Filmmaker Bart Freundlich was in a bit of a quandary when he was asked to adapt and direct the American remake of the 2006 Danish film “After the Wedding.” The original film, directed and co-written by Susanne Bier, had been a critical and commercial hit in Denmark and was nominated for a foreign film Oscar.
“When I got it, the question was why remake a movie that was already so good?” Freundlich recalled asking himself. But he felt an affinity with Bier. “I knew Susanne’s work and loved it because I feel like we have a similarity. We put character first and story second. She’s interested in the subtleties of humanity.”
Freundlich’s American version of “After the Wedding” opens Friday in Los Angeles. It stars his Oscar-winning wife Julianne Moore and Oscar- and Emmy-nominated Michelle Williams, in roles that had been played by men in the original.
Bier’s “After the Wedding” revolved around Jacob (Mads Mikkelsen), a Danish man operating a small, underfunded orphanage in India. The orphanage receives an offer for a substantial donation from a Copenhagen company. The only caveat is the wealthy CEO Jorgen (Rolf Lassgard) wants him to come to Copenhagen to pick up the award in person. Secrets and surprises are in store for Jacob when Jorgen invites him to his daughter’s wedding, only to learn that the man’s wife was Jacob’s first love.
In the American version, Moore plays CEO Theresa Young; Williams is orphanage co-founder Isabel; Billy Crudup plays Theresa’s husband and Isabel’s former lover Oscar; and Abby Quinn is daughter Grace.
Over the decades, Hollywood has remade hit movies with the lead roles’ genders altered, such as in Howard Hawks’ “His Girl Friday” — a remake of the famous newspaper comedy “The Front Page” — where Rosalind Russell played fast-talking reporter Hildy Johnson. Hollywood has feminized several movies of late, such as 2018’s “Ocean’s 8” and 2016’s “Ghostbusters.”
It was Moore who inspired Freundlich to change the genders. “I said ‘that’s the part I want to play,’” Moore noted in a joint interview with her husband in Beverly Hills. “I was fascinated by Rolf and what he did — his unpredictability.”
Producer Joel B. Michaels had held the rights to the Bier film for 12 years when Freundlich told him about Moore’s interest in playing the CEO.
“I started to explore thinking it was going to fall apart any moment because we would run into some kind of road block that would be insurmountable in the narrative,” Freundlich said.
Some aspects of the characters could remain the same. For example, Freundlich noted, “There was no issue in having Julie’s character own this multimillion-dollar company — there’s no translation that needed to be made there.”
But other aspects, such as parenthood, were different. The director said it was invaluable to talk to Moore about these topics. “Being able to say, ‘Does this sound right?’ and then being able to take these new ideas and go off and research them a little bit. That then informed the story and gave it even a different take.”
Moore noted that, “Both of these women have made these really specific choices involving parenthood. They both believe they’re making a correct choice for them and they are so judgmental of each other. That’s the thing I loved too. They desperately needed one another to solve this problem but there’s a lot of judgment and a lot of anger.”
Moore said she’s known a lot of women like Theresa “who have built these big lives for themselves where they built a company, a brand or had some big career and had children. They managed to construct all of this. I thought how wonderful to be able to represent this on screen.”
Williams was someone the couple thought about from the outset. “I actually emailed her,” said Moore. “I had her email from something we had done in the past. I wanted to make sure she knew how passionately feel about her. She responded right away.”
“I think Michelle is a lot like Julie,” added Freundlich. “If she reads something and it gets hooked in her, she starts playing the part in her mind. In fact, she said before we had even spoken, she started working on the part.”
The couple, who have a 21-year-old son and 17-year-old daughter, have made four movies together starting with 1997’s “The Myth of Fingerprints,” where they first met. And they hope to make more.
“I’m pretty clear about what’s so good” about working together, said Freundlich. “What’s so good is that she’s so good. I have no problem saying she’s the best at what she does. I like to spend time with her.”
Making a film together is very intimate and “getting to share that to me is always elating,” said Freundlich, looking over at a beaming Moore.
“I love the shared experience," said Moore. “I like the fact we are able to talk about our ideas and we get to explore that together.”