26/02/2016 08:24 GMT | Updated 25/02/2017 05:12 GMT

On the Set of David Tennant's New Film 'Mad To Be Normal'

It's a bleak Thursday night in February as I arrived at the set of David Tennant's new movie, Mad To Be Normal.

In the twilight gloom of East Yorkshire, star trailers were being packed up and hauled off site, while the office of RD Laing had enjoyed its last close up.


David Tennant as RD Laing in Mad To Be Normal. Photo: Paul Stephenson.

Laing was a Scottish psychiatrist who wrote extensively about mental illness, especially the experience of psychosis. I was keen to find out more about the man who had piqued Tennant's interest, and compelled writer/director Robert Mullan to make a film about his work at Kingsley Hall, East London in the 1960s.

First stop was Laing's office set where I chatted to producer Phin Glynn.

How hard or easy was it to get a cast like David Tennant and Elisabeth Moss?

"Well the first thing that David said when the project was put to him was that he had always be fascinated by Ronnie (Laing) and he had always been drawn to the idea of playing Ronnie Laing. So it was a role that he had on the cusp of his mind even though he had never expressed it to anyone. When it crossed his desk it was something that immediately stood out. And then after you've cast someone like David, I think it opens a lot of doors."


Producer Phin Glynn. Photo: Roger Crow

"We got Elisabeth cast rather soon afterwards; Lizzie's a rather public fan of David's, so that sort of smoothed that part, then we got very lucky with Michael (Gambon). Then we got even luckier when we were able to add to that with Gabriel (Byrne), so it all came together rather magically, as it does sometimes. Then a lot of the other cast followed, David Bamber and Olivia Poulet. A lot of other wonderful, wonderful actors."

Having interrupted an episode of Pointless, I had a chat with the cast and asked about their characters.


Jerome Holder, director Robert Mullan, Adam Paul Harvey, James Utechin, Tom Richards, Lucie Glynn. Photo: Roger Crow

Lucie Glynn

"My character is called Joan Walker. She's borderline catatonic schizophrenic, so she's almost immobile. She has periods of manicness and hyperactivity."


Mad To Be Normal. Photo: Paul Stephenson

"She's unpredictable and a very childlike character. She's always clutching a teddy bear, sucking her thumb and resorting to a childlike state. Very fun to play. I really enjoyed it."

James Utechin

"I'm playing a guy called Sam who's a longer term resident at Kingsley Hall. He's essentially a mute. Bob (the director) gave me this bit of string to do whatever I want with, so I've used that to convey tension, or if I'm angry... Because I'm not using my words at all.

That's a lot of fun because i'm from a stage background and that gives me a lot of stuff to do with my face, sort of darting back and forth... if the camera's picking any of that up, which I think it is."


String theory of everything - James Utechin - Mad To Be Normal. Photo: Paul Stephenson

Jerome Holder

"My character's name is John Holding. In the film it's classified as him having catatonic schizophrenia, but noone ever really knows why he's going through what he's going through.

"He goes through electro convulsive therapy, so that sort of renders his personality void. He doesn't really say much but he breaks through at the end, eventually."

Adam Paul Harvey

"I play a guy called Dr Paul Zemmell, and Paul is the right hand man to RD Laing. He's the guy actually running the show while Laing's going off being drunk and famous and having a really good time, and is actually the one putting in the work and face to face with all the patients, taking all the stress, without any of the fame. He's essentially one of the only sane people there, including Laing."

Tom Richards

"I'm playing Raymond, who is suffering from drug induced psychosis, but I think he probably had kind of incipient schizophrenic tendencies anyway which have been triggered by that more than anything. He has grandiose delusions; he thinks he's Jesus.

"He's ultimately a very gentle man who's just very frightened basically but can as a result be intimidating; (he) acts pretty strangely in a lot of ways which people can understandably be threatened by."

The man responsible for getting this film off the ground is writer/director Robert Mullan. So why make a film about RD Laing?

"I was interested in psychiatry from a very youthful age because of family experiences and then when I went to university to study psychology, I read the books of RD Laing and then when I became a film maker, first a documentary film maker and feature film maker, I always wanted to write about Ronnie Laing, and that's what happened."


Mad To Be Normal. Photo: Paul Stephenson

"And why I'm interested, because he was a revolutionary figure. Most people these days, if they have some kind of psycho neurotic or psychotic illness, depressive illness, are given highly toxic medication. Some get better, some don't. And what he tried to do was utterly different. He just said 'Leave people alone. Give them somewhere safe to stay and you never know. They might get better.' "

With thanks to the cast and crew of Mad To Be Normal for their help with this blog post. Longer interviews can be found here