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Oscar Winner Julianne Moore on What She Learned Making ‘Still Alice’

Oscar Winner Julianne Moore on What She Learned Making ‘Still Alice’

The actress was long-tipped as this year’s Best Actress Oscar frontrunner, having already been
recognized by several critics’ groups in their end-of-year prize-giving
(Chicago, San Francisco, Washington DC and the National Board of Review), to go
along with a Golden Globe win, Screen Actors Guild Awards nominations and, now, sure enough, an Oscar.

In a relatively
weak year for viable contenders, Moore’s stiffest competition came from fellow nominees Reese Witherspoon for “Wild,” Felicity Jones for “The Theory Of
Everything” and Rosamund Pike for “Gone Girl.” (The actress’s own, flashier Cannes-winning turn in David Cronenberg’s
“Maps to the Stars” was nominated for a comedy Golden Globe.) But that didn’t take anything away from her beautifully
subtle and heartbreaking work in “Still Alice,” directed by partners
(both personal and professional) Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer. In her quest to depict Alice’s at first hardly noticeable
but increasingly rapid decline with rigorous precision, Moore (who also starred in “The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part I” this year), spent three
months immersed in research, including meetings with several women suffering from the disease.

Matt Mueller: How did exploring early
onset Alzheimer’s affect you? Did you find your research for the role
disturbing?


Julianne Moore
No. This is something I didn’t have a lot of information
about so it was fascinating to explore, to talk to the women
that I met, the clinicians and researchers and the people at the Alzheimer’s
Association. It’s a big issue and it’s obviously increasing as people
are living longer.

Was it difficult keeping
track of Alice
’s deterioration from scene to scene?

It
was hard because Wash and Rich couldn’t shoot in sequence, although they did
the best they could. So everything in the family’s house had to be shot in the
middle of the shoot. I played the end of the movie when we were halfway through
the film. Trying to keep track of exactly where she was was also difficult because
of the subtlety in the decline. They’re really small things that distinguish
each stage.

What are some examples?

Her
clothes start to change. The colors change. She doesn’t seem to be selecting
things the same way. She wants something because it’s soft, not because it
looks good. The lack of control of body functions, all the different things
that happen: when do they happen? When does the language go? How do you
demonstrate that a decline has started without going overboard? I tried to be
as accurate and precise as possible with the changes.

Did you take any of the
tests for Alzheimer’s disease that Alice takes?

I
took them all. They’re way harder than we depict in the movie because we don’t
have time for that. They start by reading you a long story with many details in
it and then you go onto another test where they give you a list of 30 words. They
say, “Repeat those words” so you repeat them. Then they say, “Now repeat them
again.” So you repeat them again, or what you can remember. Then they give you
another list of 30 words and say, “Now repeat the first list.” Each of the
tests targets a different part of the brain so they can see, if there has been
a decline, where the decline has been.

How did you do?

The doctor didn’t tell me anything! I was like, Am I okay? Did I pass? She was
being so generous with her time, I didn’t want to keep bothering her. In a
later email, she said, “I wanted to let you know your results were normal.” All
the women I spoke with who had early onset Alzheimer’s told me how scary it was to take that test.

There’s a line in the
film where Alice says, “I wish I had cancer,” which was shocking to hear. Was there a discussion about that line?

It’s
in Lisa Genova’s book, and it’s not uncommon for people with early onset to
feel very ashamed. A lot of the people I spoke to talked about losing
friendships, losing support… Somebody they thought was their best friend never
showing up again, somebody they thought was a casual friend being there for
them every day. You never know how people are going to react. It used to be
like that with cancer but these days, if you have cancer, everybody’s right
there and people march and wear pink ribbons. But people still have a sense of
shame about Alzheimer’s. I know a lot of people who have family members with Alzheimer’s
disease but they didn’t tell me before they knew I was doing this movie.

How was it working with
Richard and Wash, given the fact that Richard can no longer speak due to his
own deteriorating health as a result of ALS?

In
light of what we were doing on the movie, you think it’s going to be
challenging at first and it ends up not being that challenging. Richard had his
iPad and he was able to use that and sometimes you’d understand what he was
saying before he was finished typing so you could kind of have a conversation. He
was pretty eloquent with how he wrote and how he communicated emotionally. It forced us to think about what’s real because Richard and
Wash are experiencing another form of what’s happening in this movie.

Doesn’t your son Cal
appear in the film?

Yes,
in that scene where Kristen [Stewart] and I are sitting on a park bench and there’s
a group of kids singing in the background. That’s my son and his girlfriend.
They really bailed me out, Cal and Charlotte, because I wanted to have music at
the end but we couldn’t afford to buy anything. So Richard and Wash found this
old song from the ’60s, a Russian folk song which was public domain. Cal and
Charlie worked on an arrangement and wrote new lyrics and you get to hear them
in the film, although I was hoping there would be a bigger shot of them!

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