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Joe Pantoliano Knows How You Feel

In character, Joe Pantoliano has led some pretty messed up lives. He betrayed humanity in The Matrix and killed for sport as...


In character, Joe Pantoliano has led some pretty messed up lives. He betrayed humanity in The Matrix and killed for sport as the psychotic Ralph Cifaretto on The Sopranos. But it wasn't until his role in Canvas-a movie about depression-that he came to terms with the surprisingly commonplace struggles of his off-screen life. What he discovered was that the depression he'd suffered since the eighth grade was not only treatable, but totally normal-four out of five Americans are affected in some way. No Kidding, Me Too! is the documentary he spent the last year creating, with the goal of removing the stigma surrounding mental illness in America. We talked to Pantoliano in advance of a May 8 fundraiser in Los Angeles to further the mission of the movie, and increase the understanding of mental illness in this country.GOOD: Why make this movie? JOE PANTOLIANO: I was incredibly impressed by the normalization of what I thought was crazy people. When Marcia Gay Harden and I went to interact and research the roles we were playing in Canvas, I was frustrated after a while because I thought we were being isolated from the real patients. I asked, "When are we going to see the crazy people?" And they said, "We are the crazy people!" And I innocently said to Marcy later, "Jesus, I'm crazier than they are." So I'm really excited about this, and, instead of writing a book about it or doing articles about it, I thought, let me make a movie and show people what I know. I want America to see what I've seen.G: What is wrong with our present understanding of mental illness? JP: Number one, everybody has somebody in their life with mental disease. It affects four out of five Americans. There's not a single family in America that doesn't have someone in their life suffering from a mental disease. Secondly, if there wasn't a stigma associated with mental disease, the person not feeling well could easily just mention it, ask for help, innocently or otherwise, and could get the help they needed. Thirdly, there's upwards of an 80 percent recovery rate with this type of illness, which is better than any of the other illnesses out there.G: So your goal is to raise awareness but also to change the dialogue around mental disease.JP: People don't say "I am heart disease" or "I am cancer," but they say "I am mentally ill." They don't even call it what it is, which is a brain disease. It's so different. It's so insidious. And because of the shame and discrimination associated with it, you try to hide it. You try to suppress it. There's no stigma or shame associated with erectile dysfunction, because there's so much money there. They spend thousands of dollars a year advertising it. And you've got race car drivers and U.S. senators at prime time hours going, "We can't get a hard-on." Cool, you know?G: What impact do you hope the documentary will have?JP: I want the movie out there. I want it to be enjoyed. I want people to have the opportunity to say, "Why is this going on? Why can't our children be educated in the public arena about these things so that they know that it's okay to talk about, there's no shame, there shouldn't be any embarrassment?" I was embarrassed because I couldn't feel better and I had nothing to feel bad about. You have to talk about it and don't let what happened to me happen to you.I would love to get Governor Schwarzenegger to look at this documentary because I think it should be in every public school grades four or five. In the film, when these kids talk about these diagnoses or when it started happening for them, they say fifth or sixth grade. I was diagnosed with clinical depression in eighth grade. If any of those kids had gotten a bump on their arm with a circle around it, they would know that it was a tick bite and they know that they should go talk to their mom or their teacher. We are not taught that mental disease is an illness like any other and if you have the symptoms of that illness you should ask for help.Learn more about the film and mental health resources here. Photo courtesy of NKM2.org.
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