'Beautiful Boy': How Timothee Chalamet Captures the Tragic Complexities of Drug Addiction; Nic Sheff Nearly Succumbed to Meth Addiction. He's Now Being Played by Timothee Chalamet, the Oscar-Nominated Star of "Call Me by Your Name."

By Schonfeld, Zach | Newsweek, October 26, 2018 | Go to article overview

'Beautiful Boy': How Timothee Chalamet Captures the Tragic Complexities of Drug Addiction; Nic Sheff Nearly Succumbed to Meth Addiction. He's Now Being Played by Timothee Chalamet, the Oscar-Nominated Star of "Call Me by Your Name."


Schonfeld, Zach, Newsweek


Byline: Zach Schonfeld

Nic Sheff thought he was going to die. Sometimes he welcomed it.

"I came close many times," he says of his early 20s, when he was addicted to methamphetamine. Nic was so unhappy when he was clean, he thought he might as well use until it killed him. "That," he remembers thinking, "will be better than living sober."

Nic began drinking when he was 11, later experimenting with pot and cocaine in high school. Crystal meth, which he tried at 18, was different. The euphoric rush, as he wrote in his memoir Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines, made him feel whole for the first time in his life. When meth wasn't available, he substituted heroin or morphine. His habit soon spiraled into full-blown dependency, wrecking his life with startling rapidity. He dropped out of college twice. Soon, he was pilfering cash from his 8-year-old brother, stealing hypodermic needles and waking up in hospital rooms after overdosing.

He has regrets. So does everyone. But now 36 and eight years sober, Nic can watch his life's darkest moments unfold on the big screen.

Beautiful Boy, directed by the Belgian filmmaker Felix van Groeningen, chronicles Nic's harrowing slide into meth addiction, as well as his father's desperation to save him. Nic is played by Timothee Chalamet, in what critics are calling an Oscar-worthy performance (it would be his second nomination, after his nod for 2017's Call Me by Your Name). Nic's father, the journalist David Sheff--whose own memoir, Beautiful Boy, gave the film its title and father-son focus--is played by Steve Carell. The screenplay is also based on Nic's memoir, released at the same time as his father's, in 2008.

In his book, David recounts endless visits to rehab centers, pleading calls to doctors and sleepless nights spent wondering if his son was alive. Watching Nic's character shooting drugs "was absolutely horrific," David says. "Seeing it is different than reading about it or talking about it. It was both sad and terrifying. I watched with my eyes half-closed." When he met with Carell, the actor told David he had no personal experience with hard drugs. "But he was a parent. And that's what he loved about the story: We want to protect our kids, and what do we do when we can't?"

Chalamet auditioned for the part when he was 20, a virtual unknown beyond film circles. By the time the film debuted at the Toronto Film Festival this fall, his work in Call Me by Your Name and Lady Bird had made him world famous. Nic describes being with him at the Beautiful Boy premiere: "Girls were lining up outside the restaurant. We had to sneak out the back. It was like being with the Beatles."

The ex-Beatle John Lennon, as it turns out, gave the film its title. David conducted the last extensive interview with Lennon and his wife, Yoko Ono, for Playboy magazine, in 1980. He was in the studio when the couple recorded "Beautiful Boy (Darling Boy)," written for their own son, Sean. Lennon was killed by Mark David Chapman two days after the story was published.

The music of Nic's life lights up the film's soundtrack, including Nirvana (a childhood favorite), Neil Young, Fiddler on the Roof and--of course--"Beautiful Boy." Yet music became fraught for David during Nic's battle with addiction. He remembers hearing Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven" (about the death of the rock star's young son), "and I just lost it. …

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