Give me Moore
Julianne Moore is riding high on the Oscar buzz around her latest film in which she plays a lesbian parent, Declan Cashin discovers, as he talks to the actress about sex, her Irish roots and ageing gracefully
Julianne Moore is watching a YouTube video on Day and Night's phone entitled 'Julianne Moore Loves To Cry', an edited compilation of all the scenes from her movies thus far where she breaks down in sobs. The clip lasts three-and-a-half minutes.
"Yeah, I've done a lot of crying in movies," she laughs, sitting back on the sofa in Claridges hotel in London. "The thing is, I just don't get that many opportunities to do comedy, and I love it. I did some episodes of [US comedy show] 30 Rock last year and it was so much fun.
"Alec Baldwin is a genius. I probably watch more comedy than anything else."
The 49-year-old certainly gets to show off her humourous side in the comedy-drama The Kids Are All Right, in which Moore stars as a hippy, wannabe gardener named Jules, who lives with her uptight doctor partner Nic (Annette Bening) and their two children -- from the same anonymous sperm donor -- 18-year-old, college-bound Joni (played by Alice in Wonderland star Mia Wasikowska) and 15-year-old Laser (Josh Hutcherson).
However, this very modern family's relative domestic harmony is shattered when the kids track down their natural father, chilled-out restaurateur Paul (played -- very well it must be said -- by Hollywood's most chilled-out actor, Mark Ruffalo).
The movie, directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art), has been picking up accolades for the best part of a year at festivals such as Sundance, but it proved to be a major word-of-mouth hit when it was released in the US this summer.
Shot in just 23 days on a budget of $5m, the movie has to date grossed some $20m domestically, and is one of the top 10 best-reviewed films of 2010.
Given the fact that it's about a lesbian couple raising a family, the movie hasn't ruffled as many feathers as one might have expected, especially in the US where homosexuality -- rather depressingly -- remains a divisive topic in some areas of public life.
Moore's reaction to that lack of controversy is simple: mission accomplished. "I was talking to someone before about the dangers of being quiet about this matter in the United States," she explains.
"For example, take the 'Don't Ask Don't Tell' policy barring openly gay soldiers serving in the military. I think that's really insidious and dangerous because the thing that promotes tolerance is information and proximity.
"The more gay people you know, and the more gay people you come into contact with, the more you realise that people are not so different, and the choice of who you love isn't that dramatic.
"All relationships are pretty much alike, and when you're with the one person for a long time and you raise children together, you're going to find more similarities than differences. People can watch The Kids Are All Right and think, 'Wow, not only are they gay, they're almost boring. There's one working parent and one stay-at-home parent'. It's wonderful not to see this being exotic or associated with difference."
For Moore, this new role gives a nice symmetry to her own career. "My 1950s character in The Hours was gay and she was unbelievably depressed, and ended up almost killing herself, all because of something she couldn't speak about or express," she says. "So here I am playing a character, 50 years later in time from that period, who is married and happy and raising children. That's the change we've seen going from the 20th to the 21st century."
Sex -- of the Sapphic and hetero kind -- features quite frequently in The Kids Are All Right, but Moore says that the comedic nature of the movie helped to lighten the mood considerably.
"When sex is meant to be serving a romantic situation, where characters are falling in love, there's a lot more pressure to make it romantic," she says. "In this case, with both Annette and Mark, it was all funny. The biggest concern is, 'Where's the joke in this?' Then it ends up being much easier. Besides, I've been friends with Mark for a very long time, and I'm really good friends with his wife."
Remarkably, Moore had never really met Annette Bening before they were cast as life partners. "We'd met on the awards circuit back in 2000, when we were both nominated for Best Actress [Bening for American Beauty; Moore for Neil Jordan's The End of The Affair], but I only knew her to say hello.
"We had very little time in pre-production -- about a week -- so there wasn't a lot of rehearsal or discussion, but Annette's very easy to work with. What we share is that we've both been married a long time and we're both parents. She has teenagers; I don't quite -- my son is turning 13 in December -- so I will soon. Marriage and parenting is what the story is really all about."
Moore has flown into town for the London Film Festival just the day before, but if she's jet-lagged, she certainly doesn't look it. Clad in a black dress with grey jacket, and wearing only a hint of make-up, she's more petite in person than expected; slim but not skinny.
Throughout our interview, she plays with her trademark long red hair, sweeping it up into a bun, and then letting it fall back over her shoulders.
With that hair and that surname, surely there must be some Irish in her? "Oh my goodness yes," she laughs. "My father is American, but his side is all Irish, English and Welsh.
"I had a gorgeous time in Ireland around seven years ago making Laws of Attraction with Pierce Brosnan. I actually made some friends in Dublin, who are now based in New York, so they're my Irish connection these days."
Julie Anne Smith (she later adopted her father's middle name Moore) was born in the US, but raised largely throughout Europe as the daughter of an army colonel. She began acting in the early 80s, waiting tables while toiling in daytime soap operas including As The World Turns.
It was in the early 90s that Moore started slowly breaking into film, securing supporting roles in The Fugitive and The Hand That Rocks The Cradle, but it was her performances in Robert Altman's Short Cuts and Todd Haynes' Safe that really got her noticed.
Steven Spielberg then cast Moore as his female lead in the Jurassic Park sequel The Lost World in 1997, the same year she took on the role of an ageing porn star in Paul Thomas Anderson's Boogie Nights.
The latter role won her the first of four Oscar nominations (to date), and since then she has starred in more than three dozen movies -- of admittedly variable quality -- switching between lead and supporting roles in blockbusters such as Hannibal and Children of Men, and more arthouse fare including Savage Grace, Far From Heaven and this year's Chloe and A Single Man.
Moore will turn 50 in December, though she looks 15 years younger than that, and is regularly credited in women's magazines as a shining example of ageing with grace. But she doesn't seem to give much truck to the topic of beauty and looks, and admits that she bristles when a 40-something actress is described as looking good "for her age", whereas a 40-something actor such as Brad Pitt (who is just three years Moore's junior) would never be branded thus.
"You know it's just boring," she says. "We talk a lot about ageing and looks, and I'm always like, 'What are we really talking about?' When you talk about staving off ageing, you're really talking about how long you're going to live and when you're going to die. That's more urgent than focusing on how you look all the time. Let's talk about living instead."
Lastly, The Kids Are All Right is attracting serious awards buzz in the US, with Moore, and particularly Bening, being talked up as possible Oscar contenders. Would Moore love to win one of the golden baldies?
"Of course I'd like to win!" she laughs. "Oh my God. I've been nominated four times, and I'd love to be again, and I'd love to win.
"It's always exciting to be mentioned as a possibility. I guess we'll have to wait and see."
The Kids Are All Right is released nationwide today