Brian Wilson is bringing love, mercy and hope to everyone.
Since its release in theaters on June 5, 2015, excitement has been swirling around Lionsgate/Roadside Attractions/River Road’s film Love & Mercy; starring actor Paul Dano as a young Brian Wilson, and John Cusack as an older Wilson. Directed by Bill Pohlad, the musical biopic focuses on the early success of The Beach Boys, its affects on Brian, and his life between 1987-1992 while under the scrutinized care of Dr. Eugene Landy, played by actor Paul Giamatti.
For his portrayal of Brian, Dano has already won the Best Actor Award from The 25th Annual Gotham Independent Film Awards, and the New York Film Critics Online Award.
Building on that success, Paul was also nominated for a Golden Globe in the category of Best Performance by an Actor in a Supporting Role in a Motion Picture on December 10. The same day, it was announced that Brian received his very first Golden Globe Award® nomination for his original song, “One Kind of Love,” which appears within the end credits of Love & Mercy.
Yet, with all the excitement, we’re reminded of the sobering reality that Love & Mercy is a story about Brian Wilson and his mental illness. Thankfully, with the release of the film, and Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen – the Founder and President of Give an Hour – Brian, along with his wife Melinda, have partnered with Van Dahlen to bring needed assistance to those suffering with the Campaign to Change Direction; a national initiative to change the culture of mental health in America, which was launched in March of 2015.
David Beard: Who was responsible for developing the Five Signs?
Dr. Barbara Van Dahlen: The Campaign to Change Direction grew out of work that I had been doing through Give an Hour, an organization that I founded 10 years ago, to provide free and confidential mental health support for veterans, military, and their families. It became very clear that in order to really address the needs in the military community that we needed to change the culture of mental health in America. When we came to that conclusion, I reached out to a handful of respected and trusted mental health professionals and others outside of that arena to talk about developing a common language.
We know the signs of a heart attack, or the signs of a stroke, but we don’t have anything that tells us how to tell if somebody is suffering emotionally. That is what led to the conversation that ultimately led to the Five Signs.
DB: What was the greatest challenge?
Dr. BVD: The greatest challenge was coming up with signs that everybody could recognize that weren’t connected to a diagnosis. This isn’t about diagnosing people; it’s about recognizing when people are hurting and suffering emotionally. People suffer emotionally for all kinds of reasons. We wanted the signs to be simple and cutting across different subgroups, whether the person was suffering because of depression, anxiety, trauma, schizophrenia, etc. That’s what we were after.
DB: What do you want to share with your fans about your struggles with mental illness?
Brian Wilson: Don’t mess with drugs, they’re not good for ya’. Get plenty of exercise, don’t do drugs, get enough sleep, and don’t eat junk food like McDonald’s; things like that.
Melinda Wilson: There’s really three things that somebody needs to do if they it may be possibly happening with them: they have to seek help; they have to get the right doctor; they have to get on the right medications and have a support system.
As you know, if – early on – Brian had those things available to him, it might have had a different story. I think the thing most important to us is the stereotypical way people use to think of Brian as a druggy and an alcoholic. Yeah, he took drugs and he drank, but he was doing it to medicate himself because he was going undiagnosed.
DB: What do you have to say to those that have said that some of your eccentric behavior back in the late ’60s and ’70s may have been a bit of a “put-on,” so that you wouldn’t have to deal with situations that made you uncomfortable … so people would leave you alone.
BW: No, it wasn’t a put on at all. No! No!
MW: That’s the reason why we made this movie, David, because the idea that Brian was doing it as a “put on” is actually insulting. There were so many misconceptions. We decided to do the movie, and we were adamant that the truth needed to be told.
DB: Did you see the film Love & Mercy before meeting Brian and Melinda Wilson?
Dr. BVD: Yes, we saw Love & Mercy before we met Brian and Melinda Wilson. The Campaign to Change Direction launched in March of 2014 with the First Lady and other amazing folks.
In May, my husband, who is also a psychologist and had been working on this campaign, and I received an email from a very dear friend, the former President of the American Psychological Association. He said, “You must see this movie, it’s absolutely in line with the campaign. The director (Bill Pohlad) does an interview at the end of the movie, and he talks about what his hope for this film is, and it’s completely consistent with the campaign.”
I reached out to my good friend Bruce Cohen, director of Silver Linings Playbook, who helped us with the launch of the Campaign to Change Direction in March. I worked with Bruce and Bradley Cooper on some screenings of their movie, so I understand the power that a celebrity has to really ignite the conversation. Bruce told me he heard fantastic things about the film and that my homework was to go see Love & Mercy.
As we were walking out of the theater, I was texting Bruce saying, “This is amazing; it’s a beautiful story! You must see this movie, we must get in touch; the film is incredible!”
DB: Has Brian’s music affected your life?
Dr. BVD: Of course, I’m a California girl! Given that my name is Barbara, I had a lot of people assuming that my name was, “Barbara Ann,” which it’s not, but it was fun having that association. As a California girl, I really enjoyed the song “California Girls.” Of the more serious songs, “In My Room,” touched most adolescents who listened to it and understood the message of the song. As a huge romantic, “God Only Knows,” is probably one of my favorite songs ever.
DB: What was your reaction to Brian’s film, Love & Mercy?
Dr. BVD: The campaign is all about recognizing signs that somebody is suffering, and there were so many scenes in the movie … one in particular of Paul (playing Brian), where he’s sitting on the pool deck, and his brother Carl says to him, “I’m worried about you brother,” and Paul says, “I think I might be losing it,” but nobody did anything at that time. It’s like, there it is!
It wasn’t until years later that Melinda saw these things about Brian – and she reached out, was compassionate, and gave him hope.
Bruce Cohen had a connection with one of the producers – Claire Rudnick Polstein. And, the next thing I know I’m on the phone with Claire and then soon after, with Melinda … and we’re both crying. Melinda and I had many, many conversations about changing the culture about mental health in America, making the film a part of that, and bringing it into the campaign.
Then we connected with the other major principles involved with the film. Bill Pohlad and Oren Moverman … who are both amazing! We set up a meeting to meet with Melinda, Jean Sievers, Bill, Claire, and Roadside Attractions folks.
DB: What is your favorite part of Love & Mercy?
BW: When I meet Melinda at the car dealership… That’s my favorite part. Yeah.
MW: I had so many favorite parts … I think the ending when “Wouldn’t It Be Nice started to play. I thought that was the perfect way to end the movie.
DB: What part in the film do you feel best depicts your struggles with mental illness?
BW: The part where John Cusack plays me.
MW: John spent a lot of time at our house, David. That’s how he was able to pick up Brian’s mannerisms.
DB: I found the soundscapes created by Atticus Ross to be an integral part of the film. Brian, did those moments in the film accurately depict what you experience?
BW: The scenes were done so accurately that I felt like I was being pulled into the movie; it took me into the film.
MW: I thought they did an incredible job. Obviously, I don’t hear what’s going on in Brian’s head, and Atticus did an amazing job with an abstract situation. Thumb’s up to Atticus… I think he took Brian’s music and wove it in and out of his score with brilliance.
DB: What steps were taken to ensure that bringing Brian into the campaign was done with the right amount of care?
Dr. BVD: We have 180 organizational partners who all understand the importance of sensitivity – and they were so excited that Brian and Melinda wanted to add their voices to the campaign. I first met Brian at our press event. Melinda, Jean, Bill, Paul Dano all attended. As a psychologist, I was very mindful of Brian’s comfort … when he’s comfortable, and when he’s not. I’ve worked with folks who have a variety of mental health challenges, so I think we had the right combination of sensitivity, compassion, excitement and expertise. I felt that we had an effective, sensitive and thoughtful approach to letting Brian be Brian, and we let people understand his musical genius, and that he suffers, he does have challenges, and what he continues to do to manage all of that.
DB: What struck you in your meeting with Brian that drove your passion for the cause?
Dr. BVD: I love his honesty. He clearly wants to help people. He says that the music helped him … He says it over and over again in many different ways. He wants his music to bring happiness and help to others; it’s really lovely.
DB: What is the key communicating point to strengthening understanding to those who suffer and/or struggle with mental illness?
Dr. BVD: We need to start with recognizing that emotional well-being, mental health, is all about being human. All humans experience mental health; sometimes it’s good, sometimes it’s in the middle, and sometimes it’s very, very challenged or compromised. There’s hope for people who have the most severe conditions. There is hope for recovery, and hope to be a functioning productive, member of society.
I think we have this distorted expectation. I don’t think everyone would, if they are being honest, say that we can or should be happy all of the time. Yet we seem to put this expectation on others and ourselves of what emotional health is supposed to look like. It’s not accurate, and it’s not realistic. I think we need to first and foremost recognize that challenge – and (sometimes) suffering is part of being human; it’s a continuum. We could start there; we could get more comfortable talking about who we are, what we struggle with, and the challenges we have … whether it’s anxiety or depression. Brian says he has had auditory hallucinations for 40-plus years, but here he is, this American icon who has made amazing music. There are a lot of people that are like Brian who have challenges, but also have tremendous gifts.
DB: What did you notice about Brian that you felt a personal connection to better familiarize yourself with his specific needs?
Dr. BVD: Again, we all have different sides of us, and that’s part of what makes us human. Brian has a sweetness, and a tenderness – it is powerful and beautiful. People are still talking about the night of the concert he performed for us in November. I’m not kidding! People still say, “I have never seen anything like that, ever!” Whatever else may be going on inside of Brian, that – at times – may be challenging for him, the ability he has to touch us deeply with these powerful and beautiful songs is something – it is an incredible gift to all of us.”
*“One Kind of Love” is available on the Music From Love & Mercy soundtrack and on Wilson’s latest album, No Pier Pressure, both released in 2015 on Capitol Records.
LOVE & MERCY DVD
LOVE & MERCY Soundtrack
Campaign To Change
©2015 David Beard / All rights reserved
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