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Peter Sollett’s fact-based “Freeheld” offers recent Oscar winner Julianne Moore another juicy — and emotionally wrenching — role to bite into, hot off her Best Actress win for “Still Alice.” In the film, Moore plays tough-as-nails police lieutenant Laurel Hester, whose life is upended when she falls in love with Stacie Andree (Ellen Page). Although she is compelled to keep her personal life a secret, Laurel and Stacie embark on a love affair that they intend to last a lifetime, going so far as to purchase a home together as registered domestic partners. But when Laurel is diagnosed with cancer, she can’t hide any longer and is forced to use her personal experience to make sure that Stacie can benefit from her pension long after she’s gone.
Hester’s fight was originally put on the screen in 2007’s documentary “Freeheld,” directed by Cynthia Wade. Sollett’s film of the same dramatizes the action, complete with supporting turns from Michael Shannon, Josh Charles and Steve Carell, but Moore and Page are the big, beating heart of the story.
Moore spoke with Indiewire in anticipation of the film’s premiere at the Toronto International Film Festival, and the actress got honest about why she thinks “Freeheld” reflects a changing world and what she thinks about people trolling on the internet.
You’re probably going to be hearing this a lot, but you really made me cry in this.
Thank you! I know it’s a sad story, it’s a tough story, because it is true. Laurel Hester was a really, really amazing person, it was a privilege to get to play her.
How familiar were you with the story before you signed on? Had you seen Cynthia Wade’s documentary?
No, I wasn’t familiar with it at all. Basically — I’m trying to remember if I saw it after I read the script or after my meeting — when I first read the script, I had no idea it was a true story. I actually thought, the way it started, one of the things that I loved about it was that it’s almost a deliberate mislead. I thought I was reading a police procedural, and then it turns into this magnificent love story. I think they sent me the documentary. I hadn’t seen it, I wasn’t even aware of it.
I was shooting “The Hunger Games” in Atlanta, and I just sat there and wept. The documentary is spectacular. Cynthia Wade did such an amazing job. Laurel and Stacie made themselves so available, so critically available to her. We had a wealth of material to draw from and, above and beyond that, Stacie and Dane all went out of their way to share with me all of their experiences and thoughts and information. Stacie in particular, opened her home to both of us, me and Ellen, and showed us personal documents. It was very moving. And, like I said, an honor.
The ability to have so much information about Laurel and Stacie and other important characters in the story must have been so helpful for your process.
Incredibly helpful. Here’s the thing, when you’re playing a real person and you’re never going to actually be able to see that person, but you need to gather. I had to gather every single bit of information available to me so that I could come as close to her as possible. I really wanted to represent her authentically.
The thing about Laurel that was evident in the documentary and also evident in speaking to her family members, is that she was a true believer in justice. Her entire life, she was interested in the justice system and supporting the underdog. She had kind of done this quietly her entire life. This was the first time in her life that she actually turned that quality to help the person closest to her. It was really important to her that people be treated fairly, and that everyone be given a fair shot, that the weak be defended, and protected.
The one thing that she wanted was justice for the woman that she loved, and that was one of the things that she said in the documentary. After this entire life of fighting for justice for other people, she wanted it for the woman she loved.
There seems to be a groundswell lately — especially at TIFF this year — with LGBTQ-based films, do you think that films like “Freehold” can change minds? Do you hope they will?
Personally, I feel like the tide has turned. The Supreme Court ruling was a momentous moment for us as a culture, as a nation. I think, when something like that happens, it usually means the popular opinion has changed, it has turned. I always say that, in entertainment, I believe that we reflect what’s going on in the culture. So much has happened in the last 10 years, so you hope that’s that what it is, that this movie is a reflection of the tremendous change in our culture.
But if you’re looking on the Internet, sometimes it doesn’t feel that way.
Listen, I have to say, I would not pay attention to people trolling on the internet. I don’t think that’s an indication of actual popular opinion. I think it’s an important thing to realize. I think that kind of stuff is better ignored. I think the kind of people who post that kind of stuff, you’ve got to wonder why they’re doing that, it’s more about them.
Between this and “Still Alice,” you’ve had some pretty heavy roles on your plate lately.
[Laughs] I know, it’s pretty funny, right? I went right from Alzheimer’s into lung cancer. I remember saying that to Kristen [Stewart], we were on the set of “Still Alice,” and she asked me, “What are you doing next?” and I said, “Well, I’m doing this movie about a police officer…” and she was like, “Are you kidding me?!” Honestly though, I feel so lucky. As an actor, you’re always looking for great material, so to have “Still Alice” come my way, and then “Freeheld,” I just felt very fortunate.
We’re gearing up for awards season now, do you feel like you’re better equipped to handle it after last year?
I’m kind of like, “Oh, my gosh, Toronto again? I was just there!” It is something I’m familiar with. Certainly, the festival circuit is something I’m extremely familiar with because I make so many small films. It is interesting to me. My friend Jay Roach, who directed “Game Change,” will be at Toronto with “Trumbo,” and he’s never been. I’m like, “Are you kidding? Don’t worry, it’s easy, you’ll love it.” With the festivals and awards season, you get to celebrate great work. You get to see and celebrate great work.
One of those smaller films you did last year was “Maps to the Stars,” which didn’t seem to get much ground at the box office.
I love the movie, I love David Cronenberg. I loved working with Bruce Wagner. Mia [Wasikowska] is so amazing, and John Cusack and Olivia Williams and Rob Pattinson. It’s just a great group, and a really exciting project for me. We don’t have any control over that, we don’t know. The work is there. The work is always there.
When “Safe” came out, it bombed. People walked out of the screening at Sundance. And, now, 10 years later, everyone is saying it’s one of the best films of the nineties. So you really, really don’t know, all you can do is do your work and enjoy doing your work. The best part of the movie for me, is making the movie.
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This interview was originally published on September 14, 2015.