Actor Selma Blair has put the most intimate parts of her life and multiple sclerosis diagnosis on display with her new documentary “Introducing Selma Blair,” directed by Rachel Fleit. But while Blair doesn’t pull any punches, she also doesn’t pretend that what she has gone through with her diagnosis will mirror everyone else’s experience. So, rather than create a scientific roadmap of treatment options, she simply wanted to tell her story.
“Sometimes we see the real extremes with disease or illness where some people are really incapacitated and some people are more benign. I wanted examples. I wanted to feel like I wasn’t going crazy,” Blair said during a Television Critics Assn. press tour panel for her new project, streaming on Discovery Plus on Oct. 21. “I just thought I was going bat-shit crazy.”
Feeling that way, which included being “overwhelmed” at many times, especially as she embarked upon hematopoietic stem cell transplantation (HSCT), Blair agreed to the documentary because she “just wanted to lead by example, saying, ‘This is where I am.’ If I slow down and have patience with myself, I find, this too shall pass.”
The documentary follows Blair as she undergoes HSCT and as the world shifts due to the COVID-19 pandemic. As Fleit put it, “We had about 15 minutes left of the film” when COVID started ravaging the globe. “I got to about 75 minutes and I was like, ‘How do I land this plane?’”
The answer was for her and Blair to stay in touch over video software since they could no longer get together in person. What became increasingly clear was that Blair was an “early adopter” of what the world was going through with mask-wearing and quarantining.
“You’ve had this experience already that everyone else has,” Fleit said to Blair. “You’ve been alone in your room for a year. We joked a lot about the film feeling like that narrative piece in a room, in a bed. Selma was constantly in a room in a bed in this period of her life, and we all have that experience during a lockdown; we all had to take stock of who we are.”
Blair also lost her mother during this time and, aside from her son, her mother was her person, but she couldn’t go to her because of COVID. “My mother would have plotzed if she were alive to see me on film like this,” Blair said of the times she was in the hospital with medical setbacks, without hair and makeup.
(For the record, Fleit said that if Blair had “told me to cut the camera, I would have, but she didn’t.” So the documentary stays present and therefore cannot be denied that it’s “real life.”)
Now, thankfully, Blair is in remission. She shared that it took about a year after HSCT for the inflammation to go down, and she has had no new lesions forming. There are still “glitches” from time to time, she noted, as well as the need for continued treatments.
“I never really liked life. I do now,” she said. “I was so scared in life, so to suddenly start to find an identity and a safety in me and figure out boundaries and time management and energy, I’m having the time of my life.”
Learning to live with her new normal, which she shared does include cognitive changes and a “need to slow down.”
“There are a lot of times I do wish I could get out of California and just go back home to Michigan and recover more quietly,” Blair admitted. But at the same time, she is also cognizant of how important her platform is in raising awareness. “This condition — or any condition of chronic illness or disability — is my story, and if that helps normalize, to open the door for other people to be comfortable telling their stories, that can also be enlightening and informative and helps to build new ways of love and support.”
“People get really upset about with a chronic illness or going through something that looks different; everyone wants to break it down, and a lot of people don’t feel safe,” she continued. “And we’re really getting off these shoulders what they’re going through and it creates a real rigidity and fear and a lot of people, and to hear that even just me showing up with a cane or willing to talk about something that might be embarrassing or oversharing to people, it was a key for a lot of people in finding comfort in themselves that I’ve heard of. And that means everything to me.”