."
On what she found challenging about directing this type of film:
"One thing that comes to mind first is that it was the first one we made and we had an extreme time constraint. We had very little time for pre-production, rewrites, casting or any of the things you'd like to have time for, whether you're making a short or a full-length feature. Getting your crew and cast together and doing a rewrite takes the same amount of time, so that was daunting.
"The biggest challenge was really trying to be true and honor with empathy the extraordinary challenge of living with bipolar disorder. Oddly enough, I originally thought directing would be the hardest challenge, but it seemed to be the easiest of the challenges once we were there and making it. Everything seemed to flow. The hardest work was getting it ready as quickly as possible and making sure that it contained a real acknowledgement and compassion toward the illness."
On what inspired her to direct the film:
"I've always been interested in directing. I directed a short in my late 20s, and I loved the experience and later pursued a few pieces of material in terms of doing a feature. It wasn't in the back of my mind to do another short, although having the experience obviously would only prepare me all the more.
"I was in the middle of working on a pet project/passion project at the same time, so, ordinarily, I probably wouldn't have jumped on it. However, I love Jen Aniston and I am blessed to say that she is a dear friend. That was number one. It was very sweet and exciting to get to collaborate with her.
"In particular, I find bipolar disorder very elusive and far more common than I ever realized. I have met people who struggle with it and I feel immense shame about why their life works in such a complicated way, without recognition that there is a disorder. I felt drawn to participating and exploring the subject matter, because there is a stigma that comes with it like no other. It may be equal for men and women, but I think women in particular often get called difficult, reactive or crazy, and this can make them shut down and move away from getting help."It's amazing how many people I know are very comfortable saying that they're an alcoholic, whereas, I know very few people who are comfortable saying that they have a mental illness. I know a few people who do and it is not something that they speak about openly. That's tragic. If this project helps create room for people to be true to who they are and what their struggle is so they can ask for help and get support, wouldn't that be magical?"
On casting "Modern Family's" Sarah Hyland as Grace:
"I was really hopeful. I think that her instincts are really subtle and really pure... I think that's why she is so funny on 'Modern Family.' Her humor sort of consists of just being an idiot at times, but not playing it. That's what so adorable and infectious about her. To make this piece work, we needed someone we really loved who was delightful as well as honest, and I had seen some footage of her doing more dramatic work. I just felt like she was a wonderful actor, and the hope that is a wonderful actor can do anything."
"Call Me Crazy: A Five Film," which premiered April 20 on Lifetime, stars Jennifer Hudson, Octavia Spencer, Brittany Snow, Sofia Vassilieva, Ernie Hudson, Jason Ritter, Jean Smart, Lea Thompson, Melanie Griffith and Chelsea Handler, with Jennifer Aniston as Executive Producer.
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