Judge SLAPPs Lawsuit Filed Against Christian Slater by His Dad

The decision highlights the success of 'Mr. Robot' and the significant public interest in mental illness.
Peter Kramer/Syfy

Christian Slater didn't defame his father by telling director Lars von Trier he suffers from mental illness in a 2015 interview, a California judge ruled Monday. 

Michael Hawkins, born Thomas Slater, sued his son in February after the Mr. Robot star said Hawkins suffers from manic-depressive schizophrenia. 

Slater moved to strike his father's claim under the California anti-SLAPP statute, which bars lawsuits arising from protected action — in this case speech. Superior Court Judge Suzanne Bruguera found Slater's statements to von Trier for the Interview Magazine story "clearly qualify as protected activity."

To be successful under the anti-SLAPP statute, the statements made must concern an issue of public interest, and Bruguera found multiple issues that give rise to the protection.

First, Slater has a decades-long successful career as an actor and "currently stars in a critically-lauded prestige television drama on a major cable network. Second, von Trier is a Palme d'Or-winning filmmaker. Third, Hawkins himself had a successful theater, film and television career. In short: all three men have attained a degree of fame."

Bruguera makes it clear, though, that not all disputes between famous parties qualify, which leads to the most interesting part of her decision.

In addition to discussing the Slater family's real-life Hollywood drama, which is of public interest in itself, the actor discussed something more meaningful. "The interview also touches upon mental illness and its impact on the family — an issue of 'significant' public interest," Bruguera writes.

That issue is one Slater is also currently tackling on the screen. 

Mr. Robot is not only critically acclaimed (Slater won a Golden Globe for his role) but is also one of a handful of modern series addressing issues arising from mental illness. The show's creator Sam Esmail told Popular Science that Slater's counterpart Elliot, played by Rami Malek, diagnoses himself with schizophrenia in the series pilot. Esmail isn't sure that's an accurate diagnosis. He says the character is based on his own experience with social anxiety and compulsive disorder, as well as friends' experiences with schizophrenia and mild dissociative identity disorder, combined with research from the show's psychological consultant to make the depiction as authentic as possible.

Meanwhile, in reality, Hawkins claims his ex-wife, and former agent, caused him to be blacklisted in the entertainment community and Slater's allegations of mental illness have made it impossible for him to find work. In the lawsuit, which he filed himself, Hawkins claims neither Slater nor his mother had the medical expertise necessary to diagnose him, and if they did, sharing the condition publicly would be an invasion of his privacy. Bruguera, however, found Hawkins would be unlikely to prevail on his claim.

"The Court finds that the foregoing discussion sufficiently establishes that the Defendant's statements were in the public interest, considering his celebrity status, the dramatic content of this aspect of his family relationships, and the underlying issue of mental illness and its effect on the family," Bruguera writes. "This is sufficient to render the subject of his father's mental illness and their relationship or lack of one an issue of public interest."

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