Director Steven Soderbergh and screenwriter Scott Z. Burns called in an expert when making “Side Effects,” their new twisty, puzzle-box thriller about a depressed young woman and her relationship with two psychiatrists.
Dr. Sasha Bardey, a forensic psychiatrist in private practice in New York and a technical adviser on shows including “Law & Order,” actually helped cook up the story that became “Side Effects.” He met and befriended Burns when the writer was doing research for the controversial TV series “Wonderland,” set in a psychiatric unit based on the ward in New York’s Bellevue Hospital.
Their story involves a depressed young woman (Rooney Mara) who, after a failed suicide attempt, begins seeing a psychiatrist (Jude Law) who consults with her former psychiatrist (Catherine Zeta-Jones) and prescribes a new kind of antidepressant — which has dire side effects.
When “Side Effects” went into production, Bardey was hired to consult on the set.
“Whenever there was a hospital scene, or a psychiatric office scene, or any interaction between Rooney’s character and each of the two psychiatrists, I was there,” says Bardey, recently in San Francisco to promote the film.
The crew also visited Bardey’s office, where they took pictures, scanned diplomas and gathered ideas on how to design a realistic doctor’s office.
“Obviously, it’s a movie. It’s not a documentary. But if they could do it for real, they did it for real,” he says.
Bardey says Law immediately “clued into a very central issue early on, which is boundaries. He asked me a lot of questions, went through a lot of scenarios. You don’t make those decisions on the fly. They’re a product of a lot of education and experience.”
For the film, Burns and Bardey also created a fake drug, Ablixa, which has a fake website.
“We basically had it as a mood-stabilizing antidepressant,” Bardey says. But the rest of the medications referenced in the movie, as well as their side effects, are real.
In his practice, Bardey treats patients with a combination of psychotherapy and medication.
“People need to work to understand their problems and change their lives,” he says. “Taking a pill will get you part of the way, but it’s not going to solve all your problems.”
He adds: “When they walk into my office, I don’t tell them, ‘This is what you do to straighten out your life.’ You have them do the work to figure it out. To some degree this movie does the same thing.”