By Mary Milliken
LOS ANGELES (Reuters) - Early in the film "Still Alice," the Columbia University professor played by Julianne Moore is the picture of health taking a jog through campus, until she realizes she is completely lost.
Miniscule movements in her pale face betray the panic racing through her brain, but it will be nothing compared with what is to come for Alice, or for the audience for that matter.
At 50, the brilliant lecturer and beautiful redhead will be diagnosed with Alzheimer's disease, and the audience has a front-row seat to her terrifying decline.
The performance has won rave reviews and could bring Moore, 54, her first Academy Award. Last week, she earned a Golden Globe nomination for best actress in a drama for "Still Alice" and another for comedy or musical with "Maps to the Stars," a rare double feat.
"Still Alice" is a small-budget film picked up for distribution by Sony Pictures Classics only in September, thanks to Moore's award-winning potential. It opens on Jan. 16.
"I was really excited by the prospect of doing this part and movie because I had never seen Alzheimer's portrayed subjectively," the four-time Oscar nominee told Reuters.
"Generally, when you see these stories, they are from the point of view of the caregiver or family member. So to take this journey from the inside was really compelling."
The audience practically goes inside with her, knowing more about Alice's travails than her husband, played by Alec Baldwin, or the wayward daughter Lydia who comes home to care for her mother, portrayed by Kristen Stewart.
'SHE WAS THE ONE'
Moore is known for meticulously researching her roles, a penchant that paid off with her uncanny, Emmy-winning portrayal of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin.
For "Alice," she told the directors, Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland, that she would not represent anything she hadn't witnessed in her work with Alzheimer's patients.
One woman in particular, who used to have a big job and prided herself on her intellect, shared the difficulty of being redefined by people after she was diagnosed.
"That idea, to give people the space to be who they are and not judge them for what is happening to them with their disease, that was something I was very moved by," said Moore.
The directors, reading the novel "Still Alice" by Lisa Genova, went straight to Moore, their old friend.
"We knew she'd be able to master the difficult transitions and projecting the high intelligence and going through the emotional rawness of the end," said Westmoreland. "We knew she was the one."
Stewart, also a friend of Moore's from her days as a child actor, said Alice required "somebody who was really going to go there, and look it in the face."
"I had such faith in her to do that, I wanted to support that," Stewart said.
With the busy awards season bearing down, Moore said she "should be so lucky" to be in the small group of nominated actresses this year.
"How fantastic. I'd love it," she said.
(Editing by Ken Wills)