After her Golden Globe and Screen Actors Guild Awards, Julianne Moore is the Oscar frontrunner for her performance as a Columbia University linguistics professor with early onset Alzheimer’s in “Still Alice.” A difficult subject to tackle, it’s not exactly a crowd pleaser and as of February 1, it has earned slightly more than $1.5 million at the box office according to Box Office Mojo. An Oscar win could change all that.
At the press conference Tuesday for her new 3D supernatural fantasy epic, “Seventh Son,” a big splashy Universal Pictures release, in which she reteams after nearly two decades with her “The Big Lebowski” co-star Jeff Bridges, Moore said she was still stunned by the accolades coming her way for the small indie film.
Asked how she handled all the red carpet hoopla as she headed towards the Oscars – this is her fifth nomination, so she’s had plenty of practice – Moore replied, “I don’t know. I take it one day at a time. It’s been such a wonderful surprise for us. This is a movie we didn’t finish even a year ago. We started March 2014.”
She added, “When the Oscars roll around, it won’t even be a year since we shot this, and that’s what’s so astonishing. We made it. We got it out. We got it distributed, and now its gotten this kind of attention that never happens when you make these little movies, So I’m very grateful and just kinda taking things one day at a time.”
At a press conference for “Still Alice” last month at the Crosby Street Hotel, Moore, Kristen Stewart and Kate Bosworth, who portray Alice’s daughters; co-director/writer Wash Westmoreland; and Lisa Genova, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, spoke to entertainment journalists to promote the film. (An understated Alec Baldwin plays Alice’s supportive but ultimately overwhelmed husband.)
“It’s not always about having fun and making people laugh and going to movies to have a great time,” Stewart told journalists about the film’s subject.
Stewart’s role has an interesting character arc; she plays the black sheep daughter who decides to become an actress, which worries her mother. Bosworth plays the reliable, conservative daughter who becomes a lawyer and marries well. But it’s Stewart’s character who grows and becomes the emotionally supportive daughter, which was part of the appeal for “The Twilight” actress. Her duet-like scenes with Moore are the most moving in the film.
“I knew for a fact, as soon as I knew that Julianne was playing this part, I knew that she was going to do something important,” Stewart said. “I knew this movie was being made so she could do that. It would say something, and it was our job to just pull her up.”
Considering how genuine and layered her performance, it was a surprise to hear Moore say she was unfamiliar with the disease and knew no one who had it, so she contacted health care professionals, spoke to psychiatrists, caretakers and patients. “I immersed myself in it,” Moore said. “People were happy and excited that we wanted to know and that we wanted to get it right.”
She added that people afflicted with the condition often feel invisible. “I think a lot of times people look the other way, and it’s hard to live with that, you know? They feel that there’s some kind of a shame attached to cognitive decline, whereas, it’s easier, most of them wish they had cancer. If it’s cognitive there’s a great deal of shame involved, so it was great to have the experience of these people.”
Co-director Wash Westmoreland said the film’s purpose was to focus inside Alice’s head and how she feels and deals with the disease. The challenge was “how to create that terrible subjectivity so you’re with her and you sort of grieve with her and go through all the tension and disappointment and triumphs with her.”
The film’s backstory is as emotional and devastating as the film. In December 2011, Westmoreland and his husband Richard Glatzer, who is also the co-writer-director of “Still Alice,” received a phone call from the producers asking them to look at the novel for possible film adaptation. Earlier in the year Glatzer was diagnosed with ALS. Glatzer directed the film often by typing out instructions on his iPad with his toe. Ironically, ALS debilitates the body but leaves the mind intact and Alzheimer’s does the opposite, but both are incurable and eat away at the sense of self and identity. In reality, this was what was happening to them.
Despite the serious subject matter, Westmoreland said he didn’t want “Still Alice” to be depressing. He hoped the movie conveyed “the possible connection people can make even in the most difficult times” and that the film “had something very colorful to say about what it means to be alive.”