In Painkiller, Netflix’s new opioid epidemic drama, West Duchovny isn’t portraying an actual individual. However in a way, she is. Her function of Shannon Schaeffer, an keen younger gross sales rep for Purdue Pharma, is fictionalized however primarily based on the actual experiences of representatives who offered OxyContin to medical doctors. What’s additionally actual is the hurt they had been complicit in. On this multifaceted ensemble saga—which follows a variety of views, from former Purdue Pharma president Richard Sackler (Matthew Broderick) to an injured mechanic battling habit (Taylor Kitsch)—Shannon affords a newcomer’s look contained in the billion-dollar enterprise that destroyed 1000’s of lives. And it’s not fairly.
Duchovny (sure, David is her dad; Téa Leoni is her mother) was fittingly forged. As an up-and-coming actor, she imbued the character along with her personal curiosity, despite the fact that Shannon’s state of affairs is much extra excessive. A contemporary recruit from school, Shannon is naive and impressionable; she masters manipulation ways shortly when Britt (Dina Shihabi), a extra skilled rep, mentors her. For instance, scenes in Painkiller present, as Patrick Radden Keefe reported in The New Yorker, that “Purdue instructed gross sales representatives to guarantee medical doctors—repeatedly and with out proof—that ‘fewer than one p.c’ of sufferers who took OxyContin grew to become addicted.” This stat proved to be dangerously unsuitable. Nonetheless, Shannon is eliminated sufficient to clock when one thing feels unethical. The remainder of her colleagues are in too deep.
“That was an enormous a part of why I needed to do her justice,” Duchonvy says of Shannon. “I feel that she’s a extremely good individual, and I additionally was tremendous drawn to her energy and her work ethic and her tenacity. And he or she needs so badly to do effectively, and I feel that’s actually honorable. And likewise, she wasn’t simply that. There are ugly moments, and there are uncomfortable moments, and also you’re dissatisfied by her on the similar time.”
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Duchovny herself was “pressured to reconcile” with the “psychological gymnastics” Shannon went by to persuade herself that she’s doing good on the planet (and that her massive bonus checks are justified). “I simply assume it’s such a lesson within the tales, and narratives, that we make as much as let ourselves fall asleep at evening.”
Duchovny didn’t assume she would get forged. Even when she acquired her audition, she doubted she’d land the job “as a result of I had actually nothing to indicate for myself at that time, and I used to be like, it simply feels out of the realm of risk for me.” After sending in a tape, she anticipated a number of callbacks (“which I’d been by earlier than to no avail,” she admits), however director Pete Berg invited her to lunch, throughout which he picked her mind concerning the character. Duchovny got here ready with concepts; she was “so obsessed” with Shannon. Per week later, the function was hers. “I used to be with my mother, and my managers known as me to inform me, and I used to be heaving, I used to be hyperventilating,” she says.
That telephone name was in June of 2021, about two months earlier than the shoot. She labored along with her appearing coach Warner Loughlin to “really feel safe within the character,” however she strategically held again from analysis. (The script is tailored from the guide Ache Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic by Barry Meier and the New Yorker article “The Household That Constructed an Empire of Ache” by Patrick Radden Keefe.) Barring what she’d heard concerning the Sackler household and the opioid disaster within the information, she needed Shannon’s discoveries, and discomfort, to be as real as her personal.
“I knew that there was materials on the market that I might have a look at, and I purposely selected to not, as a result of my character is studying as she’s going, and I felt like, to have the evils behind my thoughts from the start—I’d simply moderately not. Quite a lot of the nitty-gritty details that I used to be studying by the scenes had been so stunning, which felt actually cool to have the ability to have a extra genuine response.”
It was solely afterwards that she dove into the supply materials and different knowledge. “The truth of the state of affairs is so unbelievable, and the extra you discover out about it, the extra you be taught concerning the particulars, the extra unbelievable it turns into. So, it’s fascinating in a extremely horrific manner.”
Whereas Painkiller dramatizes and even satirizes components of the opioid disaster, actual individuals carry it again right down to earth. Every episode begins with a disclaimer learn by the relations of actual victims who died on account of OxyContin habit and abuse. They then go on to commemorate their family members with photographs and private tales, typically by tears. Duchovny says these scenes weren’t within the script; she didn’t know they’d be added till she watched the episodes herself. “It’s an unavoidable reminder that that is taking place to actual individuals.”
And if anybody else was going to remind viewers that, it’s Uzo Aduba’s Edie Flowers, a no-B.S. lawyer on the U.S. lawyer’s workplace tirelessly investigating OxyContin. Duchovny fawned on the prospect of sharing scenes with the Emmy winner. “I used to be so scared, and she or he gave me no purpose to be scared as a human being. She’s so heat and so beautiful, however I simply have a lot respect for her as an actor that clearly appearing along with her, [I was] so intimidated. And I feel it, fortunately, works for my character, as a result of a lot of the scenes that I’ve along with her, that’s the dynamic.”
A Netflix sequence is a significant turning level for Duchovny, who beforehand appeared in SyFy’s The Magicians and Hulu’s Saint X earlier this yr. Trying forward, she hopes to play “feminine characters which can be true to the human expertise” and “that every one their complexities are taken significantly, they usually’re onerous to determine.” Her many dream collaborators embrace Sam Rockwell and Meryl Streep.
Given her identify, Duchovny is clearly no stranger to the leisure enterprise, however she didn’t assume she would observe in her dad and mom’ appearing footsteps. When she would go to them on units as a child, she and her brother cared extra concerning the junk meals that they weren’t allowed to eat of their wholesome family. “We might simply at all times raid craft service after which go to the trailer, and simply eat,” she laughs, seated within the attic of her mother’s Connecticut dwelling. “Possibly I watched a take right here and there, however that was so not attention-grabbing.”
She was contemplating going pre-med earlier than turning into an English main at Brown College, from which she graduated in December. However a play she did earlier than school put her onto the entire appearing factor. “I stayed so far-off from appearing for many of my life…I did a play proper earlier than school only for enjoyable and was so confused. I’ve by no means felt this manner about something. I by no means felt so effortlessly enthusiastic about one thing. I had all this stuff and endeavors that I used to be pursuing, but it surely didn’t really feel pure in the best way that it did once I acted. My dad and mom had been shocked. They had been like, didn’t see it coming.”
Then got here the problem of juggling faculty and dealing as an actor—“it was positively robust to steadiness the 2.” Duchvony was at Brown when she filmed each Painkiller and Saint X. “I used to be taking diminished course masses, which is why it took me so lengthy [to graduate], however I might return to my trailer and do some work on my essay after which go to work. It was traumatic, however I feel it makes it extra fulfilling to be like, ‘Oh, I did that.’”
In fact, it helps to have veteran actors within the household for steering, and Duchovny is aware of how fortunate she is. “It’s such a privilege to have two individuals which were within the trade for therefore lengthy to seek the advice of and ask questions,” she says, carrying a button-down handed down from her father. “And it’s scary. It’s a scary job, and so, to have individuals who understand it so effectively, it’s very nice, however they completely keep out of my enterprise and let me do my very own factor…” Mother and pa are there for recommendation when she wants it, she says, “however they’re actually respectful of letting me determine it out alone.”
One factor she has found out is that she needs to maintain going. “I really feel I’m new, and I’m so hungry for extra, and I simply need to maintain working and with the ability to honor these tales that actually make individuals really feel.”
This interview was carried out earlier than the SAG-AFTRA strike.
Erica Gonzales is the Senior Tradition Editor at ELLE.com, the place she oversees protection on TV, motion pictures, music, books, and extra. She was beforehand an editor at HarpersBAZAAR.com. There’s a 75 p.c likelihood she’s listening to Lorde proper now.