Julianne Moore on Work, Being a Mom, and Freckleface Strawberry
Article taken from Wired.
Long before Moore was known for her work in films such as Boogie Nights, The Big Lebowski, The Hours, The Kids Are All Right, and Game Change, she was a little girl with the nickname. As an adult, she parlayed those childhood taunts into the book Freckleface Strawberry, which includes illustrations by LeUyen Pham. To date, Freckleface Strawberry has had three adventures as well as a full-length musical.
Now, the little red-haired girl is bringing her sweet messages to the digital masses. All three Freckleface Strawberry books just launched in the the e-book format. To accompany the character’s digital debut, Moore and Nymbly are also introducing the Freckleface Strawberry Monster Maker app.
Designed for the iPad and iPad mini, the new app has Freckleface Strawberry helping kids make new, furry friends, by creating their very own on-screen monster. If you’re familiar with the books, the app makes perfect sense. Otherwise, it’s cute and allows users to get creative, share pics with friends and family, and more.
I got the chance to talk to Moore about the new app, her work, her life as a mom, and her now-famous nickname.
GM: The books have actually been out for a few years now, but what made you first decide to write Freckleface Strawberry?
Julianne Moore: My son was 7 at the time and he was getting his two front teeth. He didn’t like them at all and would say stuff like, “Since I got my haircut, I don’t like how my ears are.” He suddenly became very self-conscious. I remembered when I was 7, I had this nickname “Freckleface Strawberry” and I found it so humiliating. Of course, now I laugh at those awful names. So that’s what this book is about. It’s how those things in childhood that bother us often don’t go away when you grow up. I still have red hair and freckles, but they matter less because you have more things to think about. You have a family, you have a marriage, you have a job, you have friends and interests; having freckles and red hair goes to the bottom of the list in terms of things that we care about. That was the inspiration for writing that first book. Then it was so much fun, I wrote two more!
GM: Did you originally envision it as a series — and a musical?
Moore: The first time I wrote it, it was sort of that one story and then very quickly, the second one followed. Even before I had published the first one, I had written the second one. Then, it took me a really long time to write the third one! I kept making these jokes to my husband [Bart Freundlich], who’s a writer, that I was blocked.
GM: Do you plan to continue the series?
Moore: I don’t know — maybe. I have another book actually coming out; not with Bloomsbury, but Chronicle, in September. It’s called My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me. That’s a book about the experience of growing up with a mom from another country. My mother was from Scotland.
It wasn’t really an intentional thing to be in the children’s book world, but it’s become something that I really love doing. It’s really fun and the app is an extension of that. I wanted to create something that was like the book and complemented the book.
The app is sort of a continuation of how in Dodgeball she [Freckleface Strawberry] has that monster. She talks about the monster and why she has the monster. The monster is in her imagination and he keeps her company, plays games with her, and cheers her up. He’s her pal and he’s obviously what’s inside of her. So I wanted to talk about that with kids and say, “What does your monster look like?” — and you’ll able to make it and take a picture. Also, I wanted to create something that parents wouldn’t feel bad about giving their kids to play with in the backseat of the car or a restaurant. It’s an extension of this book and the child-centric world that they create. I hope that I’ve accomplished that. It was a lot of fun to do.
GM: You mention monsters in the book and the app. What’s the significance there? Or do you just think that kids love playing monsters?
Moore: I think that kids like to play monsters. In Dodgeball, Freckleface Strawberry is afraid of balls, but she’s not afraid of monsters, her imagination or the dark. And this kid, who seems very scary and loves balls, turns out to be afraid of monsters. She has to say to him, “Hey it’s not real; it’s just me. I’m the monster.” It’s just a way to talk about fears. Also, your inside monster can help you be brave or it can just keep you company, be your friend. It’s just part of yourself and your imagination.
GM: Are these the types of games that you used to play as a kid?
Moore: Well, I hated dodgeball. That’s sort of the thing I talk about with kids, talking about different fears. Then in Best Friends Forever, there are two different friends that have become best friends. They’re told that they can’t be friends because they are too different, but then they discover that they can because they’re two human beings. The books are obviously based somewhat on my experiences growing up. I always say that Best Friends Forever is a metaphor for marriage. However, they take place in a child-centric world where the kids figure out the answers to their own problems.
GM: So wait, does that mean that you married Windy Pants Patrick?
Moore: I didn’t, but I married someone who loves balls. Dodgeball is dedicated to Bart. He loves to play ball. It’s just one of those things where we’ll do stuff that I could see Windy Pants Patrick and Freckleface Strawberry doing, doing stuff with each other and sometimes doing stuff that the other one likes. And that’s OK to do; that’s what friends do.
GM: Was there a real Windy Pants Patrick?
Moore: The character is actually based on a special-ed kid that I knew when I was on the playground in Lincoln, Nebraska. My school was very forward thinking; this would have been like 1968. We all played on the same playground. There was an elementary school and a special-ed department for kids that were developmentally delayed and had other disabilities. Because we were all exposed to one another… at first it seemed very different. There was one very big boy who was older than me that I used to play with. He really changed my notion of what a disability was and how you interact with people forever. It was really eye opening for me. Windy Pants Patrick is not developmentally delayed, but he is based on a friend that I had that seemed very scary and that was so not the case.
GM: With the nickname and all, did you feel bullied as a kid?
Moore: I wasn’t bullied. Kids don’t want to be different. I didn’t want to have freckles. Where I was growing up at the time, there weren’t a lot of freckly kids. Everything that was said in the book like, “What are those?” and “How did you get them?” — those were all things that were said to me. It was stuff that would make kids uncomfortable, but it’s interesting. Have you read the reviews of that book [Sticks and Stones: Defeating the Culture of Bullying and Rediscovering the Power of Character and Empathy] about bullying that just came out? There were a few and I’m just paraphrasing, but one of the things that she said is that we’re kind of misnaming what bullying is. There are ways that children treat each other that are unkind and there’s teasing and then there’s genuine abuse and real bullying. There are lots of different categories for what happens with kids. I certainly didn’t experience bullying. I think I experienced teasing, which is a different kind of thing.
GM: Well how did you overcome all of that?
Moore: It’s the same thing that happens in the book. How does a 7-year-old solve a problem like this? You think, “I’m going to get rid of my freckles.” In her experience, the way she got rid of them was to cover them up. In covering the freckles up, she completely disappeared as a kid and no one could see her. When she goes away, her friends miss her. Her experience with her freckles are not the same as everyone else’s experience. These things seem problematic, but at the end of the day, who cares about having a million freckles when I have a million friends?
GM: What role do freckles play in your life and work today?
Moore: Hopefully very little! Our physiognomy obviously plays a part in who we are. If you’re extra tall or extra short, big or little or freckly; all of those things are going to create some kind of image in the world. Hopefully, we have all learned to look beyond and that doesn’t become the defining issue — our physicality is not the defining issue.
GM: So you’ve never come up for a role and had the freckles be an issue?
Moore: I don’t know; they wouldn’t tell me that. But I’m sure I have. Sometimes somebody says so-and-so is not the right age or too tall or this or that, but all of it’s subjective.
GM: I know that your kids are older now, but do they even care that their mom is an Oscar-nominated actress, an author and all of these other wonderful things?
Moore: My son said the most wonderful thing to me the other night when we were talking about stuff that we need to have in the fridge. I had run out of turkey and I needed to make my daughter’s sandwich for a field trip and was like “darnit!” He said something about, “Oh that’s ok, mom. You kind of have other stuff to do; you’re busy.” And I thought that was really sweet and I said that I try to do a good job and maybe I would do a better job if I wasn’t doing all of this work. Then he said, “I can’t imagine having a mom that didn’t work.” I think they both have an appreciation for what I do and what their dad does and what their futures hold, in terms of work. We’ve always stressed to them that work is about being able to make money and take care of yourself, but if you’re lucky enough, it’s also a form of delight, expression and the way that you live your life. That’s what I want for them. I want them to find things that they find joy in doing.
GM: Do you have a favorite children’s book?
Moore: That’s tough; there are too many. There’s one that I read that’s fairly new, by a writer who’s written so many things. Do you know Brundibár? It’s by Maurice Sendak and Tony Kushner. I love it. I just think it’s endlessly inspiring; beautifully illustrated, incredible story, very moving, a lot of historical context, shocking and surprising. What’s amazing about it is how kids respond to it. It’s just a brilliant book.