After the Wedding is the story of two women who start worlds apart. Michelle Williams is Isabel, someone who has devoted her life to caring for children at an orphanage in Calcutta, India. The orphanage is running out of funds, and Isabel flies to New York to meet a potential donor. Julianne Moore plays the potential donor, Theresa, a multi-millionaire media mogul. When the two women come together, they discover they had more in common than they expected.
The film is an American adaptation of Susanne Bier’s 2006 film Efter Brylluppet starring Mads Mikkelsen and Rolf Lassgård. Julianne Moore explains she was fascinated by the latter’s character arc and turned to her filmmaker husband Bart Freundlich about how struck she was by the character. When the idea of gender flipping the roles came up, Moore wanted to be involved in the film and felt compelled by the idea of playing a woman who had made conscious decisions and had made a success out of herself both professionally and personally without being evil or “thinly drawn.” I caught up with Moore recently in LA to talk about playing Theresa.
What was it about watching the original movie that made you think, “I need to do this and star in it?”
My husband had been approached. Joel Michaels had owned the rights to this and had been trying to get it made for about twelve years. They had approached him about making an American adaptation, so he was looking at the film, and I was watching it with him. We’re both big fans of Susanne Bier and her work, and we loved this movie, it was absolutely beautiful. I was watching it, and Mads Mikkelsen is the lead and there’s this character played by Rolf Lassgård, and I was just fascinated by him. I was fascinated by everything that he was doing and what his arc was. The film ended, and I said to my husband, “Wow, I’d play that part.” At that point, he was just thinking about whether he’d adapt it and when something is so beautifully made, why would you then do an American version, so what’s the difference going to be? Then they hit on the idea of doing a gender flip and making those two male characters female. That’s when I said, I would absolutely love to be involved in it.
What it does for the film is that if those characters are female, there’s a decision that they’ve all made that is very very conscious. In the Danish film, it’s somewhat accidental, and there’s a lot of information that these people don’t have. All of these characters have been very deliberate in their choices, and I really love that. I love too, that Theresa has made these deliberate choices as well, she has also built, very consciously, a huge business that she cares a lot about. She cares about her employees, and at the same time, she has constructed this really wonderful family. Her investment in her life — both her professional and personal — is enormous and successful. She’s used her own power to construct all this. Suddenly, she’s at a place where there’s this one thing that she can’t control, and she’s forced to engage with the one person that she doesn’t want to engage with.
I feel that you never get to see these kinds of women on screen. When a woman is represented as a powerful businesswoman, they’re usually very thinly drawn, and they’re usually evil. For me, I know a lot of women that have successful careers and successful families who work very hard at managing both. It’s not an easy thing to do, and yet, I know many people who have been very successful in doing it. I was very excited about the idea of playing somebody like that.
I love that she’s so successful, she’s not evil. She’s done it all. I like that. It’s such a rare thing to see on screen.
I know, right?
I loved that opening where you see her in the beginning, singing along to The Edge of Glory and she’s all put together, but then you see what happens to her later.
She likes to live. What I find compelling about Theresa is she is someone who lives in a big way. She had the imagination to say, “I want to build my own company.” She had the drive. She had ambition. The thought. She does everything in a way that is outsized, and I loved that. Even her beautiful house and that beautiful garden. There’s this idea that everything she is going to do is expressive of abundance. It’s in a way that is positive and may be selfish because then you see Isabel’s character who has renounced everything. She has said, “I want to devote myself to helping others.” My character has taken an awful lot. I like Theresa because maybe she is not perfect. She is not a saint by any stretch of the imagination. Nobody is. They’ve all made choices, they believe are intrinsically are the right choices for them to make. They’re all culpable in terms of where the story goes. They have to reconcile themselves with the choices they’ve made.
Theresa touches me too because it’s hard for her to ask for what she wants. She’s trying to make people do it because she doesn’t want to ask. I found it so interesting. She’s really trying to manipulate people in a way because she doesn’t believe that someone would just help her.
On the other hand, you have Isabel who is just the opposite of her. I read how you approached Michelle by email. I love that you’ve been in movies together, but not had scenes until this.
I was sitting at my desk and Bart was standing in the doorway. We were talking about the character and who we’d love. He said, “I don’t know if she would do it, but Michelle Williams is the person that I’d love to go to.” So, I said, “If that’s what you want to do, let’s do it. I have her email.” It’s the fastest way of getting to someone, and I said, “This is out of the blue. We’re doing this project, and we’d love for you to play the lead. I can send you this right away.” And she responded right away. We couldn’t have asked for anybody better. There are whole moments in the movie that play out on her face. There’s one transition and one realization that happens in a closeup and she’s just superb.
What was the biggest challenge in playing the part?
Time. We never had enough time. That’s really what it was. You never have the budget you want with an independent film. You don’t have the days. Even now, I look at it and there are scenes I’d love to do over again, we were losing light and the location, or we didn’t have the extra half day. It’s always a miracle we get the movies done. We don’t have the luxury thing where if we go over, we can add a few days to the schedule. We just don’t have those days. That’s always the most challenging part.
You talk about independent films, and so much of your work is in that area. You get to play these great female characters that you don’t get with the studios. How has independent film provided that platform for you?
I think the movies that do make a billion dollars are generally fantasy films and do well globally, and they pack a powerful entertainment punch, but they’re not necessarily intimate family stories. Just because of my taste and what I’m drawn to and the movies that I like to watch, and the stories that I like to be in, I’ve gravitated towards independent film. I’ve been lucky that there is a model and that they exist. I’ve worked with such talented writers and directors. I’ve been able to explore these stories and be in the stories that I’m interested in. It’s not a perfect system. For me, it gets exhausting not to have the infrastructure and to always be starting in the same point, and not have the support you want to have when making a movie, and to have that extra time, but we do have the luxury of being able to explore topics that wouldn’t ordinarily be explored.
Like I said at the beginning, I loved Gloria Bell and I loved you singing in the car. I also loved the scene of you doing it in After The Wedding. So, I have to ask, do you like singing in the car?
No. Never. That’s the thing; I never ever do that. I really don’t. People are always asking, “What kind of music do you listen to in the car?” I’m like, “NPR?” I’m one of those people. I want to listen to a podcast. I’ll listen to Terry Gross. I will listen to BBC America. I’ll listen to that stuff. When there’s music on, it’s because my kids or my husband are in the car and they’ve put it on. I’m much more soothed by language.
That’s so funny. I thought you’d be one of those who sings along in the car.
What’s your process and getting into the characters whether it’s Gloria or Theresa?
First of all, I have to be interested, I’ll read something, and it will spark. I’ll go, “Oh, I know who this is.” I want to find out more. I’ll relate to them in a way, and I’ll never know why. I never know exactly why I respond to something.
I’ve been sent scripts with female roles and I don’t know why, but I’ll go towards something. It’s some interest that I have. I’m always looking for what’s real because when I see something on the screen and I’ve seen that, or I say, “I understand that,” I get very excited. I think audiences too because you can smell things when they don’t feel real.I think when somebody says, “Oh, that would never happen.” That means you’ve gotten it wrong, because the audience is saying, “Oh, that’s not true.” What you want is the audience to say, “What if that happened?” That’s what I’m looking for in my work.
After The Wedding is on release August 9, 2019