Hypochondriac: Paget Brewster on How Film Exceeded Her Expectations

When Paget Brewster was given the script for the indie psychological thriller Hypochondriac from XYZ Films, she had her initial misgivings. Once the Criminal Minds star met writer and director Addison Heimann, he blew her away as far as any expectations for a first-time director. Brewster plays Dr. Sampson, a medical professional trying to treat Will (Zach Villa), a young Hispanic gay potter battling mental illness he's desperate to stay hidden. The actress spoke with Bleeding Cool about how she decided to chance a chance on the project during the pandemic, how Heimann is unlike other first-time directors she's dealt with and her own personal experiences in therapy.

Hypochondriac: Paget Brewster on How Film Exceeded Her Expectations
Paget Brewster in Hypochondriac (2022). Image courtesy of XYZ Films

Bleeding Cool: What drew you to the role of Dr. Sampson in 'Hypochondriac?'
Paget Brewster: It was sent to me by producer Bay Dariz whom I did a movie with a few years before called 'Welcome to Happiness' (2015). He emailed, "Hey. How's your pandemic going? I want you to play this doctor. Please read the script." I was not excited about it because it was an indie film with a first-time director, and there was no money. I didn't know where we'd be shooting, and I was terrified of leaving the house because we didn't know much about COVID at the time. At the time, I was like, "I like Bay. I'll read it, and maybe I'll just pass," but I loved it.

As I kept turning pages, I thought, "This is good," and went back to these emails and saw that Zach Villa was cast as well. I was like, "I really like that guy." It's an amazing script, and I hadn't read anything like it ever. Begrudgingly, I called Bay and said, "I'm in, I'll go, I'm terrified. I don't want to get killed this, but I'll do it. I love it." It ended up being an even better movie than I thought [laughs], even better than I imagined after reading the script.

BC: Aside from the script, you had some uncertainties about it. Did you have any difficulties since it was a first-time director, and how did Addison exceed your expectations?
Brewster: Bay set up a Zoom with Addison telling me, "You'll see this guy is the real deal, and he's going to be a great director." I knew that he'd written the script. When we met, it was clear he's the guy he was writing about [in the script]. This guy who's happy, out, successful, in a great relationship, a gay guy just living his best life and fell into a mental breakdown. He felt physical pain, didn't know what was wrong with him, and was going to doctors like, "Do I need an MRI? Something's wrong with me," and people were not taking him seriously, not even his family. That's who Addison is "Will" in the script. He wrote it to process everything he went through when he came out of his mental breakdown, where he was hurting himself and seeing things that weren't there.

The problem with first-time directors, men or women, is too many are afraid of proving it's their show that they won't ask for help. They won't lean on other people, and they won't be open to something falling through. They must figure out, "How do we fix this?" It takes a long time and listen; I could never direct. I would be a terrible director. I couldn't do it because there were too many questions from too many people. Addison was very open, saying things like, "Hey, this is going to be us. It's going to be a group of us, and I'm trying to get the best people I can get to make this movie what I hope it can be." There was no ego. He wasn't super protective of the script being open, like, "I just want the tone. I want the story out there if it can help other people, and I also want to entertain." He was very mellow, and it's unusual for a first-time director not to panic or be egotistical from fear. There was none of that on set. Everybody was happy to be there working and telling this story. That's also extremely rare that comes from the director and the star. Zach was also extremely generous, supportive, thoughtful, and talented, a perfect storm of greatness in a dark and scary time.

Hypochondriac: Paget Brewster on How Film Exceeded Her Expectations
XYZ Films

BC: Was there any external inspiration for the character that helped your performance?
Brewster: I went to therapy for a long time at the end of a long-term relationship. My therapist was a Jewish flutist and former actor who was very Zen-like. He listened and was very cool and empathetic. That's my only experience with seeking help from psychology, psychiatry, or therapy. As Sampson is treating Will, her answer is, "Here are some drugs." So even this person that is supposed to be on his side, understanding and knowing him, may not be offering the help he needs.

Hypochondriac, which also stars Devon Graye, Marlene Forte, Madeline Zima, Yumarie Morales, and Chris Doubek, is currently in theaters , digital, and on-demand on August 4th.

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Tom ChangAbout Tom Chang

I'm a follower of pop culture from gaming, comics, sci-fi, fantasy, film, and TV for over 30 years. I grew up reading magazines like Starlog, Mad, and Fangoria. As a writer for over 10 years, Star Wars was the first sci-fi franchise I fell in love with. I'm a nerd-of-all-trades.
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