‘OH MY god, I’m going to cry,” says Julianne Moore. It’s the Friday before the Baftas and Moore is telling me about her decision four years ago to apply for dual citizenship to honour her late mother, Anne, who emigrated to America from Greenock in 1950.
“When she came to the United States she opted not to get American citizenship because at the time you could only hold one passport. But when my father [who was in the military] was applying for some jobs for graduate school, he wasn’t allowed to be married to a foreign national, so she had to get her citizenship and they made her renounce her own.”
Moore was seven years old at the time and clearly remembers her mum, who was 27, coming home crying holding an American flag. “I’ll never forget it,” she says. “It broke my heart. And so… you know…” It’s at this point she confesses that the tears are coming. “So when they changed the rules,” she says, “I wanted to do this for my mother. She would have loved it.”
It’s a little disconcerting witnessing Moore attempting to suppress the raw emotion that frequently makes her best performances so devastating to watch on screen. Though she brightens quickly when asked if she can talk about her forthcoming roles – “Sure, keep me from crying,” she laughs as she runs through a list that includes the final Hunger Games movie, Mockingjay Part 2, and an indie drama with Ellen Page called Freeheld – it’s this willingness to keep her feelings close to the surface that has made her perhaps the most acclaimed actress of her generation. To watch Moore melting down in Magnolia or Far From Heaven or last year’s Maps To The Stars (for which she won the best actress award at Cannes) is to see a performer with a rare ability to shrink the distance between the characters she plays on screen and the audiences watching them.
That’s certainly the case with the film she’s currently sitting in a hotel room in Soho to promote. Still Alice, which receives its Scottish premiere at the Glasgow Film Festival next weekend, casts her as a 50-year-old linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease. It’s a performance that’s made her odds-on favourite to win the Academy Award for best actress. It has already won her a Golden Globe and – a couple of days after we speak – a Bafta, which she dedicated to her mum, suppressing her tears once again as she paid touching tribute to the “Scottish women who poured love into me”.
As Alice, Moore captures the fear and bewilderment of a loving and highly intelligent woman trying to maintain her sense of self as Alzheimer’s destroys her cognitive abilities. Told from Alice’s perspective, the film also avoids the traps a story like this could have fallen into had it focused instead on the point of view of Alice’s husband (played by Alec Baldwin) or their three grown-up children (played by Kristen Stewart, Kate Bosworth and Hunter Parrish). “It was very unusual to find that,” says Moore. “I’d never seen a movie like this subjectively told.”
Moore says she didn’t really know anything about Alzheimer’s before reading the script. “The biggest misnomer is that it’s a condition of ageing. It’s a disease no matter when you get it.” She made a point of meeting a lot of women with the condition because she didn’t want to “make anything up” or end up playing the disease rather than the person. “It feels like it’s about someone struggling to live their life, which is what I observed too in all the women who I spoke to. They were all women who had very full lives professionally and personally and were dealing with the ramifications of the disease on that life. Usually they’ve been forcibly retired or fired – so how do they keep their friendships going? Who stays in their life? Who doesn’t? All that specificity, that’s what we wanted to present.”
The film was made under extraordinary circumstances. Co-written and co-directed by partners Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, the film’s subject resonated with the couple because Glatzer, too, suffers from a degenerative illness: Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, the most common form of motor neurone disease.
“When we were talking about doing Still Alice, Richard still had his voice,” says Moore, “but by the time we got on set he’d really lost his physicality from the waist up. He had no real mobility, but he could move his arm enough to operate an iPad, so he would direct that way. And the force of his intellect and personality meant he was very, very present.”
Nevertheless, the irony was lost on no one that they were making a film about a family dealing with a degenerative illness while their directors were dealing with many of the same issues. “We were all aware of that and it gave the film a real urgency: here’s a person who is not experiencing a cognitive decline, but is experiencing a physical decline, and he still wants to communicate how important it is to be alive and to live and love.”
The urgency with which the film was made amazes Moore. “We only made it last March. It’s pretty unusual. The money came together, then suddenly we were shooting it, then suddenly we were done.”
Publicity undertaken at the Toronto Film Festival last September to help sell the movie became instead the de facto beginnings of an Oscar campaign: the film was snapped up for distribution and promptly released in the US to qualify for this year’s awards. Despite being the favourite, though, Moore takes nothing for granted, feels lucky to be in the conversation and is honoured that her peers checked the box next to her name when selecting the nominees. “There’s a lot of positive energy coming my way,” she says, “which is nice.”
This year’s awards race has been particularly gratifying too because she was instrumental in launching fellow front-runner Eddie Redmayne’s career when she lobbied for him to play her schizophrenic son in the 2007 true-life drama Savage Grace. She isn’t surprised he’s in contention now for portraying Stephen Hawking in The Theory Of Everything. “I saw it in him when I saw him audition for Savage Grace. He said something very nice recently, that I fought for him for that role, but it was clear that he was the choice the minute he came in and auditioned.”
If Moore wins the Oscar, it won’t be before time. She’s been nominated four times, twice in 2003 (for The Hours and Far From Heaven). Still Alice, though, never feels like it was made with that purpose in mind and Moore doesn’t view it as an oppressive experience. “Rather than making me sad, it made me appreciative,” she says. “It wasn’t just about me playing this sad part, it was like we were all collectively trying to make a movie about what it means to be a human being, which felt elevating. I still feel that way. It doesn’t mean you can’t feel sad, but there’s a whole world of feelings in there.”
Still Alice screens at the Glasgow Film Festival on 21 and 22 February. On general release from 6 March
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