Culture

The World According to Julianne Moore

The Oscar-winning actress discusses the impact of #MeToo, her film 'Gloria Bell,' and her hopes for the future.
Reading time 12 minutes

Photography by Zoey Grossman

Styling by Bobette Cohn

Julianne Moore is a force to be reckoned with. With five Academy Award nominations to her name, including a Best Actress win for her unforgettable portrayal of a woman struggling with Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, Moore is one of Hollywood’s most acclaimed and respected actors. Not one to rest on her laurels, Moore’s output is virtuosic by any standard. In 2018 alone, she played starring roles in Gloria Bell—a remake of the 2013 Chilean film directed by Sebastián Lelio—and Bel Canto, and she has two features in store for 2019.

While we have seen Julianne play more than 70 different characters on screen, in person, she looks incredibly, refreshingly like herself. Warm, cheerful, bright, thoughtful, and yes—gorgeous. Even when not on set filming, her schedule is back to back.

Taking a mini-break before a trip Uptown to be fitted for brown contact lenses (she is starring in Julie Taymor’s adaptation of Gloria Steinem’s memoir My Life on the Road), she stops to share a breakfast at one of her favored West Village haunts. Over a meal of berries with whipped cream and eggs Florentine, she discusses being Gloria Bell, the impact of #MeToo, and her hopes for the future.

ARIEL FOXMAN: I just saw Gloria Bell, and I fell so deeply in love with your character, following her life. I was sad when the movie ended. I was like, I could just follow Gloria for another two hours. Watching the extraordinary in the ordinary. 

JULIANNE MOORE: There are so many movies that are made about people who are heroic. You’re the Queen of England. Or, you discovered the cure for polio. Or, you’re going to the moon. But for most of us, life’s just not that. For most of us, life is: You grow up, have a family, have a partner, you get a job, lose a job, you get another job, you have friends, you go to dinner. This movie is like, “Celebrate your real life.”

 

AF: How does the “ordinary” grab you when you’re reading a script for a movie like that?

JM: Well, I had watched the original on my laptop in bed, and I was weeping at the end—yet it all felt so joyful. I was then introduced to Sebastián [Lelio, the Chilean writer and director of the film Gloria, as well as the Academy Award-winning A Fantastic Woman]. I flew to Paris, he was living in Berlin, and we met. We had this weird misunderstanding, though. He was told that I wanted to meet him, but I had no interest in doing a remake. And I was thinking that I would love to do something based on the film, but only if Sebastián did it. I had no interest in taking the material and doing an American remake. We had this long conversation for about an hour, talking about a lot of things, but never anything about the movie. So, finally in the end, I said, “Well, I will do it if you direct it.” And he said, “I will only direct it if you are in it.”

 

AF: Had he been intending to remake his own film at that point?

JM: No, no intention. Because who remakes their own movie, right? And suddenly we were like, “Hmm … okay!” I told him that whenever he was able to do it, I would do it. He asked where it would be. I said, “L.A.” I don’t typically want to go to L.A. to film—I live here. But I thought that L.A. is the one place where this story could take place.

 

AF: It was so refreshing to see a middle-aged woman just up for anything, not afraid of life or newness.  

JM: Exactly. I also like that sexuality was just a part of her. She met this guy, she liked him, she slept with him, she's fine with it. She didn't expect him to call, and then he called and she's like, “You want to go out?” She was taking it at face value. It's not like she was a hopeless romantic. It wasn't until he pursued her that it became something else. 

 

AF: Were you looking to play a character like this? Is there some macro-Julianne Moore acting design? How much is serendipity and how much is planned?

JM: That's a good question. It's a weird one, too, because obviously, you don't control what comes your way. Within the stuff that comes your way, you select. You can say, “I like this.” And there’ll be these periods where everything that comes your way is stuff that you don't want to do, and that's really hard. A lot of what comes your way—and this is a thing that happens to every actor—is, if you play one part, they're like, “Let's get her for that again.” And it's up to you to say, “OK, I'm fine doing that again” or “I would really rather not.” 

“I think the relationship between an actor and an audience is intense.”

AF: Do you think about the audience needing to see you in something new or different?

JM: I think that the relationship between an actor and an audience is intense. They’re not coming to see you, they're coming to see themselves. They're coming to see themselves in you. So, if you’re not offering them something authentic, something that's going to allow them to see real-life experience, you're failing. You're just not going to be interesting. 

 

AF: Switching gears a bit, I wanted to talk with you about #MeToo and the momentum around all of that. I was in the audience at this year’s annual Gay Men’s Health Crisis gala and was moved by the tribute you made to the Time’s Up movement.

JM: Thank you, I was really proud of that speech. 

 

AF: You drew distinct parallels between the gay rights movement and Time’s Up that I had never realized. I appreciated the passion and urgency, too. There has been a lot of talk and panels and hashtags, but you reset the action part of it. What are we getting right and what are we not getting right?

JM: I'm so tired of hearing, “You're a strong woman and you take parts where you're playing a strong woman.” What does that mean? I just want to play a human being. I want to have a human being at the center of a narrative. 

“I would prefer not to be the most powerful person in this room, because that means there are people with less power."

AF: Are you an optimist when it comes to progressiveness or do you think it’s generally one step forward, two steps back?

JM: Gloria Steinem always says, “One step forward, two steps back” because she is clear that you can't separate sexism from racism. Any time that human beings are considered less than because of their gender or their skin or their sexuality, we have a basic human rights issue. We don't progress unless we make everybody’s issues move forward. Which is why I was there that night at GMHC to say, “Thank you for having our backs, thank you for noticing us.” We have to stick together, we have to figure this out, we have to talk about it. We can't normalize behavior or language we know is wrong.

 

AF: Is there an ultimate goal for a movement like Time’s Up?

JM: Gender equality. When we live in a world where people have equal opportunities, where my daughter and my son both have access to same kind of jobs, the same kind of salaries, and the same equality under the law. We don't have an Equal Rights Amendment in our constitution. Women are not considered legally equal to men in our constitution. 

 

AF: It’s flabbergasting. 

JM: Wouldn't it be great to feel like we could all have our differences, but that they weren't hierarchical? Another thing that makes me nuts: People talk about being powerful women. Do you feel powerful? What does it take to be powerful? When you talk about that, you're talking about hierarchy. I would prefer not to be the most powerful person in this room, because that means there are people with less power. As Gloria Steinem says, “We are linked, not ranked.” You may be linked to another human being, but it's not like someone's in charge.

 

AF: You showed me a picture of your son, who's an athlete at college, how do you and your husband go about raising a feminist child? 

JM: You raise a feminist child by living in a democratic family. You have to live in a family in which everybody has a vote and every adult is contributing. Being a feminist is like being a communist: Everybody participates.

AF: Switching gears for a moment, it’s almost the 25-year anniversary of Todd Haynes’s Safe. The paranoia and anxiety in that film would seem even more contemporaneous now. Given where we are, in terms of climate change, the environment, the pervasiveness of social media and technology, it’s not off-base to perceive this intangible danger. What do you make of the threats of artificial intelligence, the erasure of privacy, et cetera? 

JM: Hasn't it always been this way, though? When you think about the industrial age, with the advent of factories, people wondered, What about people? I think we always do that with what’s new. We're never going to obliterate humans from anything, because that's what we relate to. 

 

AF: I remember watching Safe, thinking, Wow, we’re just not in control of our environment no matter what we think we can influence. I’m floored with how prescient the film was.

JM: You know, in every scene, Todd wrote an emotional reason and a physical reason for her to be sick. So, you never knew what was making her sick. Was it completely emotional? She was so detached in her life. That child's not her child; it's her stepchild. The guy had been married before. She didn't have a job. Then, she was actually physically detached. But then, you also saw car exhaust, the sofa…there were all these reasons, you never really know what it was. But at the end of the movie, she's most herself. Where she's saying “I am sick, and it's not my fault. Something’s making me sick.” It is a metaphor for AIDS, too. Todd wanted to subvert that whole idea that somehow we are in control.

 

AF: And yet, so much has changed since then. The way we consume media has changed so dramatically. Are you someone who embraces that or would you consider yourself more of a Luddite?

JM: Look, I sent my first email in 2002. I remember I had set up my Mac, and somebody sent me an email. I clicked on it and looked up, and I said, “Does he know that I read it? Does he get a notification?” I had no idea. And that was when my daughter was born. 16 years ago.

Credits

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MAKEUP GITA BASS (ART DEPARTMENT)

HAIR SERGE NORMANT (STATEMENT ARTISTS)

MANICURE MAKI SAKAMOTO (THE WALL GROUP)

DIGITAL TECHNICIAN  ASHLEY DINGESS

SET DESIGN DANIEL HOROWITZ

LIGHTING JAMES ELLINGTON AND JAQUELINE DAVIS

TAILOR LARS NORD

STYLIST ASSISTANTS  KYNDALL MINLEY-MARSHALL AND GRACIE PIERSON

PRODUCTION ASSISTANT MINA ERKLI

RETOUCHING ZU STUDIO

LOCATION MILK STUDIOS

CATERING MONTERONE

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