The road to the premiere of The Habit—Johnny Hickey’s second film and the first starring his longtime friend Christopher “C.T.” Tamburello—reads like a movie itself: Two buddies pave their own paths in the entertainment industry using the lessons they learned growing up in the projects of Charlestown.
Cameras have tracked Tamburello since he joined The Real World: Paris in 2003 before later competing in several seasons of the game-show spinoff The Challenge, snagging six-figure cash prizes along the way. Hickey broke onto the scene with his 2010 film Oxy-Morons—based on his experience with the OxyContin trade in Boston—which he wrote, directed and starred in after turning down James Gandolfini’s offer to produce the film. Hickey was inspired to pursue filmmaking after his own opioid abuse almost killed him. “I survived a near-death experience after falling 80 feet,” Hickey says. “I got thrown off a quarry cliff in Quincy and had doctors telling me I’d never walk again or have kids.” He not only made a complete recovery, but the number 80 is following him right to Oct. 30, when The Habit is set to premiere on the mammoth 80-foot screen at Jordan’s IMAX in Reading that’s normally reserved for Hollywood blockbusters. To Hickey and Tamburello, the coincidence is simply another sign that they’re on the right path.
The Habit is a crime drama, psychological thriller and horror mashup that explores the darkness of drugs during a rave at an abandoned North Shore asylum. “It’s a whole different animal,” Tamburello says of his first turn at acting. “And that’s the part that I love about it. It’s a transition, but if you’re just doing the same thing over and over again, you never grow.”
Hickey, who also appears in the film, cast other locals for the movie, which was made this past winter at Westboro State Hospital and in nearby abandoned asylums. Tamburello plays The Man, a character Hickey believes resembles the horror villains from the cult flicks he loved growing up.
“I knew Chris could dig,” Hickey says of the scenes they shot in 9-degree weather, when Tamburello mined his past to rage at the sky, covered in fake blood. “I knew he could go to those places. And I knew it was a good chance for him to kind of dump that stuff out.”
That same drive to exorcise negative experiences is what led Hickey and Tamburello to team up with the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism to found the networking and training organization Film Intervening Getting High Team (FIGHT). “A lot of the kids in our neighborhood thought that because bad things happened to them that they had the right to use their energy in a negative way,” Tamburello says. “And I can understand that. But we want to show people that there’s a positive way to channel their energy.” FIGHT helps adolescents and adults express themselves and learn career skills such as writing and directing as they create anti-opioid educational materials—be it a song, a comedy show or a documentary-style video. Thanks to FIGHT, two young adults had paid positions working on The Habit and continued their creative careers once production wrapped. Both Hickey and Tamburello hope to take the nonprofit nationwide with school tours and other programs.
Up next for the duo is the distribution journey for The Habit, plus an MTV special about Tamburello’s recent wedding in his new home of Miami—Hickey was the best man and his daughter was the flower girl—set to air later this year. Plus, the pair say the network has already green-lit a show about their road to Hollywood—a kind of Entourage meets The Town treatment—as they work on their next projects.
“We’re two guys coming from the bottom of the barrel in this city with all the odds stacked against us,” Hickey says. “And we’re doing it. We’re doing it on our own.”