Julianne Moore’s performance as a linguistics professor who’s diagnosed with early onset Alzeheimer’s in Still Alice, has earned the actress her fifth Academy Award nomination. The film was directed by Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, who also adapted the script from Lisa Genova’s bestselling novel.
Moore, 54, spoke to SSN about preparing for the role, bringing co-star Alec Baldwin aboard, and taking time away from the Mockingjay films to shoot this labor of love.
SSN: Still Alice is based on a popular book. Were you familiar with it before you signed onto the film?
Moore: I was not. I read the script first and then went to the bookstore. It was right there on the “favorites” table, so it was clear it was a well-loved book.
SSN: When you decide to do a film, is it because of the project as a whole, or because you want to sink your teeth into a character you haven’t previously portrayed?
Moore: I look at the script as a whole. Every once in a while something shows up and you say, oh, I haven’t played a rock star before (like 2012’s What Maisie Knew), but for the most part, I look at things and go, I love this story, I love this narrative, this is something that captures my attention.
SSN: What that the case with Still Alice?
Moore: In this case, I had never seen a progressive disease told so subjectively from the patient’s point of view. Traditionally, you see it from the point of view of the caregiver or family member. I thought this was really unusual and beautifully told.
SSN: How do you go about portraying that point of view? There must be a lot of pressure to get it right.
Moore: Of course there is. You have to do a tremendous amount of preparation, which is something I enjoy; I really, truly love the prep. In this instance people were incredibly generous with their time and information.
SSN: How much prep time did you have?
Moore: I knew I could not start this precipitously, I had to make sure I had the time I needed to really investigate. It was about a four-month process. I talked to the head of the Alzheimer’s Association. They set up Skype calls with various women who had been diagnosed with early onset.
SSN: Did you do the cognitive tests Alice goes through in the film?
Moore: I went to Mount Sinai Hospital and talked to Dr. Mary Sano, who is one of the leading researchers in the country on Alzheimer’s. Their psychiatrists administered the cognitive tests. I didn’t have the full amount but they were extensive and challenging.
SSN: When you’re doing this type of research, do you feel clinical as you go about it, or is that where you start forming the character?
Moore: I don’t think anybody feels clinically about Alzheimer’s. All the people I met, the patients, family members, doctors, are very involved in what this means in terms of the people in their lives. No one has a level of detachment about it, which was a beautiful thing to witness.
SSN: You worked with Alec Baldwin when you guest starred on 30 Rock. Were you responsible in bringing him on board for Still Alice?
Moore: I did. Every time I got a movie, particularly a comedy, I would call or text him and say, do you want to do this with me? He always said no. Then in one of our emails, he’s like, do you have a drama?
SSN: I see where this is going …
Moore: I said, I have this project that just came together, but the part is too small for you, I don’t think you’ll want to do it. He read it and said, I’ll do it. I was so thrilled!
SSN: You have some touching scenes with Kristen Stewart, who plays one of your daughters. Do you find the younger generation to have a different approach to the acting craft?
Moore: People always ask me if I gave her advice. [There’s] an assumption that there’s some kind of a relationship that’s unequal. It’s not. The fact of the matter is, Kristen is my peer. She’s been working since she was nine years old. It was great for me to have a scene partner I could rely on emotionally.
SSN: Where did you shoot?
Moore: Long Island. Thankfully New York has a tax credit and I was so grateful for that. That’s where I live, and everything was within a one-hour driving radius. I was home every single night.
SSN: Mockingjay was shooting in Atlanta during Still Alice’s production. How did you work out the scheduling?
Moore: I was booked on Mockingjay from September until June, with about three-and-a-half weeks off in November. The producers thought we could shoot it then but it wasn’t enough time for me to do the prep.
SSN: So what happened?
Moore: (Mockingjay distributor) Lionsgate very generously allowed me to have the month of March off, which is kind of crazy; they never do that. I was so grateful to have the opportunity to do two movies that I cared about so much, and to find a way to make it work on both.