The true story behind “Freeheld”


Celebrity Sightings In New York City - October 02, 2014

In the film: Local pastor Father John made a speech in support of Laurel.

“In the documentary, they went to church. It was mixed reactions at the church,” Cynthia said. “Father John was very, very supportive. Laurel really felt like—she said, ‘I don’t think anybody really loves me but Stacie. I don’t think God really loves me.’ And Father John would show up every week and sit with her and talk with her. And then Stacie started coming—on Wednesday nights, there was a smaller chapel service just so she could kind of center herself. He was so loving and just really a part of it. He makes this speech in the fiction film, but he was actually a bigger part of their lives than you would know.”

In the film: Gay activist Steven Goldstein was larger than life.

“The crazy thing about Steven Goldstein and the criticism of the Steve Carell character—he was more over the top than Steve Carell plays it,” Cynthia said. “In fact, he was on set and he said to me, ‘I’m not going to say anything because I know that’s really annoying to actors. So I’ll stay in the background.’ Then Carell came up to him and said, ‘How am I doing?’ And Steven Goldstein said, ‘You need to ramp it up. Shock and awe, shock and awe!’—that was originally not in the script. It was because Steven Goldstein on set was like, ‘I’d reign terror! Shock and awe!” extemporaneously, said it as an improv. So the one thing frustrating for me, just knowing him, is that it’s entirely accurate. It’s a persona he played to win the case, and of course he’s more multi-faceted than that, but what he showed and how he expressed himself in the Freeheld fight was, I would say, even more than Carell plays.

“And, truthfully, when we edited the documentary, I ended up pulling back on Goldstein because he was like a runaway train. I ended up cutting scenes out because he would dominate. As a matter of fact, in the documentary footage, when Laurel gets the vote and wins, he yells at one of the very conservative freeholders, ‘I love you! Will you marry me?’ And I had forgotten that and in the editing room we ended taking that out because it was Laurel’s moment—it wasn’t Steven Goldstein’s moment, and I’d forgotten we even had this struggle and conversation. And as it was being edited by [director] Peter Sollett and his editor, they came separately to the same conclusion. Because Steven Goldstein really threatened to kind of—he was such a big personality, we had to pull back on him. And like him saying, ‘I wouldn’t know what to do with your vagina’—he really said that. I reported that to [screenwriter] Ron Nyswaner. So in that way, it’s not like a bunch of straight people made a caricature—it’s an accurate representation and Steven Goldstein would say that.”


In the film: Stacie was a victim of homophobia at the auto shop where she worked.

In reality, Stacie never faced anything that “overtly,” Cynthia said. “People would whisper, people would talk, people would look. Some people would come up and say, ‘We support you’ while she was checking them out at the auto shop because she told me that. There was never an overt threat like that, as far as I know.”

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