In the documentary No Kidding Me Too, Joe Pantoliano—who directed the film—speaks with people who are affected by mental illness. They tell their stories about how mental illness has affected them and how they have dealt with it.
Doc has bipolar disorder and ADHD. Staff Sgt. Joe Santiago has posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) from being in the Iraq war. A young woman, McKenzie, was a suicidal drug user; and Jordan was a depressed high school student. No Kidding Me Too (NKM2) is also an organization that is combatting the stigma attached to brain disease and mental illness through education and discussion. There are many celebrities on the advisory board, including Matt Dillon, Harrison Ford, and Sopranos cast members Edie Falco and Michael Imperioli.
Pantoliano has been in over 50 films including The Goonies, The Matrix, Memento, and The Fugitive; he may be best-known from his Emmy-winning turn as Ralphie Cifaretto on The Sopranos. He hopes that by bringing the film to Minneapolis he can raise awareness about mental illness.
He’ll be in Minneapolis this Wednesday in support of the film at the Mall of America. Mary Lucia of 89.3 The Current will serve as moderator at the screening along with members of the cast. Professionals working in mental health will also be present at the event.
How do you think this documentary will help others open up about mental illness?
The whole point of what No Kidding Me Too is about as an organization is that we’ve become the most prominent celebrity-based advocacy [organization] for mental disease in the country. We’re helping people become aware of mental illness. The average time span for someone to be diagnosed with a mental disease is something between eight to ten years. [A person with mental illness might be] walking around all that time thinking its someone else’s fault or even your own fault, but when I found it was a disease I felt like I hit the lottery. And I thought, “Oh, you mean it isn’t my fault?” It was fantastic. But then I was discriminated against the first time, [and that’s] the reason why I started NKM2. After I was diagnosed and I was in treatment I got a job, and I was asked all these questions: “Do you have a history of cancer, lung disease, do you smoke, do you drink?” and then when they got to the voluntary question, “Are you on any medication today, if so what do you take?” I told them I take something for my cholesterol because I have a history of heart disease, a baby aspirin, and I was taking the same dosage of an anti-depressant. My lawyer called the next day saying he just received a call from the insurance company stating they wouldn’t insure me because I was on this anti-depressant and therefore if I wanted to be in this movie I would need to sign a waiver in case I had a nervous breakdown or went on a binge and I caused a slowdown or stoppage on the movie, it would be my responsibility and I have to pay. So I asked, “Well, what if I have a heart attack?” And the response was, “If he has a heart attack, we’ll cover his heart, but not his brain.” Up until that moment I didn’t know that my brain was discriminated against as a vital organ and didn’t get the same parity as the other four vital organs in my body and still doesn’t today. I got to know Congressman Jim Ramstad (R-MN) and Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) and it was Jim who introduced NKM2 to Congress. We went there with a coalition of actors—Sara Roemer, Joseph Cross, and Marcia Gay Harden, who I did a movie with about mental illness called Canvas in 2006—and Kelly Kennedy, a reporter for the Army Times who’d written this great book called Blood Brothers. Kelly did an expose on going to Iraq and she spent 13 weeks studying posttraumatic stress disorder and she ended up getting it herself. So this opened up a world to me.
When did you decide to start the NKM2 organization?
We started around January of 2006, right around when Canvas came out. The advocacy group is made up of high-profile folks who are saying that it’s cool to have “dis-ease” and that you can get your life back. If someone had breast cancer and the doctor, after diagnosing it, said to take these pills it would help the cancer into remission, you’d take them. On the other hand, with mental disease you’d come home and throw the pills away because you’re ashamed and yelled at for taking them and being diagnosed with it. It blew my mind how people were being treated with mental disease as a discussion about having it, like you would [have about] erectile dysfunction…that’d be cool. If I could get movie stars doing public service announcements on mental disease that would be great. Mostly, if you’re affected by it you’re dealing with it, and if we can be lighter and treat it by talking about it, that helps. I have what is known as clinical depression and if I don’t identify myself with my “dis-ease” and if I go out there and I have a blue day I’m going run or take an extra yoga course or I eat something healthy, maybe that’s going to help. If none of those things help, I know it’s just going to pass and you just deal with it.
How did you find the subjects to be in the documentary and talk about their mental illnesses?
There are so many people with these amazing stories of recovery with mental disease. The fact that I talk about my uneasiness, it invites other people to talk about theirs. So I was working with Ken Johnson of PhRMA—Pharmaceutical Research & Manufacturers of America—last year, and he was blown away on all of the interviews about the project. The reporters would talk about themselves or about loved ones because we’re all united together over this and it is that albatross that no one wants to look at. I met Jordan when I did a talk in Philadelphia and he came with a couple of questions. I was going with Ramstad the week after to Washington and I was bringing my crew with so invited Jordan to come along. I heard Kelly on NPR talking about her book, Blood Brothers, and that caught my attention. I had my assistant track her down and see if she wanted to meet to me when I was in Washington. It’s strange, but I think the universe needs for this to happen now. I stay out of my own way and it just falls into place—it’s the funniest thing.
With NKM2 you manage to give people a lot to think about after watching the film and reflect on mental illness that maybe some haven’t thought about before.
You know, it was my intention to tell this story in a humorous and entertaining way. I didn’t want it to be sad or have that music you always hear in other documentaries that is very dreary. There are moments in the film which that happens, but there are a lot of laughs in this documentary.
What made you decide to bring the film to the Twin Cities now?
I was here for the Republican National Convention. NKM2 was a non-partisan organization advocating mental well-being, so we went to both [major parties’] conventions and I liked Minnesota. I was on an airplane when I had just started NKM2 and Tim Baker from Baker and Associates [based in Wayzata] sat next to me. He asked if I was working on anything and I told him I was editing a movie about mental disease and it dealt with what happens to a family when mental disease is introduced and he said, “No kidding, me too” and was very interested in the subject matter. I gave him a copy of the film to look at and wrote my contact on the back of his business card after I told him I didn’t have one. He called me after he watched the film that he wanted to help design a business card for me. Someone from Baker and Associates had the idea of bringing this film to the Twin Cities and they thought this would be a great fundraising and awareness event.