It’s Not Me, It’s the Story
Article taken from The New York Times.
In her long and enviable career, Julianne Moore has made a point of appearing in both big-budget pictures like “Non-Stop,” the recent Liam Neeson thriller, and in underfunded independent films like “What Maisie Knew,” where the costume budget was so skimpy she wound up lending the production some of her own clothes. This season, she’s in the third installment of the “Hunger Games” trilogy, which opens Nov. 21, and also in David Cronenberg’s newest film, “Maps to the Stars,”scheduled to be released before the end of the year. Though set in Hollywood, “Maps” was mostly shot in Toronto, to save money, and this time Ms. Moore had to scrounge some jewelry and handbags.
The commercial movies pay the bills, but the indies have generally provided Ms. Moore with the better parts. She is probably most celebrated for her subtle, affecting performances in films like “Far From Heaven,” “The End of the Affair” and “The Hours,” in which she plays women who are repressed or secretly tormented, hiding something from the world, their families and even from themselves. But she also specializes in ranters, ravers and crazies: characters who conceal absolutely nothing. The first time many of us saw her on film was in Robert Altman’s “Short Cuts” (1993), in which she delivered a memorable tirade while naked from the waist down. She was also Amber Waves, the loopy, cocaine-snorting porn star in “Boogie Nights”; the trophy wife who at the end of “Magnolia” tells off a pharmacist in language seldom heard in a drugstore; and, in “The Big Lebowski,” a long-winded performance artist whose great theme is her own vagina.
Ms. Moore’s role in “Maps to the Stars” is of this big, no-holds-barred variety. She plays Havana Segrand, a sort of latter-day Norma Desmond, a fading B-List Hollywood actress who is both needy and tyrannical, childlike and monstrous. Her character has to, among other things, engage in an explicit threesome, have back-seat limo sex with her chauffeur (Robert Pattinson), dance in glee upon hearing of a child’s death and deliver a bossy monologue while seated on the toilet. Ms. Moore’s performance is so vivid and daring, while also sad and at times extremely funny, that it earned her the best actress prize at Cannes this spring, and some forecasters are already speculating that it may finally win her the Oscar that has so far slipped just out of her reach. (Ms. Moore has been nominated four times, including twice in 2002, for “The Hours” and “Far From Heaven.”)
Mr. Cronenberg said not long ago that one reason he cast Ms. Moore is that she looked the part. (It also didn’t hurt that she recently acquired a British passport, which enabled Mr. Cronenberg, a Canadian, to get around some complicated financing requirements limiting how many American actors he could use.) “You have to have someone who’s the right age,” he explained, “and she has to be beautiful. She has to be convincing as someone who has had a moment of stardom. And, of course, she has to be willing to do it.” The toilet scene may have been a deal breaker for some; even Mr. Cronenberg’s sister, Denise Cronenberg, the movie’s costume designer, thought it was too much.
Everyone who has worked with Ms. Moore says that in real life, she couldn’t less resemble the temperamental Havana Segrand. “She’s incredibly well prepared and a wonderful collaborator, a proper pro,” said Stephen Daldry, who directed her in “The Hours.”
Mr. Cronenberg agreed. “You don’t get the diva, the ego, the entourage,” he said. “Right up until the moment the slate clicks, she’s 100 percent her sweet, approachable self, and then she’s this character that you wouldn’t want to spend any time with.”
Unlike Havana, Ms. Moore is happily married — to Bart Freundlich, a filmmaker — and they have two children. She lives in New York, not Hollywood, and she’s smart, funny, down to earth. One recent morning, she turned up at Cafe Cluny, not far from her West Village home, in a plain white blouse and black cotton pants, her red hair loose and no makeup concealing her famously abundant freckles. “I like to call myself bourgie Julie,” she confessed, and explained that she put a lot of stock in Flaubert’s famous admonition: “Be regular and orderly in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
The playwright and actor Wallace Shawn, who has known Ms. Moore since the early ’90s, when they acted together in both the stage and movie versions of Andre Gregory’s “Vanya on 42nd Street,” said of her: “It’s partly generational. She doesn’t have a Joan Crawford type of star personality. She’s sort of a New York mom, with a lot of interest in home furnishing, who in her job can suddenly be a murderer or whatever.” He added: “I think she’s partly in it for the adventure. Acting is mostly what it looks like. Everyone who isn’t an actor plays just one part, himself. But in a certain way, an actor gets to experience what it would be like to be in completely different circumstances, and Julianne really enjoys that adventure and that exploration.”
Ms. Moore said that she doesn’t think of herself as especially daring: “Once I’ve ascertained that I’m safe and I’m with a director who is taking care of me, then I’m able to go and do what I need to do and know it’s not me, it’s the story.” She went on: “It’s almost like I go unconscious or something. I actually think acting is a form of self-hypnosis. You have to be hyper, hyper aware of what’s going on around you. You have to know where the lens is, what the shot is and where you’re moving. And then you have to trick yourself into an emotional state where you believe this stuff is actually happening.”
Ms. Moore, 53, was born at Fort Bragg in North Carolina and grew up an Army brat, moving some 20 times and attending nine different schools by the time she was a teenager. Her mother, from whom Ms. Moore says she gets her looks — the high cheekbones, the gray-green eyes, the flaming red hair — was a Scot who moved to America at a young age but never abandoned her heritage. (Ms. Moore recently published a children’s book about her, called “My Mom Is a Foreigner, but Not to Me.”) What she learned from her upbringing is that “behavior is not character,” she said. “People think it is, but it isn’t. Behavior is mutable. It changes from place to place. It’s like accents, dialect — it varies from one area to another. But there are universal truths about what it means to be a human being. All the other stuff is like appliqué. Learning that was interesting to me and probably useful for becoming an actor.”
As a youngster, Ms. Moore was not particularly stage-struck. She was a bookworm, and discovered the theater mostly through reading. She was a high school student in Germany when a teacher suggested that acting might be something she could make a living at. And to this day, she is something of a literalist in her approach to acting, making a point of studying her lines and delivering them exactly as written.
“What I hate is having a meeting and hearing someone say, ‘The script is a blueprint,’ ” Ms. Moore said. “I’m like: ‘Don’t do that. I want language.’ ” What most appealed to her about “Maps to the Stars,” she added, was the screenplay by Bruce Wagner, whose novels she had long admired. “Bruce’s language is so spectacular and so precise that it wasn’t hard at all to get into the character of Havana,” she explained.” Because the language was so detailed, I felt like I could hear her and see her.”
Mr. Shawn said, “I think that for Julianne acting is finally and simply an extension of her reading.”
Mr. Daldry doesn’t disagree, exactly, but in a telephone interview he recently pointed out that one of her greatest strengths was her ability to convey what isn’t in the script. “Laura, her character in ‘The Hours,’ is a woman who has been miscast in her own life, trying to live up to a kind of perfection,” he said. “Julianne was ideal, because the character is so much about what she doesn’t say, and Julianne is able to communicate so much with so little and so subtly. She’s terrifically heartbreaking.”
Mr. Daldry said he first became aware of this quality in Ms. Moore back in the ’90s, when he saw her in the production of “Vanya on 42nd Street,” in which the actors improvised on Chekhov’s “Uncle Vanya” for three years in the abandoned Victory Theater, never playing it the same way twice. In retrospect, it was a watershed in Ms. Moore’s career, allowing her to escape the drudgery of soap opera-dom (she was a regular on “As the World Turns,” playing two half-sisters) and calling her to the attention of independent filmmakers like Altman and Louis Malle.
“Everything has been cumulative,” Ms. Moore said. “There’s never been a big spurt. It’s all been little by little, and, frankly, I can’t believe that I’ve been doing it for this long, and that I’ve managed to be successful.” She added: “People say, ‘Oh, you’re so brave,’ or ‘You’re such a brave actress.’ But to be brave connotes that you have to be afraid. I’m not really afraid of things that are imaginary. I enjoy it. I enjoy big narrative, and I enjoy big feelings. Having a feeling is never going to kill you.”