In a passage in The Reenactments, Nick Flynn recounts introducing Robert De Niro to his father. De Niro played Nick’s father Jonathan in a recent movie based on Nick’s 2004 memoir, Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. Jonathan doesn’t seem all that impressed by his movie double. He goes off into some of his own tales, then later asks De Niro, “So you do a little acting?” The first time Nick tries to show his father the finished movie, Jonathan falls asleep.
At the Strand on Thursday night, Nick read from The Reenactments and spoke with moderator Christopher Bollen (Interview Magazine) about the strangeness of seeing his life imitated by actors like De Niro, Julianne Moore, and Paul Dano in “Being Flynn.” And not just his life, but some of the most painful parts: his mother’s suicide when he was fifteen, and his father’s 24-year absence, capped with a chance reunion at the homeless shelter Nick worked at in the 1980’s. (From Nick’s excerpts, it seems his father still lives in a shelter.)
The Reenactments is split into three parts, and the other two move beyond the movie to explore other aspects of memory and imitation: a section of neuroscience, specifically experiments with mirrors that relieve phantom limb pain, and a section on the Glass Flowers exhibit—a 50-year project a father and son undertook in the late 1800s, to make glass versions of all the flowers in the world.
After reading, Nick spoke with Christopher (with his trademark humor and sincerity, which struck me at a 2011 reading) about his time on set: “I don’t think I was supposed to go to set. But I did, for months.” He and the director Paul Weitz had already discussed the script—all 30 drafts of it—but Nick was able to offer advice like what homeless shelters are like, and what it would be like to actually sleep outside every night.
Nick spoke about forming relationships with the actors over the seven years it took the film to get greenlit (it came out last March): Talking with Julianne Moore on the phone about what pills his mother took. Meeting Paul Dano at a cafe in their mutual neighborhood, and finding himself ordering whatever Paul ordered (“I never order meatloaf sandwiches! Why am I doing this? He should eat what I eat!”).
Still, melding the actors and characters was a case of cognitive dissonance. Nick calls himself/Dan a “white space” on screen. And as for seeing his deceased mother return (at least for a few days, as Julianne, to shoot), Nick said: “It was exciting to meet her, but she dies the next day.”