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Interview with "Manic" Stars Zooey Deschanel and Joseph Gordon-Levitt

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Manic movie photo

Joseph Gordon-Levitt stars as 'Lyle' in "Manic."

IFC Films
Jordan Melamed makes his directorial debut with "Manic," a startlingly honest look inside the walls of a fictional juvenile mental institution. The film follows Lyle (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a teen filled with rage who gets committed to the institution after brutally assaulting a classmate. Once inside the hospital, Lyle begins therapy with a group of his peers who each suffer from some form of mental illness.

In this in-depth interview, "Manic" stars Joseph Gordon-Levitt and Zooey Deschanel talk candidly about researching their roles and dealing with such an intense subject matter.

How did you get involved in this independent digital video project?
ZOOEY DESCHANEL: It's interesting, as negative as people are about show business and [no matter how often we hear] there's no money for any good movies, if there's a good script, artists will find it. People will be so supportive and come out of the woodwork to help you. I mean, that's what I've noticed about really good scripts that I've read. It may be that some studio may not be dying to do it, but there are going to be a lot of artistic people, and a lot of producers, [who] just want to make good movies. I think it's just that this was a really good script and a really good project.

JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT: That's so rare. It's so good to read a really good script. When I read "Manic," I was reading script after script after script of just shit. What people write for teenagers is insulting. As soon as I saw "Manic" I was like, "I don't care what kind of budget it is. I don't care that it's being shot on digital video. Oh my God, I finally am reading something that I care about, that I like as a human being."

What type of research did you do for your characters?
GORDON-LEVITT: I spent a lot of time with people who had been in hospitals just like this. I didn't get to go into a hospital like [the one in the movie] because I think that would be rude and intrusive – and we weren't allowed to. I went to support groups and halfway houses. We talked to a lot of people.

DESCHANEL: We did a lot of research as a group, and on our own, to get information and be as well informed as we could possibly be about the subject matter. Obviously it's not something that everyone knows about. You know a little bit or you might have heard a story, but really it's kind of one of those things that people cover up and deny and keep hush-hush because they are embarrassed about it. I think it was wonderful to talk to the people that we did because they were so open, expressive, and smart, and really willing to share with us their experiences.

GORDON-LEVITT: Even besides the kids that this movie hooked me up with to talk to that had been in hospitals, I knew - and know - plenty of people who are really angry. I'm really angry sometimes. My research wasn't just talking to people who had been in hospitals. I spoke to all my close friends because everyone has something that makes them angry.

DESCHANEL: You'd be hard pressed to find somebody who doesn't have one of these problems, especially when you are a teenager.

Was it important to do a serious role like this after your comedy series, "3rd Rock from the Sun?"
GORDON-LEVITT: What was important to me was to do something where the people involved really cared about it, and it was more than just a job. Adequacy was not good enough. There was no big machine running the whole thing where everyone felt like a cog. It was a few people who were investing their whole lives into this and that's what was important.

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