Ron Nyswaner speaks candidly in this exclusive interview about his latest film, “Freeheld.” The film is about a woman that is dying of cancer (Julianne Moore) and wishes for her pension to go to her lesbian partner Stacie (Ellen Page) upon her death. Her fight, during the last days of her life, is just part of the battle that was waged to legalize gay marriage.
Nyswaner’s love of movies came from watching movies on television that starred strong female actresses like Joan Crawford, “I remember being caught up by the classic Hollywood movies. Movies mostly with the strong, powerful women.”
Ron Nyswaner is now an accomplished screenwriter. He was nominated for an Oscar in 1994 for his incredible screenplay for the Tom Hanks film “Philadelphia.” He has also penned the screenplay for “The Painted Veil,” worked as a writer and co-executive producer for the Showtime series “Ray Donovan,” and now writes for the Claire Daines’ Showtime series “Homeland,” which just recently started its fifth season. He also serves as co-executive producer of “Homeland,” as well.
But the last thing Nyswaner wants to talk about is honors or awards. It is the work at hand that he likes to focus on, which is evident by his incredible work.
“Freeheld” was brought to life when Ellen Page (“Juno”) purchased the rights of 2007 documentary about Lieutenant Laurel Hester, a gay woman dying of cancer that wanted to leave her pension to her life partner Stacie. Page started her own production company to support the production of the film and Nyswaner was hired in 2009 to craft the screenplay. Page had already intended to play Stacie and then Julianne Moore was cast to play the lead as Laurel Hester. The film also stars Steve Carell and Michael Shannon.
The themes of this film may seem very complex, but for Nyswaner, “Freeheld” is simply a love story, “It’s all about the love.”
Nyswaner spent significant time with the real people behind the characters in the film (with the exception of Laurel, who passed away in 2006). To get a better sense of Laurel and what she was like, Nyswaner was able to read transcripts from the unused film segments from the documentary “Freeheld,” made in 2007.
Nyswaner was candid about the stumbling blocks to making any films like “Freeheld,” “First, with so much really good television for adults today, it’s really hard to get a movie made for adults on the big screen. Secondly, any film with a female lead, instead of a male lead, is harder to get made. And then they are lesbians, yes it’s tough to make a film like this.”
Nyswaner was also candid about the differences he had with the producers about the film, “There are certain things that I wish were different. The producers erred on the side of being too progressive. The real Laurel and Stacie are not as perfect as they are portrayed in the film. For example, the real Laurel, even after her diagnosis of lung cancer would not stop smoking. And this was a huge conflict between Laurel and Stacie. To me that was just an interesting, moving human detail about somebody. They made the movie too clean.”
Nyswaner was not involved during the production of the film. In motion pictures, this is fairly common. But in television, the writer gets a much larger role in the making of the show. During the filming of “Homeland,” Nsywaner gets last say as each scene is shot during the production of the episodes he writes. It’s obvious that having he enjoys having this creative advantage. One that was not afforded to him on the set of “Freeheld.”
Ron Nyswaner has been writing since the sixth grade, when he would write plays and he has good advice to anyone that wants to become a writer, “The reason I have the career I do is because every morning I get up at five am and I write, I sell and I pitch. It’s a commitment to a life.”
Thankfully for us, those who love great adult dramas, we are very fortunate that there are those committed to their craft like Ron Nyswaner. Where would we be without the beautiful and complex stories that become a part of our collective consciousness?
“Freeheld” is rated PG-13 for some thematic elements, language and sexuality and has a runtime of 103 minutes.