Tag Archives: Brain On Fire My Month of Madness

I hear it’s your biRthdAy (Na-na-na-na-NANA-na-na)

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Richard Armitage, you really are a pretty special guy.

And I have very high standards when it comes to the men I admire, crush on, fall in love with and marry. I did the latter two deeds over 30 years ago and haven’t regretted a moment I’ve spent with one incredibly smart, talented, witty, kind and cuddly guy, a gentle man whose smiles are always reflected in those pretty blue eyes of his. As I said, I know how to pick ’em.

So here it is, the 44th birthday of my favorite actor. I hope you feel really good about what you’ve accomplished since your last birthday.  You’ve certainly been productive, and it seems to me the projects you’ve done are things that really interest and challenge you.

My timeline may be slightly jumbled. I am not only nearly 11 years your senior, I am also feeling lots of “discognition” of late–but anyway, here goes!0a4b2e8b886ae86caf1cbde381e61887

Last summer you managed to win over the hearts of critics and audiences alike with the raw intensity of your performance night after night in “The Crucible,” earning your first (but, I am confident, NOT the last) Olivier Award nomination for best actor. So proud for you!

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Later in the year we all marveled once more at Thorin’s majesty, fretted and feared for him in the depths of his madness, grieving his loss with our tears as “The Hobbit” trilogy came to a close (my own dear blue-eyed fella was so kind when I started weeping in the theater). You were nominated and won a Saturn Award for your performance as Thorin–and it was much deserved, my dear fellow. That character has certainly brought you a legion of new fans of both sexes and in a wide range of ages.

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You also have three films in the can (or in post production), “Urban,” “Sleepwalker” and “Pilgrimage” offering you three diverse roles: a disillusioned former social worker turned unlikely savior in the UK of a generation ago, a doctor in a contemporary psychological thriller and a medieval French nobleman in a period action/adventure tale.

Production is underway on “Brain on Fire,” you’ve got a cameo in a Tim Burton fantasy film and there is that Edith Wharton period drama project, along with the action film “Clearance” coming up for you.28a955f11c4110059bb9f27a1cdeb31e

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And right now—I am anticipating the 12th episode of “Hannibal.” I admit I am feeling sad to know there are only two more new eps counting this one for me to watch. It’s been such a treat to see you on American TV, to be able to DVR your performances and re-watch them when I choose to do so. And I am absolutely thrilled your performance as Francis has been so well received!
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As much as I was dreading this role in some ways, and as difficult as it is for me to watch certain scenes (when the Red Dragon was beating the sh*t out of Francis, I knew you had to be inflicting pain on yourself, too), I am mesmerized by your performance, by all the careful and artful shadings you bring to this role.

Dolarhyde is a monster and yet he is also, as Reba says, “a sweet man.” He’s a calculating and methodical killer of entire families and a tender lover with a touch of the poet in his soul, all bundled into one complex package. I am, indeed, in awe of what you bring to the character of Francis Dolarhyde. Bravo!

Of course, there have also been all the interviews and appearances to promote the various projects, which you managed with your usual grace, good humor and aplomb during the past year. It’s always a pleasure when you are given the opportunity to talk about your craft. And it’s always fun to see what you are wearing! 😉

 

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So I raise my glass of sweet tea in a toast to you, dear Richard–Happy Birthday today and for many years to come. I look forward to seeing what this next year brings for you!

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Read this book. You won’t regret it. ‘Brain on Fire: My Month of Madness’

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Having learned of Richard Armitage’s latest film project, rather late last night I decided to purchase (via my Nook) Susannah Calahan’s harrowing account of her battle with a mysterious illness that threatened her sanity and her life. I fully intended to read a couple of chapters at most. So much for good intentions.

I stayed up until close to dawn with only 40 or so pages (including the afterword) left to go. I finished reading it this morning. CJw1a8IUYAEmFgr

Photo tweeted by Richard Armitage as he headed back to Canada for his latest film project, based on Susannah Calahan’s best seller. Looks as if he’s started his note taking on his character, Tom Calahan, Susannah’s father.

 

There are best sellers that I don’t think deserve to be best sellers. Thank heavens this non-fiction account is not in that category.   Susannah has to put all her well-honed journalistic skills to use to write this memoir. Her “month of madness” is all an incredibly muddled blur for the reporter, a painful period she seeks to reconstruct by interviewing medical personnel, co-workers, family members, her boyfriend and others. She reads their journal entries and watches the videotapes shot while she is in the hospital.

What she sees is this pasty-faced, underfed creature prone to seizures and hallucinations, riddled with paranoia, struggling at times to form her words. Someone who can be violent and combative, forced to wear restraints, or silent and rigidly staring into space.

That Susannah is barely recognizable as the bright, outgoing, ambitious and fiercely independent young New York Post reporter everybody knows.

The book recounts her struggle to discover what is causing her physical and mental decline as she tries to make her way back to some semblance of normality and sanity. Early on, one doctor tells her to quit drinking and going out and get more sleep and she will be just fine. Another puts her on antipsychotics for schizophrenia. Susannah is doggedly determined she is bi-polar. Physicians seemingly give up on her when a battery of medical tests and examinations keep ruling out various diseases and conditions.

However, her boyfriend Stephen and her family do not give up. The moral support they give her throughout her ordeal  is inspiring and heartbreaking all at the same time.

Richard will be playing the role of Tom Calahan, father of Susannah. Tom and Susannah’s mother are divorced. Both remarried, they make a point of avoiding one another whenever possible (it was clearly not an amicable split).  Yet when this crisis arises, they manage to put aside their mutual animosity to focus on their daughter and her needs. And she has never needed them more as her inflamed brain continues to attack her body.

An emotionally detached man whose relationship with his own father was strained, Tom and Susannah have never been particularly close. Behind that wall of reserve, however, beats a fiercely loyal, protective and caring heart. There is no doubt he loves his child. If he has to curse out a group of medical students so Susannah can get a little peace and quiet, then so be it. He gives her positive words to repeat like mantras. Sometimes, he cries.
I have absolutely no doubt Richard will bring all the shading, all the complexity to this role we could desire and more. He makes a great onscreen dad (think of Porter and Lexi in Strike Back, Peter Macduff in Shakespeare Retold or Gary in Into the Storm, not to mention Thorin serving as a father figure to his nephews in the TH trilogy).  Plenty of opportunity to share fatherly angst and protectiveness and love here.

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The fact that Susannah was able to write this book lets you know there is ultimately a happy ending for her.  By sharing her story of battling what turned out to be auto-immune encephalitis, first via an article for the Post and later in her book, she has helped others with the same condition ultimately get the right diagnosis and treatment. She has given people true hope, and that is always a good thing to give.

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(Above is a link to learn more about the condition)

It took courage to write her story.  Courage to go back and retrace the steps of her “month of madness” and read those words, see those images, to hear how much she had frightened and dismayed those who loved her, to discover just how sick she truly was.

 

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Calahan speaking to an audience at Yale about the early signs something was amiss. On the screen to her left are images of her in her hospital bed.

It will be a challenging role for any actress. At only 18, Chloe Grace Moretz is actually several years younger than Calahan was when she fell ill (24), yet she has a certain maturity for her age that will bode well for her portrayal.  I’ve read interviews with her and was impressed with her maturity and level-headedness.

I first saw Chloe in “Let Me In,” the English language version of the Swedish horror thriller “Let the Right Ones In” and she made a strong impression on me. She was also delightful, alternating between tough crime fighter and vulnerable kid in the irreverent “Kick-Ass” and has appeared in a diverse collection of films, from the remake of “Carrie” to YA favorite “If I Stay.”  It doesn’t hurt that she also bears a good resemblance to the author. Photos of both Calahan and Moretz.

Susannah Cahalan recently returned to her beat at the New York Post after recovering from autoimmune encephahalitis.  Photo by Zandy Mangold

Susannah Cahalan recently returned to her beat at the New York Post after recovering from autoimmune encephahalitis. Photo by Zandy Mangold

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The fact that the gifted actress Charlize Theron is a producer for the film is another plus for me.

I will be eager to learn more about the upcoming film, and eager to hear your own thoughts as you read Calahan’s memoir. A highly recommended read, and not just for Richard Armitage fans.  The book is available for Nook and Kindle and there is an audio edition from Audible.com as well as in traditional book form.

Here’s a link to the author’s official website

http://www.susannahcahalan.com/