While film remakes happen all the time, a foreign-language movie getting updated for an American audience is a much rarer occurrence. Nevertheless, when two Academy Award winners got together—Julianne Moore and Chilean director Sebastian Lelio—magic ensued.
The dynamic duo collaborated on Gloria Bell, a remake of Lelio’s Oscar-nominated, Spanish-language romantic comedy, Gloria. Moore plays a charismatic divorced woman who has a boring office job during the day but absolutely loves dancing at clubs each week.
Watching the original film, which was released in 2013, Moore felt a strong connection to the character.
“I loved that she sees her life as her own, that she does things because they’re pleasurable, because they make her feel good, whether it’s dancing or being with her family or finding a connection, however uncertain, in the bar,” she said thoughtfully.
“She reminds us that we are all the heroes of our own lives.”
Getting to “Yes”
Moore arranged to meet with Lelio while she was in Paris. “Sebastián flew in from Berlin, and we had lunch. The funny part is that we almost didn’t talk about Gloria at all. I wasn’t really sure how he felt about the idea of remaking it, and I didn’t want to bring it up because I had no intention of re-interpreting the role without him.”
She reminds us that we are all the heroes of our own lives.
The veteran actress was also drawn to the film because of Lelio’s vision. “It wasn’t until the very end of our meeting that I said to him, ‘I would love to play Gloria, but only if you directed it.’ And he said, ‘I would only direct a new version if you played Gloria.’ And suddenly, we looked at each other, and said, ‘oh, I think we’re actually doing this!’”
Having the chance to revisit his material and find a new vehicle to examine what is universal about the original story and to see it reborn with a supreme artist like Julianne Moore was “too tempting, too exciting,” Lelio gushed.
“I am often asked why a re-imagining of your own film? I could talk for hours as to why, but there’s one very simple answer: Because of my admiration for Julianne Moore.”
Out in La-La Land
While Gloria was filmed in Santiago, Chile, Moore suggested to Lelio that Gloria Bell be set in Los Angeles.
“I actually don’t live in LA, so it wasn’t by any means the easiest choice!” she quipped. “I live in New York City and want to shoot everything there! But I really thought that isolation you feel in LA, where you’re always in your car and no one’s really in close physical proximity even to their neighbors, was right. It takes bravery to go out alone in LA.”
She continued: “In New York, you can go to a deli or a diner and get some contact, but in LA it’s tough to find community. You have to create it yourself, and the act of doing that is important to Gloria. The more Sebastián and I talked about LA, the more it all fell into place with Gloria’s daughter being a yoga teacher with a surfer boyfriend and Vegas being Gloria’s get-away. It just transposed so wonderfully from Santiago to Los Angeles.”
The Secret Story
Moore is a master thespian, the first American woman to be awarded top acting prizes at the Cannes, Berlin, and Venice film festivals, so it’s no wonder she brings her character to life with such nuance.
There are just so many people like Gloria, who are not big, splashy personalities, but they have their own valor and optimism.
“I always felt that something central to this film is that every person, no matter what they might appear to be to others, is at the center of their own narrative. So even though Gloria might look from the outside to be a bit player in other people’s stories, she has her own secret story that is completely unique and beautiful and worthy.”
Moore felt that the only way to tell Gloria’s story was via intimacy. “Because that’s the only way you can ever get to know someone like her: not through broad actions but through the very specific and subtle ways she interacts with others. So even her behavior with a stray cat becomes a way into her world. There are just so many people like Gloria in the world, who are not big, splashy personalities, but they have their own valor and optimism.”
Doing the Dance
Gloria loves to dance, and Moore wanted to express that joy of music within her, learning to salsa dance, working with choreographer Mandy Moore (La La Land). “It makes her feel good, and pleasure is what drives her. It was so much fun to dance as Gloria and so much fun to dance with (costar) John Turturro, too. He’s a real dancer, and I really am not! I love to learn new things and was really excited to tackle it!”
Pleasure is what drives her. It was so much fun to dance as Gloria.
Moore could also relate to her character’s distant adult children.
“I’ve got two kids, so I know that one of the things about being a mother is that you raise your kids knowing that the time will come when they will break away from you in some way. And if you’ve done your job, they’re supposed to go off and be their own people,” she said. “I think one of the things that is so hard for Gloria is not only watching her kids go off to lead their own lives but also watching them stumble and start their own families in ways that feel so uncertain.”
Uncertainty is a theme in Gloria’s life as well, and many of us will relate to that at this particular moment in our lives. But we are certain that it is time—way past time, actually—that a fully realized mature woman gets a movie of her own.
Susan L. Hornik is a veteran entertainment and lifestyle journalist. She is an expert at making lemonade from lemons.