Keeping the Wonder Alive

1st December 2017

It’s hard to imagine modern cinema without Julianne Moore, but things could have been very different for the famously flame-haired actress. Talking candidly about her two new films, Wonderstruck and Suburbicon – both deep, absorbing and absorbingly complex – and the origins of her ambition, it’s refreshing to see that Moore is as thrilled by her work now as the first day she stepped onto a film set. Karen Anne Overton finds out more…

Growing up, Julianne Moore had slightly less glamorous dreams for the future. “I wanted to be a doctor or a lawyer and go to grad school because that’s what my parents wanted. But above that, I really wanted to be a librarian,” she reveals with wry smile. Fortunately, fate took young Julie Anne Smith – she changed her name to Moore upon registering with Actors’ Equity – on a different path. And after nearly 35 years as one of Hollywood’s leading, most exciting talents, the star has never been busier.

Recent roles include Still Alice (for which she won an Oscar), an Icelandic femme fatale in Maggie’s Plan, and Kingsman: The Golden Circle, where she plays a rather all-too-believable murderous despot posing as Martha Stewart. And having got a sweet first taste of villainy, Moore wants more. “Kingsman opened up a whole world of opportunity for me – I haven’t played the bad guy enough… I’ve got a taste for it! I want to play the character who is unapologetically sociopathic – it’s a lot of fun.”

It’s certainly a side of the 56-year-old we never expected to see, but would love for her to expand on. “I didn’t know it was there either. It’s a nice discovery,” she adds.

But before Moore can begin executing more dastardly plans, she must first do the circuit for her two new films. Both of them very different thematically, they each feature the portrayal of two separate characters. In Wonderstruck, Moore teams up with long-time collaborator Todd Haynes for a touching tale of adolescence and loss. She plays the dual roles of silent movie star Lillian Mayhew and the deaf and tortured soul Rose, amongst a cast that includes Michelle Williams and young newcomer Oakes Fegley.

Having worked with Haynes so many times – Safe and Far from Heaven, to name nut two – Moore is used to saying ‘yes’ to the visionary director, but that wasn’t the only reason she felt compelled to appear in the film. “I knew this story very well; I knew the book and I’d read it to my children, so it was perfect for me and, of course, being able to inhabit this world of silent films which is so very rarely explored anymore… who would ever recreate a silent movie?”

Following Wonderstruck comes Suburbicon, which is about as far from the dreamy innocence of the former as you can get. The latest directorial offering from George Clooney, it is an unsettling depiction of racial tension and strife against the backdrop of Norman Rockwell Americana. Moore plays twins, Rose (again) and Margaret, in what is a stunning turn by any actress’s worth, with Moore revealing that the famously smooth-talking Clooney had already charmed her into the role before she fully knew what it entailed. “He’s the kindest, most diligent, focused filmmaker, and he’s really smart as well. He knew to get me to sign up before I knew I was playing twins. Two for the price of one. Bargain!” she exclaims, throwing her famous red mane back in a laugh, before adding conspiratorially: “He knows what he’s doing.”

It’s refreshing to know that, having recently become a family man himself, Clooney made every effort to work around his leading lady’s schedule, tailoring scenes on the set in Los Angeles so Moore could fly home to New York where she lives with director husband Bart Freundlich and their children, Caleb, 20 and Liv, 15, during the week.

Such a gruelling timetable would take its toll on anyone, but Moore (unsurprisingly) was adamant that she could cope, and has long mastered the art of the balancing act. “I wanted it all,” she says matter-of-factly. “I knew I wanted to work as an actor and I knew I wanted to be a mother and have a family; and miraculously, I’ve found a way to have both. It was my mother who always told me, ‘make sure to have love in your life and work that you love in your life’. She really hit it home for me.”

As a child, Moore was bookish and shy, and found a deep love for theatre as it was “like being inside a book.” She recalls the moment she knew she wanted to act, when a teacher suggested it may be a serious pursuit for the precocious 17-year-old. “So that night, I came home and told my parents, ‘this is what I want to do with my life’.

I was 17, and my mum looked at me with these withering eyes and just said, ‘Oh Julie’. And here we are now,” she smiles.

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