Mad to Be Normal opens in selected cinemas around the UK today. The biopic, starring David Tennant and written and directed by Robert Mullan, examines the life and work of Ronald David “R.D.” Laing, the Scottish psychiatrist who attempted to relieve the pain of those suffering from mental illness, particularly schizophrenia, without the use of sedative drugs and electroshock therapy. He established the community project at Kingsley Hall where the divide between patients and psychiatrists was dropped, and the two groups as lived as one.
Laing was also a cult figure of the ‘60s and ‘70s and controversially took LSD, appeared on stage with Grateful Death and indulged in sex and alcohol. In a number ways, his personal life overshadowed his work on revolutionising his profession.
The movie is set in Kingsley Hall. Lucie Glynn plays Joan, one of the severely disturbed patients that have suffered a significant trauma that has added to her deteriorating mental condition. Joan finds comfort at the community and becomes close to Angie Wood (Elisabeth Wood) who portrays Laing’s girlfriend.
Lucie Glynn (Joan) – Mad to be Normal
QUESTION: We understand you portray a patient of Dr. Laing’s at Kingsley Hall. Most of Laing’s patients had extreme, mental illness. Can you give us a bit of insight into your character Joan? Why was she at Kingsley? What type of illness did Joan have?
ANSWER: I played Joan, a patient with Catatonic Schizophrenia, a mental state so severe that involuntary movement is reduced, sometimes to the point where the individual can only sit or stand completely still. Essentially, it’s survival mode, like fight or flight. She’s been so damaged by her experiences in life that her body has shut down, and she hardly moves. It doesn’t even mean she’s been abused or had a profound damaging life event, necessarily. But this is a point Laing makes – you can’t underestimate the damage families can do to one another. She also carries around a teddy bear, suggesting her mental development stopped at a certain age and has remained a child, mentally. That being said, there’s a rather upsetting scene where Joan’s mother comes to visit her at Kingsley Hall. Upon being given a bunch of roses, she pulls off the thorns and cuts her wrists with them.
QUESTION: Joan had the look of a wild child. No need to worry about perfect hair and makeup. How freeing was the role? The lack of worry about appearance. Were you able to go as far as you wanted into her madness?
ANSWER: Joan wasn’t so much a wild child since she wore long tweed skirts and turtleneck blouses, plus a ridiculously comfortable pair of velvet slippers which I didn’t mind wearing all day long during the weeks of shooting! But she had very greasy hair, which was achieved using coconut oil, not easy to wash out! It was extremely freeing to play someone so unconcerned by her appearance. I found the role very engrossing. There were some parts I struggled with physically. I’ve never been a thumb sucker that felt very unnatural to me. But I got into certain rhythms of breathing and physically held myself in such a manner that I felt ‘not quite right’ and looked awkward and sad, which seems to have come off well.
QUESTION: Laing had a lot of well-known patients. Or rather patients with well-known cures / conditions.ie Mary Barnes and the young woman who had not talked for years who Laing joined in her madness in her hospital room (stripping down and rocking back and forth with her). Was Joan based on a patient? Or a collection of patients
ANSWER: I believe Joan was based on a patient, but not a famous one – perhaps she is a culmination of several people or just as a snapshot of her condition.
QUESTION: Most of the cast were in Yorkshire for the filming, but the film based for the most part in Kingsley Hall. It is almost another character in the movie. But it is different from the American communes that other members of the Philadelphia Association ran.
Did you get to see much of Kingsley Hall? Did it influence your thoughts on how the patients and doctors interacted?
ANSWER: We started the shoot in Yorkshire where Celina had recreated Kingsley Hall on set, and it had a truly fantastic energy; you felt like you’d walked through a time portal and we were transported to Kingsley Hall during the 1960’s. It was smoky and calm and eerie, yet it had a true sense of homeliness. A weird home. A home where we all lived together, all the patients from all our walks of life with our madness and with Laing who we all needed like a father. Towards the end of the shoot, we went to Kingsley Hall in East London, and it felt like the same place. It has obviously changed over the decades, but you could get a sense of the building, the rooms, the corridors, and the street outside.
QUESTION: Mad to be Normal was a family affair for you. Your husband is one of the producers of the film and your son Redford portrayed Angie and Laing’s son – Gabriel. What was it like working with family?
ANSWER: It was wonderful to be involved in the film with Phin, and to have Redford involved too! He was only 7 months old so I was expressing breastmilk in my dressing room and my mother was bringing Redford by for milk every now and again. I’m sure that wouldn’t have been as well received on set if my husband wasn’t the producer! Phin was extremely busy during the shoot, but I’m sure it was nice to see the baby occasionally. In fact, everybody loved seeing Red, who doesn’t love a baby in 1960’s knitted pants!?
QUESTION: Mad to be Normal was a quick shoot about four wks. But we have heard it was a fun and friendly set. Any fun stories from the set?
ANSWER: It was the most fantastic shoot ever. We were all staying nearby, and there were so many communal scenes. That meant most of us were on site most days. We had many hours of sitting and chatting or making hot drinks. They were very long shoot days, coming on site before sunrise and leaving after the sun had set. So we grew a great sense of community. It added to the commune of Kingsley Hall because we all felt comfortable and knew each other well! Many of the actors and crew members were doing this film for the love of it. There wasn’t an ego among us. I have so many fond memories of those weeks, and I have remained friends with the rest of the ‘inmates’.
QUESTION: What’s next for you?
ANSWER: I was involved in a feature called “You, Me and Him” shot in December which it is currently in Post-Production, and then who knows!
To find a screening of Mad To Be Normal near you see the dedicated Mad To be Normal website.