THANKS FOR SHARING
About the Production
Stuart Blumberg's inspiring and wryly funny new film, THANKS FOR SHARING, brings together three disparate characters who are learning to face a challenging and often confusing world as they struggle together against a common demon: sex addiction. Blumberg and co-screenwriter Matt Winston offer a hopeful and revealing story of new beginnings, as Adam, Mike and Neil overcome their myriad differences to forge a tightly bonded community of three.
Blumberg previously won acclaim for his Oscar-nominated screenplay for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, another unconventional story that reinvents the concept of family. Like THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, THANKS FOR SHARING combines colorful, endearing characters and sparkling wit to raise provocative questions about human connections.
"THANKS FOR SHARING is about the unexpected bond these guys find," says Blumberg. "Each of them has his own unique issues, but together they reach a point of togetherness and connection that gives them a better chance of getting through the hardest times."
Adds Winston: "We really wanted to shine a light on the idea that sometimes the only solution to brokenness is to be broken with each other. That's something that resonates with a lot of people."
The screenwriter compares Mike, Adam and Neil to a multi-generational family. "The spine of the story is how they become each other's lifelines. When the characters are not connecting to each other, that's when things in their lives begin to go wrong."
Blumberg and Winston wrote together via Skype over the course of nine months, and the resultant screenplay soon won over the production team at Class 5, the company in which Blumberg is partnered with Edward Norton and William Migliore.
The delicate subject matter gave them pause only momentarily, recalls Migliore. "Stuart told me that they had started working on a new script, set in the world of recovering sex addicts. My one comment to him was, 'Please find the humor' -- which I think they've done incredibly well.
"What struck me about the script is that it is very much about the universal need to connect. Like THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT, it's about the relationships we all share and the challenges of maintaining them in today's world."
Blumberg was gratified by his colleagues' support. "Bill Migliore is the most driven producer I've ever seen and he brought along David Koplan, who line-produced LEAVES OF GRASS. These guys helped me make this movie in every way. They've just been incredible champions of this story," he says.
Soon after, Olympus Pictures came on board with producers Leslie Urdang, Miranda de Pencier and Dean Vanech bringing their experience in supporting strong, fresh voices in contemporary cinema. "Olympus has got a great track record and they really care about their movies," says Blumberg. "They were always striving to give us the best tools to make the movie, which made this an amazing experience."
All of the filmmakers knew the distinctively funny-tough tone of the screenplay would demand complex, humor-laced, yet emotionally transparent performances, so casting the one-of-a-kind roles would be the next vital step.
At the heart of THANKS FOR SHARING is the story of Adam, a quintessential Type-A personality with five years in recovery, who remains afraid to put himself to the test with a real-world relationship. It's a nuanced, shifting role and Stuart Blumberg had long envisioned versatile leading man Mark Ruffalo -- who garnered critical acclaim and an Oscar nomination acclaim for THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT -- bringing it to life.
"Because Adam is a character who has been through a lot, we needed an actor who could really convey depth," observes the writer-director. "Mark does that, but he is also really, really accessible. It's challenging subject matter and Mark had to go an intense place. But once he commits, he really jumps in. He is amazing to watch."
Ruffalo says his reaction to the script was similar to what he felt when he first read THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT. "First, it made me laugh and then I was moved. I really like movies that mix uncomfortable comedy with serious drama. I call it 'one foot on a banana peel and the other foot over the grave,'" he quips.
Adam, he says, has shut himself down to love because of his fears about losing control. "It's a minefield for him. He's just met this incredibly hot, smart, successful woman and they are hitting it off, but he doesn't know how to relate to her sexually. Things are very lighthearted and romantic between them, but it's not perfect, because he keeps being forced to face his own fallibility. But that's one of the beautiful things about the movie: each of these characters gets another chance -- and none of them is able to do it alone."
Ruffalo attended a number of 12-step meetings during his preparation and was impressed by what he saw. "One thing that's great to see as an actor is all the honesty in those rooms," he observes. "Everyone is just being very bare and real in that world and a lot of beautiful things happen, from heart-wrenching sadness to gut-busting humor."
To play Adam's sponsor, Mike, the filmmakers turned to Oscar-winner Tim Robbins, known for a wide range of indelible performances including Dave Boyle in MYSTIC RIVER, Andy Dufresne in THE SHAWSHANK REDEMPTION and Nuke in BULL DURHAM. The esteemed elder statesman of a tight-knit recovery community, Mike is also a vulnerable husband and father grappling with unresolved family issues of his own.
"Tim is really smart. He's an intellectually and physically imposing person. He knows what he wants and he knows it well -- and I think there is a lot of that in Mike," observes Blumberg. "He doesn't suffer fools gladly, but he's also the big papa bear who you want to have hug you. Tim really had access to a certain part of himself that made that real."
Robbins, who is an accomplished filmmaker in his own right, says the script stood out. "It's rare to find a film that brings this kind of humor to a serious adult subject matter," he comments. "I liked that the ending is hopeful and offers some real solutions."
Mike is both the linchpin of the support group and as capable of collapsing as anyone else. "He's managed to become a mentor to others, but at the same time he's still susceptible to the weaknesses that brought him here in the first place," Robbins notes.
Much of Mike's vulnerability revolves around his own family problems, particularly with his son Danny, an apple who has fallen not far from the tree. "I think the most difficult thing a parent has to face is wondering how much they had to do with their children's failures," he says. "That's the big unspoken thing for Mike. We all hope our mistakes are not visited upon our children."
While Robbins could relate to Mike as a parent, learning about sex addiction required a bit of research. "I read recovery books and I went to a meeting," he says. "At first I had a bit of cynicism about sex addiction, thinking that it's just an excuse. But when I went to the meeting, I realized it's a real thing. People really screw up their lives with this addiction. I had nothing but admiration for the courage that was expressed in that room."
The third member of the trio, and the one who least thinks he needs help, is Neil. An emergency-room resident whose shocking misbehavior on the subway resulted in a court order to join the program, Neil refuses to take the recovery process seriously. Ably handling the role's sharp, 180-degree turn when Neil eventually commits himself to change, is Josh Gad, who recently made a splash playing Elder Arnold Cunningham in the Broadway hit "The Book of Mormon."
"Neil is one of those characters that audiences find unlikeable at first and then find themselves rooting for," notes Blumberg. "I didn't know Gad's work that well until people educated me about him. This guy is a comic force. And Gad is Neil in this movie. He was so enthusiastic and fun and committed. It was really enjoyable to work with him."
With a resume that includes a stint as correspondent on "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," as well as creator and one of the stars of the sitcom "1600 Penn," Gad knows comedy. But he found the script more than simply funny. "There's an unbelievable humanity to Stuart's characters," he remarks. "THANKS FOR SHARING continues in that tradition of THE KIDS ARE ALL RIGHT by being an amazing window into the lives of people who are just like everybody else, except for a problem many people consider shameful. They each express that in different ways."
Like Robbins, Gad was surprised and intrigued when his research forced him to consider the dark side of human desire. "It was an exploration of something that I've scoffed at," he admits. "I've always thought, well if you're addicted to sex, isn't that just a human quality? Aren't we all? But when you really hear what people go through, it opens your eyes to a real disease that isn't well understood."
Neil undergoes a dramatic transformation over the course of the film. "When we meet Neil, he is still in the throes of his addiction," Gad explains. "He goes to extreme lengths, even creating a shoe camera to look up women's skirts. But it all catches up with him. When he's faced with losing everything he's worked so hard for, he has to look at himself in the mirror and say, 'Is this who I want to be?' That begins an incredible journey for him."
As Adam, Mike and Neil learn how to be there for one another, they still have to deal with family and friends who have an imperfect understanding of what they are up against. Adam's new girlfriend, Phoebe, begins the relationship without any clue about his addiction. It isn't until she has already fallen for him that she learns the truth, and it is a struggle to accept it. Academy Award-winner Gwyneth Paltrow, who plays Phoebe, was intrigued by the character and the screenplay.
"I'm always looking for interesting roles and this was so well written and so funny," she explains. "And the cast they assembled was amazing. Stuart got the drama and the comedy so right. It didn't feel forced or melodramatic. It was very personal and I laughed out loud many times."
Says producer Migliore of Paltrow: "Her combination of charm, beauty and strength drives Phoebe's rapport with Adam. You really root for their relationship."
Creating that link was made easier by a natural chemistry between Paltrow and Mark Ruffalo. "Mark is a very confident, easy-going, lovely actor," says Paltrow. "He has this incredible likeability and depth, but there's also a real sweetness to him which I think is why women go gaga for him in the movies. His niceness is palpable, and it really comes through."
While Adam's initial lack of transparency is a red flag for Phoebe, she comes to recognize similar impulses in herself as a perfectionist and obsessive exerciser. "I think Phoebe projects onto Adam some of her own self-judgment, which is interesting, because it causes her to realize she may need to make some changes in herself," observes Paltrow.
Mike's loyal wife Katie is played by British actress Joely Richardson, recently seen in THE GIRL WITH THE DRAGON TATTOO and the Showtime series "The Tudors." Though Blumberg had some initial doubts about casting an Englishwoman as a Brooklynite, Richardson's unique combination of fragility and boldness seemed perfect for the character.
"I see her as the still water in a story where most of the characters are fighting against themselves," says Richardson. "She has the ability to stay calm with all this turbulence around her. But she also overcompensates because she has been stuck in this triangle with Mike and their son Danny for years. She so desperately wants her family to be happy."
Playing Danny is Patrick Fugit, who came to the fore as the star of Cameron Crowe's ALMOST FAMOUS. Tim Robbins had a hand in this serendipitous bit of casting. After Robbins ran into Fugit bicycling in Venice Beach, he decided they could conceivably play father and son, and arranged to have the script sent to Fugit.
"I read the script on a plane and I was laughing out loud and then crying," Fugit recalls. "It's not exactly a drama or a comedy. It encompasses three life stories that are very genuine."
The actors both starred in HBO's "Cinema Verite," but had no on-screen interaction, so Fugit was thrilled to have a chance to work so closely with Robbins. "I've loved Tim since I was young, so I was stoked to work with him," he says. "It was great exploring this relationship with him. There is constant tension between Danny and Mike until they have it out. Tim really brings his heart to everything he does."
Playing Dede, the woman who becomes a life-altering encounter for Neil, is Alecia Moore, better known as Grammy-winning recording artist Pink, who makes a stunning acting debut as the tough and tender hair stylist. Moore accepted the role after learning that it was in part inspired by her public persona.
"When we were writing the story, Dede's voice was such a strong and funny one that for some reason the idea of Pink came into my head," recalls Blumberg. "She has the image of that lovable tough girl with a soft center. We thought, we'd write it for her, even if she probably would never do it."
Adds Migliore: "Alecia pushed herself in every way from day one and showed a remarkable commitment to the film. I think it's going to be very exciting for audiences to see her in this role."
Moore describes Dede as a girl who has hit rock bottom and is finally ready to reach out. "She wants to get better. She wants to connect. And when she meets Neil, there's a chance for each of them to have their first healthy, real relationship."
And it is relationships, no matter how rocky, that are the foundation of THANKS FOR SHARING, says Moore. "All of the characters in the movie are trying to rebuild the bridges they've burned," she notes. "I think they come to realize that all there really is in life is these lasting relationships. I find that very endearing and hopeful."
Stuart Blumberg always believed that the humor in THANKS FOR SHARING would help draw audiences into a very intimate story. The mixture of comedy and reality interlaced throughout the script is how he envisioned his visual approach to the film as well.
"I wanted the film to feel heightened enough that these are not just characters, but real people that you can relate to," he explains.
He gathered a crack technical crew to help him realize his vision, including cinematographer Yaron Orbach (OUR IDIOT BROTHER), production designer Beth Mickle (DRIVE), costume designer Peggy Schnitzer ("Californication") and editor Anne McCabe ("The Newsroom").
"Yaron was amazing at helping me achieve the naturalistic look I wanted to balance the drama and comedy," says Blumberg. "Beth can work on a shoestring to make things beautiful. Overall, we had an amazing team."
It might have been Blumberg's first directorial outing, but the transition from tapping out a story from behind the keyboard to making one come alive in the director's chair felt seamless to those around him.
"Stuart possesses a fantastic combination of knowing exactly what he wants and being incredibly open to the element of surprise. So we had a lot of happy accidents while making this film," notes Migliore. "He excels in tonal shifts, finding the humor in any given situation, then turning that on a dime into something quite heartfelt."
When asked about making a movie with a first-time director, Urdang said, "It's always a leap of faith, but Stuart is deeply intuitive, driven and an incredibly fast learner. He understands that interdependence is fundamental to our lives and that it is the combination of singular efforts that make for something bigger. Stuart values community and we bet on that part of him that would allow for collaboration and for bringing out the best in everyone on his team. It was a good bet."
Blumberg says he hopes that mix of emotions the film evokes adds up to a sense of possibility -- even for those who seem lost. "I think we revel in watching other people struggling and trying to be better human beings," he concludes. "This is a story that explores the idea that the best way to get through this struggle is with other people, and how sometimes admitting your limitations is the only way to find the hope to overcome them."
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