Speaking to ET’s Nischelle Turner from the red carpet premiere, the pair discussed how the Letourneau-Fualaau story played a role in the film and their roles.
“Samy Burch [the writer] used it as an inspiration, this is not a story about those people. But it certainly was a jumping-off point,” Moore, 62, told ET.
“It was very much an inspiration, it’s not meant to be a depiction of them,” Portman, 42, echoed.
May December, which premiered in May at the 76th Cannes Film Festival, is about actress Elizabeth Berry (Portman) who travels to Maine to spend time with Gracie Atherton-Yoo (Moore), who made tabloid headlines for her relationship with a young teen.
The film follows Gracie, who has since married and had kids with the now-grown student, Joe Yoo (Charles Melton), having given birth to one of their children while she was imprisoned for her crimes against the then-minor.
The film is reminiscent of the real-life scandal between Letourneau and her 13-year-old student.
In 1997, Letourneau was convicted of second-degree child rape for her relationship with her then-sixth-grade student, Fualaau. She was pregnant with her and Fualaau’s first child at the time of her arrest. Letourneau and Fualaau eventually married and had another child before divorcing in 2020.
“For me, it was interesting watching some of the documentary footage and reading about the case… there are certainly things that I drew from her [Letourneau], but the script itself was so strong and the character of Gracie was so finely drawn,” Moore said.
“I think that Samy Burch, who wrote the script, her decision to start it 20 years after the tabloid events was an amazing decision,” Portman shared. “It allows you to see what happens after, and what happens to their lives and the stories they tell and what’s true and what’s not.”
The Thor: Love and Thunder actress added that the film also examines the impact that being at the center of a major tabloid story has on a person’s life and how the telling of the story “changes your life.”
Director Todd Haynes agreed with his leading ladies, telling ET that it was the “cultural pre-memory” that provided the DNA for the film but that the film goes into an entirely different direction.
“I loved all the ways that she made it her own in the script and I really leaned into those decisions,” Haynes, 62, said.
Executive producer Will Ferrell voiced similar feelings, saying that May December “harkens to that,” but that there is “so much distance” between their film and the real-life events.
“This is really a story about desperate people still trying to find a connection in their lives and how one — a single moment, a single decision can affect so many different people in so many different ways,” Ferrell, 56, said.
As for what makes people so interested in tabloid culture and the way stories are presented, Moore and Portman gave their two cents after starring in the film so heavily focused on the topic.
“I think we’re looking for story, we’re looking for narrative, we’re looking for mythology,” Moore said. “The problem with tabloid culture is that it doesn’t always take into account that these are real human beings.”
“I think it’s an extension of kind of like the old village gossip. We used to have to understand what was going on and who was dangerous, who was safe,” Portman added. “We don’t have the village anymore and that’s kind of how we exhibit it now.”
The film also stars D.W. Moffett, Piper Curda, Elizabeth Yu, Gabriel Chung, Cory Michael Smith, and Lawrence Arancio.
May December premieres in select theaters on Nov. 17 and on Netflix on Dec. 1.