Be warned: If you go to see Freeheld (in theaters today), pack some tissues because it'll be hard to turn off the waterworks during the last scene. When we went to a private screening, we witnessed a room full of top industry insiders and critics just bawling (us, too). It's because the premise is universal: True love is worth fighting for. The film is based on the true story of Detective Laurel Hester and Stacie Andree. Hester, who had worked for the Ocean County, New Jersey police department for decades, was diagnosed with lung cancer in 2005, and as she got sicker and sicker, she advocated to the county's Board of Chosen Freeholders to pass her pension benefits on to her domestic partner, Andree.
While politically charged, the film is truly a compelling, beautiful love story, brought to life with touching performances by Julianne Moore as Hester and Ellen Page as Andree. Throughout the 103 minutes, you see their love grow and develop, from their butterflies-in-the-belly beginning to their too-early end.
What the film teaches its viewers is that #LoveRules in every way. You see it through Dane Wells (Michael Shannon), Hester's partner who grapples with the news of her sexuality and diagnosis but rallies his unwilling colleagues at the New Jersey police department to support his former partner in her final days. On the other side of the spectrum, you see the rustlings of the gay marriage movement starting to pick up speed through Steve Carell's character Steven Goldstein, who helped lead the movement and amp up the pressure in the coastal town.
We caught up with Julianne Moore when she brought the film to the Toronto International Film Festival, where we discussed the courage it takes for anyone to fight for their rights. "Regular people are the most heroic," said Moore. "We all have private lives. To take what’s most private and most dear to you, like your relationship, and make it public to make a change in the world for everyone, it’s an incredibly heroic thing to do."
Moore went on to open up about the politics of the film, the love at the heart of it, and how challenging it is to play someone at the end of their life. Scroll down to read our conversation.
While watching this, I found this to be more of a love story than a political one, even though the central issue is so politically-driven.
"The love story is the part I found so exciting about this. To see people genuinely fall in love and build a life together, it’s something that we can all relate to. Falling in love is something that most of us do in our lifetime. We build our lives on relationships, and this is a celebration of that. It’s also an expression of how the most intimate, most personal things in our lives are innately political."
"People think of politics as something that is very far away. People think it’s about rules and regulations. But really, as a society and community, we come up with these rules and ways to live in order to protect the things we value and the things we value most—our family and the person we choose to live with. That’s how we determine how we live our lives. In this, my character Laurel is someone who was a believer in the justice system and worked in law enforcement all her life. She was a truly good cop, a hard worker, and she believed in justice for everyone. Basically on her last day of her life she said, 'I spent my life looking for justice for other people now I only want justice for the woman that I love.'"
It seems as if this movie couldn’t come out at a better time. At the end of the film, the director put in a frame that stated the Supreme Court's decision to legalize gay marriage.
"I know. I could cry. People always ask if movies move culture forward and I always say movies really reflect what’s going on in culture. I do think that’s clearly illustrated by the Supreme Court decision. We’ve reached a point in our nation where everyone is like ‘This is something we need to take care of. This is something we need to change.’ The movie, luckily, is part of that."
It's a conversation that will continue even long after the Supreme Court decision, too.
"The quality of the conversation is never going to go away. Humanism is never going away. The more we isolate each other and put people into boxes and say that they’re different because of sexuality or race or gender or their place that they live, the more we distance ourselves. In fact, every human being is exactly the same. The more we recognize our similarities the better off we are."
Let's talk about the relationship on screen. From beginning to end, you see the stages of your love, and it's clear you and Ellen Page had a connection.
"I think you see the intimacy, the closeness and the vulnerability and the bond that they have, which was easy with Ellen. She’s just so wonderful and loving and open and honest and eager to engage. We rushed toward each other and it felt good. It was wonderful to be with her as an actor, and it felt wonderful to have her as a friend every day on the set. It felt like the two of us were making that movie together."
The role is also extremely physical. When your character is dying from cancer, she loses her hair and her voice. Was that difficult?
"Being bald makes you feel incredibly vulnerable. Interestingly enough, Laurel was somebody with beautiful hair, and was known for her blonde hair from the '80s. She was very attached, yet that was one of things she lost as she got sick. She was so tough and so sure of herself as a cop. When she’s no longer able to do the work that she’s doing, she no longer has the same kind of strength and voice in her body and she loses her hair and you see how very vulnerable she is, it made me feel that way, too."
Freeheld is in theaters Friday, October 2. Watch a trailer of the film below. Also, insider tip: In the last scene where the Freeholders must make a decision on the pension, look for the real-life Stacie Andree in the courtroom.