*Shortly after winning for Best Actress in the Golden Globe Awards for “Still Alice,” Julianne Moore was still promoting this riveting movie. She, along with co-star Kristen Stewart, have amassed over a billion dollars in box office receipts for “The Hunger Games” and “Twilight,” respectively.
”Still Alice” deals with the debilitating Alzheimer’s disease that has no cure and affected an estimated 5.2 million Americans in 2014, the Alzheimer Associated announced. The face of Alzheimer is very familiar with many celebrities being affected by it. We, who used to hang out at B. Smith’s hot spot in mid-Manhattan back in the day, were surprised and concerned when she disappeared late last year. Fortunately, the famed restaurateur and former model diagnosed with Alzheimer was later found.
What is so unfortunate in “Still Alice” is that Moore’s character, 50-year-old Alice, is diagnosed with Early-Onset Alzheimer’s Disease. Alice is happily married with three children and is a famed author and renowned linguistics professor at Columbia University. When she starts to forget words, her struggle to stay connected to who she once was is frightening, heartbreaking and inspiring.
At the Crosby Hotel in New York where the interviews took place, The Film Strip asked Moore and Stewart about this mind-blowing movie.
Julianne, did you reach out to any Alzheimer’s organizations while you were prepping for this role, and hasthe film impacted your thoughts on the disease?
JULIANNE MOORE: Oh wow, did it ever. I knew nothing about Alzheimer’s and I think I was one of those rare people who really haven’t had any contact with the disease. I didn’t know anyone personally so I started with our producer and the National Alzheimer’s Association set me up with three Skype calls with women who have been diagnosed with Early Onset Alzheimer’s, and I was able to talk to them about their experiences.
I went to Mount Sinai and talked to the lead researcher there. They sent me to the New York Alzheimer’s Association who were in support groups and actually supplied a lot of dialogue that I brought back to Rich [Glatzer] and Wash [Westmoreland] that we tried to incorporate. From there I went to a long time care facility and spoke to patients and caregivers and family members. I also watched many documentaries on the subject, and immersed myself in the illness.
Whenever I was unclear about something I was doing, I would check with someone. People were so happy and excited that we wanted to know and that we were trying to get it right that they really extended themselves. There’s one woman that I’m still friends with, Sandy Oltz, who was diagnosed at 45 and spent her 50th birthday on our set. She was very helpful. She would email me if it was something she thought I needed to know. I think a lot of the time people with Alzheimer’s feel unseen because we look away and it’s hard to look at. I feel like there’s some kind of a shame attached to cognitive decline, where people are like ‘Oh, I wish I had cancer instead’ [as she says in the film]. It’s on a different level.
What was your reaction when you got the script because the subject matter can be so somber at times?
KRISTEN STEWART: Every experience is different when you’re an actor and doing it for the reasons we do. Yeah, it’s definitely morbid and it’s not a walk in the park. But sometimes, it sounds silly, but sometimes filmmaking can be very important. As soon as I read Julianne’s part in this I knew that she was going to be doing something important. I knew this movie was being made so she could do something that would say something. It was intimated to me that it was our job to just hold her up. There’s a reason that I possibly felt so driven about this film is because Wash and Rich hired me. I felt like if they thought I could do it, then I could. It’s not that I don’t like that people can go to the movies and laugh but sometimes I think a movie can really say something.
JM: I did it for the money! No, it was such a great script and such a beautiful book that Lisa [Genova] wrote. What she did that was so remarkable was that she presented the disease so subjectively. What would it feel like to go through this process? We never get to see that, and Rich and Wash took that novel and made it cinematic in a very deceptively simple way. It was a thrill to be involved in something like that and I think that’s what attracted us to it, the very human nature of the story and the journey.
KS: I think it’s interesting when you have a story and you know for a fact that if it’s done right. That it’s going to be something, and everyone is going to talk about it. But if it’s done badly, the alternative is so polarized. We did it because it’s so worth it.
What did you take away from this as it pertains to the family interaction?
JM: What people told me is that everyone is different. Some families are very supportive and are there, but some are not. One woman told me that her children refuse to acknowledge that she has it. Another family told me that the father refused to acknowledge it and the kids didn’t know what to do. Every dynamic is different. Sometimes people are surprised by who sticks around and who disappears. It was interesting to me how in this movie, John (Alec Baldwin) says how much he loves his wife and that he’ll be there and in the end he just can’t, because he wants to be with the other Alice.
Kristen, as Alice’s daughter Lydia, can you point out another poignant point that is made?
KS: You have two starkly different representations of people, but Lydia has so many traits of her mother. Due to this period of Alice’s accelerated illness, they might be able reach a new comfort level with each other, and learn to appreciate each other. But first you have this girl (Lydia) who does not want anything to hold her down. She isn’t isolated, but she is different from her family. She is a very creative person, and wants to live and appreciate every moment.
One other thing the movie shined a light on is living in the present moment, and not being ruined by protecting yourself too much. It’s funny that Lydia becomes a backbone of the family, as it’s counter-intuitive to the story. She’s flimsy in the beginning of the story, but then she actually ends up being the strongest emotionally for her mom, and she learned a lot from that experience.
Syndicated Entertainment journalist Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org