-- Acclaimed movie producer and director Adam Shankman is best known for his upbeat, family-friendly movies, including “Hairspray,” “A Walk to Remember” and “The Pacifier,” but behind the scenes, Shankman said he spent years grappling with substance abuse and self-loathing.
“My work is so sunny, it’s so happy, it’s so hopeful and I look at it and I’m like, ‘Who did that?’” Shankman said during an interview with ABC News’ Dan Harris. “It’s like a magic trick … it’s almost like my real self was coming out and my mind wasn’t controlling it in some way.”
Shankman sat down with Harris for his live-stream podcast show, “10% Happier with Dan Harris” to talk about his childhood, his struggle with addiction and how he found meditation.
“I have sort of a morning ritual and an evening ritual where I sort of make sure I’m starting my day with a sense of gratitude and trying to look at everything that is positive and to basically, sort of, say to myself, ‘I am lucky to be alive, I’m lucky to be alive, and I have a lot to be grateful for,’” Shankman said.
Watch the full interview in the video player and download the "10% Happier" podcast on iTunes.
Growing up in Los Angeles, Shankman, who is openly gay, said he remembers being “an incredibly happy kid” who loved musicals. But when he was 3 years old, he said he told his parents he thought he wanted to be a girl, not understanding what that meant, and his parents took him to meet with a doctor who was doing a study on sexual identity to get some more information. Unbeknownst to his parents at the time, Shankman said he was placed in conversion therapy.
“Both my parents were open-minded, but again they were very young and they wanted to make sure that I was going to be well-adjusted. It wasn’t like they didn’t want me to be gay. It was just that they wanted to make sure that I was going to be OK,” Shankman said. “For a very long period of time, I was being given by my parents, who didn’t know what was going on, to this man who was basically telling me I was a defective human being.”
Having that experience at such an early age, Shankman said, led to years of trying to sort through feelings of self-hatred and shame, even into adulthood when he had an established movie career. He joked that while he was dealing with this internal pain, his most successful projects were about “hope and fun and not settling and fighting for yourself and doing the right thing.”
“And yet I had this horrible darkness in me that ended up manifesting itself in a lot of drinking and using,” Shankman said.
“The weird thing that’s always been in the relationship between me and my work … all of my fantasy life and all of that, and all of my creation and all of that, ended up not only not being killed but became the reason I’m successful,” he continued. “I’m still working on my relationship with my success because any time anyone congratulations me on anything I wince…. I just feel a sense of shame.”
Shankman said he first turned to alcohol when he was teen and then later drugs as a way to quiet the “ugly voice” in his head, and despite having a successful career in Hollywood, his self-esteem remained low. It was when “Rock of Ages,” another Broadway musical turned movie directed by Shankman, flopped at the box office in 2012 that Shankman said he entered a “really dark” place.
“That’s when the daily drinking started and a lot of isolating and I saw myself as such a loser,” he said. “My whole identity was enshrouded in disappointment, and yet it was something that I thought was coming for a long time. So then I got proven wrong the bad way.”
The following year, in 2013, Shankman said he checked himself into a month-long rehab program, and he has been sober ever since. It was in rehab that he discovered meditation.
“It [meditation] was recommended as I got sober,” he said. “I’m a kind person … and I’m a real good friend, and real good son and all of that, but I just had so much self-loathing and it just started to evaporate when I started doing these practices.”
Today, he prefers guided meditation and now practices every morning for 15-20 minutes and when he has breaks in his day.
As for what’s next for him, Shankman said he has a few new movie projects in the works. He also has a new book, a young adult romantic mystery novel called “Girl About Town,” in stores now.