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Modern Love, the popular New York Times column turned Amazon anthology series, premieres today (October 18) with a full lineup of talented stars—Tina Fey, Dev Patel, Julia Garner, and Andy Garcia among them—and each 30-minute story takes viewers on a journey of self-discovery and love.
The first episode alone nearly wrecked me, but it’s the series’s third, starring Anne Hathaway as a bipolar woman navigating her career and relationships, that is most striking. At times it even feels like a Broadway musical thanks to the song and dance numbers (there’s even a Mary Tyler Moore theme song homage). But it’s the overarching message about mental health that’s the most important takeaway.
The episode—inspired by author Terri Cheney’s Modern Love column “Take Me As I Am, Whoever I Am,” as well as her memoir, Manic—follows Lexi, a brilliant and charismatic attorney who’s been hiding her bipolar diagnosis from friends and colleagues. “Anne conveyed the charisma of mania beautifully,” Cheney says of the performance. Cheney knows firsthand how difficult it is to get right on screen. “Mania is often charming, but depression is another story. It’s sometimes an off-putting experience and very hard to describe or portray. Anne captured it in a way that not only showed its anguish, but also moved the viewer to empathy.”
At first Lexi appears to have a rewarding and glamorous life: She’s got a fantastic wardrobe, a spacious apartment, and a great career. She can flirt over produce and get a promising date in minutes. But then her depression plows through like a tornado. “I’ve seen people like Lexi, I have people in my life like Lexi, and I love people like Lexi,” Hathaway tells Glamour. “But I haven’t really seen someone like her ever on screen. So the idea that I was asked to represent someone who maybe hasn’t seen themselves on screen and could see themselves in this was exciting for me.”
To prep for the role, Hathaway spoke at length with Cheney and used her memoir as a guide. “I just let Terri’s story be my story,” she explains. “She took me through the physicality of what being manic feels like, how heavy objects become when you’re in this state of being.”
“I have people in my life who I love so deeply who have received various mental health diagnoses, and that’s not the whole story of who they are.”
Cheney hopes viewers will take away a greater understanding of how complicated mental illness can be and recognize when loved ones might be struggling. “When you think of the illness in terms of a familiar face, it’s less frightening and easier to understand,” she says. “That’s why having someone as famous as Anne portray a woman with bipolar disorder is so terrific: It’s an antidote to shame.”
It’s also a reason why it was so important for Hathaway to tell Cheney’s story. “I have people in my life who I love so deeply who have received various mental health diagnoses, and that’s not the whole story of who they are,” Hathaway explains. “But in many cases, because of an intolerant society, that’s the space of fear they’re kept in.”
In particular, the final scene aims to change that. Lexi finally opens up about her condition, and in doing so she finds relief. It’s a powerful moment for the character—and for Anne Hathaway. “It’s my hope that people watch that scene and realize we all feel that way at times,” the actor says. “We all walk around sometimes feeling like we have an elephant on our chest, but we’re not alone. And we’re not less than because of that. We’re not unlovable because of that.”
As for Cheney, she hopes it provides a teaching tool for those who don’t know how to respond to someone going through a difficult period. “After a lifetime of living with a mental illness, I’ve discovered that the most helpful thing someone can say to me when I’m suffering is, ‘Tell me where it hurts,’” she explains. “I don’t want advice. I don’t want to be cheered up. I just want to be listened to and truly heard. [Editor's note: Tell Me Where It Hurts is the title of Cheney's next book.] The pain is much more bearable when I’m allowed to open up and share it.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour