Wil Wheaton Interview, Part 2: The world’s favorite nerd discusses what success means to him, as well as why he opened up about his battle with depression.
If you haven’t read the first part of my interview with Wil Wheaton, you can find that here. In part 2, Wheaton got serious and began by talking about his own personal definition of success. He began by recapping his start as an actor. He said, “A million years ago, I took a marketing class that was about how actors can market themselves and it’s kind of how I learned that in scripted fiction I should play the character that you love to hate, even though that’s not who I am in real life.”
He continued, “It’s who I played on Leverage and on Eureka and in The Guild. It’s how I started out in The Big Bang Theory.” But it was the advice of Wheaton’s instructor that stayed with him. “The man who taught it, he told us that we really should find a purpose in our lives that’s bigger than us, something, a task, that we could never complete, something that we can always be sort of working on.” This led Wheaton down a path where he spent time figuring out what his greater purpose in life is: inspiring people and being the kind of person kids can look up to.
This obviously brought up the much-watched video of Wheaton talking to a little girl at a con about bullying. The little girl asked Wheaton how she should respond to being bullied. Wheaton told her that it wasn’t about her and that it was about them and how they feel bad about themselves. His advice? To have compassion. Wheaton is particularly proud of that moment. “That thing went viral,” he said. “And honestly? If that’s all I am remembered for the rest of my life, I will be really, really happy.”
He continued, “Hopefully, it will get people to think about how we respond in those situations and also how we tell our kids to deal with those things when they happen.”
Wheaton has also had success with his web series, Tabletop, which recently set records on IndieGoGo for its third season. Wheaton praised the community that supported him. “Gamers really take care of gamers, and we love the community that we’re part of. I feel like with Tabletop that we are supporting the gaming community as much as we can, and to our delight, the gaming community has supported us as well.”
The community that surrounds Wheaton is of utmost importance to him, and one he wishes to uphold, even with The Wil Wheaton Project. “You know, we can laugh at ourselves, and we can make jokes, but we can’t be mean, and we’re never going to punch down, and we’re never going to make fun of people for the things they love,” he said, before teasing, “Unless they’re ghost hunters: ghost hunters are fair game.”
Wheaton became serious again, though. “We’re not making fun of cosplayers, we’re not making fun of gamers,” he said. “We’re not going to do that because I don’t think that’s funny. I don’t think that’s cool. I think we need to celebrate the culture. We can do it in a humorous way, but I don’t think it’s possible to do anything creative these days without offending somebody, but I think it’s really important that we’re just doing something that makes our culture accessible and brings people in.”
The conversation grew more serious when Wheaton discussed several posts on his site about his own battle with depression. Wheaton understood that making it so public could have a negative impact on his career, but that wasn’t as important to him as relating his experiences to others. He said, “I sort of have to do what I believe in, and I have to talk about what I think is important. And I think one of the reasons, particularly in relationship to depression and other mental health issues, one of the reasons that we have such widespread suffering from depression and anxiety in our culture is this stigma that surrounds it.”
Wheaton said that although we risk employment, embarrasment or something else, we need to talk about mental health in the same way we discuss physical health. “One of the reasons that I speak so openly about it and without any shame is that I suffered for probably 10 years,” he said. “I didn’t want to admit that I had depression and anxiety, and I was afraid of what would happen. I was afraid that if I took medication for my symptoms, it would change who I was.”
So what got Wheaton to admit that he needed help? Some of his friends began speaking publicly about their own experiences with mental health issues. He eventually got the help he needed, but still didn’t speak openly about his depression for years. That changed, though, when his friend Jenny Lawson started blogging about her own problems. “When I read what she was talking about, it made me feel better about the things that I was going through. I decided that I have the privilege of reaching a lot of people, and I think I have a responsibility to do something good, something meaningful, with that.”