Shortly after she came out of the closet in February 2014, Ellen Page went to work playing Stacie Andree in “Freeheld,” about a real-life lesbian couple that must fight to keep pension benefits after one of them (Julianne Moore) becomes terminally ill.
Page saw the 2007 documentary short “Freeheld: The Laurel Hester Story,” and had been circling a scripted adaptation since then. “It’s always tough trying to finance an independent film, particularly when it’s about two women,” says Page, who is also a producer on the picture, along with her manager, Kelly Bush. “There’s this awful bias that women can’t carry films, which is being proven not true. Hopefully that will start to change.”
Page researched by spending time in the house where Andree and her partner Hester lived in New Jersey. “I’m grateful to tell the story, but you wish the movie didn’t exist,” Page says. “They rose to the occasion, while obviously being in unimaginably tragic circumstances.”
Even with “Freeheld’s” ripped-from-the-headlines angle, it’s not clear how commercial the movie, which Lionsgate opens on Oct. 2 in limited release, and wide on Oct. 16, will be. Moore previously played a lesbian onscreen in 2010’s “The Kids Are All Right,” which grossed $20.8 million domestically, bolstered by raves and awards attention. Sony Classics’ 2014 “Love Is Strange,” about an aging gay married couple, eked out only $2.3 million at the domestic B.O.
Writer Ron Nyswaner says of “Freeheld”: “We worked hard to make it out of real people’s lives without distorting those people,” adding that Andree and others involved read the script. “They feel Laurel’s memory has been honored.”