Julianne Moore sees ‘Still Alice’ as a universal story

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LOS ANGELES – Will Julianne Moore finally win an Oscar for playing an Alzheimer’s patient in “Still Alice,” opening Friday?

She knows what it’s like to be nominated — for “Boogie Nights,” “The End of the Affair,” “Far from Heaven” and “The Hours.” On Sunday she won a Golden Globe for her “Still Alice” work.

“I just feel lucky and grateful that people are talking about this small movie that asks: Who are we? Who do we want to be? Who do we want to be with in life?” says Moore, 54. “The idea that this little labor of love is getting attention makes me so grateful.”

In “Still Alice,” made on a shoestring budget of $4 million with one director dealing with ALS, Moore plays a wife, mother and linguistics professor diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s disease.

She embraced how the film at its core shows that life changes on a dime.

“We meet a woman who has achieved a lot,” she says. “She has been very successful in her career. She has a happy marriage and her kids are growing and on their way.

“We see her at the point we’d like to be, and then she’s hit with this news, which is pretty life-altering for the whole family. It’s interesting that things can appear to be perfect or static, but are they really? That’s what makes this story universal.”

Portraying a woman with Alzheimer’s was a challenge since no one “really knows what goes on in the mind in this situation,” Moore says.

“I was too afraid to embark on anything without understanding, not that I would understand completely,” she says, mentioning what she found out during her research was eye-opening. “I was sent an article saying that women in their 60s have a one in six chance of developing Alzheimer’s, which is the same statistics for breast cancer. It’s a disease that’s rapidly gaining ground.”

To research the film, Moore spoke to women on Skype who were recently diagnosed and went to Mt. Sinai to discuss the disease with doctors.

“I had the cognitive test that they give,” she says. “And then I spoke with support groups. I tried to meet everyone at every stage of the disease.

“I would always say to them, ‘Can you tell me what it feels like?’ And then they would try to explain it to me. I found that instead of disappearing, everyone is trying so hard to hang on to the life that they’ve had. But the personality remains in a really remarkable way.”

Many of the people diagnosed with early onset Alzheimer’s are still in the workforce when they receive the news.

“It broke my heart,” she admits. “These people are often forced into early retirement, which is hard. We socialize so much at work.

“One woman I spoke to in the Midwest said, ‘I try to find things to do to fill my days. I can’t drive my car anymore. I can’t get to the mall by myself.’

“Many early onset patients talk about the excruciating loneliness that they find.”

What scared her the most? “The idea of not knowing who you are was hard. That’s why Alzheimer’s is so terrifying. You’re asking, ‘Who am I?’”

The good news, Moore says, is that research is shedding some light on what to do about the disease. “Thirty years ago no one knew what to do about cancer. With enough money and research there are so many things they can do now,” she says. The people in the Alzheimer’s community do feel like they’re a stone’s throw away from something meaningful.”

In the end, she says that the film isn’t sad, but uplifting. “There is so much beauty in watching a family transform in reaction to their mother’s illness,” she says.

Moore lives in New York City with husband and director Bart Freundlich and is the mother of two children, Caleb, 17 and Liv, 12. She says that she hit a “brand new coolness factor” having a key role in the recent “Hunger Games” film. “I grabbed my daughter’s book when we were on vacation and loved it,” she said. “When I got the role, my kids were really excited. I’m a cool, cool mom now.”

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