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This story first appeared in the Feb. 6 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine.
In her early 30s, Julianne Moore felt lost. Her professional life was soaring, her personal life shrinking. “I was lonely,” she admits. “I don’t think I felt happy. I didn’t have the kind of personal life I wanted. I’d spent my 20s working hard and trying to get to wherever there was, which wasn’t really anywhere. It was just a job, and I really wanted a family.”
Unsure what to do, Moore turned to a therapist, who got straight to the point: She must give her private life its due. “I discovered that was as important as my professional life,” says the actress. “I didn’t spend the time; I didn’t invest. One thing I used to tell my women friends was, ‘There’s an expectation that your personal life is going to happen to you, but you’re going to have to make your career happen. And that’s not true: You have to make your personal life happen as much as your career.’ ”
Since then, Moore, almost miraculously, has managed both. Choosing to live in New York, she has built an enviable private life, with a 19-year (and counting) relationship and two kids. On the career front, she has defied one of the truisms of Hollywood — that an actress is finished at 40 — and has done much of her best work since then: 2002’s Far From Heaven and The Hours and 2006’s Children of Men. Like Meryl Streep, she seamlessly mixes commercial work such as The Hunger Games with independent films. Moore also has established herself as a beauty and fashion icon, signing seven-figure deals with such brands as L’Oreal and Bulgari.
And so, at age 54, she finds herself very comfortable in the spotlight. She already has racked up Golden Globe and SAG Awards for her performance in Still Alice as a college professor suffering from early-onset dementia, and many Academy Awards prognosticators pick her as the favorite for best actress, which would be her first win in five career nominations.
None of this is by luck alone.
“The idea that you’re the center of your own narrative and that you can create your life is a great idea,” she says, referring to a notion in one of her favorite books, Little Women. “I totally believe it. I’ve been really lucky, but I feel I’ve completely created my own life.”
Sitting over lunch in Palm Springs one early January afternoon, she radiates joy, laughs easily and chats openly about everything from novelist Margaret Atwood to Scandinavian furniture to a new app for foreign languages. (“The last time I went to Berlin with Hunger Games, I spent the entire flight doing my pidgin German — it was so pathetic!” she says.)
When she’s at her home in New York, her life is one of studied ordinariness. She usually rises around 6.30 a.m. and does yoga three times a week. She reads constantly, including Donna Tartt‘s The Goldfinch and Amy Bloom‘s Lucky Us. “And I read Amy Poehler‘s Yes Please. I loved it,” she says. She’s a writer, too: In 2007, she published the best-selling children’s book Freckleface Strawberry, and she now has a five-book contract with Random House (all works for children), with the first, Backpacks, due out in July.
Moore was photographed by Miller Mobley on Jan. 21 at Industria in New York City; styling by Penny Lovell.
She appreciates humor and relates a story about her Hunger Games co-star Jennifer Lawrence. “She’s very funny,” notes Moore. “When I first met her, I was sitting in the makeup trailer, and our makeup artist was testing something, and Jennifer came in. I said, ‘Oh, let me get up.’ She goes, ‘No, no, no. You sit there. And I’ll secretly resent you.’ “
Despite her ease, she doesn’t want for strong opinions and has drawn angry responses to her tweets in favor of Planned Parenthood and gun control. “I get more reactions on Twitter about gun safety than anything else,” she says. “I don’t understand how we’re threatening the Second Amendment because we’re talking about gun safety rules. That, to me, is really shocking.”
All this is so frighteningly normal, you almost want to scream. Is it possible that an artist of Moore’s caliber can exist in simplicity rather than complexity?
“She’s good at playing regular,” says her Still Alice co-star Kristen Stewart. “But there’s so many sides of her — there’s nothing regular about her at all.”
Turbulence is not unknown to her; she acknowledges that a peripatetic childhood left its share of instability, and she returns over and over to the theme of impermanence. She says she doesn’t believe in God and has a strong sense that meaning is imposed on a chaotic world.
“I learned when my mother died five years ago that there is no ‘there’ there,” she reflects. “Structure, it’s all imposed. We impose order and narrative on everything in order to understand it. Otherwise, there’s nothing but chaos.”
When Moore, fresh out of Boston University, spent three years on the soap opera As the World Turns, she had her daily routine perfected: She’d get up at precisely the same time, down two cups of coffee in precisely the same way and take the same route to work. If that sounds like a person with a smattering of obsessive-compulsiveness, well, yes.
“I probably have a touch of it,” she admits. “I like things to be clean. I can’t think unless things are in a certain kind of order. I have to finish stuff. I need to get things done. I can’t relax until I’ve done the work I know I need to do.”
Well into her career, she felt adrift. Even though she had found work out of the gate as an actress, moving from As the World Turns to such movies as 1993’s Short Cuts and 1994’s Vanya on 42nd Street, she felt lost and without anchor.
An early marriage to actor-director John Gould Rubin had ended, and now, single, she turned to the therapist. “One of the things she said was that everybody always knows the answer,” recalls Moore. “She said, ‘We all know the answer.’ And I think we all do, don’t we?”
Within a few years, Moore had met her future partner and husband, director Bart Freundlich, on his movie The Myth of Fingerprints. Their children, Cal and Liv, are 17 and 12.
“We were shooting about a week before we became involved,” says Moore. “It seemed unlikely that it would last when we met, but that was almost 19 years ago.”
Though Freundlich, nearly a decade her junior (“Nine years!” she corrects with a laugh), has not seen his own career reach the heights of hers (he recently has directed episodes of Mozart in the Jungle and Californication), she says: “He’s an extraordinary individual, and he’s always made me feel good about myself and about my work, and I hope I make him feel good, too.”
She was living in Los Angeles at the time they become involved, but chose to relocate to New York. “I wanted to leave the city after my first marriage broke up,” she explains. “When our son was born in 1997, we decided to move back. Our families are on the East Coast.” The two now live in Manhattan’s West Village with their dogs (a black Lab, Cherry, and a Chihuahua mix, Milly).
Moore says her work has proved surprisingly accommodating. “When my kids were babies, they traveled all over the world with me and came to work with me every day, and it was never frowned upon. I am very fortunate in that I can afford to have child care, and I always hired someone who was young and very flexible — so that was always my ‘entourage’: my kids and my babysitter.” She adds: “We’re both available as parents, and we’re a pretty great unit. And that’s not to say it’s all been a breeze, because it never is. There’s always stuff.”
Stewart laughs about visiting them at home, where “Bart was joking, ‘I’ll come and eat Indian food with you while the powerhouse is off doing her thing.’ “
The powerhouse and the domestic goddess reign in tandem.
“One of my nicknames for myself is ‘Bougie Julie,’ ” says Moore. “I’m as bourgeois as it gets. I like having order.” But is that because an element of disorder lurks inside?
She pauses. “I have that duality in my personality,” she admits.
An element of disorder hung over Moore’s early life. She was born in Fort Bragg, N.C., but “we were only there six months or so because my father was in the 82nd Airborne Division,” she says. “He was a helicopter pilot and a paratrooper. And so we moved a lot. We were in the [Panama] Canal Zone for a while, and then my dad was in Vietnam, and we went to New Jersey to live with my grandparents.”
Though she was in kindergarten, Moore still remembers the anxiety that gripped her family during Vietnam. “You feel the fear through the adults,” she says. “It’s a very scary feeling.”
The family’s name was Smith, and Julianne then was just Julie. She had two siblings, a sister, Valerie (a year younger), and a brother, Peter (four years younger).
After Vietnam, their father left the Army and uprooted the family again, to Nebraska, where he attended law school. After Nebraska, the next stop was Alaska, where he worked as a lawyer in private practice in aviation law. He followed that with a stint in New York before going back in the Army as an attorney and later a military judge. “I went to nine different schools between the ages of 5 and 18,” says Moore. That concluded in Germany, where she spent two years in her late teens before returning to the U.S. to attend college.
Moore stresses the positive side of these moves: They made her “mutable” and quick to adapt. “How you behave, how you act, is not necessarily who you are,” she says.
She was devastated by her mother’s death from septic shock in 2009 at age 68. “We don’t know why it happened. She went to bed, and it turned out she had a huge bacterial infection.” Recently, Moore took dual citizenship in honor of her mother, who was born in Scotland and moved to the U.S. at age 10. “Getting my [British] passport was a big deal,” she says.
When Moore was in her teens, she discovered acting. She was a “nerd,” not very good at sports and “not particularly popular,” but she came alive onstage and was told by a teacher that she might consider acting professionally. The young girl was thrilled; her parents were not.
“They were worried and said, ‘Well, you have to go to college,’ ” she recalls, “and so I applied to a few schools. My mother said it was too scary for me to live in New York, so I auditioned for Boston University and Carnegie Mellon and chose BU, arbitrarily.”
There, she discovered the loneliness of life away from home, with no money to visit her family in Germany. At 22, she moved to New York and, after a few months as a waitress, found work in regional theater in Buffalo.
Now she had to change her name. “When I went to join SAG as Julie Smith, they were like, ‘There’s a Julie Smith, there’s a Julie Anne Smith. You have to choose another name,’ ” she says. “My dad’s name was Peter Moore Smith, and my mother’s name was Anne Smith, and I used both their names so I wouldn’t hurt anybody’s feelings.” In her mind, she remains Julie Smith. “I mean, everyone calls me Julie — everyone,” she says.
She landed her first professional role in 1983, in regional theater, then got As the World Turns two years later and has barely stopped since. Even last year, along with Still Alice and The Hunger Games: Mockingjay — Part 1, she could be seen in two indie releases (Non-Stop and Seventh Son) as well as Maps to the Stars, David Cronenberg‘s voyage through a dystopian Hollywood.
She gravitates to auteur directors like Cronenberg rather than more commercial Hollywood filmmakers, and says her longtime manager, Evelyn O’Neill, shares her tastes: “I have always been drawn to the work of writer-directors and have had so much luck with them because their stories are usually very personal and they have a strong vision and point of view.”
Liberal politically, Moore developed a degree of human sympathy for Sarah Palin, whom she played in HBO’s 2012 adaptation of the real-life political thriller Game Change, a role that won her an Emmy. As to Palin’s response, “She was very scornful of it; she claims she never saw it, but we’re virtually certain she did,” says John Heilemann, co-author of Game Change
“About a year before we started shooting in March, they said, ‘We want to be in production by next September,’ ” says Moore, “and I was like, ‘No way.’ My whole business is independent film. Things fall apart.”
They were even more complicated by Glatzer’s ALS. “At New Year’s, I was still driving,” he says by email, referring to one year ago. “By April, I could no longer dress myself. My arms were shot, my legs starting to weaken.” During the shoot, he communicated with Moore by using “one finger on an iPad.”
“When I first spoke to him, he had difficulty speaking, but he still had his voice,” says Moore. “But by the time we shot, his symptoms were pretty advanced. Initially I thought it would be daunting, but the force of his intellect and personality is so strong, it’s easy.”
Astonishingly, the filmmakers quickly found the money from French backers, and suddenly the movie was a go. But now there was another hitch: Moore was committed to the Hunger Games shoot and had to extricate herself in order to spend 3½ weeks filming Alice in New York.
Lionsgate proved supportive, and then Moore turned to The Judy Fund for help with research. “They set up Skype calls with women who’ve been diagnosed with ‘younger onset,’ which means under 65,” says Moore. “The youngest, Sandy Oltz, was 45 when she was diagnosed.”
At the same time, Moore went to meet with Dr. Mary Sano, the head of Alzheimer’s research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. “I took the memory test that a neuropsychiatrist gave me. You listen to a story. Then you put the story aside, and the doctor gives you a list of 30 words and immediately asks you to repeat the list. And then she’ll say, ‘How many animals can you name in a minute?’ And then she goes back to, ‘Now tell me about the story that you read.’ “
Moore waited for the results with trepidation. “They told me my results were normal,” she says.
She laughs, with the ease and, well, normality that have become her mark. “We’d all like [to hear that we’re brilliant], but the medical world doesn’t work like that. You’re either normal or you’re not.”