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Monday 11 December 2017

Julianne Moore: 'The reaction from real life patients was greatest reward'

Actress Julianne Moore with her Best Actress award for her role in the film
Actress Julianne Moore with her Best Actress award for her role in the film "Still Alice" arrives at the 2015 Vanity Fair Oscar Party in Beverly Hills, California February 22

The mantelpiece in Julianne Moore's home must be pretty crowded right now.

The actress has won more than 20 awards for her performance as a woman diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice, including, at 54 years of age - after being nominated on four previous occasions - her first Oscar, for Best Actress.

The endless gongs are no surprise to anyone who has seen the film.

Moore's moving portrayal of how linguistics professor Alice struggles to keep control of her life and cope with her gradual loss of independence makes for powerful viewing.

But the North Carolina-born star insists she had no expectations when she signed up for the "little" independent project.

"We finished this movie not even a year ago, it was last March in New York City," she says.

"When you make these little movies, you don't know whether they'll be financed, you certainly don't know if you'll have distribution, and we didn't expect this, we really didn't. So this has been a major surprise. It's really great it's received so much attention."

Still Alice was made in only three-and-a-half weeks on a budget of $4m (€3.6m) - that's peanuts in Hollywood. Moore even joked in an awards speech how she had to pay for her own food and bras during the shoot.

But while the production was speedy, her own research for the role was much more in-depth.

"I spent about four months researching the disease and I met quite a few people who were diagnosed with early-onset, people at various stages of the disease," she says.

"They were incredibly generous and very forthcoming about their experiences. I based the character on that."

Relaxed and giggly, Moore comes across as fun to be around. With her pale, freckled skin and deep red hair, she looks stunning in ankle boots and a long-sleeved black mini-dress with jewelled collar.

Alzheimer's, the most common form of dementia, causes symptoms such as memory loss and difficulty with thinking and language. It tends mostly to affect older people, over-65s most typically, but early-onset Alzheimer's can develop in people in their 50s and sometimes - though very rarely - in even younger age groups.

Alice (50) is an accomplished academic living in New York who travels the country giving lectures. She has an equally busy husband, played by Alec Baldwin, and three grown-up children, the eldest of whom (Kate Bosworth) is expecting her first child. The youngest (Kristen Stewart) is training to become an actress.

When Alice is diagnosed, she is determined not to let the condition get the better of her.

"The interesting thing about the movie is it's about a progression through a disease," says Moore. "So it's not like you go from zero to 100 all at once."

But the film sees the independent and self-assured woman gradually regress to a helpless, almost childlike patient.

And despite all the awards and nominations, the actress says her greatest reward has been the response from people personally living with early-onset Alzheimer's.

"It's been really amazing, I have to say," she says. "That's probably the most rewarding experience that I've had, because I think there's a tremendous amount of shame around the disease and people feel like they're not seen, they feel isolated.

"And so it's been nice to hear from people that they were represented in the film, their experience was represented and they felt seen."

The movie is directed by married couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. And as it happens, while it was being shot, Glatzer was undergoing a battle of his own after being diagnosed with ALS (amyotrophic lateral sclerosis), a progressive neurodegenerative disease that affects nerve cells in the brain and spinal cord.

"When we were working on the film, he basically had lost function from the waist up and was no longer speaking. He was directing on an iPad," Moore says.

EXPERIENCE

"So what they were experiencing professionally and personally as a couple was mirroring what was happening in the movie. It was an extraordinary experience for all of us."

So, having been crowned the undisputed queen of this year's awards season, has life changed for Moore?

"Not really," she says with a laugh.

"It's a lot, it's definitely a lot, but it brings so much attention to the movie, and this is a movie we all care about, so it's wonderful, because hopefully people will see the film."

And while red carpets and awards buzz are fun, now that the hoo-ha is over she is looking forward to a weekend when she can just stay at home and chill out.

"Every weekend during awards season, it's like you're going to your own wedding again," she says.

"That's what it's like - it's me, I'm the bride. Because you put on make-up and hair and stuff.

"So that element is fun, but odd."

READ GEORGE BYRNE'S REVIEW OF STILL ALICE WHICH OPENS IN CINEMAS NATIONWIDE TODAY. See page 35

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