It’s 9am on the fashionable terrace of the old-school Sunset Tower Hotel in West Hollywood, and Julianne Moore, relaxed and stylish in a particularly furry pair of Rick Owens Birkenstocks, Levi’s jeans, a black cotton top and a pale straw fedora, and who seconds earlier greeted me with a “Hi, I’m Julie”, is hoping we can move to a table inside. The terrace, with its expansive view of the city, is usually one of Los Angeles’ most coveted spots, but not for Moore. “I just can’t see,” she says laughing, shielding her eyes from the intense morning light reflected off of the pink-and-white tiled floor.
For the Academy Award-winning actress, 57, known as much for her fair skin, light-green eyes and flame-red hair as she is for playing a string of alluringly intense and complicated characters, having breakfast al fresco in the middle of a hot Southern California summer – and, later today, being shot by photographer Camilla Åkrans in sunny Topanga Canyon – is something of a challenge. “I’ve worked with Camilla before, so she knows that I need shades and filters if they want me to be able to open my eyes!”
The most striking thing about ‘Julie’ – mother of 16-year-old daughter Liv, currently at an all-girls’ high school in Manhattan, where the family reside, and 20-year-old son Cal, a college basketball player in North Carolina – is that she does not look 57. Petite and slender, she has a soft voice that means you have to concentrate, and sometimes lean in a little, to hear her. She smiles a lot, in a genuine way, with her whole face, and you know she’s trying hard to put everyone around her at ease – even the comically attentive server, who is refilling her cup after nearly every sip. With a gold cuff in her ear and a gold pendant on a black leather cord around her neck, her hair pulled into a low bun, she looks at least 15 years younger, and more like the fashionably laid-back West Village mom she is away from work.
Her style and the unpretentious way she carries it off explains her countless magazine covers and why the fashion industry has always been drawn to her. She has appeared in a Bulgari campaign; she is a staple at Nicolas Ghesquière’s Louis Vuitton fashion shows and parties, as well as at Chanel, where Karl Lagerfeld cast her in his FW15 couture runway show – a tableau-vivant around a game of roulette – alongside Kristen Stewart and Lara Stone. Plus, there is the special and enduring relationship with Tom Ford, who gave her the lead in his critically acclaimed directorial debut, A Single Man, and who often singles her out as his enduring muse. At his comeback New York fashion show in September 2010, a gathering so exclusive there were only 100 guests present, Moore walked alongside a group of friends and muses that included Beyoncé, Marisa Berenson, Lauren Hutton, Rachel Feinstein, Natalia Vodianova, Stella Tennant and Rita Wilson. In his Time magazine tribute to her, he wrote: “…she projects something very rare: an actual luminosity that is dazzling in life and that can be captured on film. This is the difference between an actor and a star.”
I’ve been talking about aging since I was 30. Maybe the conversation isn’t so much about aging as it is looking at women in their fifties and sixties in a different way, about giving them permission to be sexual beings”
So, what is her secret? Innately cool, youthful and always sexy, Moore is never regarded or treated like a Hollywood elder. And with good reason. Her natural self in person is so uncontrived that it’s immediately clear why she isn’t cast in either ‘age-appropriate’ roles, or seen as too old to play sexy and desirable women. In 2015, she starred in Maggie’s Plan, where she plausibly fought off her fictional love rival, the more-than-20-years-younger Greta Gerwig. Yes, she keeps her hair, makeup and fashion relevant and modern, but there’s more to it; she has the mien of a younger person. When I tentatively suggest that she hasn’t had to relinquish her sex appeal with age, she stops me dead. “Oh my God. I’ve been talking about aging since I was 30,” she says laughing. “Can we just be alive! We’re all aging – children are aging. That’s what life is, and we have to accept that there’s a beginning, a middle and an end. It’s important to remember that there’s a time frame, so we can be awake for it.” But she sounds less exasperated than her words imply and they are delivered with good humor. “Maybe the conversation isn’t so much about aging as it is looking at women in their fifties and sixties in a different way,” she says, “about giving them permission to be sexual beings.” This winter, Moore stars as a sexually free spirit in Sebastián Lelio’s Gloria: “Gloria was so interesting to me because it’s about a woman reimagining her whole life, and she happens to be in her fifties. I want to see a person of this gender, in this age group, as a central character in her own story, as we all are.”
Still, you can hardly blame her frustration. For 28 years, Moore has been asked how it feels to be growing older as an actress, particularly at a time when the general perception is that parts are thin on the ground for women of a certain age. Something which, to be fair, has not unduly affected Moore, who has worked steadily with almost staggering success all the while. (She’s starred in more than 65 movies, garnered four Academy Award nominations, and the aforementioned win for her role in 2014’s Still Alice, as a university linguistics professor battling early-onset Alzheimer’s.) Indeed, most of the parts she has played have been remarkable not for the protagonist’s age, but for their intelligence, political boldness and often-overt sexuality or beauty.
You may remember her as the outrageous artist Maude, with a strict ’90s bob and an affinity for nudity, in the Coen brothers’ The Big Lebowski, or the coked-up porn star Amber Waves in Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights. She played a prescription-drug-addled manipulator for Anderson again in Magnolia, and a bohemian lesbian mom in the midst of an identity crisis in The Kids Are All Right, directed by Lisa Cholodenko. In her most recent film role, the adaptation of Ann Patchett’s best-selling novel Bel Canto, directed by Paul Weitz, she transforms into a famous American opera singer held captive in a hostage crisis. Famed soprano Renée Fleming performs the vocals, but Moore had to learn how to fake it, mimicking the ‘noble posture’ of trained singers. “When you see them up close and in person, you realize how different they are,” she says. “The sound comes through their whole body, like an instrument.” As well as the aforementioned Gloria, she’s also due to start shooting The Woman in the Window, directed by Joe Wright and starring Amy Adams.
When #MeToo started happening, a man said to me, ‘I’m really worried that people aren’t going to hire women anymore because of this.’ I went berserk. I said, ‘You know what? We’ll hire each other!’”
The struggle to stay present is familiar territory and fascinating stuff for Moore. Gritty realism is her thing, which is ironic when you consider her career began in her early twenties when she played Frannie Hughes on the American daytime drama As the World Turns. “I also did some off-Broadway and regional theater, and I did a lot of TV movies,” she says. “I auditioned for [big screen] movies, but I just didn’t get them. I thought, ‘Oh you know, this is it. This is my career.’ Then independent film happened.”
To say that the indies business changed her life would be an understatement. In the early ’90s, over the course of about a year, Moore was cast by legends Robert Altman (Short Cuts), Todd Haynes (Safe) and Louis Malle (Vanya on 42nd Street). A couple of years later, she met her future husband, writer and director Bart Freundlich, on the set of yet another small-budget film, The Myth of Fingerprints. “I had three movies come out at once that were art films, and suddenly I had this different career,” she says. “It was nutty. I look back now and think, wow, I have no idea how that happened.”
It was in this world where Moore fell in love with flawed creatures. Yes, she made big Hollywood movies such as the Jurassic Park sequel, The Lost World, but the characters Moore most connected with are often too strange or too complicated for blockbusters. They don’t need to be likable. “I just want them to be human,” she says. “It’s funny because right now, along with the aging conversation, there’s a ‘strong woman’ conversation. And I’m like, ‘Why is that an attribute that everyone has to have?’ I don’t care what people are. I just want them to be human. People are complicated. Some people are stronger than others and some people are able to achieve their goals and others aren’t. People are people, we all deserve to be heard, it doesn’t matter how strong we are.”
Another frustration for Moore is the way women over 50 are represented so anachronistically and stereotypically on screen – often little more than a mother, a security blanket or a silent supporter. “When every 50-something woman you see on film or television walks into the room and says, ‘I’m so glad you’re home from college!’ and then leaves, it makes you think, ‘Who is that?’ I don’t know anyone like that.” Moore herself isn’t one for retreating to the shadows. Last year, when the #MeToo movement crashed like a wave through the entertainment business, calling out the worst sexual predators in the industry, she was eager to get involved and lend her support. When 38 women, including actresses Selma Blair and Rachel McAdams, called out filmmaker James Toback (who wrote the screenplay for Bugsy, starring Warren Beatty and Annette Bening, which won a Golden Globe in 1992 and was nominated for 10 Academy Awards, including Best Screenplay, and whose most recent film, The Private Life of a Modern Woman, stars Sienna Miller) for lecherous behavior, some tried to discredit them. Not Moore, who came forward with a story about Toback approaching her on the street – twice – in New York when she was in her twenties. (The number of women who have accused Toback of sexual misconduct reached 395 by January 2018.) “One day he stopped me and said, ‘Excuse me! I’m a filmmaker. Are you an actress? I’m casting a film right now. I would love for you to read for me.’ And I said, ‘No, I don’t think so.’ And he kept on, and said, ‘No, I just want you to come back to my apartment and read for me.’ At first, of course, you’re a young actress and you think, ‘Is this really an audition?’ And slowly it became clear to me what was going on.”
If I don’t try to keep my daughter safe by trying to change things in this country, I’m being irresponsible. We aren’t free if we don’t have the liberty to feel safe at school, at church, at the mall, at the movies. That’s unconstitutional, too”
Listening to Moore talk about sexual politics in the workplace, and about her relationships with women, both the fictional women she plays on screen and those who she spends time with in real life (her closest friends, she says, are not in the industry), is inspiring, and also galvanizing. “When all the #MeToo stuff started happening, an older gentleman said to me, ‘I’m worried. I’m really worried that people aren’t going to hire women anymore because of this.’ And I went berserk. I said, ‘You know what? We’ll hire each other!’” Even before the current power shift in Hollywood garnered international headlines, she was quietly making meaningful changes in her world. “I thought, I want more female representation.” Though her publicist and agent are men, she has made changes so that the rest of her team is primarily female. And after reading about all-female investment firm Ellevest in a magazine, she transferred her money into their fund. “I just thought, ‘I feel like doing this.’ If you sit around and wait for this stuff to happen by itself, it’s not going to. We have to make daily choices. That’s how it has to happen.”
Moore’s day-to-day life (school drop-offs, a morning yoga class three times a week, lunch with a friend and work calls in the afternoon) is populated almost entirely by women. “There are days when the only men I interact with are my husband and my son,” she says, noting how strange it still is that boardrooms, certain work environments and, yes, the casts of movies, lean so heavily towards men. “There are plenty of women out there. I don’t know what world this is representative of, if there are no women present.”
Moore speaks with the focus and passion of an activist, both about equality for women in the workplace as she does about stricter gun regulations in the US. As an active organizer for Everytown for Gun Safety and Moms Demand Action, she puts her considerable influence in Hollywood to work. Moore’s daughter Liv was 10 when the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, happened in 2012. It shook her to her core. “I remember the exact date. It was December 14,” she says. Moore had taken Liv to work with her that day. When the news broke, she tried to shield her from it. Later that night, as the family decorated their Christmas tree, Moore decided to bring it up. But it turned out that Liv had already found out about it. “And that’s when I knew, I’m not keeping her safe by trying to keep the news away from her. I’m being irresponsible. If I don’t try to keep her safe by trying to change things in this country, by trying to keep the other kids in this country safe too, then I’m being irresponsible. That’s when I started speaking out about gun violence and the need for change.”
Her commitment to the cause comes across in the way she speaks – determined, focused, informed and inspiring. In an effort to help spread the word about Everytown, Moore recruited some friends in the fashion business – designers Cynthia Rowley, Rachel Zoe, Tom Ford and Christian Siriano among them – to join a creative council, harnessing their collective platforms to talk to the press, attend rallies and offer support to legislators. As someone who grew up in a military family (her father was a judge for the army; her mother a social worker) moving around the US and spending a few of her teen years in Germany, she is accustomed to being around people who own guns for hunting and who believe in responsible ownership of firearms – and she feels she has the right and the knowledge to speak her mind, critics be damned. “We aren’t free if we don’t have the liberty to feel safe at school, at church, at the mall, at the movies,” she says. “That’s unconstitutional, too. It’s about life, freedom and the pursuit of happiness. When people feel daunted by this kind of responsibility, it’s important to remember that we’re not alone. We’re in this together.”
Moore may be outspoken about her politics, but she has no plans to follow fellow actor Cynthia Nixon’s footsteps and run for office. “I think that has to be your calling,” she says. “And it’s not mine.” This may be because Moore is extremely private about her family life, and privacy and politics don’t mix. But unlike many in her position, there is one area of her life she is happy to share with the public – her home. Her sleek and modern Manhattan townhouse has been featured on the pages of magazines. “Interior design really is a hobby. My mother loved houses and refinishing old furniture, so I really just absorbed it. You learn what you like by looking and trying,” she says. “I always tell my friends that it’s an expensive hobby because you make so many mistakes! And you have to live with those expensive mistakes.” One day, she hopes to build a home from the ground up. “Nothing big, not a big deal. Something modern.”
[Life is] not about staying young. It’s about being alive. Because we have a limited time on earth, let’s try to stay engaged in our lives until we die. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got”
Travel is another passion. She and Freundlich are on their way to southern India to film scenes for After the Wedding (based on the 2006 Oscar-nominated Danish film of the same name), directed and co-written by Freundlich with Susanne Bier (who penned the original screenplay) and co-starring Moore and Michelle Williams. It’s these joint projects that demonstrate how Moore has made her marriage to Freundlich – who is 10 years her junior – and her family a priority; choosing to work away from home only during summer breaks and taking her family with her whenever possible. The couple have been together for 22 years, but didn’t actually marry until 2003, after they’d had their two children. Moore, who wore a lilac Prada shift dress to their ceremony at their home in the West Village, has said it was her therapist who convinced her to get married, for her children. “The therapist said marriage is really a container for a family, and that made sense to me,” she said in a 2011 interview with The Guardian. “I guess it’s about finding someone you enjoy. You both have to be engaged in each other’s life. Who knows why it works? Spending time together is so important.”
To hear Moore explain it, there is no magic trick to maintaining a successful marriage, or a career, or creating a character that feels authentic, or raising children, or making a difference in the world. It’s about showing up. “It’s about engagement, in your life, in your relationship, in culture and in the world,” she says, circling back to her least favorite topic, which she has spent so much time thinking about that it’s hard to believe she actually dislikes it. “It’s not about staying young. It’s about being alive. Because we have a limited time on earth, let’s try to stay engaged in our lives until we die. That’s it. That’s all we’ve got.”
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