What might eagle-eyed Todd Haynes fans notice in the trailer for his new film May December? Julianne Moore’s lisp.
The actress, who previously starred in Haynes’ films Safe and Far From Heaven, plays Gracie Atherton-Yu, a predatory woman married to the man (Joe, played by Charles Melton) with whom she begins a relationship. when he was a teenager many years ago. Now in the present day, Natalie Portman plays actress Elizabeth Berry, who is studying Gracie to play her in an upcoming film. This includes imitating Gracie’s mannerisms, including a slight speech impediment.
As Haynes explained at a Friday morning press conference ahead of the romance’s New York Film Festival premiere on Friday, Moore’s character is based on Mary Kay Letourneau. She is a now-deceased teacher who went viral in the mid-1990s for her affair with a 12-year-old boy, whom she married after being released from prison. It was Letourneau’s “lazy tongue” (as Haynes had previously said) that inspired Moore’s lisping turn.
“I didn’t create the lisp. There are some people missing who can talk so beautifully about how they created these characters,” Haynes said, citing the on-screen talent being unable to attend the New York Film Festival due to the ongoing SAG-AFTRA strike. “We shot this film in 23 days in Savannah with very limited resources, which meant we had no time to rehearse. … This meant that Julianne had the burden of fully bringing out Gracie’s characteristics, (which) was enormous. … Down to the rhythm and the way she spoke, there were things in the loose upper palate that we found interesting about Mary Kay Letourneau’s speech, which was the start for (Julianne Moore) to move on from there.”
There are also numerous visual references to Letourneau throughout the film, as Portman’s character often reads old magazines and tabloids covering the Gracie and Joe case at the time it was first solved, and Moore is often stylized to look the same. like Letourneau in the photographs.
Haynes added that “there’s also this idea of how do these relationships come about? What myth do these people tell each other about their roles? She’s not a pedophile, this woman. She doesn’t have the experience of stalking every teenager who walks by.
The film’s release is likely to spark renewed interest in the Letourneau case. In 1997, she pleaded guilty to two counts of second-degree rape of a child. Letourneau and the student she was having an affair with, Vili Fualaau, officially split in 2019. She died of cancer in July 2020.
“Something very special has happened to these two people, but it is shrouded in fantasy: she is a princess who needs to be rescued from a home tower, and he is a young courageous knight, almost like a young Greco-Roman knight. Haynes said. “She plays a little girl, and it inspires aspects of the clothing, the way she speaks and the color palette, all these things that help us understand how it happened or the frustrations that contributed to it.”
“May to December” premieres at the New York Film Festival on Friday night. Netflix will open it in theaters on November 17, followed by a streaming premiere on December 1.
Additional reporting by Samantha Bergeson.