The year in 1959 and Cary Grant (Ben Chaplin) is filming North by Northwest. From what we see of him, he’s the Cary Grant that we’ve all read about — the handsome, charming, witty, but very guarded movie star who never seems to truly trust anyone.
On set, Grant is visited by a pushy Harvard professor named Timothy Leary (Aidan Gillen). Leary explains that he’s recently read an interview in which Grant discussed using a new drug called LSD for therapeutic purposes. Leary believes that the drug could possible be used to help humanity evolve into something better. He says that he wants to take LSD and he wants Grant to guide him through his trip. Grant rather stiffly explains that LSD should only be taken under medical supervision. Leary, however, doesn’t have time for that.
Eventually, Leary and Grant do end up dropping acid together and, as you might have guessed, that’s where things start to get strange. First off, Leary and Grant find themselves sharing the same trip. While Grant tries to escape from Leary, they travel through Grant’s poverty-stricken childhood and they even find themselves being chased by the famous North By Northwest cropduster. They also take a trip to Leary’s future, where he will someday be just as famous as Grant. Leary proclaims that LSD will be the start of the counter culture while the far more conservative Grant grumbles that Leary is a charlatan and that most people won’t be able to handle the drug. Along the way, we go through the usual innuendos about both men. Even under the influence of LSD, Grant remains guarded about his sexuality while Leary struggles to convince Grant that he actually is prophet and not just a con artist looking to get rich through revolution.
Clocking in at just 20 minutes, When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD is an enjoyably weird little film that makes sense once you realize that Chaplin and Gillen are not actually meant to be playing the real-life Grant and Leary but instead are playing fictionalized versions who both understand that, along with being historical figures, they’re also characters in a film. By the end of the film, they’re less concerned with dealing with each other and more concerned with convincing those of us in the audience that one of them is right and the other one is wrong. Ben Chaplin may not look like Cary Grant but he has the right brooding quality to be convincing as a troubled man who often feels trapped by his own persona. Aiden Gillen, meanwhile, is far more cheerful as Timothy Leary, who he plays as being a bit of a trouble-making sprite.
Interestingly enough, the film is loosely based on fact. Cary Grant did take LSD for therapeutic reasons and Timothy Leary did later go on to become a public figure as a result of his pro-acid advocacy. It has been rumored that Leary and Grant actually did meet, though not necessarily during the filming of North by Northwest. In the end, When Cary Grant Introduced Timothy Leary to LSD is an enjoyably weird short film that shows up occasionally on Showtime so keep an eye out for it.