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There’s something about Julianne Moore and glasses that just speaks to casting directors.
The actress was transformed into Sarah Palin by a pair of rimless, rectangular frames, winning an Emmy for her work in Game Change. A year later, she’s behind a large, old school pair of specs for her role in The English Teacher, in which she plays Linda Sinclair, a character polar opposite of the former Alaskan governor: a well-read, spotlight-shunning educator with an aversion to the dramatic.
A perpetually single bookworm and future cat lady, Linda’s world is flipped when a former student (Michael Angarano) returns to their small town in Pennsylvania, convinced he is a failure as a playwright. Linda falls in love with his unperformed manuscript and convinces the high school drama teacher (Nathan Lane), to make it the school play, which leads to far more madness than one might expect from a small scholastic performance.
Co-starring Lily Collins and Greg Kinnear, The English Teacher hits theaters on May 10. The Hollywood Reporter spoke with Moore and Angarano about their own school experiences, relationships with teachers and a number of other topics, including those unmistakable glasses.
THR: The thing that freaked me out about this movie was the idea of going home to where I grew up as a failure. You’ve achieved a lot of success, but is there anything unsettling about going home to you?
Angarano: I’m doing it right now, every time I come to New York. I was born and raised here. It’s so interesting because I’m so comforted at being home, and then I see how much I’ve changed and in certain circumstances, others have or others haven’t, it’s always interesting. I kind of love it. I kind of love coming home and being with family and feeling comfortable and knowing where I come from, I kind of like it.
THR: Julianne, I know you moved around a lot growing up, but is there any place in particular that has that weight of being “home” for you?
Moore: Not really, I was never anywhere long enough. I was only in a school for two years at a time. But there are individuals or people that I’ve known. There’s a producer named Bruce Cohen that I went to high school with. He actually did a lot of plays together. He produced Silver Linings Playbook, so he’s a big producer. So Bruce and I have known each other since we were 14, and I really marvel — every time I see him, I’m like, oh my god, I remember talking to you on the phone in my room. And the fact that we’re still friends and worked together, that’s just crazy. It’s great, it’s really fun.
THR: Did you have any teachers that really had an impact on you?
Moore: I wouldn’t be an actor if it weren’t for the English teacher I had my junior year in high school. She’s the one who told me I could be an actor. I had never met an actor, I had never seen a real play, only high school plays. I didn’t know actors were real, that it was a real job. And she actually told me later that there was only one other kid, she told him to go into radio, and he became a DJ and I became an actor. She changed the course of my life.
THR: What made her say that?
Moore: She was the drama teacher and I was in her plays. We were doing Tartuffe and I auditioned and she wanted me to audition for the part of Mariane, who’s the ingenue, and I said no, I want to play the character part, I wanted to play Dorine.
Angarano: A character actress! Even back then she was a character actress.
Moore: [Laughs] So yeah, she really did change my life.
THR: How about you?
Angarano: Well, I didn’t really go to school when I was there, because I was working. But when I wasn’t working, I had a great film teacher who I never met, because I was working. He would send me all these assignments to write all these papers about White Heat or Angels With Dirty Faces. This was in high school, my senior year. It was great, because it had an impact on my acting, because I was watching all these classics I hadn’t seen.
But I also had a teacher who, whenever I wasn’t working and behind on school, I would go to this teacher who was like a therapist/mentor/teacher/friend, really everything. And I would spend hours and hours at her house, being so stressed out, behind on work, and we would always, always get it done. And we would talk about everything. And that’s why I say it was almost like a therapy session. I was with her from like age nine to 19. She really had, as far as teachers go, was a great teacher for me.
THR: See, I tried to avoid teachers as much as possible.
Angarano: Oh no, trust me, on set as a child actor, I was hell. Oh my god, if the ADD thing was as big as a deal as it was now, I would have been on Ritalin. I was hiding, I would play jokes on them; the last thing we would do is do school work.
THR: If you’re an actor, and they’re paying you to do things on camera, I can’t imagine wanting to sit down and do work.
Moore: I think it’s really hard, with kid actors, there are certain hours you have to have of school. And it is kind of a crazy thing to have to suddenly go do schoolwork in the middle of a work day. It’s a big load. I don’t love the system.
Angarano: And you know what, it really — and not to talk about acting — but it really takes you out of the moment. And you do it in between setups. You do a take or two and they want to set up the camera, and you have to go take a math test.
Moore: It’s not a great system for education or working. It needs to be revamped.
Angarano: You’re not focused on education, you’re focused on getting the work done. You’re getting the time in. The best experiences I’ve had were definitely off-set at school.
THR: Clark Gregg had a film at Tribeca about the dark underworld of child acting.
Angarano: It could be. I mean, it really could be. Growing up, I saw a lot of families that were split up, and kids who didn’t really want to be actors. I think that’s where you see it. When their mother wants them to be an actor or something like that, it’s not something they want to do. But if you have strong support and good family, that’s kind of the most important thing, like anything else.
THR: In this movie, the characters are fighting about the end of the play, and it reminded me of creative struggles in film. Does that happen a lot to you, fighting powers that be that want a different ending to a movie?
Moore: It shouldn’t. With a great filmmaker and a really good script, it shouldn’t happen. I think with movies that are maybe more commercial, where they might be cutting to test scores and stuff, I think that’s when things can change a little bit. But for most films, where you’ve got a filmmaker who’s got a real vision and is prepared, it shouldn’t happen like that.
THR: By the way, I liked your glasses in the film.
Moore: Thank you! I got them on 9th street, at Fabulous Fanny’s. I bought them there.
THR: Did you decide that you needed the most bookish, out of date pair?
Moore: I just tried on a bunch of glasses and I didn’t want them to look modern. I didn’t want them to look like hipster glasses, I wanted them to look like she cycled through several pairs of glasses and that at a certain point, just stopped. Stopped buying new glasses. Just kept them, she had them for a while…
THR: Well you’ve kind of come full circle from your early days a reader, with your book series becoming a big success. Did you ever expect for that to be a career?
Moore: No, I just did it to do it, and now I have three books and I have an app, it’s free. It’s only on iPad, it’s not on iPhone yet.
Angarano: I don’t have an iPad.
Moore: You don’t have an iPad? C’mon man.
Angarano: I know…
Moore: C’mon, go buy an iPad, the Apple Store is right down the street! It’s called Freckleface Strawberry’s Monster Maker Game, and then I have a fourth book, not in this series, with another publisher coming out in September called My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me. It’s been a fun thing to do. I like it, I love books, I like literature, children’s literature was really formative for me. So it’s nice to participate in a world that means a lot to me personally.
THR: I feel like Freckleface Strawberry could be a children’s movie franchise.
Moore: I’d like to have a TV show, to be completely honest. I’d really like to have that with this character.
THR: Would you voice it?
Moore: No, my daughter would; my daughter voices the app, actually. She voices is beautifully, she did a great, great job. I don’t know if she’d end up voicing the TV show because it’s a big thing. But it was fun for her to do, it was a family thing. I feel like there’s a TV show in there somewhere.
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