Housewives provide heady fare

Critical analysis:Julianne Moore is simply stupendous. The warm, vibrant shine in her eyes, contrasted with her graceful self-assuredness, makes for a disarming central presence.” –Rex Reed on “Far From Heaven,” New York Observer

Awards pedigree: National Board of Review actress award for “Far From Heaven” and supporting for “Magnolia,” “A Map of the World” and “Cookie’s Fortune,” all in 1999. Two Oscar noms (actress for “The End of the Affair” in 2000 and supporting in “Magnolia”) and four Golden Globe nominations (actress, comedy/musical, for “An Ideal Husband” in 2000; actress, drama, for “The End of the Affair”; supporting actress for “Boogie Nights” in 1998; just received actress nom for “Far From Heaven.”

Upcoming: Set to star in “Without Apparent Motive” with Richard Gere, to be directed by Bille August.

After playing such disparate characters as a porn-industry matriarch in “Boogie Nights” and an FBI agent in “Hannibal,” bringing a couple of ’50s housewives to life in two consecutive films — “Far From Heaven” and “The Hours” — is rather surprising fare for Julianne Moore (though they may make for a double nomination for the pedigreed star this year).

“That’s kind of an unfortunate coincidence because I end up talking about the ’50s when I don’t really feel that either (role) has much to do with that era,” Moore says of portraying Cathy Whitaker in “Heaven” and Laura Brown in “Hours.” “Their feelings and concerns surpass the time frame.”

Critics have heaped praise on both performances, and the National Board of Review named Moore best actress for “Heaven,” Todd Haynes’ valentine to mid-century melodramas, in which her character endures a marriage to a gay man while secretly yearning for a taboo relationship with her black gardener.

Despite being set in the same period, not to mention having similar appearances, Moore feels the two roles are intrinsically different.

“Cathy’s an amazingly resilient, incredibly optimistic and positive person, even with everything she’s going through,” Moore says. “But with Laura, it’s another matter entirely. She really is lost and

doesn’t even want to be in her own life.”

Having loved the novel by Michael Cunningham that serves as the basis for “The Hours,” Moore was delighted when director Stephen Daldry offered her the part, but grateful for a short shooting schedule because “it would’ve been difficult on a personal level to sustain Laura’s level of unhappiness.”

The two-time Oscar-nominated actress’s heart-wrenching delivery also resonated with “Hours” costar Nicole Kidman, who recalls sitting open-mouthed with admiration as she watched some of Moore’s scenes. “She just absolutely nailed it, that overwhelming feeling of angst and despair,” Kidman says.

Moore eagerly embraced both parts because they involved the universal aspects of struggling with everyday life.

“This isn’t about going to the moon or figuring out some great scientific problem,” Moore says. “These are ordinary women trying to figure out who they are and what they want for their future, things that we all deal with. This is what matters to me, as a person, a mother and someone’s partner.”

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