Dev Patel read Gren Wells’ script for “The Road Within” and instantly liked it -- but he was also terrified.
The indie film, which premiered at the Los Angeles Film Festival last week, follows Vincent Rhodes (played by Robert Sheehan), a young man with Tourette’s syndrome, after his estranged father (Robert Patrick) puts him in a treatment center. There he meets his roommate Alex (Patel), who has obsessive compulsive disorder, and Marie (Zoe Kravitz), who has anorexia.
“I have a knack for talking myself out of a good project,” Patel, known for his role in the 2009 Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” said in an interview. “You need so much time and commitment for a role like this to do it justice.”
But Wells, who cast Sheehan first, was persistent in casting the “right people” for each role.
“I stalked Dev until his manager let me sit down with him and convince him he could do Alex,” she said.
Kravitz, who most recently appeared in “Divergent,” completed the trio.
Like actors in other movies that show people struggling with different disorders, Patel, Sheehan and Kravitz had to do a lot of research before filming.
Wells had Sheehan live with a young man named Jackson, who has Tourette’s, to learn and better understand the tics that are common side effects of the disorder.
“The first time I met Jackson we went to a restaurant,” Wells recalled. “He was ticking a lot … it was really awkward at first. I purposefully set it up in the movie so the audience is uncomfortable at first, too. I wanted people to be able to see the tics through his eyes.”
For Sheehan, meeting Jackson allowed him to “concentrate on what needed to be concentrated on.”
“Jackson was in my head for quite a while and I think that was necessary,” Sheehan said. “I think it was brilliant to have him teach me because he brought a real specificity to the disorder.”
Patel and Wells also visited an OCD treatment center in Westwood to talk with patients about their experiences. One patient in particular, Chad, had a huge effect on Patel.
“My main mission was to give Alex a solemn heart,” Patel said. “Meeting Chad was the biggest inspiration. I thought if I can do a film where I represent a human like this and do him justice, I can be happy.”
Wells drew from her own experiences when researching for Kravitz’s character, Marie.
“I was anorexic/bulimic growing up, so I do know that disorder intimately,” Wells said. “It’s one of those things you have to treat delicately because it’s the one that’s the most deadly,” she said.
Wells, a first-time director, said she adapted the popular 2010 German film “Vincent Wants to Sea” because she was “instantly drawn to the tone,” a mix of drama and comedy.
“I think the best way to deal with sad situations is through humor. That’s when you can really empathize with people, through laughter,” Patel said.
In the film, Vincent and Marie decide to escape the center by stealing the car of Dr. Rose (played by Kyra Sedgwick) and end up kidnapping Alex. The trio then embarks on a life-changing road trip to California, as Dr. Rose and Vincent’s father search for them.
The actors said a road trip was the perfect setting for a dramedy to unfold.
“Life’s a journey and the road trip, I think, especially in this country, symbolizes so much,” Patrick said.
“A road trip is a physical representation of someone coming of age,” Patel said. “As they progress through terrain, they are growing as characters.”
The film has not yet been picked up for distribution.
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