Love & Other Drugs: The Rise of Big Pharma

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Edward Zwick is the director of “Love & Other Drugs,” starring Jake Gyllenhaal and Anne Hathaway. The film, which surrounds the pharmaceutical industry, is being released by Twentieth Century Fox on November 24.

LOVE & OTHER DRUGS is set in the late 90s, a moment, says Zwick, “when the fabric of American life changed forever” because for the first time, drugs became commercialized, via ads in magazines and on television.  Drugs were now being sold directly to consumers.  At the top of the sales and advertising charts was a little blue pill called Viagra, a new treatment for erectile dysfunction.  Viagra became a phenomenon was that pure gold for the company marketing and selling it, Pfizer, and for its legions of sales reps crisscrossing the country extolling its virtues.  Viagra’s blockbuster sales trigger Jamie’s ascension to the top of the heap as a Big Pharma sales rep.

Revolutionary commercialization

“The commercialization of drugs is commonplace now, but then it was revolutionary,” Zwick explains.  “I think that phenomenon bespeaks deeper cultural trends that are part of LOVE & OTHER DRUGS’ story about a guy who wants his piece of the greatest accumulation of wealth in modern memory, and the way he’s going to get it is to partake in something that is happening for the first time in American culture—the selling of these drugs.  Then, because of Jake’s relationship with Maggie, he goes deeper into the world of medicine and drugs and the different strands of the story knit together and, I hope, resonate off each other.”

Cutting-edge marketing tactics

Jamie Reidy, author of the film’s source material, has first-hand experience with the pharmaceutical industry’s cutting-edge marketing tactics.  After spending time on the set of LOVE & OTHER DRUGS, Reidy was impressed by the film’s focus and attention to detail. “The production design of the medical offices was spot-on – and Jake and Oliver look exactly like real drug reps,” Reidy says. “A moment when I noticed that something was a bit off, like when Oliver was carrying a briefcase into the office – a person of Bruce’s position would never carry a briefcase – I mentioned to Ed [Zwick] and on the very next take the briefcase was gone.”

Gyllenhaal and Hathaway research their roles

To help prepare Gyllenhaal for the role, Reidy met with the actor several times before production. “Jake was great about asking advice on how a drug rep would handle certain situations,” says Reidy.  “For example, he didn’t understand how a rep could walk in cold into an office and approach the receptionist to try and leave samples or talk to a doctor. I told him it is just like being in a bar and walking up to a woman you don’t know. We talked about the lean-in –  that when you walk to the reception counter, you don’t just stand there, you lean in, just like you would when you talk to a woman at a bar.”

While Gyllenhaal consulted with Reidy, Anne Hathaway received advice from another real warrior in the drug wars, Lucy Roucis, a professional actor with Parkinson’s disease (diagnosed when she was in her late twenties) who now works in Denver with an acting troupe called PHAMALY (the Physically Handicapped Actors and Musical Artists League, Inc.).  In the film, Roucis plays a comedian with Parkinson’s whose shtick at a convention for Parkinson’s patients helps Maggie begin to come to terms with her condition.