As some of you know, I had the opportunity to sit down with Julianne Moore last week. The occasion was the release of The Kids Are All Right, Julianne's 48th movie and one of her very best. Julianne plays "Jules" the flighty wife of "Nic" played by Annette Bening. They've raised two children together. Nic had Joni (Mia Wasikowska) and soon thereafter Jules had Laser (Josh Hutcherson). It's one of Julianne's best comic performances in a career that's mostly been noted for her dramatic magic with internally shell shocked women. But it wasn't always accolades. Julianne's big screen career started twenty years ago this summer when the horror flick Tales of the Darkside was released. Inauspicious beginnings but no matter.
My history with Julianne doesn't stretch back quite that far. I first took true notice of Julianne in Benny & Joon (1993) when she was playing a former (bad) actress turned waitress. In one of the movies most endearing scenes, Johnny Depp mimics her horror performance that he's memorized as they watch it together. She nearly dies of embarrassment. Five years later, I did more than notice her. I fell madly in love with her in her next bad actress incarnation as porn star Amber Waves. Ironically, though those two key bad actress roles were the beginning of my major Moore obsession, the woman herself is anything but a bad actress. She's one of the greats.
The first incarnation of The Film Experience (my baby that you're reading right now) was actually a print zine called "FiLM BiTCH" and Julianne Moore was the first iconic (literally) cover girl. I painted her as a religious icon. I met Julianne once before in 2002 on the Oscar campaign trail for Far From Heaven but it was a simple 'hello, good luck' type of public event and my girl friend snapped this dorky photo.
I knew when I was granted an actual audience with Ms Moore eight years later that I'd have to risk the ridiculous and bring my post collegiate / pre website zine with me to show her. Entering the plush hotel suite, I told Julianne I was nervous. "I'm not scary," she assured warmly and then we discussed what to drink (sparkling water it was) and then she actually poured me a glass. Her serving me... What universe is this?! I told her I wasn't scary either. It was important for her to know that, I joked, before we began since I was about to whip out the truly fannish obsessiveness. Julianne took it all in stride, laughing, and even seemed to enjoy the history as I showed her the zine.
(I've bolded, italicized and explained to give you a sense of my interpretation of what follows)
Nathaniel: You actually inspired my writing career inadvertently, I'm not even joking.
Julianne: No kidding? [Wide eyed look at magazine, squeals] Did you make a magazine?
Nathaniel: I did.
Julianne: Oh my gosh, that's nuts!!! [reading aloud] "Julianne Moore is God" [laughter]. You're so sweet! Holy cow. This is crazy.
Nathaniel: I even brought one for you in case you have a stash of weird fan things.
Julianne: Well, thank you. I'm very touched. [Signed the cover] Can you read this? It says "To Nathaniel, with love and deep appreciation"
Nathaniel: You know what it was? It was Boogie Nights. I had so many feelings about that movie at the time that conversations weren't enough so I had to start writing. I'm being totally serious. You were a big inspiration.
Julianne: That's so cool. I'm very touched.
Nathaniel: So that said --that crazy story said -- how weird is fame for you?
Nathaniel: Strangers giving you gifts. Have you totally acclimated to it?
Julianne: It's funny. We were just talking -- my friend who I've known for a really long time -- he was talking about reality stars. And people just want to be famous. I said, 'I don't understand that. I don't understand fame without content.' Because it's not -- I don't know if fame is anything in particular. I feel like it's an offshoot of something else.
You know I always said to my kids when they were little, especially when they'd see me on a magazine, and like, if somebody said 'Are you there because you're famous?' I'd say to them 'No, I'm there because of this job that I do and this job requires that I do this other public stuff.' I think if it's not rooted in something that you actually do, then it becomes -- then it's not necessarily a comfortable thing.
And also I'm not wildly famous, you know? I'm a person who is sort of moderately famous.
Nathaniel: But your fame, the ascendance of your fame, happened in lockstep when things were getting really crazy for famous people in the late 90s.
Julianne: Actually, that's true. There was never... when you were an actor, there was never any expectations that it was going to come with all this other stuff. Suddenly the whole celebrity culture blossomed around the same time.
That stuff, I think, is unusual. I think you've got to compartmentalize. It has to be a completely different thing.
Nathaniel: So, The Kids Are All Right. I read that you signed on because of High Art. Love that film. You signed on before while Lisa was still writing it? Is that correct?
Julianne: Well, no. What happened was I met Lisa at a Women in Film luncheon. I went over to meet her and I said 'Hey, why didn't I see the script to High Art?' She laughed. And I was like 'No, seriously. I don't understand. I see all these scripts. I never saw your script.' I loved the movie. I just thought it was great. She kind of laughed. I said 'Well, you know...' We agreed that we liked each other and we had a meeting. She said 'I'm going to write something for you one of these days.' Not too long after that she sent me Kids... which she had written with me in mind.
And then it was a period of four or five years before we finally got it off the ground. So, I would have done anything she sent me, probably. And it just happened to be this really terrific script. And then there were many iterations of it: Stuart came on as a co-writer, the script became much more comedic in tone. But it was always something I really responded to.
Nathaniel: Because you were involved early, did you have any input into the character?
Julianne: I don't do that.
Nathaniel: You don't?
Julianne: I actually don't do that. I like the tension between the character and the actor. So I don't want to say things, like, "I wanna make her blah blah blah."
But I will get attached to certain things. There was some stuff in the movie -- remember I had that line when Annette and I walk away and I say that thing about Jose. 'I had to fire him he was a crack addict.'?
Julianne: Yeah. That was a line that was left from another scene, another version, where I kept talking about the gardener having a huge drug problem and how I have to do something about it. It was so funny and then it got cut. I was like 'I'm bringing it back!' I didn't care that it was on our backs as we were walking away. I'm just throwing it back in there.
In that sense I will harvest thing from other versions.
Nathaniel: I know you don't talk about your process that much.
Nathaniel: A little nugget? I know the scripts mean a lot to you. Do you just read them a lot and internalize or if someone grabbed your script would it be just covered in notes?
Julianne: Almost nothing in the script. If there are line changes I put them in. My scripts are pretty empty. It's just about internalizing it, actually, like you said. I read it...think about it... think about it. It kind of percolates. The interesting thing is that I might not do a lot of writing on it and that kind of stuff but I get really upset if I don't have the script for a few months. It has to be there for me to be reading and thinking about.
Nathaniel: On the set?
Julianne: Before I'm shooting. If someone says to me 'Hey we're shooting this movie in two weeks.' 'WHAT? WHAT I need...' I like to have the script for a couple of months at least because I have this process of thinking and thinking about it.
Nathaniel: One thing I loved about the performance is the energy with Annette Bening -- I'm sure this is conscious -- there's a little bit of shrinking back like you were almost one of the kids in the family?
Julianne: Right, right.
Nathaniel: I thought it was really interesting. With your peer group of actresses ... you've done The Hours with Kidman and Streep but you didn't have scenes with them.
Julianne: We were all separate.
Nathaniel: I was wondering. What was that like working with someone [Annette Bening] of your stature, so to speak?
Julianne: Great! It was great. It was definitely a partnership, a marriage. It was our job to illuminate that and the dynamics of that marriage. And insomuch as she [Jules] doesn't seem to be the dominant partner, you realize that she has an emotional transparency and fluidity that her wife [Nic] doesn't have.
She might not be the one making the decisions or the money or whatever but then you realize, oh, but she's the fun one. It might seem like someone is in charge but then you go 'noooo...' There's all this balance, I think.
Nathaniel: The script is beautiful. You haven't had that many opportunities to be paired with an actress.
Julianne: No, you never get to do that. Who was I just talking to about this? Just to be around women. It's very exciting. You're always with guys. Always, always, always with guys. I was just talking about this to this young actress, this girl, Emma Stone. Most of your career you spend with men.
Nathaniel: Paul Thomas Anderson and Todd Haynes are two of your most famous collaborators. How different are they than Lisa Cholodenko to work with?
Julianne: You know, every person is different. Every director is different by virtue of who they are. But the directors that have interested me and who I've had successful collaborations with are people with very strong visions. That's sort of my job to facilitate that, to be a conduit for their words and imagery. To get it out there. A lot of it with an actor is to figure out, to be somewhat adaptable to whatever their personal, like, vibe is. That's interesting to me, to key into that and avail yourself to that.
Nathaniel: You've played lesbians before even though it's not a famous part of your career like 50s housewives, for example. And you've worked with a lot of gay directors.
Nathaniel: Have you always felt that affinity with the gay community?
Julianne: I don't know that... [Considering her words] I always hate to be divisive about gender or sexuality or race or anything like that. I feel like sometimes, even with the best of intentions, when we put ourselves into boxes, it ends up being a less universal thing.
But I will say that I've always worked with filmmakers who are interested in very human, not so much plot driven, stories -- more kind of character and emotionally driven. And a lot of gay filmmakers fall into that category.
[At this point Julianne and I were interrupted. My time was coming to a close. Time is a cruel mistress. Wrap up! For the finale, I couldn't resist swinging way back to the beginning.]
Nathaniel: I have to ask you this because I was giggling to myself outside about your career and how long I've followed it.
Julianne: It's so cute.
Nathaniel: I've seen all of your movies but four.
[At this last confession outburst, Julianne registers a split second of shock, followed by hilariously self-deprecating sympathy.]
Julianne: Really? My god, you've seen some junk then!
Nathaniel: Twenty years ago -- your debut on screen was twenty years ago, in Tales of the Darkside. When you were being killed by the mummy, did you ever imagine this future for yourself?
Nathaniel: ...Oscar nominations?
Julianne: No way. No way.
The funny thing about that mummy movie is that I didn't even read the end of it. Because I have this tendency not to read the stage directions. I just like dialogue. At the end of the movie there's all this stuff about me being, you know, attacked by the mummy and I thought I was finished. I remember the director says to me you 'You didn't read the end, did you?' I was like 'UH OH!'
So, no, I didn't imagine it at all. I just wanted to work. I just wanted steady work.
Nathaniel: It was so nice to meet you.
Julianne: I'm so flattered. Oh Nathaniel, thank you.
<-- Julianne on the day we met.
As I rose to leave I offered my hand to shake and Julianne threw out her arms for a hug instead.
I'd run out of time. I already knew I was her last interview before her lunch break after a full morning of interviews. It was ending and we hadn't even talked about the sore topic (to fans at least) of her Oscar record! I collected my bag and we said our final goodbyes. I couldn't help a smidgeon of small talk about the Oscars... the good lucks and such. "I'm pissed you haven't won yet," I grumbled. She smiled. She's heard this a million times, though she said nothing of the sort. "Oh," she said, shooing it off sensibly "As long as I keep getting jobs." And then she was off to lunch and I was floating away, having met one of the great screen actresses and a personal inspiration, too.
And for the record, no.
No, I never imagined any of this either when I was painting that oil portrait of her in 1997 and affectionately nicknaming her "god" with other actress-loving friends. No way. No way.