Thesp finds key to inhabiting flawed characters
Film directors love Julianne Moore and she must love them back. After all, she’s married to one (Bart Freundlich). Muse to Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Haynes, a complicit partner to Robert Altman and Lisa Cholodenko, a fleshed-out Sarah Palin (“Game Change”) seemingly more genuine than the article, Moore has worked with some of cinema’s most accomplished talents — both behind and in front of the camera.
In fact, the four-time Oscar nominee’s work has been so consistently strong over the years that it’s almost easy to take her for granted. Her name doesn’t always come up in conversations about the grand dames of English-language cinema, perhaps because she doesn’t call attention to the craft as conspicuously as Meryl Streep or Cate Blanchett, nor does she attract the tabloid attention of Nicole Kidman or Angelina Jolie, whose creative risks are either viewed as acts of bravery or served up as the red meat of schadenfreude.
However she has played damaged mothers (“Boogie Nights”), unfaithful wives (“The Kids Are All Right”), comically driven artists (“The Big Lebowski”) and women paralyzed by fear and depression (“Safe,” “The Hours”) with equal aplomb and complexity.
New York Times critic Manohla Dargis has waxed eloquently about the duality of Moore’s appeal as registered by her face, both transparent and opaque. “With her milky complexion and lapidary features, Ms. Moore can seem alarmingly fragile, as breakable and translucent as fine French porcelain,” writes Dargis. “It’s a face that suggests vulnerability, femininity and an almost otherworldly ethereality. But there is a tough side to the actress, too, a core resolve that can harden her beauty into a mask, and it is in the space between her perceived delicacy and this mask that Ms. Moore does her best work.”
Even when the role is secondary, like her elegant mess of an alcoholic in “A Single Man,” or her grieving widow in “Don Jon” attests, she delivers memorable work.
Variety’s review of the latter film underscored the cast’s ability to navigate “the movie’s tricky tonal mix — none better than Julianne Moore, who plays an unexpected confidante Jon meets while attending night school, using her gift for nuance to spin a small part into the film’s soul.”
“The interesting thing about the character is that she’s in a place in her life, due to her circumstances, where she can’t be anything less than kind of 100 percent authentic,” Moore tells Variety, “and that’s the most interesting thing about her. She’s very, very present.”
It’s clear from speaking with the actress, who is due to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Oct. 3, that she approaches her work with utmost seriousness. She’s an avid reader who reacts most favorably to strong writing and characters that surprise her.
When she received Haynes’ script for “Safe” (1995), a breakthrough film for both actress and director in which she plays a pampered wife whose adverse reaction to the environment could be seen as psychosomatic or symbolic, she became “desperate” for the role. “I’ve never read anything quite like it,” she says. “Todd and I had a very brief meeting and didn’t speak very much. I was so fortunate because he told me later that I walked out of the room and he said, ‘that’s Carol White.’ I was like, ‘ah, thank God.’ I was so struck by the quality of his writing and it was so interesting to see a movie about identity. That was the beginning of that relationship.”
In the upcoming “Carrie” remake, directed by Kimberly Peirce and starring Chloe Grace Moretz in the title role, Moore delivers what might prove to be the most sinister, Grand Guignol performance of her career, as Carrie’s unhinged mother, Margaret, played by Piper Laurie in the 1976 original. But leave it to the actress to find the humanity beneath the horror.
“She’s inflicting harm, but she’s not intentionally inflicting harm,” Moore says. “She’s doing what she believes is the best thing for her child, and she’s mentally ill. Kim and Chloe and I really talked about them being in their own world, in their own house and where Margaret White feels safest and the refuge she takes in her religion and the nature of that mother-daughter bond. So whenever you’re working on a character, everyone’s a hero in their own story, nobody’s a villain.”
What: Julianne Moore receives a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame
When: 11:30 a.m., Oct. 3
Where: 6250 Hollywood Blvd.