There’s something so delightfully wonderful about seeing an exciting new film two days after the Academy Awards. Gloria Bell is just that delight. Julianne Moore sitting in her car, singing along to a great soundtrack, dancing to Gloria with a perfect freeing smile is perfection.
Director Sebastian Lelio eye captures Moore in a mode that is nothing short of radiant as she goes on a journey to unleash love, self-discovery, and ultimately, her own free spirit. Much like his previous works, from Disobedience to A Fantastic Woman, Lelio delivers a fascinating character study of a woman. I caught up with him to talk about revisiting Gloria.
What was it like for you to revisit this character, but now with Julianne Moore as your lead actress?
It was such a luxury to work with your own story and materials and to try to make it resonate again.
It was such a great opportunity and to see Julianne channeling Gloria Bell was so marvelous. She’s such a great actress and everything was about subtlety, elegance, and refinement and I felt blessed.
Of course, it as challenging and frightening in the beginning, because why mess with a film that people love, people who love that film really love it. At the same time, that was the challenge to see if we could make this new version vibrant, alive, and make it resonate once again.
You shoot this frame for frame to the original but bring her into this new culture. That’s a great creative choice, what was your choice behind that?
I knew that I didn’t want to change the story. There’s an existing melody and I was going to do a new version with a new rock band, but why would I change that original melody? That was the most important thing to understand. It’s like staging a play again. It wasn’t about reinventing anything, it was about honoring what made the first story work, but bringing it back to life in this new culture with this marvelous group of actors.
Some things were easily adaptable, but some required a bit more effort, but at the end of the day, I’d say the main source of trying to make it culturally accurate came from working with the actors.
I’d tell them that if anything sounded funny or strange or not right, I wanted them to let me know. English isn’t my first language, so I was half-deaf to a certain level. It’s all about talking about life’s little things and for that, you need to capture the cultural texture to get it right and that the work with the actors was essential to that. They’d propose different solutions and that’s how they kept it genuine.
I loved the soundtrack and each song spoke about where she was. How did you find the right songs to bookmark her?
Gloria Bell, in a certain way, is like a hidden musical and I love music in film. It’s one of the things I love the most about filmmaking where characters are singing, dancing, or listening to music.
Gloria is such a musical character and she loves to sing and dance. It was the perfect excuse to put together a great playlist. It was a really interesting exercise to find a group of songs that translated from the first version. That version had songs that belonged to a romantic Spanish repertoire and I wanted to find the American equivalent, that’s where Julianne was a great help. I’d come up with three options and she’d say, “That’s great because we know that song.”
Each song she sings or dances to resonates with her process.
And you really feel that you capture her life through whatever song is playing at that moment.
What else did she bring to the role for you? She brings rebellion and grace to Gloria and you say she helped with the music?
She created a marvelous interpretation of the character. In our first meeting, she suggested LA would be the right setting, and I thought that was a great idea. There’s something about LA and a certain level of mess that this city has that could communicate well will with what the story needed. It feels messier than other American cities.
The paintball scene almost made me applaud if everyone else had done it. I thought it was a liberating moment for her.
It’s so funny you say that. When we showed it in Toronto, there was spontaneous applause at that moment and it was so touching that I almost cried because it’s a testament to the level of commitment that the audience developed towards the film and Gloria. I was so moved when we showed that.
It’s actually one of the oldest ideas in the script. Many things actually kept evolving and changing, but the paintball revenge moment was always there. It’s a moment when somehow she is liberated. She’s overcome her limit and reaches a zone that is both thematically and stylistically beyond the limits the film imposed on itself. It’s something so different from realism.
The music from the radio actually becomes part of the score for the first time and the only time.
You do such a great job of tapping into us whether it’s from Gloria, Disobedience, or A Fantastic Woman. Do you have a secret?
I don’t know. I think I’m really interested in the woman interpreting the role. I love the characters and I’m involved in the writing process and I need the character because they’re what make the story and the fiction work, but at the same time, while shooting, one needs to concentrate on the artistic battle that the actress is giving. Somehow, the character is one-dimensional, but the actress is there, a human with a story, a history, a background, and someone who has committed her life to this platform and all of those elements co-exist.
I’m really interested in who Julianne is and how she incarnates Gloria and what things that are inherent to her, interface with the character. That’s the intersection that I try to grasp with the camera. You’re watching a human being/character at the same time. That’s what I want to capture.