Julianne Moore – 17 Years ago she was special, and she still is

                                June 2005 By Philip Berk

She may be one of Hollywood’s most respected actresses, but Julianne Moore still worries about where her next job is coming from. 

“Somebody said to me, ‘Why do you worry about never working again?’ and I say, ‘Well, it’s not unprecedented. Once in a while somebody’s career just stops cold. You never know.’ So I just keep everything in perspective and tell myself it’s not about you. You are not king of the universe. It’s about the work.”

At the moment, coming off an amazingly productive period, her career appears stuck in neutral.

l999, of course was her watershed year, when she was not only nominated for an Academy Award as best actress for The End of the Affair, she actually starred in four other acclaimed movies, including Magnolia, Cookie’s Fortune, An Ideal Husband, and A Map of the World.

Surely a Guinness world record! I once told her.

But it had taken her a long time to get there — almost twenty years!

After graduating from Boston University in 1983, she did off Broadway plays, appeared in daytime soaps, forgettable TV movies, and fleetingly in films like Benny and Joon and The Hand that Rocks the Cradle.

But to no avail.

Until Robert Altman cast her in Short Cuts.

What followed were award winning roles in Vanya on 42nd Street and Safe, and finally Hollywood took notice.

In short order she was cast opposite Hugh Grant in Nine Months and Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas in Assassins.

But neither film did much for her other than get her another forgettable role in Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World.

So she went back to making independent films: The Myth of Fingerprints, where she  fell in love with her director, and Boogie Nights, which earned  her a supporting actress Oscar nomination. 

As an encore, she took a year off to take care of a new born son.

Since then, she’s built an impressive body of work.

Two years ago she was twice nominated, as best actress for Far from Heaven and as best supporting actress for The Hours, roles in which she played desperately unhappy wives.

Now, as a change of pace she’s chosen a romantic comedy, Laws of Attraction, in which she and Pierce Brosnan play fiercely competitive divorce lawyers

At her press conference in Beverly Hills, I ask her if it’s Hollywood’s perception that she’s someone who doesn’t do comedy?

“It’s interesting,” she replies, “because when I started in the business I did a couple of television pilots that didn’t go, and they were all sitcoms. I was sort of a comedy girl. Then when I got movie roles they were all serious. But I have done a few comedies, Cookie’s Fortune, Big Lebowski, and Nine Months, although I’ve never done a romantic comedy; so it was a pleasure to do this one.”

Is there a difference?

“Not in terms of your approach. You’re always seeking the emotional truth in whatever you do. But with comedy you have technique on top of that, so it’s very, very exacting. You have to do it with a fine point, otherwise you don’t get the point.”

And working with Pierce, how was that?

“He’s one of those guys who’s actually as nice as he is handsome. He’s very easy. I’m a big talker. I like to talk before a scene. I talk all the way up to Action! He’d listen patiently, try to join in, but eventually he’d go, ‘Oh, please, please be quiet. I can’t think.’ You can get to him,  so that became my favorite thing to do. But he is delightful, just the loveliest guy, and a very devoted family man. My kids just loved him. They called him Pierce the Hippo. We still don’t know why. Maybe a character from a book they read.”

Her personal life stabilized after she met Bart Freundlich, her writer-director on Myth of Fingerprints. They moved in together, had two children together, Caleb six, and Liz two, but spurned marriage until last August.

Why the change of heart? I asked her.

“We were together a long time without being married because of the bad experience I had with my first marriage. Divorce is incredibly difficult and not something I wanted to repeat ever. A lot of being married is about making sure it was everything everybody wanted, that we were in the place we wanted to be, and where we were going to stay. So our marriage was a culmination of all that.  But it was also a way of publicly saying,’I am aligning myself with you and I will be your family,’ which is a very important thing to do.”

(She was previously married to actor John Gould Rubin for  ten years.)

Has marriage changed the relationship?

“Only for the better. It made it more solid, but it made a difference to our son who was old enough to know what was going on. He insisted on showing everyone our rings. We were married in our house, in our backyard. All our immediate families were there; so it was a very important thing. It’s made us a more solid family.”

Having a girl after a boy, how different was that?

“It’s funny because my husband used to get mad because my son Cal was a big kisser. He’d just kiss me and kiss me and kiss me, and Bart would say, ‘Stop it, just stop it. This is bad what you’re doing.’ and I’d say, ‘No, it’s fine. He wants to kiss his mother.” And now of course with his little girl I see them making out in the corner, and it’s the same thing. She just adores him and I am so grateful. I feel very very lucky to have one of each.”

In Laws of Attraction, Frances Fisher (not much older than her) plays her mother, a far cry from her own mother. Can she talk about that?

“My mother isn’t anything like the crazy, promiscuous character Frances plays. My mother’s been married her whole life, and my parents are still married. But not unlike in the movie, my mother and I are very close in age, in fact only twenty years apart.”

Were there lessons she learned from her that she would like to pass onto her children?

“Because my mother was so young when she married, she had to piece together a college education, but eventually she graduated summa cum laude. She had three kids when I was in the eighth grade so she would take a night class here and there. Eventually she got two master’s degrees and is now a psychiatric social worker. She used to say to all of us, ‘I want you to have an education.’ But most of all she believed you need to have something for yourself that you care about, which for me was acting. So that’s what I want to give to my children. I want them to know that we will love and support them and encourage them to find their way.”

An army brat, Julianne, her brother, and sister changed residences often while growing up in the continental U.S. and Panama. While in the service, her father picked up a law degree and now serves as a military judge. Her mother, although born in Scotland, emigrated to America when she was ten.

“The great thing about moving around, as a young person, as a child, is it gives you a sense of the universality of life and of people. You’re not so self centered. We all have a tendency to think, ‘It’s my life, it’s all about me.’ But when you move around, you learn there is a great similarity. I like diversity, I like foreign things. It all comes down to a collective unconscious.”

Can she remember the first time she wanted to be an actress? Or was it something that others saw in her, as was the case with Meryl Streep, to whom she’s been compared?

“That’s interesting you say that because I had a similar experience with reading aloud. When I was a kid, I read a lot. When you move around a lot that’s one of the things you do. I was the kid that won the competitions for having read the most books in the library. So when we started to read aloud in class, I couldn’t understand why other people had difficulty with it. I had such an affinity for it, which I think led to my becoming an actor.”

What has she got coming up?

“I have two movies coming out this year. One is The Forgotten, a thriller I made with Joe Ruben last year and a small independent movie based on Wallace Shawn’s play,  Marie and Bruce, with Matthew Broderick.”

But nothing beyond that.

Maybe it’s time for her to start campaigning for a role, as she once did,  for The End of the Affair.”

I remember her telling me, “I was in London doing An Ideal Husband and was supposed to go to Dublin to meet Neil (Jordan, the director.). At the last minute he had to travel somewhere else, so our meeting was canceled. I was distraught because I thought I’ll never meet him. And the English papers were reporting who he was meeting with, so I decided to do something I’ve never done before. I wrote him a letter to let him know how moved I had been by the script and that I hoped he’d consider me for it, and regardless I knew it would be a special film. That was kind of it, and two months later I got a call to meet  with him. I don’t think I was the only one that wrote a letter. There were a number of people. I don’t like to bother directors — they need to have their own creative thing — but sometimes it’s worth it. I just needed to let him know how much I cared about it.”

By pursuing The End of the Affair she almost had to say no to her devoted Boogie Nights director Paul Thomas Anderson, who had written Magnolia for her.

“He was so mad at me because for a minute he thought I wasn’t going to be able to do it. He was so mad, he was really funny! I was working on something else and had gotten the script in L.A. He was going to shoot it some time in January. I told him I was doing The End of the Affair. We spoke on a cell phone because I was far away. ‘Listen I just want you to know that I understand if you can’t do my movie. I totally understand. We’ll work again. Don’t worry. ‘ After a few weeks he called, ‘So what’s going on? Do you have the dates? When am I going to know?’ And then a couple of weeks would go by until finally he was screaming, ‘Why aren’t you doing my movie? Do my movie!’ And it really was incredibly flattering to have somebody want you that much. ‘Why aren’t you saying no to Neil Jordan!’ I’m like, ‘Paul, please, come on.’ 

Fortunately she as able to squeeze in two weeks for Magnolia just before starting End of the Affair.

After Vanya on 42nd Street, for which she was named 1994’s best actress by the Boston critics, was she besieged by agents?

“Actually, I’ve always had an agent. You have to in New York, and I’ve had a manager for the last eleven years, so there wasn’t an onslaught. Every once in a while I get a lot of phone calls from lawyers who want to renegotiate your contracts, but there really hasn’t been too much of that.”

Does she rely on agents?

“I have a tremendous group of people I rely on, but at the end of the day, the actor makes the decisions. Anybody who says. ‘Oh, my manager made me do it’ or “My agent made me do it,’ that’s crazy. The actor’s the one. They can suggest things. They can agree with you or disagree, but you have to make the decisions yourself.”

Is she ambitious?

“I think I am. I’m a hard worker and pretty diligent, so in the sense that work is important to me, I am. But I’m not ambitious about fame. I’m ambitious about work and getting the good parts.”

How excited was she about when she won the Venice Film Festival award last year for Far from Heaven?

“Actually we were at the airport en route to Toronto when I got a phone call saying they want me to come back. So Emily (their nanny) and I went out with Liv (her daughter) while Cal and Bart stayed on the plane. But unfortunately because I had to be in Toronto (for the Festival) the night of the ceremony, all I could do was write a speech. But I was so excited for an American to win that award, and I was so grateful that the movie got that kind of attention, which it sorely needed because it was a smaller movie with less money behind it.”

She worked with Robert Altman a second time on Cookie’s Fortune?

What was that experience like?

“He’s marvelous, he’s so nurturing. You can’t do anything wrong when you’re with Bob. Whatever you do, it’s ‘Yeah, that’s great. That’s good. Do that again.’

Did he have to persuade her to do the nudity in Short Cuts?

“Actually he said, ‘I want you to look at this very carefully because this is what occurs in the film. I want you to make sure you are comfortable with it. He was very upfront about it.”

And was she comfortable?

“I don’t have any reservations about nudity if it’s not superfluous. If it’s gratuitous or overtly exploitive — I mean I did nudity in (Madonna’s) Body of Evidence, and it made me very uncomfortable — I won’t do that, but stuff that’s inherent to the story, doesn’t bother me.”

Did her academic training help her as an actress?

“Education helps absolutely. People may have a natural affinity to art, but a great teacher can help you to figure out how to put things together.”

What for example?

“One thing they stressed was relaxation. When you’re nineteen, you think, ‘Oh, I can’t relax. That’s horrible. I’m much better when I’m like this.’ But the more you work the more you realize how  being relaxed is the key thing. You’re too young to appreciate it when you first hear it, but for me that’s the thing that stays with me.”

For the record, she loves horror movies so, no wonder, her favorite movie last year was 28 Days Later. And she’s not in the least embarrassed that her husband is nine years younger than her.

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