The actor recalls feeling 'dope sick' trying to get off of Oxycontin years ago, and it led him to write, direct and star in his new film 'Junction'
Bryan Greenberg's latest movie role is rooted in painful fact, not fiction.
The actor, 45, stars in Junction, a film about the intersecting lives of people caught up in the opioid crisis in America. Hitting theaters on January 26, the dark drama also stars his wife Jamie Chung, 40, Sophia Bush, Ashley Madekwe, Josh Peck and Dascha Polanko, among others.
"There is a vast array of people that we see in 90 minutes of this film, but it all folds into one cohesive story in the end," Greenberg says of the film he also wrote and directed. "I took a lot on with this film, more than I ever have with any other project. "I decided to make my own story."
And as the first-time director tells PEOPLE exclusively, it's a story that is rooted in his own scary experience with opioids.
"My inspiration came because a few years ago, I'm not an addict, but I went in for a routine surgery and I was prescribed Oxycontin, and I got really hooked on them," he says. "And I was getting dope sick getting off of them."
Greenberg says more than a decade ago, not long before he met Chung, he had a hernia surgery and was prescribed Oxycontin for the pain. But he soon found himself on a slippery slope towards addiction.
"It was just like one pill turned into four pills a day, turned into 10 pills a day, turned into 15 pills a day," he says. Soon, "I was like, 'Oh, I've got to probably stop doing this, this is getting to me." Then, he describes, "It was like, 'Oh, I feel sick without them. I need them. I'm actually physically ill without them'."
It's a scenario his character Michael, a man in the throes of Oxy addiction, depicts in the film. "He's not trying to get high," says Greenberg. "He just doesn't want to feel sick. And that's a common thing. A lot of people are just trying to hit a baseline of not throwing up and sweating and being feverish."
Thankfully for Greenberg, "My doctors kind of just cut me off," he says. "They were like. 'You're done.' And I could have gone the illegal route. You can start finding pills in other places. And if you can't find pills at the time, you could go to the streets. Now, you don't have to look very far at all."
Aside from his doctor's intervention, the star believes he was able to kick the short-lived habit in part because he's "a control freak," Says Greenberg, "I don't like things having power over me. It was like, 'You're making me an addict so I'm going to figure out what that's all about, and I'm going to try to beat that.'"
Still says Greenberg, "I feel like honestly, I lost a few months, and for that to happen to someone like me who's not an addict, it really pissed me off. I wanted to investigate how a system could be put in place to make addicts out of people."
His wife and Junction co-star recalls when she first learned about his ordeal. "I remember him telling me the story when we first started dating," she tells PEOPLE. "I remember asking about his [hernia] scar right by his belly button and that kind of triggered his memory about getting off of opioids."
Continues Chung, "I remember him telling me [taking Oxy] was such a good feeling and it was such a great painkiller, and that he slowly had to wean himself off of it because it was highly addictive. He got really sick, and it was really difficult for him."
Greenberg wrote most of Junction while quarantining during the pandemic, and initially, Chung wasn't fully on board with the project. "I was like 'Bryan, what are you doing spending all this time writing this script? Let's hang out, let's be lazy. But he was so hyper-focused."
Now, she says of Greenberg, with whom she shares two-year-old twin sons, "I'm so proud of him. It's quite impossible to get a film made these days. He was running around, raising money, finding producers. Every day was like pushing a rock up a mountain."
Making the movie was so taxing, in fact, that Greenberg wound up in the hospital shortly after production ended.
"I physically was in pain shooting this movie," says Greenberg who filmed the entire project over the course of 17 days. "My stomach was killing me. Sometimes you can get so deep into a role, you take on those physical attributes. I thought maybe it's just lingering. It'll go away."
Instead, Greenberg found himself in a New York City ambulance. "I ended up having this crazy infection in my stomach after all that I put myself through. I had to be hospitalized for 5 days. This movie almost killed me."
Still, the actor says it was all worth it. Junction which recently picked up awards at the Portland and San Diego Film Festivals, is a film close to his heart. "I've lost friends and I've talked to so many people, unfortunately, that have been affected by this terrible crisis." He hopes that by sharing both his story and his new film, he can help change minds about the victims of the opioid crisis.
"I think we need to stop looking at addicts as the criminals," says Greenberg. "That's step number one. You've got to empathize with these people and try to help them. It's not a crime. It's a crime that's happened to them."
Junction premieres in limited theaters and on demand starting January 26
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