David Harewood: ‘I thought I’d have another breakdown filming BBC psychosis documentary’

The Homeland star reveals he almost had a mental breakdown while filming his upcoming BBC2 film for Mental Health Awareness Week

Programme Name: David Harewood: Psychosis and Me - TX: n/a - Episode: n/a (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: David Harewood at the Queen Elizabeth Hospital, Birmingham  David Harewood - (C) Films of Record - Photographer: Sebastian Rabbas

When actor David Harewood decided to retrace the events that led up to his psychotic breakdown 30 years ago, he had no idea that unearthing the past would lead him to the edge of another breakdown.

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But that’s exactly what happened during the filming of his upcoming BBC2 documentary, David Harewood: Psychosis and Me, in which the former Homeland star revisits the hospital where he was sectioned aged 23 – an event he struggles to remember.

There’s a moment in the film when, it’s clear when I get to the hospital, the Whittington Hospital in Archway, I had completely buried the memory of being hospitalised. And I was very, very emotional. I actually thought during the filming I was going to have another breakdown. It was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to do,” Harewood said during a BBC Mental Health Awareness Week event.

In an exclusive interview with RadioTimes.com, Harewood revealed that he was forced to take a day off filming.

Asked about the specific events that made him believe he was at risk, Harewood said that after his triumphant stint as goalkeeper during 2018’s Soccer Aid match, he returned to filming “exhausted” and “straight back into visiting hospitals, seeing old people who were clearly not coping”.

“All of it just got really on top of me. I got back to the hotel, and I just didn’t feel right. Actually on the drive down I suddenly realised — a lorry passed me and I was like, I was doing like 30 miles an hour on the motorway. Got to the hotel, I couldn’t sleep, really up all night. I don’t know why I couldn’t sleep but I just couldn’t. I just flicked through Twitter.”

David Harewood: Psychosis and Me (BBC Pictures)
David Harewood: Psychosis and Me (BBC Pictures)

Harewood came across a news story about the Soccer Aid match that had “regurgitated” his past quotations about his breakdown .

“Some sub-editor had found the mental health piece I’d done, chopped out all the sensitive stuff, and just gone ‘England, goalkeeper, he’s had a mental breakdown!’,” Harewood told RadioTimes.com.

“Just really insensitive. And it really scared me. And threw me. I just called up the producers, incensed and angry, and I was really on edge. Because someone had tweeted it, I was just scared that it had gone out in the ether.

“We did cancel the day’s filming. But next day I just got on with it. But that was the only time I thought, [it’ll happen] again.”

Harewood, who currently stars in the hit US series Supergirl, first spoke publicly about his breakdown on Twitter on World Mental Health Awareness Day 2017. In the documentary, he states that the breakdown was never something he was “ashamed” of. Indeed, Harewood told RadioTimes.com that he believes the experience has made him a better actor.

“I certainly think, and particularly since the breakdown, I just have no shame. In Homeland, literally I’d never done an American accent before. The day I got Homeland, I think I was acting sixteen days later. Huge show, big people. I think having that no fear, that fearlessness, has assisted me,” Harewood said. “It’s helped me just not to have any fear to do the work, the job that I do.

“I also think that the mania – having gone through the experience, it gives you an enormous amount of insight into human nature and people, myself. And that in turn has allowed me to interpret characters,” he added.

“You pretend to be somebody else, and I find that very easy, and I think there must be some gene that allows me to do that authentically that is kind of linked quite closely to that part of the brain that goes, ‘You’re not who you think you are’.”

Having starred in various big budget series, including Homeland in which he played CIA boss David Estes, Harewood is, however, wary of the effects of fame and social media trolling on young people.

Speaking after the recent deaths by suicide of two former Love Island contestants, Harewood said of reality television: “I certainly think that all of these programmes should have a mental health consultant, somebody who is there to talk them though how their life is going to change.”

On the sudden fame contestants experience, he added: “It might be quite thrilling for a week or two, maybe even longer. You might really enjoy it, but it comes with a price. And I don’t think people really understand what that price is. It’s not an easy thing to deal with, and I really think they do have a responsibility to counsel these particularly young people. It’s a really strange world out there. 23-year-olds getting Botox, and liposuction, and trying to fit in and be right and be perfect.

“There is no such thing as being perfect. And I think imperfection is what life’s all about. I think we have to embrace that. But somehow we’re trying to attain this ideal. And it’s really dangerous. It’s really unhealthy.

“All these reality TV shows have a responsibility to look after their contestants, and I don’t think they’re doing enough of that.”

Does he think reality shows could potentially prove dangerous to vulnerable contestants? “Completely, completely. And you’ll never know if they’re vulnerable because they look supremely confidant – they’re young, they’re gorgeous, they’re good looking.”

Harewood concludes: “It’s all an idea. Social media, you can be a star in your own world, and it’s just dangerous.

“People can be really vulnerable.”

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David Harewood: Psychosis and Me will air on Thursday 16th May at 9pm, BBC2