Julianne Moore and Ellen Page Are Still Acting Like a Couple

Laurel Hester (Julianne Moore

There was something awkward about walking in on Julianne Moore and Ellen Page in a downtown hotel room earlier this week. The two had reunited to conduct interviews for Freeheld, the biopic, in which they play a lesbian couple, Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree, thrust into the national battle for equality, after county officials deny Stacie the rights to her dying partner's pension. Seated close together, with Moore's arm around Page's chair, the two looked like they were still in character. The fact that the actresses regularly gazed into each other's eyes and finished one another's sentences only enhanced this appearance.

SF Weekly spoke to Julianne Moore and Ellen Page, just days before Freeheld's Oct. 9 opening, about playing partners, the ongoing struggle for equality, and why neither actress enjoys revisiting previous projects.

[jump] Ellen, what interested you about playing Stacie Andree?

Ellen Page: I was just so moved by the story about their love and dedication to one another. I thought that what they went through was just cruel. It was just how emotionally moved I was. I really just feel honored and grateful to be a part of telling their story.

Julianne, you're an icon to lesbian women worldwide.

EP: I told you.

Julianne Moore: I have been telling you that. [Laughs]

From all these lesbian or sexually fluid roles that you've played over the years, what have you learned about lesbian women?

JM: What was interesting was how when you think that you know something, you discover something else. Like when Ellen was talking to me about her experiences as a young woman coming out in Hollywood, I was really flabbergasted. Even when Ellen said to me that she felt uncomfortable to have to dress a certain way, I said, 'Really?' It had never occurred to me that you would put something on and think, 'I don't want to wear this. This makes me feel bad.' So it's worth it to hear a person's feelings of discrimination because we don't know. You learn more by being told.

What is the cultural impact of a film like Freeheld?

JM: I feel like movies don't necessarily change the culture. But I do know that they reflect it. People will sometimes say that this movie broke totally new ground. Well, no, you know what? Actually the ground was broken, and we made a movie about it. They are concomitant sometimes. Sometimes something will happen in popular culture and the movie will be right there and you'll have this perception that the movie got there first; but in reality, culture gets there first. So I think that's kind of a wonderful thing. I think it's a bit like the Supreme Court, where the Supreme Court makes a decision on something once the popular culture has already swung another way. They very rarely lead with an opinion. They are usually following the opinion of the American people, and I feel that movies are that way, too. 

2010's The Kids Are All Right came out at a time when many of us were desperately fighting for marriage equality, so it was important to see a 'normal gay couple' onscreen. What would you like Freeheld to accomplish?

JM: One of the things that's interesting about The Kids Are All Right is that they were living in a different place, in a major American urban center, Los Angeles. They were wealthy. One of the partners was a doctor. They didn't have a lot of political strife within the world they were living in due to their socio-economic status. Also, that story is fiction.

This story is true. When you see Laurel and Stacie, they're living in a much different world. They're living in the most politically conservative county in New Jersey. They're living in a time before domestic partnership was even passed. When it was passed,  [Governor Jon] Corzine had this weird loophole in it that allowed the county officials to determine the benefits package, so you see a personal story being told within a different political world and the ramifications of those political decisions on that relationship. So it is ultimately about how the personal is political. What does inequality mean? It means that you can't keep your house. It means that you're not recognized as a partner. It's a very different look at a same-sex relationship, I'd say. 

Were there scenes that were particularly painful for you to shoot?

EP: I had those experiences, I think. Particularly stuff in the hospital or when Stacie gets the diagnosis that they're not looking for a cure anymore. Especially when you know the person. Obviously I can't even begin to understand or have any concept of what that experience is like.  But I think just out of care for these people and what they went through, there were moments where I was so deeply…

JM: People were very invested in the story even when we were making it.

EP: I think, too, for gay people, in particular, the small things that others might not notice, the nuances of being in a closeted relationship.

What did you do for levity on set?

JM: What didn't we do? [Laughs]

EP: She is always singing and dancing. It will blow your mind, honestly. I keep telling people about it, if they ask me what it's like working with Julie. She's literally up until action singing and dancing. Then it's like, 'Action,' Julianne Moore, 'Action,' Oscar-winning performance or whatever.  It's obviously a true story and devastating, but we got along so well and had a special time together. 

JM: It was great to have someone who was my partner onscreen and my partner off-screen. We both had the same goals and the same desires and the same relationship to the story and to wanting to illuminate their partnership. That was exciting for me, because often you don't know if you're going to have the same goals as the actors you're working with. But we very much did.

Julianne, I'm sure you're getting a lot of questions about LGBT issues on this press tour. Is it daunting, being a spokesperson for LGBT issues?

JM: It is daunting, and one of the things I say to people is, 'I'm not an expert on either one of these subjects.' I'm speaking from the point of view of an actor and a person. The great thing about being an actor is that it does expose you to things you might not have otherwise been exposed to, so you have the opportunity to learn, do research and figure it out and talk about what this means to you as a person. I always stress that neither of these situations has been my experience. And as Ellen was saying earlier, you can't presume to have gone through something like this personally, because you haven't. But you do try to give voice to something that you've had the opportunity to learn something about. 

What was it like watching Freeheld with Stacie Andree?

EP: I felt concerned for her, because I had an emotional experience watching the film, and usually when you're in a movie, you're disconnected from it. You're never gonna feel what you felt making it. There's something when you watch a scene, you go, 'Ugh,' 'cause you'll never feel that feeling again. But this totally affected me emotionally. So it was special to have made it after all these years. It was special to share the story, but my main thing was concern. We always feel concern and care for Stacie and just want her to feel protected.

How would you compare your experience watching it to making it?

JM: I very rarely see my movies, so I have no relationship to them. Once I finish something, I have no relationship with it. [Laughs] It's true what Ellen said, our pleasure, our joy comes from the actual doing of it. I think that's why with actors we have a very much, what's next personality, because the fun and excitement and art of it comes from being on set with those people and creating it and having that moment and having those connections. So once that's finished, you sort of forget.

EP: It's not just like, 'Oh, my face.' But it really is a strange experience, because a part of you really does expect to feel what you felt on the day, and you're never going to feel that, watching the movie. It's never going to compare to being with Julie and shooting a scene with Julie. 

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