In Julianne Moore’s latest performance, for the film Still Alice, she plays a woman who has just been diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s, but she could not have done such an amazing job to honor patient Sandy Oltz if she had not had her help. Moore made it a point to see and experience as much as she could before filming began. She spent close to four months tirelessly conducting research in preparation for her performance.
Moore spoke with physicians, patients, anyone who could help her to better act for the role of Alice Howland. She observed the doctors and studied how they interacted and treated the Alzheimer’s patients. Little subtleties or speech patterns that she could learn to react to, based on how the patients did. Moore asked more specific questions as her conversations with the patients progressed.
Moore, the cast and crew received a dynamite assistant when the Alzheimer’s Association sent Oltz to act as an advisor. Oltz proffered many tips and suggestions on how to manage life with Alzheimer’s, usually illustrating with moments in her own life. One specific instance is when she described how she uses highlighters to leave a sign on a book or article that she’s reading. All of their arduous work resulted in the actress going home with a Golden Globe, plus an Oscar nomination.
Oltz reported to ABC News a snippet of a conversation she had with Moore. She said how the actress would ask about what it felt like to have Alzheimer’s. Oltz said her response was something along the lines of that you reach for one word to say, but suddenly, there are many at once and the right one gets lost. After many Alzheimer’s chats with Sandy Oltz, Julianne Moore is able to bring out the best in her character, the patient Alice Howland, as the ultimate way to honor and thank Oltz for her help.
In the film Still Alice, the Golden Globe winner appears as Alice Howland, an elderly professor teaching linguistics. She hits the peak of her career, but slowly begins to lose the cognitive function for memory. Howland gets a check-up, only to learn that she’s developed Alzheimer’s. Over the course of the film, Howland’s health and identity spiral uncontrollably.
Moore gives NPR the inside scoop on her character through a short interview. One of the actress’s responses was that Howland is someone who prides herself on her intelligence. So, when the diagnosis comes along and starts to rob of her of her mind, she discovers that she has nothing to her besides that. Moore was nervous that she would not be able to paint that portait too well, but she was not alone. Wash Westmoreland, the film’s co-writer and co-director, was right there with her.
Westmoreland was concerned about the authenticity of displaying the world of Alzheimer’s too, but his reasons had more to do with how to cinematically portray that world, whereas Moore was focused on delivering the feeling aspect of it. Westmoreland said that with such a serious topic, you do not want anything to appear false, whether it be backgrounds, the sets, the dialogue, everything. He wanted every detail to, in some way, reflect what people with Alzheimer’s experience daily.
The end result between Moore, Westmoreland, and the Alzheimer’s Association transformed a script into an amazing cinematic product. Julianne Moore has already earned a Golden Globe from the project, so it is not too much to hope for that she will earn an Oscar, honoring Sandy Oltz even more, and bringing more awareness to Alzheimer’s patients worldwide.
By Matthew Austin Bowers
Photo by Ingrid Richter – Flickr License