September 5, 2012

Working through ‘Asylum’ with Joey Pants

By Greta Lieske a few minutes talking to Joe Pantoliano and you’ll soon discover that the prominent actor doesn’t hold anything back and doesn’t mince words.

Pantoliano, or Joey Pants as he’s known to almost everyone, utilizes this same candor in his newest memoir, Asylum: Hollywood Tales from My Great Depression: Brain Dis-Ease, Recovery, and Being My Mother's Son.

In Asylum, Pantoliano explores the stigma attached to what he calls “brain dis-ease” and writes candidly and humorously about his own journey through clinical depression and addiction to “the seven deadlies”—food (overeating or starving); vanity; shopping and shoplifting; success; sex; alcohol; and prescription drugs. Pantoliano writes as if he’s having a conversation with an old friend, and wants to spread it all on the table.

Pantoliano, a native of Hoboken, N.J., who has more than 100 movie, TV and stage credits — and won an Emmy Award for his work on The Sopranos— says he always has the habit of wanting to go back change the flow of his book. So much can change from writing to publishing; he aims to see his books as an evolution of feelings and thoughts.

“Maybe you don’t do that with books, but I like to change my books continually,” Joe tells Renew. “I have these epiphanies as we go along. Since when do artists have to have structure anyway, right?”

His first book, Who’s Sorry Now? The True Story of a Stand-up Guy, was a New York Times bestseller and throughout Asylum, Joe makes reference to situations in Who’s Sorry Now, addressing some gaps he felt were left out by himself.

“[Who’s Sorry Now] was more about my mother than it was about me. I knew there was something broken in me. But in the end of Who’s Sorry Now, when I walked away from that, I realized my mother did what she could. My mother’s stubbornness got the best of her,” Joe explains saying he realized that his mother probably suffered from clinical depression just as he does. It wasn’t until the end of his book-writing process that this notion clicked in his head.

Writing and sharing his story from depression and addictions to recovery, in a one-of-a-kind humorous way, has helped the actor understand himself better. looking back on Asylum, Pantoliano says he would still like to add more changes to the memoir.

“I would like to call my book, My Hollywood Tales through the Great Depression, because I went through the Great Depression. I got through to the other side. I think that’s more specific.”

Joe admits he is not the most average author out there. Trying to conquer his dyslexia to write two books was no easy feat, but the actor says he found ways that writing worked for him, whether it was using a tape recorder and having another person transcribe information, or having a very understanding and helpful editor. He also put his own personal writing-style tag on Asylum, writing some portions as if the reader is scanning a screenplay. 

“My editor, who really saved me with collaboration — she had her hands full because she was dealing with someone who doesn’t write in a traditional fashion. … I thought I was cheating when I brought in a tape recorder to get the information and then at my own speed get the information later. There are people out there that thought I was cheating because I was talking into a tape recorder and having conversations and then having those transcribed so I could whittle big ideas into clearer, singular ideas. People say, ‘That’s not a writer.’ Well, you learn to swallow your medicine. I learned to not argue with the guy that owns the ink.”

With his memoir, Pantoliano says he wants to help end the stigma surrounding “brain dis-ease.” There is no shame in suffering from mental illness, such as clinical depression, he says.

“I was in a state of chronic sadness, a kind of misery that I couldn’t shake out of me. And then I started saying, ‘What’s wrong with me. Why am I feeling this way?’ I had everything I wanted. The doctor said, ‘We can take care of this. This is very common. Millions of people have this. It’s called clinical depression.’”

The passion also moved Pantoliano to create a nonprofit and separate documentary, both titled No Kidding, Me Too! in an effort to shatter the stigma.  

To learn more about NKM2, Pantoliano’s journey to recovery and how it affects him on the job, check out “Tales from the Great Depression with Joey Pants” in the September/October 2012 issue of Renew magazine.


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