There has never quite been a sure thing like Julianne Moore’s Best Actress win in at the 87th Academy Awards for her undeniably brilliant performance in Still Alice.
The adaptation of the Lisa Genova novel by directing duo, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, has enjoyed an overall positive response from showings at the Glasgow Film Festival to name but a few.
We speak to Co-director, Wash Westmoreland, about shedding a new light on Alzheimer’s disease and shooting the movie in less than a month.
How are you feeling about the response so far to Still Alice?
Yeah, I can’t quite believe it myself. It seems to have really connected with people, which is what we want.
It was about a year ago we started making it and when you’re an independent filmmaker you always have a dream version of how things will go. You have to live within the dream because often the reality is usually too brutal to deal with.
But this time the reality has turned out to be better than the dream. It’s really connecting with people and sort of changing the perception of the disease. It’s just extraordinary and we’re just pinching ourselves.
Your husband and Co-director, Richard Glatzer, suffers from ALS. How much of your experience from dealing with that helped with making this film?
When were first offered the book to adapt we weren’t sure at how much we could really say.
ALS and Alzheimer’s are very different diseases but have a lot in common in terms of how they put barriers up against you and the world and how it attacks your sense of self.
When we were adapting the book a lot of personal stuff went in there from Richard, I think a lot of his feeling about his own situation percolated through into Alice. Even when he was on set he was directing with one finger using a voice app on an iPad.
It sort of inspired the cast and crew. This is what we’re making the movie about, diseases can come but the people are still there.
How important was it to give an honest account of the disease and what do you want audiences to take away from it?
The last you want to do is a make a film about it that feels phoney and unrealistic.
People who have lived with Alzheimer’s or relatives with it, they know what it really feels like to have this disease. It was crucial for us that we get the audience to understand that.
Right from the beginning of the process, Maria Shriver and Elizabeth Gelfand Stearns were on as producers – who are part of the Alzheimer’s Association. They helped bring a lot of reality checks and even during the writing process we were able to talk to top scientists, social workers and those living with the disease.
We kind of had a feedback loop with them to get everything right. That’s something Julianne really got into; she was so committed to giving an authentic performance.
I think everyone has had a different experience to the movie and it is a very intense emotional ride. If it can sort of say that even when there are difficult things happening in life, it’s still possible to connect to another person.
We read that the film was made in only 23 days and during the time Julianne Moore was working on The Hunger Games Mockingjay Part 1. How challenging was that for you and Richard?
Yeah, we had 23 days so didn’t have a lot of room for messing up – we had to know what we were doing.
We couldn’t overshoot, nearly everything we shot ended up in the movie.
What was crazy about that is Julianne had done part three then had a break of about two months to then go back to do part four.
A lot of time when studios have a big blockbuster they don’t let the actors have any freedom in their downtime because if anything changes in The Hunger Games schedule then they would need Julianne Moore back.
They were very generous in giving her a clear eight week block to do a little bit of preparation and then shoot the movie. After that she went straight back to finish the rest of The Hunger Games.
What did you see in Julianne Moore that made you realise she was ideal for the role?
You know, we’ve always been huge fans of her work. You see in her filmography this exceptional range. Every character she plays is completely different but yet realistic whether it’s Amber Waves, Sarah Palin or Cathy Whitaker.
There’s a very distinct characterisation.
You see in her work the ability to project intelligence, to be emotionally vulnerable and an ability to act without words. I think a lot of her movies, like Safe, she does a lot without speaking.
She’s always about realism.
And what advice did you give Julianne for the role?
We spent about a year with her talking on Skype, talking about the movies tone and the way different scenes would work.
We did a lot of communicating beforehand so when it came to the actual production it wasn’t the kind of performance you’re going to get shouting through a bull horn. It’s really more about working with the nuisances of a scene.
Julianne came in very prepared and what she brought in was pure gold.
We witness a number of incredibly emotional scenes throughout the film, so what did you do to keep things fun on set when everything was so serious?
It’s funny because Julianne is not a method actress so between takes she isn’t in the same mood as the scene – she’d snap out of it right away. Julianne and Alec were like a comedy duo, they were so funny together.
Alec is a brilliant actor and I think this movie shows a side to him people have not seen before.
He’s a tremendous amount of fun. If an aeroplane is going over and you have to hold the role, Alec would improvise something seriously funny and have everyone in stiches but then when we’re clear he’d drop right back into the scene.
We had a family feeling on set and everyone felt comfortable. We kept each other buoyant because some days we’d be shooting some very heavy scenes back-to-back. So we all gave each other a bit of a breather and kept each other’s spirits up in between the takes and setups.
You have quite a varied career with some work in the adult film industry. What was that like for you as a young director?
Every film we’ve done has taken us into a different world and with The Fluffer we were interested in the whole sub-culture of the adult film industry.
When I was first in LA I just wanted to make films really desperately but no one else was paying me to have a camera in my hand. I didn’t think of them as x-rated productions but just as movies with characters, stories, editing and lighting as you have with every film.
It was a good way for me to practice my filmmaking skills. But really most of my style has come from my collaboration with Richard.
Will you be trying your hand at something different in any upcoming projects? An action film maybe?
We’ve got a couple of things going into production but can’t announce them at the moment – hopefully later this year we should be shooting again.
No, it’ll be Indie stuff that we’re doing. That’s where our sensibilities lie. We’re always interested in people, characters and drama over explosions. You know, I probably wouldn’t know how to make one.
Still Alice is out on March 6th and you can read our review here.