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Philomena Lee On 'Philomena,' Judi Dench, Losing Her Gay Son

01/16/2014

Philomena tells the true story of Philomena Lee's search for the son that the Catholic Church took from her as a teenager in the 1950s. Lee (played by Judi Dench, who was just nominated for the Best Actress Oscar) spends years trying to find out what had become of her son and, with the help of journalist Martin Sixsmith (played by Steve Coogan), tries in vain to hunt him down. Once Lee and Sixsmith find out her son’s, Anthony, whereabouts and identity, the information leads to more heartbreak — Anthony, renamed Michael Hess, who was a closeted lawyer working for the Republican National Committee, had died from AIDS complications several years earlier. Hess, like his birth mother, had contacted the Catholic Church to find his family and had been lied to by the nuns who had given him away. “I was really very sad that he had actually passed away without me ever, ever finding him,” Lee told Uinterview exclusively. “All I ever wanted to do was to find him.”

Lee was a fan of Dench's acting in the film. “She portrayed me so well, she did a wonderful job, she really did,” Lee told Uinterview. “She actually got the essence of what I was like and we found we had quite a few things in common as well, so that helped.”

Lee spoke to Uinterview with her daughter Jane Libberton about the movie and her heart-breaking story.

When you discovered that your son was gay, how did that make you feel?


Q: When you discovered that your son was gay, how did that make you feel? - Uinterview
A: PL: I didn'€™t feel anything, I knew he was gay and because working as a psychiatric nurse for 30 years. I worked with a lot of gay young men and it was a privilege working with them all, really. I had no issues about him being gay at all. No issues. The only sad part that he had died, that'€™s what hurt, you know? But as for Anthony being gay, that wasn'€™t an issue with me because I worked with them so much.
The gay community has really embraced you and this movie. What’s your reaction to that?

Q: The gay community has really embraced you and this movie. What’s your reaction to that? - Uinterview
A: PL: Well I’m so glad about that actually, quite really, really happy about that being that Anthony was gay and, as I say, finding out he was gay, but I had no issues about him being gay at all and I hoped as has said the gay community, cause working with them I’ve learned so much and so much good experience from the gay people I worked with.
Philomena, how did Judi Dench do playing you?

Q: Philomena, how did Judi Dench do playing you? - Uinterview
A: PL: Oh, she portrayed me so well, she did a wonderful job, she really did. Before the movie started we had a few meetings. We sat down to lunch and met in different places and she actually got the essence of what I was like and we found we had quite a few things in common as well, so that helped as well.
Jane, what convinced you to contact Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who broke this story? 

Q: Jane, what convinced you to contact Martin Sixsmith, the journalist who broke this story? - Uinterview
A: JL: It was a mutual friend of mine who actually knew Martin, and she bumped into him at a party and told him the story and he offered his help. I was prompted because I couldn’t find any further information. I’d gone and written to everybody I could possibly write to and there wasn’t anywhere else that I could go, so meeting him was fantastic because, obviously, he started us off on this incredible journey.
How did you feel when you discovered that the Church had been lying about your son’s fate?

Q: How did you feel when you discovered that the Church had been lying about your son’s fate? - Uinterview
A: PL: Actually because I had, over the years sort of put a lot behind me, I was very sad. Really, really very sad that he had actually passed away without me ever, ever finding him. All I ever wanted to do was to find him. JL: But you were sad about the fact that the Church had not told you that he was looking for you. That was quite hard to hear. PL: Very hard to cope with. And still is, sometimes, when I think about it.
Do you think the Catholic Church has broken its code of silence?

Q: Do you think the Catholic Church has broken its code of silence? - Uinterview
A: JL: That’s actually quite a difficult question to answer. I don’t think that the babies being taken away like they were would happen today. But they’re still not too quick on coming forward with the information for people who are in a situation looking for their loved ones. But overall, you still have your faith, don’t you? Still believe very much in the Church. PL: I do, I do. I do, and it’s my story and as I say I still believe in Mary, I have my faith. I lost it for a little while but I have got it back it, and I’m not against the Catholic Church at all. It was the times, these things happened, it’s different world today. Which I don’t think much of that but a lot of people are still finding difficulty, a lot of women are still finding difficulty with some of the Church, they’re finding out their information, they’re having difficulty getting out what they want. So I’m hoping the film will be able to help them towards finding their loved ones.

Read more: Philomena Lee, Steve Coogan, Philomena

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