‘Saw’ and ‘Insidious’ Screenwriter Leigh Whannell on Dealing with Anxiety
Sure, everybody deals with anxiety, but for others it can be a very serious disorder. Anxiety is not the same thing as fear because fear is more of a feeling about something which is realistically dangerous, and it is an appropriate response to a perceived threat. But anxiety is more about anticipating disaster and excessively worrying about everyday things like health, money, relationships with friends and family or troubles at your job. The problem is many of these worries are irrational, and much of what you fear never becomes a reality. Still, it’s not something you can just flip off like a light switch as those who are saddled with this disorder end up suffering from many physical symptoms like fatigue, insomnia, fidgeting, difficulty concentrating, trouble breathing and nausea among other things. They find themselves unable to control their anxiety, and it can seriously affect how they deal with daily life.
I bring this up because I suffer from anxiety, but I typically don’t talk about it much outside of a doctor’s office. There is a stigma attached to mental disorders in general, and many who suffer from them don’t want to admit they have a problem. Explaining this to others is frustrating because not many have a full understanding of what you’re going through, and the advice you are likely to get is “get over it.”
So, I had the opportunity to speak with Leigh Whannell, an actor and writer who wrote the screenplays for “Saw,” “Dead Silence” and “Insidious,” all of which were directed by James Wan. Whannell was in Los Angeles for the “Insidious: Chapter 2” press junket, and I was lucky enough to have a 1-on-1 interview with him at the Four Seasons Hotel thanks to the website We Got This Covered. Whannell himself suffers from anxiety as well, and I asked him how he dealt with it and if it influenced his writing in any way. Part of me was worried this might seem like too personal a question, but he was actually very open to talking about it.
Leigh Whannell: When I was in my mid-20’s, I was having these physical symptoms. To me I didn’t think it was anxiety, I thought it was a health problem. I was getting these headaches and heart palpitations, and at that age I was too young to understand psychological problems. Especially in Australia, we don’t really have a big therapy culture in the sense that I don’t know if people really address their problems as much as they do here. So, I was very confused, and when a doctor told me that all these things that are happening are because of anxiety, that was hard. I think the way I dealt with it in the end was to chisel away at the elements of my life that were adding to the stress. I was working in a job I didn’t like very much, and I got out of the job. It was hard because no one wants to be unsure where their next paycheck is coming from, but I knew that if I got out of that job that would help so I did that. In terms of influence, it was very influential in the writing of ‘Saw.’ I look at ‘Saw’ now and I realize that it’s not exactly a critically acclaimed film, but a lot of people would maybe see it as a B-movie. But for me, at the time, I didn’t see it that way. It was so meaningful to me because, even though it’s this thriller, I was looking at this character that was dying, and all these anxieties about death really were an influence. I think it can end up being good therapy in a lot of ways. When you get out your subconscious on paper, it’s like a mental sauna. You sweat out all the dark stuff and I think that ‘Saw’ is very much a product of who I was in my early to mid-20s. I think I had a pretty dark nihilistic worldview, hence the movie ‘Saw’ (laughs).
I told Whannell it was great he was able to channel his anxiety into his work as it proved to be beneficial for his health and career overall. As I walked out of the hotel room, he wished me the best of luck in dealing with it as he deeply understood what anxiety was all about, and he also gave me some good advice to follow:
Leigh Whannell: I think it’s similar to a physical health problem in that you need to take steps like meditation or long walks or days where you don’t have to focus on it. You need to carve out time for yourself.
Since the interview, I have started taking a mindfulness class which is a form of meditation that focuses your mind to be more attentive and aware of what your body is going through. Essentially, it gives your brain a much-needed rest and to not judge the thoughts which keep running through your head on a regular basis. I have also sought treatment through therapy and other methods, and all of it has been largely beneficial. I still have a way to go in dealing with my anxiety, but I can honestly say I have made a lot of progress.
I really want to thank Leigh Whannell for his time and for being so open about what he went through while dealing with overwhelming anxiety. Honestly, it looks like he’s feeling great and doing much better than when he was younger. Hearing him talk about this issue and seeing him looking very healthy certainly gives me a lot of hope.