_Just a little Moore
As timeless as film can seem sometimes, it is ultimately the stars who exemplify what it is we love about drama; and in celebrating over three decades of game-changing, opinion-forming film and TV, Julianne Moore has played a role greater and more important that the vast majority of her contemporaries.
When Julianne Moore won the Oscar for Best Actress in 2015 for her moving portrayal of a woman afflicted by early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, it was fitting recognition for someone regarded as one of Hollywood's most gifted stars.
For the best part of 30 years, Moore has been turning in one brilliant performance after another and her film biography reads like a rock star's greatest hits roster that includes Far from Heaven, Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, Magnolia, The Hours, Children of Men, A Single Man, and The Kids are All Right.
She's earned four Oscar nominations along the way and continues to unearth inspiring roles despite the fact she's recently passed the 60 mark.
In a way, age doesn’t perplex the North Carolina-born actress. “I have always looked 50 and hopefully I always will,” she jokes. “I am just one of those people who has a constancy to the way they look; but that’s about where I want the regularity to end. I want my roles to keep on evolving – I want to keep changing and improving as an actress, and I do genuinely think that in this new world of equality and opportunity, that is something I can do.
“I didn’t quite have that same faith in the industry a decade or two ago, so I will take that positivity, and I will move forward, because maybe the best is yet to come!”
Certainly at the age she is at, Moore is undertaking projects that spell hope, expectation, bravery and fulfilment. She would never hold herself up as an exemplar to the industry – neither does she have the self-importance nor the bravado to carry off such a tag – but as an individual, you sense the actress is delving even deeper into her scripts so as to produce work that no longer relies on renumeration or awards, more a sense of validation from within.
Away from the flashbulbs and the camera, Moore, who moved around a lot as a kid, admits she is looking forward to ripping up the rulebook more over the next few years.
“As you get older, you realise that for as much as you want to achieve and more forward, it’s also vital to give yourself a break. My childhood was always full of change and, I guess, a certain amount of instability, so as a result I ended up learning how to be very protective of myself, and I adapted very quickly to new situations.
“As an adult I lost a lot of that – I fell into a very uniform way of being, and that’s not really me. So I am looking forward to getting back some sort of unpredictability, because I believe that is very healthy for the soul. I want to learn again how to reinvent myself over and over.”
And yet, by Moore’s own admission, the reinvention won’t take her out of New York. “Some basic elements must always stay the same,” she laughs. “I've always loved my life in New York, and we have so many friends here and a real sense of community.
“I also crave the regularity of a good diet, good health and wellbeing routines, and perhaps I am lucky to have been blessed with good genes.
“I worry about my age a lot less now and I think that is because I have such a solid approach to staying in shape. That means all the basics – going to the gym, drinking plenty of water, eating a balanced diet, not doing anything to excess.
“It all adds up to me being extremely grateful at being able to enjoy a beautiful life with my family while also being able to keep doing interesting work.”
Best known for dark, complex, and sensitive performances, Moore admits to being sensitive to a lot of society’s issues, from poverty to gender and equal rights and the struggle against discrimination in all forms. “When a character comes along that offers me the chance to explore those elements in some way, I tend to find it difficult to resist getting involved
“Society is certainly much better off for the complex characters that inhabit it, right? I’ve often portrayed gay women in films, with the angle of proving that your sexual preference doesn't make any difference when it comes to who you are as a human being.
“Despite that, we remain stuck in so many of the preconceptions and attitudes of the past. I recall when I was in high school in the seventies that a lot of kids I knew were questioning their sexuality, but no-one even dared to think about coming out. Even today although it is a slightly sensitive issue for some, a lot of progress has been made.
“Through life, we all learn to become students of human psychology,” she continues. “We learn to recognise and analyse all the masks that people put up in different situations and how human behaviour is so complex and variable. Do we ever master it completely? No! And yet, it is a journey worth taking.”
Such a position means commercial success has never been a great pull for Moore, who is married to director and producer Bart Freundlich – the couple have two children together. “I think when you go back home to a happy, settled, loving environment, you realise all those other trappings from the industry are worth, really, very little.
“Sometimes people express surprise when I say that. I mean, when you are part of a big production with a big budget and a huge promotional machine, it’s something else. It’s a huge experience and it’s great to be involved in that. And yet you can very easily get lost in the magnitude of it all. Sometimes it’s just much nicer to be part of a project in which you feel integral… like family; like a small independent film, in which you’re simply doing it for the art, and nothing else.”
Such a position explains low-positioned projects in recent years including The Woman in the Window, With/In, Dear Evan Hansen and The Glorias, with the latter yielding just $30,000 at the box office.
What goes against such a settled philosophy is the fact she remains such a big draw for directors and casting agents – there will always be another The Kingsman or Hunger Games waiting in the wings. “I don’t want to keep climbing the mountain, but I do like the thrill of something important and fuelled by big ambitions, so I keep trying to tread that line. Sometimes I get it right, sometimes I don’t.
“Certainly, what is true is that the older I get the more I want to choose projects that make me happy and preserve my health… and to be honest I’ve always taken that kind of approach. It’s art over excess."
The fact Moore’s early years were as an “army brat”, as she calls it – her father Peter was a paratrooper for the United States during the Vietnam War and rose to the rank of Colonel before becoming a military judge – surely influenced her perception of people and, by association, art. “One of the greatest lessons I learnt from moving around so much was how mutable human behaviour really is. We have a lot of chameleonic qualities and different masks we wear according to different situations and moments in our lives.
“I will never forget going from one school where people would dance a certain way and then to the next one where they danced in a completely different way.
“I would also see how girls and guys had completely different ways of relating to each other or the way they would ask each other out on dates - it would vary from city to city.
“All those experiences teach you how varied human behaviour can be and so it makes you that much more aware and sensitive to the human personality and being able to change yourself as an actor and reinvent yourself to suit each character you play.”
Travelling around also gave a young Julianne Moore the tools by which she could be protective of herself, even if that meant creating a new character each time. “You learn to reinvent yourself over and over again. So for me it was like a training school for how to be an actor and I know a lot of actors who moved around a lot as children or teenagers.”
When Moore finished her studies in Boston, at a fine arts school, she knew New York was the next destination and, she hoped, the chance to act on stage. “I did a few off-Broadway shows and then I found regular work in the soaps. My career has evolved in ways I couldn’t have imagined, but New York has fully become my home and my base; my refuge, if you like.
“There's so much going on in the Big Apple that actors aren't as obsessed over as they are in LA. People will greet me and talk to me but it's almost always very polite and respectful, and my children have grown up with the idea that their mother has this job which draws attention, but doesn’t impact who she is or, more importantly, who they are; and that’s very important to me.
While a solitary Oscar win certainly doesn’t represent adequate reward for an incredible career and undisputable commitment towards her craft, Moore admits that gong for Still Alice retains a special place in her. “It’s an incredible feeling that doesn’t go away, and it’s a wonderful memory to look back on; but ultimately it doesn’t change you minute by minute. You still get up the next morning, make sure the kids get off to school, and think about your next job!
“We can’t take this whole thing too seriously – of course I feel relieved that I’m still working, but who doesn’t? Does anyone really want to stop working aged 40? I don’t know anyone like that.
“Ultimately, my goal when I was young was to be able to find good work and make a living. I am still doing that, so how can I be anything other than content."
By Paul Dargan