Julianne Moore interview: 'my life is a privileged one'
In this interview from 2014, the Golden Globe-winning actress talks about proving her parents wrong, her domestic side and why she loves an action movie
By John Preston
5:00AM GMT 12 Jan 2015
It takes a brave woman to go bare-legged in London in January. Even in the Dorchester hotel there’s an icy breeze blowing down the corridors and Julianne Moore has goose bumps. If this bothers her, she doesn’t show it – but then it’s hard to imagine her being daunted or cast down by anything.
On screen you often have a pretty good idea where you’re going to end up with Julianne Moore – and that’s in extremis. No other actress has explored the outer limits of emotion quite so comprehensively, whether it be helpless passion (The End of the Affair), suicidal depression (The Hours) or religious mania (Carrie).
Of course, there’s no reason why Moore, 53, should be anything like the parts she plays. Even so, it still comes as a surprise to find just how different she is. Far from oscillating with nervous anxiety, she’s one of the least agonised people I’ve ever met, with a big gurgly laugh and a beguilingly mumsy manner. Positivity comes off her in waves.
“For some reason I really thought I’d like being in a high-rise with these great views and stuff. Instead, I couldn’t stand it. I don’t know why. It just depressed me.”
But did she mope, or reproach herself? Certainly not.
“I just thought, ‘OK, I didn’t know that about myself before, but now I do.’ I felt I’d learnt something. But then I’ve always felt that you’ve got to try to take the most from everything in life. It’s a bit like when actors say to me that they can’t get certain types of parts. I always tell them, ‘You can never say to yourself, “I’m just doing this movie because it will be good for my career.”’ That’s awful. Of course, I’ve done things that I haven’t liked, but I’ve always tried to learn from them. I’ve thought, ‘Well, now I know. I won’t do that again.’”
By the same token, Julianne Moore’s latest film, Non-Stop, is some way from being her most challenging, but it’s clear that she threw herself into it with characteristic gusto. A testosterone-crazed thriller about a terrorist threat on a transatlantic jumbo jet, it stars Liam Neeson as an alcoholic air-marshal, with Moore as the mysterious passenger in the next seat.
“I really love Liam – that was a big factor in my doing it,” she says. “We’ve worked together before and we also have a mutual friend in Ralph Fiennes. Also, it reminded me a lot of disaster movies that I’d loved as a child – films like The Poseidon Adventure and The Towering Inferno.”
It must have helped too that Joel Silver, a producer on the film and one of the most powerful men in Hollywood, practically got down on his knees and begged her to do it.
“Well, it’s true he was very keen. I was walking down the street in New York City when he called. I’d been working a lot at the time and I felt like a break, but Joel kept saying, ‘I really want you to do this,’ and in the end I said yes.”
These days Moore wields such power herself – and is so in demand – that scripts are rewritten as she sees fit.
“At this point in my career, that part is always pretty fluid,” she says opaquely. “Certainly on this, we had a lot of discussion about how to point up my character’s contradictions, how to make her both funny and mysterious. What I really liked was that she has a foot in both camps.”
So too, in a way, does Moore. Her father, a military judge, was American and her mother Scottish, and she says that she grew up feeling as though she belonged to two cultures. “I can see how Americans misconstrue British reserve, and I can see how British people misconstrue American enthusiasm. I think I’m somewhere in between the two. Although I’m outgoing, I’m also very private.”
Julianne Moore in the film Short Cuts (Rex)
When she was a child – she’s the eldest of three – her family rarely spent more than 18 months in one place. What effect did all this chopping and changing have on her? “Let me see…” she says, tapping a fingernail against her tooth. “I think it’s made me attach a very high premium to security. I’m tremendously domestic. Shockingly domestic, in fact!” She hoots with laughter.
“Some people think that actresses tend not to be practical or domestic. That we’re very flighty and emotionally vulnerable. Trust me, I’m not like that. My house is very clean and organised. I’m not a great cook – my husband does most of the cooking. But I make a hot breakfast for my children every day, and I always put out place mats and napkins.”
Looking at Moore with her long auburn hair, her alabaster skin with its dusting of freckles and her killer cheek bones, you have to pinch yourself quite hard to remember that she once suffered agonies of self-consciousness about her appearance. “Well, you know, red hair and freckles… And what made it worse was that I always seemed to be living in places where all the other kids had fair hair and suntans.”
Partly because she felt like an outsider, she was always a keen people-watcher. Whenever the family moved, she’d scrutinise her new neighbours, noting how they behaved. “I’d think to myself, ‘OK, this is how people speak here, how they dress, how they move.’ But at the same time I realised that whatever their differences, there was a universality to how they were inside. And that idea has been very valuable to me as an actress.”
At 16, Moore wore glasses and was, she says, “a total geek”. But by the time she was 18 the glasses had been replaced by contact lenses, and everything started to change. “It wasn’t like the ugly duckling, but I did become more confident. I’d had boyfriends in high school, although nothing serious. It’s funny because my son is in high school now and he has a girlfriend – he’d kill me if he knew I was telling you this. He and his girlfriend have a proper relationship. But I was never like that. I only had boys I went to dances with.”
Her parents always told her that she could be whatever she wanted to be – just as long as she had an education. “What they didn’t mean, it turned out, was being an actress. They were absolutely horrified when I told them.”
Julianne Moore in the soap As The World Turns in the 1980s (Rex)
They needn’t have worried. After university, she immediately went into a daytime soap for three years, then got spotted by the director Robert Altman, who cast her in Short Cuts. Moore made an instantly unforgettable impression – partly because she spent the whole of one scene wandering about naked from the waist down. “Actually, it wasn’t such a big deal. In a way, acting is always a struggle to overcome self-consciousness. It’s all about how you become alive on camera. You’re always saying to yourself, ‘Is this real? Is this authentic?’”
She breaks off. “Oh God, listen to me! ‘I’m only acting the truth!’” she drawls in a very actorish voice. “Look, films are ultimately entertainment – I’m very aware of that. But that doesn’t mean that you don’t try to illuminate a human experience, so that people feel as if they’re watching something that could happen to them.”
She married young, then divorced, then married the film director Bart Freundlich in 2003 – he’s 10 years younger than she is. While her career continued to go from strength to strength, Moore had another, even stronger ambition.
“I knew from very early on that I wanted kids. I wasn’t one of those women who goes, ‘Well, if it happens, it happens.’ I really wanted a family. Although I didn’t actually have my first child until I was 37, I always felt I’d get there.”
She went on to have two children – Caleb, now 16, and Liv, 11. As a mother, her most important lesson is that they should be passionate about whatever they do. “I always say to them, ‘What gives you pleasure and joy? Let those be the things that lead you forward in life.’”
As for balancing work and family, it’s really not that difficult, she insists. “If ever I do a film that’s a long way from home, we schedule it for the summertime and the rest of the family comes with me. Other than that, I’m never away for more than a week. If someone says to me, ‘Will do you this film in Hungary?’ I just go, ‘Sorry – if you can move it to New Jersey, then maybe it will work.’”
It’s tempting to imagine her and her husband sitting at home in New York in their immaculately ordered house talking over scripts together. In fact, it hardly ever happens. “I make up my own mind what I do,” she says firmly.
“I might ask him to read something if I need help, but generally I know pretty quickly what I like and what I don’t. Contrary to what people might say, I don’t make a point of going for ‘difficult’ parts. I’ve just tried to vary things as much as possible.”
Seven years ago Moore published Freckleface Strawberry, a children’s book about a self-conscious little girl with red hair and freckles. Since then, she’s written three more, including one called My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me – which I think we can safely say is also based on personal experience.
Julianne Moore with her husband Bar Freundlich and their children
“I started writing the first one when my son was seven. What I wanted to say was, we all have issues with the way we look. I mean, I’d still rather not have freckles, but as you get older other things become more important. But although I’ve loved doing the books, I’m not about to give up acting – they’re more of a side project for me.”
After much pleading from her children, she agreed to be in the new Hunger Games film.
“I don’t know if I would have done it otherwise. I’m very pleased I did, though. Apart from anything else, I got to work with Jennifer Lawrence. She’s a lovely girl. I know people often say things like that in interviews, but she really is. While she may be young, she doesn’t feel at all precocious. Instead, she’s smart and funny and terrific at connecting with people. She just blew me away.”
The heating has been turned up now and the goose bumps on her legs have disappeared. “You know, I’m very aware of how lucky I am…” she says. Then she taps a fingernail against her tooth again. “My life may be a pretty crazy life at times, but it’s a very privileged one – being able to earn a good living doing what you love. Not many people have such an opportunity. And sitting in a smart hotel room talking about yourself,” she adds hurriedly, “that’s not too bad either.”