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Peter Gallagher Discusses 'Adam,' An Offbeat Love Story Challenged By Asperger's Syndrome

July 28th, 2009 10:49am EDT
Peter Gallagher"Adam," is the story of an off-beat romance between Beth (Rose Byrne) and Adam (Hugh Dancy) that is challenged by his affliction with Asperger's Syndrome -- an affliction that, as Wikipedia describes, is an "autism spectrum disorder, and people with it therefore show significant difficulties in social interaction." Peter Gallagher, who plays Beth's loving but very flawed father, Marty, joins us to discuss the new film (opening in limited release July 29) and to breakdown the complexity of his character.

Mike: Hey, Peter!

Peter Gallagher: Hey, mike!

Mike: How are you doing?

Peter Gallagher: Very well, thanks. How are you doing?

Mike: Pretty good. I saw the film...

Peter Gallagher: Yeah?

Mike: Really interesting story. I know you're from New York originally, do you enjoy filming in New York?

Peter Gallagher: You know, it's great filming in New York. The irony of it is: it was the first movie I filmed in New York that I wasn't living in New York when I filmed it. We just moved out of there a couple of years ago. And for years it was very hard to do a movie in New York because (laughs) nobody could afford to do a movie in New York.

Mike: Right, we'd see a lot of Vancouver and Toronto. That was always disappointing.

Peter Gallagher: Yeah. There's no way that... well, anyway, yes, it was a thrill to do that movie. I stayed at a friend's apartment to help production and brought my own clothes (laughs) and I was happy to do so because it was produced and written by dear, dear friends of mine -- Leslie Urdang and Max Mayer. And Mark Linn-Baker was in it and they're all from New York stage and film. So it was like a family affair.

Mike: And I loved seeing Mark Linn-Baker. I know it sounds stupid but "Perfect Strangers" was one of my favorite shows growing up. Did you know much about Asperger's before doing the film?

Peter Gallagher: I knew a little bit because I hosted an event a couple of years ago with the Help Group. Which is, pretty specifically, to help kids with various forms of Autism -- Asperger's one of them. I'd perform with some of the kids on-stage and went to the facility and learned as much as I could about it so I wouldn't sound like a complete ignoramus. Plus, it's moving. It's very moving. I'm convinced the powers of diagnosis are so acute and so keen these days that had they been available -- certainly when my wife and I were kids -- I'm sure we'd been diagnosed with everything under the sun. It's astounding to learn about things you don't know anything about and be so impressed by these kids.

Mike: What drew you to the script? I mean, it is such an original story. Somebody asked me what I thought of it and sarcastically said, "Oh, it's that some old story. Girl meets boy, boy has Asperger's Syndrome."

Peter Gallagher: Well, you know what really impresses me about the picture?

Mike: What's that?

Peter Gallagher: It's everything you said, but it's also boy meets girl. The Asperger's is a perfect metaphor for the bewildering ignorance most men -- certainly including me -- possess with regard to interior romantic landscape of a woman. You know, it's like, "Is that what you meant?! Why didn't you just say that?"

Adam

Image © Fox Searchlight

Mike: I was thinking that exact same thing. It was almost liberating to see a character say, "Were you feeling the same I was feeling?"

Peter Gallagher: Yes! That's exactly why I think the movie works, too. No matter if you have Asperger's or not, I sit there watching it and I say, "Well, geeze, I must have a touch of the Asperger's myself." I've been married 26 years and I still say, "Honey, how am I supposed to know that that was what you were thinking? And you're not going to tell me." I've already been convicted and sentenced before I even know what the charges are.

Mike: And so many times Adam would just say, "Why would you lie? Why didn't you just say what you were feeling?"

Peter Gallagher: Right. The notion that someone with Asperger's is not cued in to some of the more sudden facial ques or emotional language than other people... To me the story's as much about that unknowable romantic landscape that has nothing to do with Asperger's or anything. It's just the fact that I can't tell what's in your mind or in your heart. Just because I'm supposed to be able to pick up these ques better than a guy with Asperger's doesn't mean I don't screw them up 90 percent of the time, either. So, for me, I think that's what you were responding to when somebody asked you what it was. Because it is a boy meets girl story but it's told in such an original and fresh and disarming and intelligent, funny way.

Mike: Your character, Marty, he's a complicated guy. On one side he's kind of a bad guy but on the other side, he's a pretty good guy. I mean, he certainly loves his daughter.

Peter Gallagher: Yeah, oh yeah. I love the part. And I've played a lot of bad guys. The worst thing you can do is find a way to make a bad guy likable. I don't even think of him as a bad guy. I think what I found compelling was that there are two men in Rose [Byrne's character's] life. There's [Adam] and her dad. This guy can't lie and this guy can't tell the truth. Well, that's not true. This guy has lied and ultimately does tell the truth. But I think, again, is an example of just how ignorant we are in regards to what's going on in someone else's heart or mind. He doesn't quite understand what's going on in his daughter's mind and he doesn't quite understand what's going on in his own heart.



Mike: I liked how he tried to keep his daughter out of all his legal issues. He just casually mentions after lunch, "By the way, I've been indicted, see you later."

Peter Gallagher: It's funny. This had never happened. A guy stopped me on the street -- there must have been a test screening or something in town -- said, "Hey, man. I just saw that movie, "Adam." I liked the movie all right but I loved you in that movie. Man, I thought that was a great part. That was a great story." And I thought, "Oh, you've been in trouble with the law before, OK." (laughs)

Mike: Obviously the story is about Adam but Marty's presence is hovering over the entire movie.

Peter Gallagher: Well, I'm glad you think so. I do, too. I think Marty provides a good balance in terms of where Rose is and where she wants to go. Or what she's turning away from and what she's going towards. And just how not black and white those decisions are and how deeply you have to look into your own heart, ultimately, and see where you want to go. So it's like they've both been cast out. Hugh [Dancy's Adam], by virtue of the Asperger's and Rose by virtue of this big turnaround in her home life and in her family's life. And forced to find their way and they do so and they do find their way, together, and ultimately endow each other with what they need to survive apart. So, it's a powerful notion because of Hugh, his character, does not have the kind of defensive, suspicious, manipulative behavior we associate with romantic comedies: He's smart and honest. It takes the whole story away from the judgements we're accustomed to and it gives us a real chance to look just how hard it is for two people who care about each other to communicate effectively.

Mike: One of my favorite scenes -- apart what it did in introducing Marty and Adam -- was the one filmed at Cherry lane Theatre. Was that actually filmed at...

Peter Gallagher: Yeah, that was at the Cherry Lane.

Mike: That's my favorite off-Broadway location.

Peter Gallagher: Greatest house. The history -- well you heard half the history [from Adam].

Mike: It's a great location. It's in this great neighborhood in the West Village. I'm glad to hear it was actually filmed there.

Peter Gallagher: You know, that's the other cool thing as you noted right off the bat, we shot it in New York. Just the fact that our brilliant producers were able to figure out how to do that, for a very limited budget, I think adds so much to the soul of the piece. As you aptly noted: We're co-starring with the Cherry Lane Theatre and with Central Park and with what all that engenders. Because it's the real thing.

Mike: Another thing I really liked -- and this may be kind of silly but it hit a personal note -- was this three person family with Beth being an only child. I thought that aspect was extremely well done. I grew up an only child and [could relate] having loving but overprotective parents. Everything was dead on about growing up an only child.

Peter Gallagher: Oh, I love to hear that, Mike. That's great to hear. I have to credit [writer and director] Max [Mayer] with that. Oh, you know what? (Asks someone in the room) Was Max an only child? Max was an only child.

Mike: OK, that makes sense. He got it dead on.

Peter Gallagher: He got it dead on. I have to give props to Max on that. I just showed up.

Mike: This is the last thing, it's a question submitted by (Ellen in New York City). She wants to know about your singing career. She remember you did a set at a lounge around a year ago...

Peter Gallagher: At Feinstein's.

Mike: And she saw "Hudsucker Proxy" and you play a singer in that and she wants to know how that came about.

Peter Gallagher: Well, that's how I started. I started out as a singer. In "Hair" on Broadway. In "Grease" on Broadway. And that show that I wrote for Feinstein's was actually something I wanted to do my whole life. And, ironically, I sang a song for "The O.C." and I got a record deal from Epic Records, so I made a record for them. This is interesting: That show that I did at Fienstein's I wrote, I've developed quite a bit further and I'm going to be opening it in November in Chicago, November 22, at the Drury Lane. It's called "Peter Gallagher: The Musical." It's essentially some standards and some songs I've sung on Broadway, some songs from the album and some songs I've never sung before. It's songs and stories from an actors life. I tell stories about working with Jimmy Cagney, Art Carney, Jack Lemmon and George Scott, Peter O'Toole.

Mike: Best of luck with "Adam," I really enjoyed it.

Peter Gallagher: I'm so glad. You know, pump it up. I'm as excited about this movie as I have been excited about some of the best movies I've ever been involved in. I feel very lucky to be a part of it so I'm glad that you share that enthusiasm.

Mike Ryan
"Mike's Pulse" is a column written by transplanted Midwesterner and current New Yorker Mike Ryan. For any compliments or complaints -- preferably the former -- you may contact Mike directly at miker@starpulse.com
or submit reader questions for celebrites to Mike on Twitter.

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