Julianne Moore: Wanting Moore
At one point, Julianne Moore was one of the most prolific actresses in Hollywood. Every time you turned around, she was in a new movie. Moore could pop up in anything from a goofy comedy to a thriller to a piece of Oscar bait. In the March 2002 issue of Movieline, Moore announced that she was taking a break from work to give birth to her second child. Michael Fleming asked Moore about her eclectic career and what it was like to be a New Yorker in the days following 9/11.
When the end of the year rolls around, and Hollywood releases its most award-worthy movies, you can pretty much expect to see Julianne Moore in one or two of them. Moore, who garnered Best Actress Oscar nominations for 1997’s Boogie Nights and 1999’s The End of the Affair, has become something of a prestige-film staple. But on one late-fall afternoon, when Moore has a lunch date with Movieline timed for the release of her latest project, The Shipping News, she is nowhere to be found. The unseasonably warm weather in New York City belies the fact that not far away, crews are still clearing the smoking rubble from a pit that was once the World Trade Center. While the first impulse is to worry that something unexpected has happened to Moore–perhaps she had to run to the doctor to check on her pregnancy with her second child by writer-director and longtime boyfriend Bart Freundlich–you suspect that she’s simply forgotten, and is just as scattered as most New Yorkers walking around in a fog even a month after the unimaginable horror.
Sure enough, her publicist insists Moore was profusely apologetic when informed of her oversight, that it was the first time this has happened to her. Mutual friends who know Moore well testify that she’s the antithesis of a flake, and imagine that, when she found out that she missed her appointment, she turned a shade of crimson that rivaled her hair color.
As predicted, an apology is the first thing I hear after I’ve driven, weeks later, to the New Jersey-based set of Far From Heaven, a movie that casts her as a 1950’s suburban housewife and reteams her with writer-director Todd Haynes, for whom she turned in an acclaimed performance as a housewife who becomes allergic to her environment in 1995’s Safe. That character seems to have endured, for there is a report in this morning’s New York Post that Moore skipped the previous day’s shoot because she suffered from an allergic reaction to sugar after being slipped a sugary drink, and had to be rushed to a doctor.
Recovering from her belated embarrassment, Moore warms to the gossip. “It’s complete fabrication,” she laughs. “I was picked up at 4 a.m. and worked all day, but what I liked about [the story] is that somebody slipped me the drink, so technically I’m not culpable. And also, I’m not allergic to sugar.” She will prove it during lunch by consuming two large pieces of cake which surely would have induced a full-blown sugar coma, were she so afflicted.
Born in North Carolina to a military judge father and a social worker mother, the 40-year-old Moore moved more than two dozen times during her childhood. Upon graduation from Boston University’s School of Performing Arts, she headed to New York, where she did theater and won a Daytime Emmy Award for her performance as half-sisters Frannie and Sabrina Hughes on the soap opera “As the World Turns.” Television movies and miniseries led to feature films, including early roles in The Hand That Rocks the Cradle, The Fugitive and, perhaps most memorably, director Robert Altman’s Oscar-nominated ensemble film Short Cuts, in which, during an argument with her character’s husband, played by Matthew Modine, she removes her skirt to clean a stain, and plays the rest of the scene naked from the waist down.
Since then, Moore has alternated between critically acclaimed independent projects like Vanya on 42nd Street, Safe and The Myth of Fingerprints (during which she met Freundlich, the film’s writer-director) and studio-produced popcorn fare like Nine Months, Assassins and The Lost World: Jurassic Park. Surviving Picasso, Psycho and Magnolia further reinforced her eclectic taste in material.
In person, Moore is not exactly what you expect, but you don’t know really what to expect given that, unlike many female stars who essentially repeat the same performance in different movies, Moore is a risk-taker who is different in each film. The drug-addicted porn star in Boogie Nights is nothing like the temptress in The End of the Affair, who’s nothing like the corseted bitch in An Ideal Husband, who’s nothing like the spoiled rich girl who covers her body with paint, flings herself at a canvas and calls it art in The Big Lebowski. Even succeeding Jodie Foster’s Oscar-winning performance in The Silence of the Lambs with Hannibal, which turned out to be a big hit, took moxie.
This risk-taking nature has made Moore one of the most prolific actresses in Hollywood. In 1999 alone, she made five films, and 2001 brought three more: Hannibal, the science-fiction comedy Evolution and The Shipping News, director Lasse Hallström’s adaptation of E. Annie Proulx’s Pulitzer Prize-winning 1994 novel about a newspaperman (Kevin Spacey) who, after a painful breakup with his wife (Cate Blanchett), returns to his ancestral home in Newfoundland, where he slowly rebuilds his life through a relationship with a local woman, played by Moore. And she has already completed the marital drama World Traveler, written and directed by Freundlich, and The Hours, based on Michael Cunningham’s PEN/Faulkner Award-winning novel centered on Virginia Woolf’s Mrs. Dalloway, directed by Stephen Daldry (Billy Elliot) and co-starring Meryl Streep and Nicole Kidman.
Although Moore rarely seems to slow down (offscreen, she is a spokesperson for Revlon cosmetics), this latest spate of work will be her last for a long time. After Far From Heaven, she plans to rest, have her baby and take a nice, relaxing break.
MICHAEL FLEMING: Word of your pregnancy got around quickly in Hollywood because you were expected to join John Travolta and Samuel L. Jackson in the John McTiernan-directed film Basic. Congratulations on having to drop out.
JULIANNE MOORE: Thank you. My son, Cal, is three and a half, so this is perfect timing. I love John McTiernan, but it was difficult because I was trying to keep this quiet. We were supposed to be having a creative conversation about the movie and I just finally said, “I’m pregnant. Please don’t tell anyone.”
Q: Pregnancies bring up insurance complications for movies. Was it a problem on Far From Heaven when you became pregnant with your first child?
A: I got pregnant with Cal on The Big Lebowski, which seems kind of funny, somehow. So I was barely pregnant when I made that movie, and there wasn’t much to worry about. We were in preproduction on this movie when I told Todd. He said, “Great, congratulations,” and not “But what about my movie?” He was so excited for me, and I said, “Listen, I think we’re going to be OK. We’ll be able to kind of hide it until the end.” Then we went into the whole insurance thing, which wasn’t easy.
Q: How far along will you be by the time this film wraps?
A: I’ll be close to five months, so I don’t know how much I’ll show. It’s not so bad now, even though they’re already having to adjust my clothing. It’s a ’60s look, and I’m going baggy. My solution is to wear big pants and belt them low.
Q: You seem to have earned a rest. What did you make, like five movies over the past 12 months?
A: It has been bad, way more than I meant to do. I did Hannibal, which was just so much fun, and then I went right into my boyfriend’s movie, World Traveler. Then I did Evolution, and that’s when the rumblings began about a possible strike. I wanted to do another movie, and then The Hours and The Shipping News happened right on top of each other, both competing for the same slot. Both were movies I really wanted to do; I couldn’t choose, so we squeezed both in. But everybody was in the same boat, working more because of a fear there would be a strike.
Q: Will it be easy for you to take off?
A: It will; maybe a year because of the baby. You don’t know how long, but I’m not planning to work for a really long time.
Q: You’ve been about as prolific as Samuel L. Jackson, who, even though he is a leading man, once said he gets insecure when he’s not working. Do you feel that way, like all of this might stop if you don’t move right on to the next one?
A: I understand it, and every actor feels that way–like one day it will all end. But that’s not it for me. Once I finish a movie, it’s no longer creative, no longer alive. It’s over for me.
Q: Do you ever think that having too many movies in the marketplace will hurt your price, or your ability to leave audiences wanting more?
A: Those are business decisions that you kind of can’t think about. If I want to do something it’s because I really like the part, I like the script or the director and I’m interested in a creative way. Maybe you’ll do a movie because it’s got a chance to be commercial and it will make you some money. But I don’t strategize that much about it.
Q: Well, when you do movies more for a business reason, some of them, like Evolution, haven’t worked, while The Lost World did. Are you sometimes compelled to take these roles just to be in a big movie?
A: I did Evolution because it was a comedy, and I never get to do those. It wasn’t because it was a big movie. It felt nice for a change to do something that wasn’t very serious. I didn’t have to cry once, which made me very happy.
Q: It has been a particularly numbing time for any New Yorker since September 11. You don’t live far from the World Trade Center. Where were you when it happened?
A: We live very close, in the West Village. But we were at the Toronto Film Festival, about to show World Traveler and start our second day of press. We’d gone down to the lobby around 9 a.m., and were about to introduce the movie, when someone in the lobby said that something had run into the World Trade Center. We went right back to the room to watch television–myself, Bart and Billy Crudup. We turned on the TV and watched the second plane hit. Like everybody, we were stunned. The day went by and we stayed in that room. Thankfully, our son was with us. That would have been too scary to imagine. If he’d been in New York, I would have crawled home. As it was, Bart went right to the airport and rented two minivans, and we took everyone who wanted to go back once they reopened the border.
Q: What was it like when you got back?
A: When we drove back, it was dark and you couldn’t see anything, really, but the smoke. You could see that even in the dark. Because we live below 14th Street, there was this police line. We had to show ID to get our car through. You could already see by then how extraordinary the people of New York were. We asked the cops if we could get them pizza, and the guy was like, “Oh, man, I can’t eat anything else.” He pointed to this big pile of food boxes behind him. But the devastation has been overwhelming and still is. It took a long time to process, the horrible idea that these people were just vaporized.
Q: What’s it like being an actor in New York right now? Did you go to any benefits?
A: We went to the fireman’s benefit organized by Denis Leary, and spoke to a lot of them. It was heartbreaking because you could see they just felt so guilty they had survived. Denis gave a great speech, saying, “You guys did a great job, go easy on yourselves.” I gave a speech about my little boy, who just loves firemen. The thing about the firemen in the city is that they’re just so good to the kids. They’ll be on their way to a fire and they’ll wave. I’ve taken my son on tours of the firehouse. I was talking to one of them about my little boy and he said, “Don’t let your boy be a cop or a fireman.” You’d never think about that, and it’s terrifying. In the speech, I’d said that we didn’t think he knew anything because when we were in Toronto, we kept him in the other room. We said there had been a fire, but we didn’t go into what happened in the planes. Then two weeks later at dinner, he said, “Mommy, why did the firemen die?” We just lost it.
Q: What did you say?
A: We said they have very dangerous jobs, that they were saving people’s lives in the building, and some of them got caught in the fire. We told him that it was going to be OK, that there wasn’t going to be another fire. It’s just awful, for the kids.
Q: Is your son aware of what you do for a living?
A: He knows that I act. He just thinks it’s something people do. In school, they ask the kids what they think their parents do. He said, “Well, I think she acts, and he does real work.” He’ll see a poster, like on the subway, and he’ll yell out, “Look, Mommy! That’s your movie!” And I’ll be like, “Shhhh.” He has a heightened sense of what’s make-believe, what is a movie. So he’ll say, “I don’t know why Jimmy is afraid of this. It’s just a movie.” He realizes.