By Joe McGovern
Updated September 29, 2015 at 10:59 PM EDT
Credit: LOIC VENANCE/AFP/Getty Images
  • Movie

In her three decades as an actress, Julianne Moore has never had a year as busy and illustrious as the past one. At 54, she scored the biggest box office hit of her career (The Hunger Games: Mockingjay—Part 1), the best actress prize at the Cannes Film Festival for Maps to the Stars, and her first, long-overdue Oscar, for her heart-breaking performance as a Alzheimer’s sufferer in Still Alice.

A veteran of more than 60 films, Moore isn’t a big believer in hiatus. When she’s not making a movie, shooting the same scene over and over, she’s promoting a movie, answering the same questions over and over. So it’s understandable that she bristles a bit when you refer to Freeheld, the new drama based on a 2007 Oscar-winning documentary short, in which she stars as a lesbian cop, as one of her “gay movies.” (She also has played sapphic roles in The Hours and The Kids Are All Right.)

“I get that people have a tendency to lump things together,” she says. “And yes, obviously, to effect change you need to call attention to things that are different. But I just came from the Toronto Film Festival, and I found it tedious after a while that every question about Free­held was about gay films versus straight films and female films versus male films. The more we treat one another as special-interest groups, the more divided we become. I do want to move beyond that culturally.”

Credit: Phil Caruso

Freeheld could very well help achieve that. The heart of the story belongs to Moore’s character, Laurel Hester, a real-life New Jersey detective who, with her partner, Stacie Andree (Ellen Page), fought to change state law after Hester was diagnosed with incurable cancer and was told that her police pension would not be left to Andree because they were a same-sex couple. Hester died in 2006 — three weeks after the county board reversed their decision in her favor. “Laurel did this incredible thing which changed things for her partner and led to changing things for the nation,” Moore says. “But I keep reminding people that a woman actually lost her life. Who can imagine opening their lives up to the world and a documentary filmmaker at a time of such intense pain and difficulty?”

Moore, who lives in New York City with her husband, director Bart Freundlich, and their two kids, has never hidden her advocacy for social causes. On Twitter she’s unambiguous about her support for Planned Parenthood, gun control and, of course, marriage equality. Moore makes the point that the the Supreme Court decision on marriage this past June was achieved in large part thanks to women like Laurel Hester and Edith Windsor. Yet it is also true that Hester did not consider herself a gay rights activist, a point which Freeheld doesn’t shy away from, and Moore cherished her character’s humane modesty. “Laurel didn’t want to talk about marriage equality,” says Moore. “Because her issue was equality — period. She was an incredibly ethical person who believed in the justice system and law enforcement. She just wanted to be treated like everybody else.”

Moore’s decision to star in the film was a small victory in itself. “I cried a little when she joined on,” says Page, 28, who’s also a producer on Freeheld and has been attached to the project for seven years. “Not just because of how much I admire her, but when Julianne Moore says yes to your movie, you know your movie is going to get made.”

Moore and Page’s 26-year age gap mirrors the difference between the actual couple, and their chemistry on screen is authentic. “That’s because Ellen is so sensitive and open and honest,” says Moore. “And she’s also invited a scrutiny into her private life, which has so much to do with wanting to shine a light for other people who are suffering.”

She is referring to Page’s public coming out in 2014, which Moore was moved by, but she has noticed a double standard in the questions that she and her costar have fielded. “At Toronto, everyone was asking Ellen about her sexuality,” she says. “No one once asked me about my sexuality. I think the less we talk about everyone being ­heterosexual or homosexual, the better off we are. And I feel the same way about being a woman. I don’t even need female empowerment. I just want simple inclusion and for everyone to stop congratulating themselves for including us.”

Freeheld, Oct. 2Freeheld, based on a 2007 Oscar-winning documentary short of the same name, is about a lesbian couple (Ellen Page and Julianne Moore) who challenge a discriminatory partner-benefits law in New Jersey when Moore’s character, police officer Lauren Hester, becomes terminally ill. “Why does it feel like we’re doing something different?” asks director Peter Sollett (Nick & Norah’s Infinite Playlist). “Is it just because there are female protagonists?”
| Credit: Phil Caruso

Following that wisdom, Moore’s objection to Freeheld being characterized as niche makes perfect sense. True, it is the first film about the legal struggle for gay rights told from the perspective of lesbians. “And Ellen and I have talked about how important that is for the female gay community,” Moore says. But she worries that marginalizing the movie could distract from the universality of its message. “I feel like it’s not enough for this film to be an artistic success; I want it to be an economic success,” she says. “I’m hopeful. This isn’t a movie about two women who wanted to land on Mars. They just wanted to live a regular old American life, which is something that everyone can relate to. These are people who are in our communities, your sisters and your neighbors and your teachers. Laurel and Stacie are in the mainstream of society. And it’s in the mainstream where you change hearts and minds.”


  • Movie
  • PG-13
  • 103 minutes
  • Peter Sollett