‘After the Wedding’: Julianne Moore and Director Bart Freundlich on Approaching an Acclaimed Story With Fresh Eyes

After the Wedding” is a different kind of remake. It reimagines a 2006 Danish film, which was nominated for a Best Foreign Film Oscar, by changing the gender of its key characters while attempting to preserve important sensibilities. As an experiment it’s an example of how a plot can shift in tone and even resonance when either approached by a new director or set in another place. The strongest elements in this fresh interpretation are the performances by Julianne Moore and Michelle Williams, who both deliver moments of emotional power.

Williams plays Isabel, an American running a Calcutta orphanage. Helping India’s poor comes with a desperate need for funds. When the possibility of aid from a major CEO, Theresa Young (Moore), arises Isabel flies to New York to meet her in person. Feeling out of place in the world of money, Isabel’s first meeting with Theresa is a bit awkward. To break the ice Theresa invites Isabel to her daughter’s wedding. Isabel agrees and arrives only to discover a stunning revelation. Not only is Theresa’s husband Oscar (Billy Crudup) an ex of Isabel’s but the bride to be, Grace (Abby Quinn), links them both even further in a shocking way. She is the daughter Isabel had with Oscar years ago in India, a daughter Oscar had made Isabel believe had been given away for adoption. What began as Isabel traveling to secure funds for her orphanage turns into a profound reckoning with her past.

If you have seen the original “After the Wedding” directed by Susanne Bier what will first stand out is the gender switch involving the main players. In the original the Isabel character was a man named Jacob, played by Mads Mikkelsen and Theresa was a Danish businessman named Jorgen, played by Rolf Lassgård. Bier’s premise had Mikkelsen be surprised by the revelation that he had a child with Jorgen’s wife during a tryst years before. At the time it was a provocative move to center such a story on two men. Here director Bart Freundlich, who is also Julianne Moore’s husband, emphasizes the maternal angle of the narrative. There is little question that Isabel has the right to be told the absolute truth about how Oscar kept Grace and raised her with Theresa. We are spared long legal battles or thriller developments. Theresa seems to stand back as Isabel and Grace meet with the younger woman being eager to learn about her actual origin. Freundlich seems to be asking what motherhood truly means. Isabel has her own son in a sense back in India, an orphan she’s raised since infancy at the orphanage. By the third act Theresa has revealed a sudden, urgent health issue and the story becomes about Isabel having to make a new choice, she can stay in New York and even have a place in Theresa’s company, or go back to India. In essence “After the Wedding” is about two women from two very different worlds. Theresa has power and resources while Isabel has chosen a meek life and seems to lack the necessity for the comforts of wealth. 

What carries the story are Moore and Williams who don’t turn the plot into a confrontation but into a drama about two women trying to understand each other. 

Moore and Freundlich recently sat down with Entertainment Voice to talk about “After the Wedding” and finding new sensibilities while reimagining a story.

 “I was riveted by Rolf and everything that he did,” chimed in Moore regarding the original male version of her character. “It’s a very human story about how people make the best decision they can at the time when something happens  and then later have to live with the consequences.” A renowned, Oscar-winning actress who has met many power players herself, Moore took inspiration for her performance from actual acquaintances. “We have a friend who has a company called Horizon Media. I spent a lot of time with him to learn about this idea of running a media company. We used him as an example of someone successful who has hired a lot of people that he was responsible for and talked about what it would mean to operate it, how to speak to people and delegate. In my own life I’ve seen many examples of successful women with big successful careers who also have families they are dedicated to. It’s nice to see a woman in a power position who is not represented like the evil boss lady. Usually they’re so paper thin in movies and that has not been my experience. When I meet really successful, professional women I’m impressed with what they’re able to accomplish.” 

“Susanne’s movie was so touching, and so complex emotionally, that I didn’t see any reason to remake it as it was. It needed some kind of reinvention. When Julie saw the movie she was drawn to this one role,” said Freundlich about changing the leads’ genders. “When I talked to the producers about how to add a new identity to this film they said, ‘try that, try two women.’ And I was confident because I knew the plot so well. It felt really exciting have two women at the heart of a movie, both of them very strong characters with totally different life philosophies. Having Julie and Michelle play those roles is like that famous Pacino-De Niro scene in ‘Heat.’” Having one partner direct and the other act raises questions about how they go about agreeing on the nature or style of a scene. “Because Julie is a producer on the movie, and because we live together, we got to talk about it a lot. I really trust her instincts, so unless I was 100% clear about wanting something specific because I had a more macro view as the director of the piece, I usually trusted her point of view regarding the character.”

“There were times when there were things I wanted to do that didn’t work out,” said Moore. “Things we ended up throwing away in the editing room, but that’s how it is, film is a collaborative effort. You’re always going to try and adjust to each other and the needs of the day.”

One of Moore’s most intense moments in the film comes when Theresa breaks down with Oscar about a terrible health development. It is a scene akin to her best moments in “Still Alice,” where life traps a character both physically and mentally. “I used a lot of water, you need to make sure you drink a lot of water when doing a big crying scene,” said Moore in obvious jest. Getting serious again she continues, “This is a character who has no tells. Because she won’t reveal anything when you get to that moment it truly is a private moment. The only person who’s going to see that is her husband. I actually spoke to someone whose mom had not told them that she was sick and he mentioned that he knows she had a big moment like that with her husband and told no one, so I was really struck by that. I thought wow this is someone very powerful and very accomplished and doesn’t want anyone to know about this.”

The original 2006 film had a digital look common for indie and international cinema in the 00s, when emerging digital cameras became the standard for lower budget productions. This new “After the Wedding” has a richer visual palette with cinematographer Julio Macat behind the lens. “I worked with Julio on a kid’s movie called ‘Catch that Kid,’ which strangely was also based on a Danish original,” said Freundlich. “He’s like this Argentinian poet. We were dying to work together. He called every rental house, every lab and we were able to get what you’d get on a huge movie because of all the good will he’s established over the years. We shot with this massive landscape camera Cuaron used on ‘Roma.’ It has this great selective focus so it looks like an abstract painting.” 

Moore finds that as she gets older she is focusing on deeper research when preparing for a role. “When I was younger I was like, ‘I’ll just read it a couple of times then I’ll do it,’ and now I’m like, ‘oh I don’t know anything about this. I’ll start reading about things and watching stuff, because I’ll feel like I don’t know anything and want evidence to base my character on. I want it to be something I’ve seen or something I’ve experienced. So whether it’s a fictional character or based on a real person I just try to learn as much as I can beforehand. I like to take evidence from the real world. Sometimes I don’t even know a character’s last name.” 

“In a way this new version bolsters how strong the story always was,” said Freundlich. “In theater you do this all the time. There’s a play and it’s done with different actors and new sets.” 

“Just look at ‘A Star Is Born,’” opined Moore. “How many times has it been made? It’s a classic story.”

After the Wedding” opens Aug. 9 in select theaters.