Stigmas, Triggers, & Television

NBC’s “New Amsterdam” star Tyler Labine sat down with The Creative Coalition CEO Robin Bronk in the latest episode of “On The Edge,” a podcast spotlighting stories of opportunity, discovery, and courage. In the newest episode, Labine shares his personal struggle with his weight and how it led to him using his platform to tackle social issues such as obesity and eating disorders. “On The Edge” is a capsule podcast series that is part of the “At Home With The Creative Coalition” podcast.

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Highlights from “On The Edge” featuring Tyler Labine –

On which stories about weight and obesity are meaningful to him:
“Any storyline, any representation about weight loss or obesity that I’ve seen before. And anything we had touched on– which I’ll go back and talk about the original trigger for my kind of storyline– it always hits me in a very uncomfortable spot. I’d never really seen any, like, care taken to tell this story, or to tell overall stories about physical transformations. And not only the physical sort of pain, but the mental toll that it takes on people, and that storyline was really interesting, too, because this woman was, like, she was being torn apart emotionally, after doing something that she thought was going to be the cure, you know? And I think that that sort of triggered something for me. This idea that we can’t be happy, functioning members of society for obese is bull****! And it’s misinformation. And I understand that there are health issues, but the whole BMI scale, everything that has been sort of, I think, sort of given to us, handed to us as these various sort of catch-all reasons that being overweight is bad, and it’s bad for your health isn’t actually that true. Yes, there are health and safety risks, you know, if you get to a certain level of obesity, but anyway, it just always triggers me because I feel like no one ever really talks about that. No one talks about that. Like, what if you are a happy, healthy, overweight person, but you still get the same stigma? There’s still the same stigma. So it triggered me in that regard, where she was talking about being stared at more now that she had lost the weight. But it was very subtle. They wrote in there that earlier, she had become accustomed to the way to the certain type of stares. And that really hit me. She’s like, ‘Yeah, because people do. People feel like it’s still okay to judge and look, and like, publicly sort of heckle overweight people. And it’s like, the only acceptable– I say ‘acceptable’ very loosely– but it’s like the only acceptable thing, I think, that people still feel okay to openly judge and throw very offensive words around, and hurtful words around without thinking about it.”

On how Iggy’s eating habits and weight became a storyline in “New Amsterdam”:
“Yeah, I mean, like I said, the initial sort of foray into it even being an actual storyline was because I couldn’t not say something. I’m not taking all the credit, they had been baking something into the cake. And I don’t even know to what degree, but I know that when I mentioned like, ‘Can we really make something out of this?’ They were like, ‘What do you got,’ you know? So when I gave them my actual story, and they wrote it into the script, I definitely felt like I had some sort of involvement, more than I’ve ever really had before as just an actor on a show, you know, they let me in. And yes, some of the stuff and some of the the disordered eating, and the rituals and the things I was able to comment on and take things from my life and things that I’ve done dieting, or fad dieting, or trying to lose weight that we’ve been able to put into the show. And then again, the language I’ve used to refer to myself and talk about myself in the past that I try not to do anymore. You know, the language I’m trying to undo from all the information I’ve been given my whole life is like, that stuff is poignant and powerful stuff. So we’ve definitely put some of that in there. I’ve ad-libbed quite a few things where it’s just, like, my old, really, really detrimental language that I used to talk about myself, not loving myself, not knowing my worth, you know, all that stuff. That’s all come very organically as a collaboration.”

On his personal struggles with weight and what inspired him to speak up about his character’s eating habits:
“So the original, the beginning of the pulling of the corner of the sticker for me on this show was that they had written in this very sort of backburner, quirky eating storyline, with Iggy, where he would be like eating all these– like, walking around with a bag of carrots in the pilot. A bag of, like, crudite, and eating that. And then, you know, the next episode, he’d be in the break room, shoveling gummy worms in his mouth, kind of by himself, you know, and it was sort of like, funny, like, ‘Oh, he’s really just stress eating.’ And then it started to become more and more obvious that that was, like, a thing they would show Iggy, like, after having like a really stressful day, he’d be shoveling chocolate in his mouth, or whatever. And I just kind of like, I said to David Foster, he was on set one day, he noticed my sort of agitation, I guess you could say, and my knee jerk reaction, a lot of that stuff was like, ‘F*** off. Don’t give him a quirky, disordered eating storyline, and then not give it any attention.’ I have disordered eating. And I have body dysmorphia. And I have struggled since I was very young– since I was about 10 years old, eight, nine, 10 years old is when it began. I mean, it’s a huge, long talk. But eating for me is not something that I’m like, willing to just kind of like, poke at, you know? And I wasn’t angry at it, because most people don’t even realize that that’s a thing. So I said something. And I just said, like, ‘Well, if you’re gonna do this, can we do it? Like, has anybody ever? Is there room here to add that Iggy might have disordered eating as like a real storyline?’ And Foster was like, ‘Well, yeah, I think probably,’ you know? And there was a reason why he asked me, and then Shaun Cassidy, one of our writers and producers as well, called me and was like, ‘Hey, man, would you tell me your story? Like, I don’t know your story with what you’ve struggled with, with your body and with eating.’ And I told him, and it was a long conversation. And, you know, he took it all down. And then they asked me, point-blank, if they could use my story for a storyline for Iggy. And I was like, ‘Yeah.’ And it involved a lot of s***. It was like, my dad really body shaming me as a kid, and kids body shaming me, and my dad putting me on crash diets and taking shirtless photos of me and like making, you know, all kinds of things. And then it all sort of culminated in me trying to commit suicide when I was like, 12-13. And my dad was like, also, anyway, he got bad information too. My grandma was a nightmare human being and his father was a nightmare. So I don’t really blame my dad. I did. I don’t anymore. The show has been very cathartic for me. But anyway, so I talked to them about it. And then I gave him permission to use it. And then, lo and behold, the script came down the pike, and I was on set and I read it. And it’s really weird, man, you don’t realize how f***** up your story is until you see it from a different perspective. There it was written on the page coming out of Iggy’s mouth. And I was like, ‘Oh, that sounds so bad.’ I was, like, embarrassed, and I kind of got like, really shaky and I got really emotional. And I threw the script down… So we did it. We shot it. And it was really crazy, and hard. And I literally was, like, talking to my dad for a lot of those takes and blah, blah, blah. Anyway, we shot it, it was really insane. My mom was actually visiting, she was in town while we were shooting. And she read the script that I accidentally left out on the table. And, you know, could probably talk to Freud about that one. But it was a huge opportunity for my mom and I’d had a big breakthrough conversation. I ended up having a big breakthrough conversation with my dad about all kinds of things– who I was kind of estranged with for quite a while. And then the reaction from fans, like after it came out, was incredible. Men. Oh man, the men!”

Listen to additional episodes of “On The Edge” right now:

Episode 1 featuring Emmy Award-nominated actor Kelly Jenrette
Episode 2 featuring actor Shanola Hampton
Episode 3 featuring Emmy Award-nominated actor Yvette Nicole Brown
Episode 4 featuring Executive Producer Gloria Calderón Kellett
Episode 5 featuring SAG Award-winning actor Dean Norris
Episode 6 featuring Emmy Award-nominated “Grey’s Anatomy” actor Chandra Wilson
Episode 7 featuring Emmy Award-nominated Executive Producer Ken Olin
Episode 8 featuring “Grey’s Anatomy” cast members Chris Carmack, Zaiver Sinnett, and writer Jamie Denbo


More about The Creative Coalition
The Creative Coalition is the premier nonprofit, nonpartisan 501(c)(3) social and public advocacy organization of the arts and entertainment community. Founded in 1989 by prominent members of the creative community, The Creative Coalition is dedicated to educating its members on issues of public importance. The Creative Coalition also creates award-winning public service campaigns including #RightToBearArts to promote the efficacy of the arts. Actor Tim Daly serves as the organization’s President. For more information, visit On The Edge is graciously supported by Novo Nordisk Inc.