Julianne Moore, Ellen Page, and Michael Shannon star in Freeheld. It's the moving true story of Laurel Hester (Moore) and Stacie Andre (Page), a couple fighting for Laurel's pension benefits to be passed on to her domestic partner, Stacie, after finding out she has terminal cancer. Michael Shannon stars as Dane Wells, the longtime colleague of Laurel's, who fought for equality alongside the couple.
We sat down with the cast to find out what the movie means to them, how it feels to play real-life people who changed the lives of so many, and what they would tell their 16-year-old selves if they ran into them on the street. Here's what they said.
You were playing real people and telling a very important story. What kind of responsibility did you feel playing them and making sure that you did it right?
Julianne Moore: We felt a tremendous responsibility. Not only are they real people, but they are also incredibly heroic. Stacie is also so wonderful, and lovely, and sensitive, and was so generous with us that we really just wanted to portray it authentically and be as much of them as we could onscreen.
Michael Shannon: It's a huge responsibility. They can't speak for themselves, and really you're representing them to the world. And there's a documentary about this, but it's a short documentary. I'm not sure how many people have seen it; maybe more people, hopefully — fingers crossed — will see this movie. And if this is their time that they spend with these people, then it needs to be right.
What did this project mean to you personally?
Ellen Page: Firstly, you're just so moved. I was so moved by the documentary, and by their story and their love and their dedication to one another. And just as an actor, it's something you want to be a part of playing. What I really love about this film is it takes so many issues that we have talked about, are talking about, will continue to talk about, and I feel like the film manages to get all of that and be able to convey it in this really, really intimate, intimate love story. Hopefully that enables it to connect with people, and eventually connect with people who don't understand or fully agree with LGBT equality or what have you. It felt special to be involved with a film about these two women who did something so important and so crucial and did something truly brave.
MS: My eldest sister is gay, and she's married and has adopted a couple of children, and they live out in Colorado, so when I saw the script and had an opportunity to tell a story like this, it had that extra dimension to it — maybe do a film, tell a story that means something to someone in my family, which is a nice feeling.
If you could give advice to your 16-year-old self, what would you say?
JM: All I'm thinking is that my 13-year-old daughter and my 17-year-old son will click on BuzzFeed and hear me saying something like that. And they'll be like, "Mom, I saw you on BuzzFeed and you were saying something." And I'll be like, "Ohh, what did they say, oh no." That's all I'm thinking right now.
EP: At 16? I don't know! You know what's weird, I feel like at 16 I was more self-disciplined and on it than I am now!
JM: Yeah, right!
MS: I think he did all right. I'm loath to give advice to anyone. People always ask me for advice. I feel like I know less and less of what to do every day I spend on Earth. I feel like I knew more when I was 16.
In your careers, has there been someone who has inspired you or made you change your perspective on things, or on life as a whole?
JM: I don't know that there's one individual. Every once in a while somebody will say, "Oh, I had this teacher, and that changed my life!" you know? I think my mother did. That's the person who inspired me most. And my father, as well, made me believe that I could do whatever I wanted to do.
EP: I don't know. I think it would be hard to say one person.
MS: Oh yeah. Tons of people — it's like, you know, going all the way back. I've been doing this for 25 years; I started when I was 16 in Chicago. One of the first people I met and worked with was a fellow named Tracy Letts, an actor at the time. Since then, he's started writing. He wrote a couple plays, and the plays he wrote kind of changed my life — Killer Joe and Bug, and Bug I actually got to make a movie out of. So someone like him. I've worked with so many great directors: Herzog, Scorsese, and the younger directors I've worked with, Jeff Nichols, and Pete. Pete's no slouch, the fellow who directed this. It's a very long list of people.
What did you do during your downtime on set? Was there bonding going on?
MS: Well, Julie’s a hoot. She’s a crack-up. She’s a real chatty Kathy, she’ll be the first to admit it. She’d always apologize for it. “Do you want me to shut up? I just love it, this is how I like to spend my time.” I said, “Yeah, it’s fine, it’s cool.” Even though I’m the opposite — like, I’ll just sit there like a potted plant until somebody says, "Action."