Q: Did you feel the pressure to win the Oscar as the favorite, after winning in Cannes and taking part in the blockbuster The Hunger Games?
It’s hard not to think about it when people keep bringing it up. Honestly, this has been a wild and wonderful ride. We made this movie last March—it hasn’t even been a year since we finished it. The fact that any of this has happened has truly been an anomaly and has surprised me every step of the way. I’m trying to remain as calm as I can. I’m incredibly grateful for everything that’s been happening. And I don’t take any of it for granted, not for a minute.
Q: Does it feel better to finally win an Oscar for the first time, after five nominations?
That is one of the things that’s so great about this happening—this is my fifth (Oscar) nomination. The other ones were when my kids were little: I had babies. Half the time I was nursing, so they weren’t aware what was happening. Now, they’ve been completely aware of it, so supportive.
I get texts. I got a text from my son saying, “Yeah, blow off the mani-cam,” because they asked me to do the E! manicure camera. I was like, “I can’t!” My kids are watching, my husband has been amazing. I said to them when this all started, “You know, I’m going to be very busy in January and February.” They said, “It’s ok mommy. We get it.” They come with me to the things they can, they’ve been amazing… They’re seventeen and almost thirteen, so they’re great.
Q: Do you think that helped to win an Oscar, the fact of playing an Alzheimer’s victim? How do you think you got it right?
I had a tremendous amount of help from the people in the Alzheimer’s community— honestly I knew nothing about the disease. I’ve been lucky enough not to have any family members affected, so I did everything I could. I had four months to do it. I started with the National Alzheimer’s Association and they set me up with Skype calls with women who have been diagnosed with early onset. I spoke to them about their experiences. Then I went to Mount Sinai where I talked with Dr. Mary Sano, who is one of the leading researchers and clinicians in Alzheimers. I also talked to the doctors there. And had a neuropsychologist give me the cognitive tests, which were pretty extensive.
Q: Was there one person who had that kind of spirit that you ended up with in the movie?
They all did. In New York, I went to the support groups with women who were so helpful: they really explained what it felt like. A lot of language from my script is taken from there. Sandy Oltz is a woman who was diagnosed at 45, who has red hair, who looks very much like me, who remained onboard with me the entire time, emailed me, gave me more information. I’ve had a lot of feedback from people in these communities saying that they felt seen, that they felt understood, and that was really, really important (that’s been most meaningful). There’s a lot of shame associated with Alzheimer’s disease and a lot of people feel they’re not acknowledged.
Q: Your character has a successful career, a loving husband and children. Do you feel that parallels your real life?
One of the things about Still Alice is that you’re meeting this woman at a time where she has achieved a lot. She’s been very successful in
her career, she has a happy marriage and she has three kids that are well on their way. We really see her at the point where we all feel we
would like to be. When she is hit with this news it’s pretty dramatic and pretty life-altering for the whole family.
This is interesting in terms of storytelling in the sense that things can appear to be perfect or things can appear to be static but I don’t know that they always are.
There’s so much beauty in the movie. I think that the beauty is at the beginning when you see this beautiful wonderful family and there is beauty in watching them transform and react to their mother’s issues and illness.
Then there’s beauty at the end when you realize what it’s all been about. Sometimes we have this discussion about work, family, work and family, and it sounds like a facile discussion when we talk about it. How do you balance it all? How do you have the time for this and that? Well at the end of the day isn’t that all there is? That’s what we have. We have the work that we want to do and that’s the way we express ourselves. Then we have the people in our lives that we love.
Q: Why do you think this film has touched people so much? Was it hard for you to make this character?
It wasn’t hard at all. People have asked me, “Did I take it home? Was I sad?” I said, “No, actually, I wasn’t.” The movie we made, I think is in the spirit, not of loss and diminishment but of thinking about what you value and what you love, and what you want to do with the time you have.
In a sense, it makes you feel very aware and very present. I would come home every day and think, “I feel so grateful for my husband, for my children, and my terrible dogs (laughs).”
Q: What represents an Oscar for a small movie like Still Alice?
This is a tiny movie made for $4 million in a really cold month in March with no heat. There were barely any bathrooms (crazy) and they had a really crappy apartment and they had to move halfway through. And we’re dealing with this really crazy degenerative disease—it really shows what’s important to you. What do you pursue? And how do you pursue it in an important way?
That’s kind of what this movie’s about: what are the lives that we lead? What do we care about? What do we want to say? Who do we
want to be? Who do we want to be with? And so for us as actors and artists to be in the presence of this is truly inspiring, is a great, great gift.
Q: Did you really know nothing about Alzheimers before the Academy Award performance?
In terms of my process so much of it was based on the research. I didn’t know anything. I knew as much as any of us do from just seeing hings on TV, and whatever. I didn’t understand that there were facial issues; I didn’t understand the conflating of ideas and places, and not knowing how things worked mechanically. All these things were involved. I didn’t know any of this so it was a matter of spending a lot of time observing and talking to people and relying on them to tell me.
Q: Since you´ll turn 55 in December does Alzheimers concern you personally or people you know in that age group? Is there any research
They’re trying very hard. Somebody sent me an article from Time magazine that said that women in their 60s have a 1-in-6 chance of developing Alzheimer’s disease, the same as their chance of developing breast cancer.
So it’s a disease that’s rapidly gaining ground, I guess. The other terrifying thing about it is that once you’re diagnosed with it, there’s very little you can do to alter the prognosis, or even alter the progression of the disease. So, we don’t know anything.
We know there are correlations between brain and heart health. There are some genetic markers. Later onset has to do with age. Thirty or forty years ago no one knew what to do about cancer. With enough money, time and research, there’s so much more that they can do now.
I feel that people in the Alzheimer’s community really feel that they are a stone’s throw away from something meaningful.