Close Encounters of the Celebrity Kind...
Prize Winners: Julianne Moore and Jane Anderson
from the 9/28/05 issue of Windy City Times
by Richard Knight, Jr.
Actor Julianne Moore and writer-director Jane Anderson collaborate on The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio
At 11am on a week day morning Julianne Moore was all dolled up in full make-up, a forest green designer Burberry cocktail dress
and a pair of black Jimmy Choo’s. The petite actress had just come from taping a segment of Oprah to publicize her latest starring
vehicle, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. Now it was time to do the same with Windy City Times. The film, based on the memoir by
lesbian writer Terry “Tuff” Ryan, details the amazing life of her mother, 1950s housewife Evelyn Ryan who helped support her ten
children by entering and winning hundreds of jingle writing contests.
Moore was funny and sweet and, yes, winning, as she talked about the filming and she was particularly complimentary about the
movie’s screenwriter and first time feature director, out lesbian Jane Anderson. Later that week, in a separate interview, Anderson,
who always makes Power Up’s Top Ten list of the Most Powerful Lesbians in Hollywood, was equally effusive about Moore, her
reasons for making the movie, and was eloquent about the recent life challenging experience that Terry Ryan has faced.
WCT: Okay, (reading prepared question), “Well, Julianne Moore – I think another Oscar nomination is coming your way for The Prize
Winner of Defiance, Ohio”!
JM: (laughs) You had to read that, huh?
WCT: I wanted to get it right. Now, what I want to know is if that’s because you do your best work for gay directors? Todd Haynes,
JM: (laughs really big) Gay, schmay! You know, I think, like everybody – and you certainly say it in your magazines – sexuality
has nothing to do with anything at all. Absolutely nothing. It’s a non-issue – but thank you for the compliment.
WCT: You seem to be drawn to really complex characters that hide their light under a bushel, is that true? Did you find those
aspects in this character?
JM: I think I’m drawn to complexity because I think people are complex. She was an astonishing person because she was so
incredibly positive in the face of such hardship and she managed to make that family happy. There wasn’t any kind of false bravado
there – she really seemed like an incredibly genuine, positive person. The idea that she could be all those kinds of things in her
circumstances was really intriguing to me. I like that because I think that’s what I want to see in the movies – that kind of
complexity. You want to play parts in a gray area. We mythologize in films all the time because it gives us stories that help us
understand our lives, in a way. We’re always trying to simplify in the movies but in fact it is complicated. (pause) Now about those
(we start laughing)
WCT: Can you just talk a little bit about working with Jane Anderson on her first feature?
JM: Terry Ryan wrote a really extraordinary memoir about her life and mother and it’s about memories and I think that to shape
that into a dramatic narrative was something that was incredibly difficult to do and Jane did a great job with that.
WCT: Will you make me happy and tell me you’re going to do another Todd Haynes movie?
JM: (brightens) Yeah, I am! You know, Todd’s next movie is about Dylan, isn’t that cool? It’s this meditation on Dylan with all
these people playing Dylan-like characters and I have a very, very small part in it where I’m like the Joan Baez/Joni Mitchell kind of
character. It’s teensy weensy but I’m happy to do it because I really love Todd. I don’t know when he’s going to shoot it, I think
they’re raising the money now.
WCT: Can’t wait. By the way, I actually met you a long time ago.
JM: Which movie was it on?
WCT: You were here in 1993 for “Snakebit,” a play that Campbell Scott directed and we were hanging out having drinks afterwards.
I knew one of the actors in the play.
JM: Oh yeah! That’s right.
WCT: I complimented you on The Hand That Rocks the Cradle and all those theatre actors looked at me with daggers.
JM: (laughs) I think I was here shooting The Fugitive and I was staying in this hotel as a matter of fact.
WCT: Geez, 12 years later and still stuck in the Ritz-Carlton, too bad!
Another day, another interview for The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio. This time with the film’s screenwriter and director (of her first
feature), Jane Anderson. Anderson’s work is very familiar to gay audiences – she also wrote The Baby Dance, a segment of If These
Walls Could Talk 2, When Billie Beat Bobbie, and Normal, the Jessica Lange-Tom Wilkinson acclaimed 2003 HBO film (based on her
play) that Anderson also directed.
WCT: Tell me about how you first found out about the project.
JA: Well I had read the memoir independently and loved it and then Robert Zemeckis called me up and he said that he had bought
the rights and would I like to write the screenplay for him to direct and I said, “Absolutely.” Then when I finally solved the
screenplay he said, “Aw, Jane, I don’t know if I could handle all those kids and I’m going to give it to someone else to direct” and I
said, “Can I do it because I love this and I have a vision for it and would you give me a shot?” And he said yes. It was the greatest
gift I’ve gotten in my recent career.
WCT: What spoke to you about this story that made you want to take it on?
JA: What really moved me was Evelyn Ryan’s remarkable philosophy of life which was – and this is the phrase that I kept saying
over and over again to guide me through the screenplay – “Pain is inevitable but suffering is an option.”
WCT: That’s beautiful.
JA: It’s her ability to acknowledge the difficulties – even the horrors – of her life and not to succumb. Her ability to actively seek joy
and optimism with such intelligence and such strength so moved me that I felt this story and this philosophy has to be told right now
because our poor, wounded nation – we’re so surrounded by fear by right now and all of us are just waiting for the next horror to
happen. I found that after 9/11 that I was living under this cloud of dread and I started to realize that the only way to survive and
to live a good life – and I’m a mother and feel a responsibility towards my son in making sure that he’s not consumed by dread – I
started to develop this desire to cherish the day. Evelyn was able to find delight in the most ordinary of things and that’s what
sustained her and she didn’t need to have the big career in the big city in order to feel fulfilled. She found her happiness from
within. It wasn’t denial; it wasn’t naiveté, it was a deep understanding of the nature of happiness that is Buddhist in nature.
WCT: It’s kind of like a Mother Courage story.
JA: Yes! Mother Courage.
WCT: You know, I haven’t read the memoir, I just saw the New Yorker piece, can you fill me in – did Tuff (the out lesbian daughter
who wrote the book) ever come out to her parents? Was that discussed in the book?
JA: Oh yeah, Evelyn, of course, was completely loving and wonderful – it was never discussed in the memoir – but Tuff and her
partner Pat were completely embraced by Evelyn.
WCT: That’s wonderful. You know, I just want to ask as an aside, I read that she’s going through chemotherapy; do you know how
she’s doing now?
JA: I saw her recently at the San Francisco premiere and Terry’s pulling off a miracle. Two weeks after we shot the film she started
to lose the ability to read or speak and she was collapsing and she discovered that she had six Stage IV brain tumors. Had it in her
lungs, cancer in her lymph system and since then she’s had chemo and radiation and all the tumors are in retreat. She’s getting all
her faculties back and she just looks like this beautiful Zen monk lady. She glows with a light and a joy and Terry has her mother’s
joy and sense of equanimity. I think she’s going to make it because she’s Evelyn Ryan’s daughter.
WCT: That’s great. Can you give me a quick take on working with Julianne Moore and having her on your first feature film?
JA: Well Julianne Moore is incredibly skilled and her craft is so sophisticated and she’s so intelligent and she basically comes to the
set fully loaded and ready to go. There’s very little you need to say to Julianne Moore as far as direction is concerned because she
does all her homework and her interpretation of my words were just exquisite.
WCT: Is she doing your next feature, “The Wife” with you; I don’t know much about that.
JA: No, unfortunately, it’s a different kind of role.
WCT: When is that going to happen?
JA: Oh, you know, I don’t have my green light yet – still working on it – so, who knows?