Based on the previews, you can tell that watching the Netflix miniseries Maniac, which drops on Sept. 21, will be a pretty unique experience. That doesn't necessarily mean that the characters are wholly original, but it sure doesn't seem that Maniac's Dr. James K. Mantleray is based on a real person. Justin Theroux portrays this wacky scientist, and while pharmaceuticals are a hot topic in real life, Dr. Mantleray isn't representative of an actual person in the industry.
For the trippy 10-episode series, Emma Stone's Annie Landsberg and Jonah Hill's Owen Milgrim participate in a clinical drug trial at Neberdine Pharmaceutical and Biotech (NPB). Dr. James K. Mantleray created the drug called "U.L.P." that is supposed to get rid of any and all mental illness in a matter of just three days. He runs the experiment that leads Stone and Hill's characters to enter surreal scenarios through their unconsciousnesses.
The miniseries itself is based on Norwegian TV show also called Maniac. But The Telegraph noted that director Cary Fukunaga and creator/writer Patrick Somerville, who was a writer and producer on the utterly superb Theroux-starring The Leftovers, changed the series drastically. Somerville told Entertainment Weekly that the "altered realities and heightened tones" and of their Maniac is "a pretty big departure" from the original series. The New York Times also noted that beyond the tone, Fukunaga and Somerville also completely changed the characters and setting.
Speaking of changing characters, the names of the two leads in the American version are references to real-life people, so there's a possibility that Theroux's character's name could hold some secret meaning too. Annie's last name is an allusion to the controversial professor of economics Steven Landsburg, who received backlash for his "thought experiment" that questioned whether rape should be illegal if the victim is unaware and isn't caused physical harm. Owen's last name refers to psychologist Stanley Milgram, who was also controversial for his experiment that tested people's obedience to authority figures.
However, the name Mantleray doesn't seem to have such a connection. There's a smartphone game called Octopus Evolution that features an octopus called "mantle ray." But the name is more likely a reference to the real animal the manta ray. The ocean advocacy group Oceana wrote that manta rays have the biggest brains of any fish and are "basically geniuses." Or maybe Mantleray is named that because another name for a manta ray is "devil ray." And with such mind manipulations, he might be playing a devilish version of god.
No matter where his name comes from, Theroux referred to his character as "the saddest man" in an interview with The Independent based on how he's introduced in the series. (It involves Dr. Mantleray masturbating with an artificial intelligence device.) He further described Dr. Mantleray's flaws to The Telegraph. "He's one of those people that I like to describe as beautiful losers," Theroux said. "He means well but he's just covered in flaws. He'd like to think that he presents himself as very put together but he's such a car accident of a man. He's vain, he's fame-seeking, he does that horrible thing of pretending to be altruistic when he wants approval more than anything else. And he's got deep mother issues that go very far back."
Sally Field portrays his celebrity therapist mother, Dr. Greta Mantleray, so she'll provide more insight into his character. But know that while Dr. Mantleray may sometimes feel familiar when it comes to stereotypes of eccentric experimenters or mad scientists, Theroux is making this fictional character all his own.