Bart Freundlich on Directing Wife Julianne Moore in 'After the Wedding' Remake

AN RONG XU/THE NEW YORK TIMES/ REDUX
Bart Freundlich

Nearly 12 years after Susanne Bier helmed the Oscar-nominated Danish drama, Freundlich's take will feature a swap in characters' genders with Moore and Michelle Williams taking on the leading roles.

Nearly 12 years after Susanne Bier directed the Oscar-nominated Danish drama After the Wedding, writer-helmer Bart Freundlich is putting the finishing touches on his English-language remake about a struggling orphanage director wrestling with the decision to accept a large corporate donation (the project is being sold at AFM by Cornerstone Films).

But rather than simply move the story to the U.S. and ditch the Scandinavian elements, the New York-born filmmaker has flipped the lead characters' genders, rewriting the roles made famous by Mads Mikkelson and Rolf Lassgard for women — in this case Michelle Williams and Julianne Moore, who is also Freundlich’s wife of 15 years (and co-producer). 

Speaking to The Hollywood Reporter, the 48-year-old director explains how changing the genders gave him the confidence that he was making a worthwhile remake and why — after directing Moore in more than half of his films — he’s learned when to just shut up and let her simply do her thing in front of the camera.

What made you decide to remake After the Wedding?

That was my question when the producers came to me with the material. In doing some thinking around it, the idea was brought up about changing the gender of the two characters. It seemed like a tall order, specifically for this plot, which centers around what it means to be a parent. So I just thought I’d take a crack at rewriting it, and as I followed that throughline, what it would mean to change the genders became something that was really interesting to explore, especially in this day and age.

So when the project was brought to you, it initially had two male leads?

Yes. They had a script that had been adapted, but it was just an English translation of the movie. So it took about a year working with it to figure out how I was going to make this a worthwhile adaptation — and not simply diminish Susanne’s work — to use it as a jumping-off point to explore all these beautiful themes that she put forward in her film.

At what point did someone suggest the idea of swapping genders?

We sort of messed around with the idea of just remaking it and seeing what it would be like — looking at how the world had changed in the past 10 years since it was made. And then, obviously, being married to Julianne and people knowing that, someone suggested that maybe this would be an interesting idea to explore. It sat there for a few months because there are some fundamental obstacles to changing the genders. But those obstacles, as I began to explore them, kind of became a catalyst for there being enough of a change to make it feel worthwhile. It would be like creating a new movie, but standing on the shoulders of the original.

Did you come up against any resistance?

It was actually met with a lot of positive response. My experience with scripts and movies is that they either have that spark that makes it alive or they don’t. This somehow came to life. Obviously, the original had so much life and depth to it, but this sparked life into it, and I think people recognized that. And obviously having Julianne want to play one of these lead roles gave people a clear vision.

Was Julianne on board right from the start?

I wouldn’t say she was 100 percent in, because she’s very script-driven, but when we watched the movie together, she looked at the role she’s now playing and she said, "Now that role I would like to play." So I certainly had that in mind when I was writing it. But it wasn’t until she had the actual script and the words there that she was fully on board.

This is your fourth time directing your wife. What is that relationship like on the set?

For me, first and foremost, there is no one I’d rather work with. Because it’s like going to the best vendor to get whatever product you want. She’s just the best at what she does. So I knew to be smart enough to let her do her thing and to contribute where I could.

Did you and Julianne bring the film home with you or did you manage to turn off?

We really didn’t do a lot of turning off during this. There was a lot of figuring out the next day or the next location. I used her a tremendous amount to call locations that we couldn’t necessarily get or to call in favors with other actors. She was tremendously valuable on a producing level. But it ended up being a 24/7 job.

Do you know the sort of look or glance where you know to stand back or stop talking?

Ha! I certainly know her process as an actor, so, yeah. I think one of my strengths as a director is that I’m willing to be malleable with the actors. This was my third movie with Billy Crudup — he’s one of my best friends, and I understand the way he works. And Michelle Williams works totally different. So, yes, I am very attuned to glances!

This story first appeared in The Hollywood Reporter's Nov. 2 daily issue at the American Film Market.