How Julianne Moore Is Fighting for Safer Kids
Article taken from WSJ.
Do I need to persuade you on Julianne Moore? Come on. This is Julianne Moore we’re talking about. The intensely credible, never-bad-in-anything actress with a career that now spans almost four decades and includes work with Robert Altman; Louis Malle; the Coen Brothers; Alfonso Cuarón; Todd Haynes; Kimberly Peirce; Tom Ford; Paul Thomas Anderson; Rebecca Miller; Julie Taymor; Moore’s husband, Bart Freundlich; and probably 38 other really good directors I’m forgetting. The Julianne Moore who’s been nominated for five Academy Awards, winning best actress in 2015 for playing a professor confronting Alzheimer’s disease in Still Alice. The Julianne Moore who won an Emmy for playing—no, transforming into—Sarah Palin in Game Change. Who played Maude flippin’ Lebowski, for crying out loud. “She’s just a lovely person,” says The Dude himself, Moore’s co-star in The Big Lebowski, Jeff Bridges. Bridges calls her Julie, just as many close to her do.
Moore’s résumé is a staggering, no-BS run of smart choices with integrity—the type of career that any aspiring actor dreams of. Moore, who grew up traipsing around the earth in a military family, has humble roots, too. She got her start in soap operas, on As the World Turns, where, in the twilight of the Reagan administration, she played not only a character named Frannie Hughes, but also Frannie’s mysterious half-sister, Sabrina, who arrived in Frannie’s life and raised hell. (Soap operas truly are the best.)
Moore’s one of those celebrity supernovas who seems to get it, who has this fame and glamour yet manages to live a life in New York City that appears rather, well, normal—or at least as close to normal as an Oscar-winning actor’s life can be. She and Freundlich have been together for more than two decades. The couple has a 17-year-old daughter, Liv, and a 21-year-old son, Cal. If you come to town on a lazy weekend morning, you might look over in the brunch line at Russ & Daughters, and there she is, her red hair the unmistakable giveaway, one of the great actors of her generation, waiting for lox like everyone else.
There’s power in that—that ability to be famous in plain sight—and in recent years, Moore has increasingly channeled her profile into activism, most notably around the issue of gun violence. She’s as infuriated about what’s happening as many Americans are, and what makes Moore’s participation persuasive is that she’s not coming at this with the accoutrements of stardom—Listen to me, I’m a celebrity!—but as a mother, a neighbor, a friend who simply wants what we all want, which is that our children can come home every day from school. “Julianne’s been a very courageous voice,” says Moore’s friend Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “She’s obviously a megawatt superstar, but first and foremost, she’s a mom who cares about everyone’s kids.”
My sit-down with Moore happens on a warm late-summer afternoon on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, inside a townhouse that’s been commandeered for a photo shoot for this magazine. As the crew breaks things down, Moore and I have been relegated to a tiny back room behind the kitchen filled with chairs, a treadmill and an inflatable exercise ball. Basically, we’re doing this interview in a stranger’s pantry.
But Moore is an unflappable pro. It’s back-to-school season in New York, and Liv and Cal are beginning senior years in high school and college, respectively. Liv, who worked as a production assistant on Freundlich’s and Moore’s recent film, After the Wedding, is busy applying to college. Cal, meanwhile, is at Davidson, where he’s a member of the basketball team on which Steph Curry once played. That’s right: Julianne Moore is a bona fide sports parent, cheering in the stands for too many games to count. Cal—who’s also a budding composer and songwriter—made the Davidson team as a walk-on, which is no easy feat. “We’re very proud of him,” Moore says. “What’s so funny is that there are all those families that are like, ‘What? You want to be an actor? Are you kidding? Get a real job!’ When [Cal] wanted to play basketball I was like, ‘What? You want to play sports? What about music?’ ”
She laughs. She remembers her own early dreams, of course. Moore’s true cinematic education as a student at Boston University would occur in the darkness at the nearby Coolidge Corner Theatre, a revival house where she saw Catherine Deneuve and Gérard Depardieu in The Last Metro, David Lynch’s Eraserhead and Divine in Pink Flamingos.
“You could see anything,” Moore says. “I remember I saw a double bill of Straw Dogs and Emmanuelle.” She watched her first Altman movie there, 3 Women, and thought, I want to do this kind of work.
The crazy part was, Moore would do exactly that, working for the celebrated director in 1993’s Short Cuts. In the Julianne Moore origin story, that moment looms large—in the space of roughly two years, she went from Altman to Malle’s Vanya on 42nd Street to Haynes’s Safe, in which she played a woman grappling with multiple chemical sensitivities, and there’s an assumption her career took off like a rocket. Sitting here with me, Moore corrects the record, noting that Safe was anything but a hit when it was released in 1995. “It got killed,” she says. “People walked out of the theater. By the end of the ’90s, people were calling it one of the best films of the decade, but it got killed. The Big Lebowski got killed too.”
This is a lovely thing, in a way: to have had such a fruitful career that it all just blurs into something good. Moore, who is 58, has appeared in more than 70 movies. It’s a breathtaking run of depth and range. You probably remember her in The Kids Are All Right, because it wasn’t so long ago, or The Hunger Games, because your kids adored it. But do you remember Moore was also in The Fugitive? She was in Children of Men. Boogie Nights. The Hand That Rocks the Cradle! She’s been in so many memorable films, it’s possible to forget even some of the best ones.
I ask Moore which movie people ask her about the most. “It depends on the individual,” she says. “There will be people who just want to talk about The Big Lebowski, talk about The Hours, talk about Still Alice…and then every once in a while, you’ll get someone who’ll come up and say, ‘My kids love you in The Lost World: Jurassic Park.’ It makes me happy, because it feels like my choices have been varied enough that there’s something for different audiences.”
This past year, Moore appeared in a pair of films that, at first glance, couldn’t be more different: Gloria Bell, director Sebastián Lelio’s meditation on middle age, in which Moore played the title character juggling the stresses and triumphs of ordinary life; and After the Wedding, in which Moore starred as a wealthy executive mulling an act of philanthropy to an orphanage managed by a character played by Michelle Williams. It’s the kind of work that Moore likes—dense, complicated, colored in shades of gray rather than dramatic black and white. “There are no heroes and no villains,” Moore says, quoting a line Freundlich uses to describe After the Wedding.
“I’m compelled by stories where it shifts depending on whose perspective it is, how [characters] all believe their own stories the way we do,” she says.
Freundlich, who has directed his wife in four films, including After the Wedding, is amazed by Moore’s eye for authenticity—how she can immediately home in on the accuracy, or the lack thereof, in a character or a script. “She can pick it up and recognize it,” he says. “That’s partly how she makes her decisions about what she does. She’s either drawn to something right away or not.”
Moore’s friend, the fashion designer and director Tom Ford, confirms her meticulousness. “Nothing escapes her,” says Ford, who’s famously assiduous himself. “She’s a perfectionist who will push herself to deliver a perfect performance.” Ford holds the distinction of dressing Moore for many events, including the Oscars, and also directing her; he wrote the part of Charlotte in his debut film, A Single Man, specifically for Moore and says her signing on helped make the movie happen. “I’m incredibly grateful to her for trusting me,” he says.
Jeff Bridges, who has starred in two other films with Moore besides Lebowski, praises Moore’s ability to capture the tone of every film she’s in. This is true; one of Moore’s gifts is her ability to inhabit a film, rather than overwhelm it. But, honestly, she’s also just fun to spend time with, Bridges says. “Some actors, they want you to call them by the character’s name, and they don’t engage that much,” he says. “But Julie is very engaging. We love hanging out.” (The Dude can’t help but tease at the possibility of a Lebowski sequel: “I don’t know if that will ever happen, but whenever we see each other, we like to fantasize about it.”)
I ask Moore about winning her Oscar, and what it meant—if, after being nominated four times, including twice in 2003, for supporting actress in The Hours and best actress in Far From Heaven, it loomed, perhaps heavily, as a goal. “You can’t have it as a goal,” she says. “It can’t be. It’s a marker. I remember somebody asked Jodie Foster about winning an Oscar, and she said, ‘Oh, my God, it was such a relief.’ ” Moore smiles. “I laughed, because that is how it feels. You have to work for the work. You have to like the process and like doing it because you like doing it. And yet our culture has these competitions and these prizes…so on one hand, it feels like, Phew.
“On the other hand, it’s like, Are you kidding? Did that actually happen to me?” She’d grown up watching the Oscars on TV like everyone else. “The fact that I ended up being part of that show was way beyond anything I could have ever anticipated.”
After all her successes, Moore maintains a newcomer’s perspective. “It’s hard to continue to be employed, continue to do work that interests you,” she says. “I talk about that with my kids all the time. As they’re making choices…I’m like, If you’re lucky to find something that interests you and to be able to pursue it, that’s fantastic. That’s what you want. That’s a measure of success if you’re doing something that you really enjoy and then you manage to get paid, because that’s not a given.”
This is a volatile time in filmmaking—the revival houses that once inspired Moore are all but extinct, and the industry is being reshaped by digital players like Netflix and Amazon. Moore sees a silver lining in the disruption: As the old gatekeepers fade from power, different stories are finally getting told. “Experience is not monolithic,” Moore says. “It’s not the one white guy deciding. I remember I was listening to somebody talk about a movie, it was a big commercial film, and some guy was saying, ‘I just didn’t like it,’ and I was like, ‘It’s not for you. It’s for 12-year-old girls. That’s why you don’t like it.’ You don’t have to like everything. This idea that there’s one critical point of view, or one storyteller, limits the stories.
“There’s always going to be [desire] for storytelling,” Moore says. “I do think there’s a tremendous amount of talent out there…. Where there’s talent and people telling stories, they’re going to find a way to do them.”
Such optimism also informs Moore’s activism, even when the cause is deeply serious. In addition to her public support of Time’s Up and its high-profile anti-harassment work, she’s been a strong voice for gender pay equality. Moore’s work in gun violence prevention, meanwhile, stretches back to the horrific shooting in 2012 at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Moore recalls the futile agony of trying to shield the Sandy Hook news from Liv, who was 10 at the time, only to have her daughter eventually turn and ask, “Mommy, did a bunch of little kids get shot today?” It made Moore realize: The way to protect her children wasn’t to hide tragedy from them. It was to try to do something to stop it. “Culturally, people were loath to speak about the Second Amendment and guns, because somehow it was taboo,” Moore says. “It was taboo because the [National Rifle Association] has made it taboo, claiming people were un-American if they were talking about this kind of stuff. So, I was like, “All right, so if [the NRA] has managed to wage this public relations campaign from their end, why don’t I have the people in my community—our community—speaking up?”
This led to Moore’s involvement with Everytown for Gun Safety, the Michael Bloomberg–founded nonprofit seeking common-sense, bipartisan solutions on gun issues, as well as Moms Demand Action, Watts’s grass-roots arm of Everytown, which helped influence Facebook to end all unlicensed gun sales arranged on its platform. Not long before our interview, Walmart made a public appeal to its customers in open-carry states to not bring weapons into its stores and announced new rules on ammunition sales. “That’s success,” Moore says. “That’s Moms Demand [Action], people saying, ‘Hey, we would like to shop in your stores.’ If you have an opportunity to effect change by what you purchase, why not? We’re in a capitalist society.”
Whenever a famous actor or musician becomes politically active, there’s usually blowback: Who do they think they are, telling me what is going on? Moore says it didn’t make her hesitate. “I felt like I was following all these activists and moms—Shannon Watts in particular,” she says. “I feel like I’m an acolyte: How can I help her; how can I help them?”
Moore wrote the foreword to Watts’s recent book, Fight Like a Mother, and Watts says it’s not uncommon for Moore to show up at smaller out-of-state events. “When I started doing this work in 2012, there were very few people who waded into this issue willingly,” Watts says. “Julianne waded in willingly and has never looked back. I think it took a courageous woman who realized: If we lose our children, we have nothing left to lose.”
Lately, Moore’s activism has merged with her professional life. Not long ago, she completed filming The Glorias (out in January 2020), in which she, Ryan Kiera Armstrong, Alicia Vikander and Lulu Wilson play the iconic feminist Gloria Steinem at different stages of her life. Steinem was an adviser on the movie, which is directed by Julie Taymor, and appears in it; Moore says she’d never met Steinem before but came away inspired. “She’s just as glorious as you’d imagine,” Moore says. “She’s very smart, which goes without saying, but she’s also incredibly thoughtful and patient and tolerant. Her ability to not be rash, and to speak to people who are very different than she is and not judge is really exemplary. You literally think, OK, what would Gloria Steinem do? How would she handle this situation? Because she’d handle it beautifully.” (Steinem returns the compliment to Moore: “She’s a miracle of intelligence and empathy.”)
It’s late in the afternoon. The photo crew is almost gone, and Moore and I are close to the last ones left in the townhouse. I ask Moore what she considers a perfect day in New York City, and she tells a story about a recent Sunday when the kids were elsewhere and she and Freundlich walked across downtown for brunch, and along the way they kept running into friends. They stopped by an old pal’s house. They went to a spice shop in the East Village. They ran into some kids who’d gone to school with their children. It was one of those appointment-free days in the city that blur into something magical. “You just walk, walk, walk, and it feels like a small town, because it kind of is,” Moore says. “I think that’s pretty perfect.”