As a clinical psychologist (and movie buff), I consult with actors, directors and writers on building and developing characters (as well as action and dialog) that are in keeping with the way actual human beings ACTUALLY express themselves "in the real world."

 

In particular, I help to "flesh out" (and sometimes "strip down"!) psychologically complex or troubled characters, so as not to perpetuate the derivative stereotypes of "psychological types" that are otherwise so often and inadvertently repeated in film

(e.g., psychopaths who are also always highly intelligent & actively sadistic, "multiple personalities" who exhibit only flagrant changes in demeanor & self-expression, etc.).

I was fortunate enough to “fall” into this line of work by being asked by the executive producer of HBO's Nightingale (who also happens to be my nephew Josh!) to consult with David Oyelowo about the likely "inner workings" of his remarkably complex character in that film, Peter Snowden.  This "brief consult" turned out to involve many hours of intensive collaboration and exploration with David, leading to his "going into seclusion" to deepen his embodiment of his character without distraction -- and without a “net.”  David then asked me to consult with him again on his portrayal of Brian Nichols (the Atlanta “courthouse shooter”) in the film Captive.

 

I also provide the service of giving any psychologically-oriented screenplay a few good reads (“action movies” not so much!), in order to ferret out any contrived character turns or dialog.  I then meet with members of the creative team (either in person, or by phone or Skype) to point out these “simulations of humanity," and to help them find more authentic (and thus inherently more compelling) alternatives for defining and developing their characters — as well as the dynamic interactions between those characters that drive the story forward.

 

Partly as a function of my dedication to paying in-depth attention to both myself and my clients as a clinical psychologist, I am one of those people who is viscerally perturbed when I see depictions of human beings in otherwise engaging films that are simply not in keeping with the way ACTUAL human beings ACTUALLY express themselves (or interact with each other) in “real life” [e.g., “break up talks” that are free of even subtle blaming or disingenuousness, “villains” who exhibit only callous and malicious behavior, etc.]

 

My fundamental aim is to help make a film more engaging and impactful by stripping away forced or affected human expression, and suggesting alternative ways to make the same cinematographic “point” without stooping to hackneyed (or otherwise obviously manufactured) portrayals of human behavior.

 

 

As his “psychological coach” for the film Nightingale, David Oyelowo asked me to help him better understand the psychological and emotional dynamics that could explain his character’s (sometimes wildly “unstable”) actions in the screenplay; likewise, I helped him to find mannerisms, body postures and movements, and other means of expressing and revealing Peter Snowden’s emotional states in keeping with the way such a person might actually behave in such a situation.

 

Obviously, David did a masterful job – and it’s been very rewarding for me to see many of my suggestions incorporated into his performance.

 

**

 

Likewise, I coached actress Ahna O’Reilly in her portrayal of the main character “Sarah” in the psychological thriller SleepWalker (2016):

 

 

 

I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t fun to see my name (spelled correctly and everything!) crawling over the screen as the credits rolled the first night HBO aired Nightingale:

Not to mention receiving David Oyelowo’s kind words:

 🦠😮🤭😱

As you may have noticed, "things are different now."

 

The advent of COVID-19 has pretty much required that psychotherapeutic encounters take place in the realm of remote digital communication -- at least for now.

Although I first assumed this would significantly weaken the power of the psychotherapeutic encounter in general, I have been happily surprised to discover that there are both disadvantages AND advantages to this medium of communication and connection.

Given a sane choice, I would much prefer to meet in person.  However, for the time being, my assessment of the downside risk of possible infection renders meeting in person highly undesirable, if not downright unethical (for one thing, my wife and office partner has a compromised immune system, which makes it out of the question for me to risk becoming a carrier).

We can utilize the platform of your choice (Skype, FaceTime, zoom -- or my HIPAA compliant web portal).  

 

I will make some suggestions about how to maximize our sense of connectedness with some simple adjustments...

© 2020 by Tony Rooney, Ph.D.