I am sitting opposite one of the most credible actresses of her generation, a woman who has — over a 35-year career — earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s most enduring, universally acclaimed stars. But today, in her local bistro in New York’s West Village, Julianne Moore can’t settle; she is worried that we might have missed out on her favourite zucchini fries. It’s late afternoon, the no-man’s land of mealtimes, and Moore is unable to start our interview until we’ve flagged down a waitress. Her relief when we’re told she can indeed still order her go-to fries is palpable.
Will that be one portion to share, the waitress enquires. ‘Gosh, no, we definitely need one each,’ says Moore.
In person, the first thing you notice about 58-year-old Moore are those cheekbones, which I reckon you could legitimately grate parmesan off. The second thing, as she waves her arms around and laughs freely —sparky, animated, upbeat — is just how very different she is from the emotionally wretched, tormented and troubled women she so often portrays on screen. Take the drug-addicted porn star she played more than 20 years ago in Boogie Nights, the married gay woman who has an affair with her sperm donor in The Kids Are All Right, or the academic with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice, a heart-wrenching role which won her a well-deserved Oscar in 2015 after four nominations.
These roles, she says, tell the only sort of stories she herself wants to see.
‘What do I care about when I go to the movies?’ Moore asks rhetorically. ‘I want to know what’s going on in someone’s relationship, what’s happening with their family, their parents. I respond to human drama.’
With almost 100 big screen roles to her name, and directors like the Coen brothers and Tom Ford queuing up to work with her, some might consider coasting a little; not Moore. ‘I think about the people I get to work with, and the things that I get to explore and how lucky I am to have this kind of work,’ she enthuses. Her latest film, After the Wedding, in which she stars alongside Michelle Williams and Billy Crudup (and is directed by her husband Bart Freundlich), is released this week; after that will come The Woman in the Window with Amy Adams. She’s also adapting Amy Butcher’s upcoming memoir, Mothertrucker, with her friend Jill Soloway, creator of Transparent, for the small screen. And she’s just begun production on Lisey’s Story, an adaptation of the Stephen King novel, for Apple’s new TV streaming service. It will film in New York, which was a large part of the appeal for her. ‘It’s my daughter’s last year at home, so I want to be home too,’ says Moore.
Showing that successful women can balance a demanding career with family life is paramount for the actress. Indeed, it was part of the reason she took on the role of Theresa in After the Wedding — a millionaire, a wife and a mother of three. ‘Theresa’s someone I’ve seen a lot in real life,’ muses Moore. ‘I’ve seen women who have built big lives for themselves — they have big careers, and they have families too. But I don’t feel like that representation is out there. If you see a successful woman in a movie, she never has a family. Why do we continue to perpetrate that mythology that it’s not possible? That somehow if you’ve managed to become the boss you can’t have any kids too? Or you can’t have a marriage that’s valuable?’
Moore herself has managed all of the above. She has been married to Freundlich for 16 years (they’ve been together for 23 in total) and they have two children, Caleb, 21, and Liv, 17. ‘I had a mother who always told me that “you need love and work to be happy”,’ she says. ‘It doesn’t have to be paid work — it just has to be something that you care about, that engages you — and then you need somebody to love. That can also be an animal. But I always wanted to have a family, even when I was a little kid.’
But, she believes, it involves work. ‘You have to make your personal life happen as much as your career,’ she asserts. Growing up in the late 1970s, she ‘got the message that it was important to have a career and that I had to work to make that happen. But there was this idea that you don’t need to work for your personal life — that it was supposed to be like a romantic comedy: you meet someone, have a couple of dates and there you go. That’s just not true. You have to invest, if that’s something that you want. Life is finite. This idea that you can do whatever you want at whatever time, it’s not true.’
Moore met Freundlich in 1996, when they worked together on his film The Myth of Fingerprints. After the Wedding is their fourth film together. Though it isn’t particularly graphic, there are a couple of tender moments between Moore and Crudup, one in particular when she is in the bath. Is it strange performing intimate scenes in front of her husband?
‘I hated it!’ she cries, pulling a face of extreme distaste. ‘I was like, “Why do we have to do this?” But I don’t really like to do it with anybody.’ Does Freundlich also find it difficult? ‘He doesn’t like seeing me do it in a movie either, but I think it’s not as hard when it’s his movie.’
A 23-year relationship is an achievement by anyone’s standards, but in Hollywood, even more so. ‘I haven’t found it difficult,’ shrugs Moore. ‘I think for anybody in any industry who travels a lot, there’s a danger — if you don’t spend time together, you’re going to be in trouble. Because we always had children [she was pregnant with Caleb within a year of meeting Freundlich] we stayed together a lot as a family. But if you go away for a year to make a movie, your relationship’s not going to survive.’
I’ve interviewed Moore twice before, most recently when she starred in Gloria Bell, in which she plays a divorced, free-spirited fifty-something woman (earning her lavish praise by critics). And I know from our previous meetings that the one topic that can make Moore a little disgruntled is a pointed discussion of age, and of her apparent novelty in being a 58-year-old woman winning covetable roles. Ageism ‘has not been my experience’ she told me in the past, moving the conversation briskly on.
My plan to avoid the subject today goes awry when I refer to Gloria as a ‘woman of a certain age’. ‘Don’t say “a certain age”,’ she reprimands, and, embarrassed and annoyed with myself, I scramble to apologise. ‘This is one of my pet peeves. It’s as if you are saying that her age is so terrible that you don’t want to mention it. You wouldn’t say “a man of a certain age”,’ she points out. ‘Obfuscating your age or skirting around it, or trying to be delicate about it, that’s what makes me crazy,’ she continues. ‘It’s not so horrible to be in your 50s — it’s not horrible at all. It’s simply part of life.’ My slip-up, however, leads on to a discussion about the importance of language in constructing culture. ‘We have to think very precisely about how we represent something,’ nods Moore.
Born Julie Anne Smith (she took the stage name Moore as there was already another Julie Anne Smith) Moore’s early life was famously itinerant. Her mother, Anne, emigrated to the US from Scotland as a child, while her father, Peter, was a helicopter pilot and a paratrooper, whose military career took the family to Nebraska, Alaska, Alabama, Georgia, Texas and the Panama Canal Zone. When Moore was 16, her family moved to a military base in Germany where she went to school for two years, returning to the US at 18 to study theatre at Boston University, then to New York, where she began working off-Broadway. She has been determined that her own children have a more settled upbringing than she did, during which she attended nine different schools between the ages of five and 18. ‘I wasn’t anxious to repeat that for them,’ she says.
Next year, Liv will leave for college. ‘You’re still a parent, obviously, but you’re not a parent of kids that live in your house,’ she says. ‘I think anybody will tell you it’s a life transition.’ She is extremely close to her children, proudly showing me photos of them both and detailing the different variations of red hair they all have. They appear to share a great deal of passion for political causes too. It was through her daughter that Moore first became involved in gun control, founding the Creative Council for campaign group Everytown for Gun Safety. And in spite of the ever-increasing number of mass shootings in the US, Moore is hopeful. ‘I feel like change is happening,’ she says. ‘The majority of Americans are in favour of background checks; Walmart and Starbucks and other businesses are encouraging their clientele not to carry guns in the store, which sounds like nothing, but it is actually a big deal. I feel like people are beginning to take a stand in a way that they weren’t before,’ she enthuses.
Refreshingly, she is similarly upbeat about the 2020 American election. ‘I’m very excited,’ she says. ‘I think people have f***ing had it. Look what’s happening with Boris Johnson right now. In the UK, you’re like, “All right, this has gone far enough now. Theresa May was one thing, but this clown Boris Johnson is another.” People are not standing for it. And that is happening here now too.’ Her dream 2020 ticket would be Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren for President, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, and the first openly gay presidential candidate, as her Vice President. ‘We’d have representation in a way that we’ve never had — it would be amazing,’ she says.
In her own industry, unfortunately, representation is still not what it could be, she says. Though the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements have been ‘the biggest seismic change that we have ever had, just because it made people realise how much disparity there was in our business, I don’t know if there’s really been a shift,’ she says. ‘There’s been a door that’s opened, but things don’t change unless you make the effort. If you’re somebody who thinks, “I’m going to go out of my way to hire 50 per cent women”, then it’ll happen, but it doesn’t just happen accidentally.’ Nonetheless, something enabling has happened, and she is proof. ‘I’m only at this point just beginning to create my own material,’ she notes.
And with that, she dons her leather rucksack. It’s time to head home. Her big career, her family: hers is an ambitious work-life balance, I say. She nods. ‘It doesn’t mean that you’re not going to make concessions on either side sometimes, because you will. But it’s worth trying.’
‘After the Wedding’ is out November 1