Selma Blair could only speak for half an hour in our first session. It was as long as she trusted her brain and her body to cooperate – longer, and she feared that her attention might start to wander or her speech might start to jam. “We have a responsibility in the knowledge that smaller points will be clearer,” she said.
For Blair, she is not a single day free from the effects of multiple sclerosis, an autoimmune disease that she became aware of in 2018 but which she believes began attacking her central nervous system years ago.
This Friday in September was particularly tough: she said she woke up in her Los Angeles home feeling “terribly bad,” but she found that being with people helped ease her discomfort. Blair said she had good conversations earlier in the day and that she was looking forward to ours.
So if she needed to take a break during this interview, she said with a gleeful cluck, “it just means you’re bothering me.”
The same unbridled sharpness persists in all of her interactions, scripted or spontaneous, with cameras on or off, even as she shares her story of the time she went to The Tonight Show wearing a strappy top that she accidentally pulled over her side. This is a story she proudly told me five minutes after our introduction on a video call, while her fingers formed a swirl of her cropped, bleached blonde hair. (Explaining her choice of style, she burst out in a harsh Ethel Merman-style voice and sang, “I want to be shiksha.”
But Blair’s outspokenness has come to mean something more in the three years since she publicly announced her MS diagnosis. Now, whether she posts personal diaries on social media or appears on the red carpet, she realizes that she is the spokesperson who has the opportunity to tell a wider audience about what she and other MS sufferers are experiencing.
This is the philosophy of maximum openness, which she develops, appearing as the hero of the new documentary “Meet Selma Blair”. The film, directed by Rachel Flute, is an unwavering tale of Blair’s life with MS and the stem cell transplant she underwent to treat the disease in 2019. (The documentary will be released October 15 and begins October 21 on Discovery +.)
As Blair explained, she hoped the film would be meaningful to viewers who feel anxious and unsure whether they have a chronic illness or not.
“This is my human condition,” she said, “and everyone has their own, but I think that we are united by the feeling of loneliness or fear when big changes take place in our life. It was not at all a vain project, and I really love vanity. “
For Blair, this documentary is just one part of a larger effort to understand herself – to determine how much of her personality has been shaped by her illness, and what will remain or change now as she is treated for it.
“If it happened when I was 20, when I was trying to start a career and saving a few shekels, I would be upset,” she said. “I’m old enough. I meet a completely different person, and I am not ashamed. “
Recalling her upbringing in suburban Michigan, Blair described herself as a seven-year-old who carried her copy of The Doctors’ Handbook, a huge tome on prescription drugs, and wondered why she was in constant pain and fatigue. and unpredictable mood swings.
These difficulties persisted into adulthood: the pain intensified, especially after the birth of her son Arthur in 2011; she had vision problems and involuntary contractions of the neck muscles.
Until she was diagnosed, Blair said she couldn’t understand why her symptoms changed depending on the situation. “I can walk better in my house, but from the outside it looks like a sand pit,” she said. “Under certain lighting conditions, my speech becomes choppy, although my larynx is fine.”
“It never occurred to me that there was a traffic jam in my brain,” she said.
In the flood of attention that followed Blair’s disclosure of her diagnosis, she was introduced to Flute, and they agreed to begin filming a documentary a few days before Blair went to Chicago for a stem cell transplant.
Flute said that Blair did not exercise any editorial control over the film, adding that efforts will only succeed if the actress “is willing to show the world what really happened – that brutal intimacy and honesty that you simply cannot see – and she was completely open to it. “
Flute, who has alopecia universalis, an autoimmune condition that causes hair loss, said she felt a special bond with Blair during filming.
“Being a bald woman in this world has given me unique access to a certain kind of emotional pain,” said Flute. “It doesn’t scare me anymore, and I feel uniquely qualified to hold space for another person who is experiencing it.”
But not everyone in Blair’s life immediately liked the fact that she was involved in both film and stem cell transplantation. Sarah Michelle Gellar, Cruel Intentions co-star and longtime friend of Blair, said she feared the treatment, which was accompanied by an intensive chemotherapy regimen.
“I just felt it was so risky,” Gellar said. “And her attitude was: yes, I’m coping right now, but in 10 years I may not be, and I will not be a candidate for this treatment. It was now or never. Now or never – a good definition of Selma. “
Gellar was also not sure about the film’s project: “I am a very private person, I can hardly talk about going to the supermarket,” she said, “but she understood Blair’s position: she felt that it was important for her son.
As Gellar recalled, “She said,” God forbid, if I don’t, Arthur has a whole video diary of what I went through. ” He will never have to wonder if I gave up? He will know how I fought to be close to him. “
For Parker Posey, Blair’s friend and colleague for nearly 20 years, the decision to make a documentary was as legitimate a form of expression as any other artistic endeavor.
“This is the only thing we have – your acting life, this is all the materials, this is the whole story,” Posey said. “Am I going to land in something that gives me meaning, away from the little things of most entertainment?”
Posey added: “Anyone who can find purpose in creating what they have to create and live their life with courage is art. This is a triumph. “
Blair, for her part, said that as soon as the filming of the documentary began: “I don’t think I noticed. There really was no directing, and I mean it’s the best way. “
She added, “I don’t think I realized that there was a film coming out in which I was going to be the hero. I haven’t really processed it. “
When our half hour came to an end, we said goodbye, and I told Blair that I look forward to seeing her in a few days. In a comically unearthly voice, she replied: “God forbid, if I’m alive.”
Our next lesson, scheduled for that Monday, had to be postponed as Blair fell off the horse she was riding on the weekend. As she told me in a subsequent conversation – this time on the phone, as the video calls interfered with her focus – she lost her balance and overstretched her thumb, but otherwise everything was fine.
She was more embarrassed by the way she thought she acted during our first conversation, using her admittedly outrageous sense of humor to hide her concern. “I’m so scared because even in my mind there is still a stigma that you won’t bring this – you won’t be able to make this mind-body thing work,” she said. “I will use a ruse when I feel indecisive.”
She was also disturbed by a comment she saw on her Instagram account from a person who supported her documentary, but said, as Blair described the comment, “I would like it to be done by an ordinary person, like a person who is not a celebrity, because they are not the same thing. “
Blair added emphatically, “I’m an ordinary person.”
Cynthia Zagieboylo, president and CEO of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, said Blair’s decision to share her experience could be helpful for others with the condition and those who want to know more about it.
“There is no right way to go through something like that,” Zagieboylo said. “There are no two stories of multiple sclerosis that are the same, and for people it is very personal.”
Zagieboilo said that when a person like Blair speaks openly about his illness, “people can feel less alone facing the challenges of their own MS. People experiencing potential symptoms may recognize something. This could lead to an earlier confirmed diagnosis of multiple sclerosis, which means people can heal faster and this will lead to better results. “
She added, “If she has shared her journey with the world in a truly authentic way, there is no downside.”
Blair said she was told that her multiple sclerosis was in remission, which, she said, meant that “my disease has no clear path to worsening, and this is huge.” It gives you a break. ” There was no specific timetable for how long her stem cell transplant could be effective, but as she said in her characteristic style, “I could be hit by a bus before that.”
One of the odd benefits of this period of relative calm is the ability to know if past behaviors that she believed were fundamental components of her mood and personality – bursts, impulsiveness – could be a manifestation of her illness.
Blair described a conversation with a neurologist who asked if she was taking medication for pseudobulbar affect, a condition that can lead to sudden uncontrollable laughing, crying, or anger.
“I said,“ No, it’s just me, what are you talking about? “Blair recalls. “She’s like, ‘Or maybe it isn’t.” It never crossed my mind. “
Blair added: “I don’t know if I will ever be able to cope with the neurological damage. I know I can find new ways, but I’ve been scarred for so long. “
She continues to help raise Arthur, whom she shares custody with his father, Jason Blake, a fashion designer and her ex-boyfriend. But she said her son was unable to watch the entire documentary.
“After about 20 minutes, he felt uncomfortable,” she said. “He was worried that people would see me like this and talk behind my back or not give me a job.”
Blair said she is very determined to continue working as an actress, and as much as she is perceived to be a retreat from the industry, it’s not because she doesn’t put herself in there for roles.
“The roles I’ve been offered since I was diagnosed are an old woman, a person in a wheelchair, a person bumping into walls,” Blair said. “I could be who I was, but I am still who I used to be, and I shouldn’t be included in this.”
But now that she has shown herself in the most sincere ways she knows, Blair hopes her efforts will remind others – and reinforce – that such transparency has value.
“It can make a difference to people,” she said. “I don’t mean that it’s strange, soft. I mean, really take the time to get out of the box, because you never know what people have inside, and what a relief it is to find out that even adorable people like me – she couldn’t hold back her last deliberate laugh – are worried. own brain and body at times. This is the consolation I would like to give. “