Joey Pantoliano raises awareness on mental health

Joe Pantoliano raises awareness on mental health

Although best known for his scene-stealing roles in The Matrix, The Fugitive, and the popular HBO series The Sopranos, Joe Pantoliano isn’t just a celebrated character actor. His latest and perhaps most vital role is that of an activist. Called “Joey Pants” by fans and friends alike, Pantoliano strives to raise social awareness and understanding of mental health through the work of his non-profit, No Kidding, Me Too! (NKM2). His efforts have spun the non-profit into a documentary of the same name, which addresses the challenges of mental health at both a global and at a very personal level. Pantoliano recently took some time from touring with the film to chat with ABILITY Magazine’s Chet Cooper about what the film and mental illness mean in his own day-to-day life.

Chet Cooper: Congratulations on all of your success with the film and the non-profit. I have to ask, who came up with the name “No Kidding, Me Too”?

Joe Pantoliano: I had produced and starred in a movie called Canvas, about the effect on a family when someone is diagnosed with a mental disease. And when I would get on airplanes, my fans would always say, “Hey, Joey, how are you? What are you up to? What are you working on? What can I see you in?” So l’d tell them about this movie and what it was about, and invariably, people would say, “No kidding? Me too!” or “You know, my brother, my mother, no kidding, me, too. How could I get a copy of the movie?” I’ve come to understand that this mental disease that occasionally lives inside of me is, for many people, the rule, not the exception. When we made the movie, we learned that one in four Americans are affected by a mental uneasiness and four out of five within the family nucleus are affected by the family member’s uneasiness.

Cooper: Interesting. I haven’t heard it described that way: “uneasiness.”

Pantoliano: I came up with that, actually, because I don’t think I have an illness as much as I have a sort of dis-ease, or a lack of ease. I’ve always been looking for peace of mind, for some kind of serenity depicted in commercials I watch on television or stories that lead me to think I might find that someday. We use a quote in our film: “Abandon all hope for better pasts.” What I’m trying to do, I’m trying to regulate my own sanity on a daily basis by learning to live with unresolved feelings. My feelings aren’t always true. My feelings are not something that I should be invested in or believe all of the time. And this realization is as a result of years of cognitive therapy with my psychiatrist, of taking antidepressant medications that have changed and enhanced my way of life by producing the dopamine and serotonin and norepinephrine that my own physical chemistry doesn’t produce in my brain.

Cooper: Tell me what your plan is for this film.

Pantoliano: Well, it’s been bought by WNET, Channel 13, and will be aired hopefully nationwide at the end of April, or possibly at the beginning of May, since May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I also know that Amazon has a 90-day exclusive on it. The general idea is just to get people to watch this movie and see that they aren’t alone—that there are so many strengths in the very things we are culturally taught are weaknesses.

Cooper: I loved that the movie discussed that something as simple as changing your environment or using music or going outside for a walk can affect one’s mood more substantially than some medications.

Pantoliano: Yeah! I just watched this documentary on PBS a couple of weeks ago, called The Emotional Life. They’ve confirmed that even if you move a muscle, you change your thoughts.

One of the things our own film tries to look at, for example, is the reality that electroshock therapy is benign—it’s really not at all as dramatic as it’s made out to be in the movies. I used that sequence from One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, you know, when McMurphy gets jolted with the electricity. The point being that the movies—and I am from the movies and am influenced by the movies—send us the message that if it’s in a movie it must be true.

So in this sense, Hollywood has either glorified, glamorized, romanticized, or demonized mental illness. What we’re trying to do in this documentary is just show that there is life after being diagnosed. We’re a cause. We’re a movement. And we’re using what we know how to do.

What I know how to do is tell a story. Instead of writing a book, I can show you. I can show you these kids telling us what mental illness is really like, and I can show you that there is a solution. You can feel better. It’s as simple as taking a walk. It’s as simple as moving a muscle.

Cooper: What kind of a challenge does this project present to you, as a public figure with that mental “unease,” as you put it?

Pantoliano: My feeling is that our movement, this movement, needs people like us. We need people who have the courage to put their images on the line. We were invited by the US Army to show this documentary in Iraq, and when the GIs saw this, they identified with the people who were in the film. And with me. And some of them said, “You had the courage to talk about your own disease and that gives me the courage to be open and honest.” Because the theme really is that you are only as sick as your secret. And science now tells us that the longer we maintain depression inside of us, it becomes a part of our brain makeup, whatever you want to call that.

I’m dyslexic myself and I have attention deficit disorder. And I want to encourage people to know that it’s okay to have these uneasy feelings. We want kids who are six years old, seven years old, to know that if there’s something going on inside you that’s giving you stress, it’s cool to talk about it. Just as if you have a splinter in your thumb and you take it to your mom. Or if you’ve got a tick bite and you see a circle and you know it’s time to tell the nurse. We will be saving millions of kids the heartache that comes with this disease. I mean, look at me: I’m 55 years old, and it’s only been three to four years since I’ve been diagnosed, after having lived with this disease my entire life. My entire life!

Now, since I’ve been in therapy, I’m going back into my past, and I’m realizing, “Oh, yeah, that was a nervous breakdown when I was 21. Jesus, my mother was bipolar. I do the same thing!”.... continued in ABILITY Magazine

ABILITY Magazine
Articles in the Virgina Madsen Issue; Humor — Livin’ on a Prayer; Harkin — A Step Toward Health Reform; VSA — A Gallery of Talent; Rudy Garcia-Tolson — I Am Ironman; Ashley’s column — Maintaining My Edge; Bad Boys — EEOC Tackles Job Discrimination; Assistive Technology — Suzanne Robitaille; The Eyes Have it — A Sneak Peek at Blindness; Joey Pants — No Kidding... Him Too!; Mark Goffeney — There’s No Business Like Toe Business; Haiti — Rebuilding an Accessible Future;Michael Roman — Faster Than the Speed of Pain; Endocrine Disruptors — The Dirt on Pollution; Madsen Women — Two Women Like That; Josh Sundquist — A Man in Uniform; Post Surgery Guide — A Patient Doctor; ABILITY's Crossword Puzzle; Events and Conferences... subscribe

2nd interview: Joey-Pants-Interview

Excerpts from the Virgina Madsen Issue: Feb/Mar 2010

Virgina Madsen and Elaine Madsen — Interview

Joey Pants — No Kidding... Him Too!

Post Surgery Guide — A Patient Doctor

Mark Goffeney — There’s No Business Like Toe Business

Rudy Garcia-Tolson I Am Ironman

Assistive Technology Suzanne Robitaille

Josh Sundquist A Man in Uniform

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