'Beautiful Boy': 4 of the Film's Stars and Their Real-Life Inspirations

9:00 AM 10/12/2018

by Linda Xu

'Beautiful Boy' is based on journalist David Sheff's book, which recounts his struggle with his son's addiction.

Beautiful Boy tells the story of a family torn apart by a son's descent into and recovery from methamphetamine addiction.

Steve Carell and Timothée Chalamet play real-life father and son David and Nic Sheff in the film. Adapted from David Sheff's memoir, Beautiful Boy: A Father's Journey Through His Son's Addiction and directed by Felix Van Groeningen, the movie sets up a picturesque backdrop in Marin County, California. Just before Nic is headed for college, he develops a taste for crystal meth and quickly embarks on a downward spiral — his father stands by him with increasingly waning patience.

The Amazon Studios film, which hits theaters Friday, has garnered reviews praising the performances of Chalamet and Carell. Read on to see the who's in the cast and who their real-life counterparts are.

  • David Sheff, portrayed by Steve Carell

    David Sheff, a journalist who has written for the The New York Times and Rolling Stone, penned the 2008 memoir that inspired Beautiful Boy. The memoir actually originated from a short article Sheff published in the New York Times Magazine titled "My Addicted Son."

    The author has written other books on the subject of addiction, Clean and High, and his journalistic work spans topics from politics to music to technology. He's interviewed artists such as John Lennon and Ai Weiwei and industry figures like Steve Jobs.

    Sheff graduated from the University of California, Berkeley, the same school his son Nic dropped out of during his freshman year.

    Steve Carell, who portrays Sheff in the film, has previously held dramatic roles in films such as The Big Short and Foxcatcher, the latter of which garnered him an Oscar nomination. Carell's Beautiful Boy co-star, Timothee Chalamet, told The Hollywood Reporter, "immediately I felt like I was in the protection of a paternal figure," when speaking about the actor.

    Sheff, a father of three, currently resides in Northern California where the film is set.

  • Nic Sheff, portrayed by Timothee Chalamet

    Beautiful Boy may have inherited its name from David Sheff's memoir, but the film is also based on Nic Sheff's own retelling of his addiction, a book titled Tweak: Growing Up on Methamphetamines.

    In the book, Nic Sheff details his experience with meth, prostitution and a return to rehab in his early 20s. Sheff, now 36, published his story shortly before his father's memoir came out, and they both became best sellers. He also penned a sequel to Tweak called We All Fall Down, in which he speaks about relapses and struggles following the events of the previous book.

    Timothee Chalamet portrays Sheff in Beautiful Boy and has discussed their friendship. Steve Carell, who plays Sheff's father, told THR, "You could only hope that (Chalamet) would be your son. I have so much respect for him, and really care about him as a person." 

    Sheff currently lives in Los Angeles with his wife and served as a writer and producer for Netflix's 13 Reasons Why.

  • Vicki Sheff, portrayed by Amy Ryan

    David Sheff isn't the only journalist in the family — his ex-wife, Vicki Sheff, has written for People and Playboy Magazine and toured with her ex-husband and son following the release of their books.

    Not much has been publicized about Vicki Sheff's life, but her family's memoirs offer a glimpse into her experience. Vicki and David Sheff had joint custody of their son after divorcing when Nic was 5 years old. She lived in Los Angeles while David resided in San Francisco, and Nic would spend his summers and holidays with his mother.

    On her website, Sheff writes that she nearly went mute after witnessing Nic's struggle with addiction and "lamenting her own part in it," though she later found solace in Al-Anon. She now lives in Pacific Palisades, Calif., with her husband.

    Amy Ryan reunited with her former Office co-star Steve Carell to play Sheff in the film.

    "I think it really helped having history with each other and deep friendship and respect," Ryan said in an interview with The Hollywood Reporter of working with Carell. "The relationship in the film, they're a bit more fractured, but they find this common bond and love and step aside and would do anything for their son."

  • Karen Barbour, portrayed by Maura Tierney

    The Affair actress Maura Tierney plays Karen Barbour, David Sheff's second wife and mother of Nic Sheff's two siblings. Barbour is a children's book illustrator and painter whose work has been featured in The New York Times, and she currently lives in Northern California with her family.