Thoughts about Canvas and NAMI
NAMI’s (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
During my journey through life, I have often been attracted as an actor to roles where characters exhibit mental disorders. I am unsure whether this has been an unwitting occurrence, whether it is the product of happenstance, typecasting or subconscious decision.
The first paying job I ever received, my first Actors Equity role, was in 1972 as the character Billy Bibbitt in a touring production of ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’s NEST. In 1979, I played Private Maggio in the TV mini-series From Here to Eternity, the role played by Frank Sinatra in the movie. Dig deep into Maggio and he has bipolar disorder, and then there’s what boxing does to his brain. Two times, I’ve visited state mental hospitals to prepare for roles.
When I choose to play a role, I’m first attracted to the whole story. Then the characters; not just my own, but all of them; how they relate to each other; with me usually being right in the middle of them. I like colorful characters. How I play a character may depend on how one behavior influences other behaviors. They flow. They’re in motion. I have to arrive at knowing who I am and what I want.
So here I am 35 years later starring as the father, John Marino in CANVAS, the story of a family’s struggle with schizophrenia. It is a different kind of role for me. I’m not a wise-guy or a rogue. As an actor, I always reveal different sides of myself, but like most actors I’m a victim of my casting opportunities. We don’t always get the roles we want. I like some more than others. It’s like any other line of work. We don’t get to do only the things we love to do. That’s life.
In CANVAS, John Marino shows my sensitive side I’m a lot like him. He’s a lot like me. What’s funny is that an 11-year-old friend of mine saw an early screening of CANVAS this summer and immediately asked my daughter: “Gee, how come Joey can’t be like that in real life?”
Making the movie has been part of a personal journey in coming to understand mental illness. That has included coming to understand myself –and my own struggle with clinical depression. One part of us influences all the other parts, but sometimes people aren’t even aware that they are depressed, let alone understand depression and what can be done about it.
As I became more knowledgeable about mental illnesses, their symptoms, diagnosis and treatment, I am convinced that my mother, who died 25 years ago, spent her adult life with bipolar disorder.
Had it been a recognized illness, one without tragic social, economic, physical consequences, and one with accurate diagnosis and attainable treatments, I am convinced that events throughout my childhood, which tore our family apart, would never have occurred. My mom would have lived out a much happier and healthier life.
I hope CANVAS touches people.
One goal is to educate people about the wonderful possibilities that exist if we can break down the barriers that hold us back. When we treat people with mental illnesses differently, we stigmatize them.
Another goal is to empower people with mental illnesses to admit the illness, seek treatment, and be recognized and welcomed as contributing members of society. We have to obliterate stigma.
That’s why I gave PEOPLE magazine an exclusive interview this month to talk about my own battle with depression. I’m in my 50s. I’ve made my career. I can speak out. A lot us can—more than we ever realize.
It doesn’t stop with CANVAS. I recently formed the “No Kidding, Me Too” Coalition as a vehicle for people in the entertainment industry and others to
“No kidding, me too.”
Let’s not be ashamed. We’re all part of the same human family. We all have talent. We all have something to give.