In one of the most challenging roles to date, British actor Hugh Dancy plays Adam Raki, a man functioning with Asperger’s Syndrome, a form of autism in which a person’s behavior is perceived of as irrational, because they can’t discern what someone else is thinking or feeling. Adam becomes enamored with his neighbor, Beth (Rose Byrne) and starts to woo her, with funny, touching and unexpected results.
Were you familiar with Asperger’s before you made this movie?
I wasn’t even unfamiliar with it, I was ignorant. I was intrigued by the structure of the script, the intelligence and the good writing in it, so I could see it was good as a framework, but all the other stuff I had to start from scratch.
It was a steep learning curve, because I didn’t have a great deal of time. I came to love the character a lot, in some ways the balance was always weighing up how much of this is this character and how much of this is his condition, and can the two be completely separated? And I actually don’t believe they can. But that said, I was determined not just to play Asperger’s. The beautiful thing about the script I think was that Max waited 30, 40 pages before Adam says that that’s the condition that he has, and I wanted to do justice to that intelligence.
Were you overwhelmed by the role, particularly as you had to do an American accent as well? Did you feel, ‘What have I gotten myself into?’
Yeah, I would say I felt like that all the time, but never quite got overwhelmed. Certainly going into it, after pondering it and learning more about it, after Max offered me the part, I went away and eventually came back to him with a bunch of spurious questions about the script, which he dealt with in about four minutes, and we sat there [and I thought] what are we going to talk about now?
And basically I had to be honest and said that the reason that I wanted to see him was just to say, ‘If we did this, you’ve really got to help me and protect me,’ which is stupid, because that’s of course what he would do, but somehow I guess I needed to say it, needed to know that it was being heard, and it was. I couldn’t have asked for better support in that way. I was aware of the richness of the script and I knew all the different things I would have to do to get it right, and so I also knew how many different ways I could have screwed the whole thing up.
It’s a really beautiful romance.
I completely agree with you, but if I’m describing this movie I start out by saying, ‘It’s about two young people in New York who fall into each other’s lives and try and make a connection.’ And the complexity is the Asperger’s obviously, but it’s not the starting point for me. Like I said before, that’s why I liked the script so much on the first reading, that it didn’t present it as the entry point for me.
What would you say you admired most about the character?
His bravery I think. I was going to say his honesty, I think the honesty, which is involuntary on his part, which almost makes it hard to admire per se, but I guess we all probably would like to think we were more honest, could be more honest, but his honesty is incredibly difficult and what makes his life so hard. I think his persistence, being knocked down and getting up and carrying on again, and again, and again is brave. I found that inspiring.