It’s raining when Julianne Moore steps out of her limousine onto the red carpet at the 67th annual Golden Globe Awards. She stops to flirt with the photographers clamoring for her attention. Her publicist holds an umbrella over her blisteringly red hair, which is pulled back tightly to reveal a pair of wrecking ball-size emerald earrings that complement her shoulder-baring gunmetal Balenciaga gown. It’s been a very busy week for the 49-year-old actress, nominated this year for her supporting role in Tom Ford’s A Single Man. Over the past four days, Moore has been brushed and glossed for the AFI Awards, the BAFTA/LA Awards Season Tea Party, the Critics’ Choice Awards and the T Magazine Golden Globe Awards cocktail party. She also appeared on The Jay Leno Show, where she shared stories about her 12-year-old son Caleb’s budding interest in the opposite sex. “You must work at Subway, because you’re giving me a foot-long,” says Moore, excerpting with mock disgust his most pubescent pick-up line. Leno and the crowd erupt with laughter, in a scene straight from an old episode of Kids Say the Darndest Things.
Earlier that same week, a very different Julianne Moore settles into a seat near the back of New York’s Café Cluny, a small French bistro doors down from the West Village brownstone where she lives with her husband, filmmaker Bart Freundlich, and their two children. Her hair is tousled from the winter hat she had been wearing. Her skin is the color of rice paper dipped in milk. “I really don’t like doing talk shows,” she says. “They make me very, very nervous. People aren’t just chatting on those shows. You get on the phone beforehand with the person who’s producing that segment and you have a conversation, where they probe you about what’s going on in your life. But if I were being honest I’d say, well, nothing. I picked up my kids from school. Then we went to the orthopedist and the dentist.”
Considering the number of disturbed women she has played, it’s difficult to believe that Moore is as normal as she claims. The first of her four Academy Award nominations came in 1998, for her portrayal of happy dust-busting porn star Amber Waves in Boogie Nights, Paul Thomas Anderson’s paean to pre-AIDS pornography. Two years later, she starred opposite Ralph Fiennes in Neil Jordan’s The End of the Affair, a devastating story of repressed desire based on Graham Greene’s novel of the same name. In 2003, Moore became part of an elite group when she was nominated for two acting Oscars in the same year—one leading and one supporting—for her transformations into tortured housewives in Todd Haynes’ Far From Heaven and Stephen Daldry’s The Hours. The latter film co-starred Nicole Kidman and Meryl Streep. Of her friend, Streep says, “Julianne is a fearless actress, with a wild redhead bravado that’s countered by her delicacy and great beauty. But she has never allowed her beauty to subvert her eccentric, outsider sensibility. The possibility that she might do something crazy stalks even her calmest performance.”
Leave it to Streep, whom Moore once referred to as the craft’s “gold standard,” to strike at the core of what makes the scorching character actress so seductive. It’s the constant friction between a broken interior and a placid, passive exterior—presented without judgment or condescension—that proves so volatile and compelling. Her storm is quiet until it isn’t. “We can go from being okay to complete disasters in a matter of hours,” she says, “if that’s the story we allow ourselves to tell.”
Long before becoming a world-famous actress, Julie Anne Smith was born at Fort Bragg’s Womack Army Medical Center, not far from Fayetteville, North Carolina. Her mother was a psychiatric social worker, and her father was employed by the military, forcing his family to move often. Moore lived briefly in Alaska, Nebraska, Virginia and Frankfurt, Germany, among other places. “I was never in one city long enough to consider it home,” she says.
After graduating with a fine arts degree from Boston University in her twenties, Moore came to New York with her then-boyfriend. She had an agent, but was by no means established. During her first month in the city, she slept on a mattress on the floor of a friend’s studio apartment, a space they shared with the host couple’s pet Doberman. “It was never like, I’m going to come to New York and become an actor,” she says. “I was going to come to New York and get a job waiting tables.”
Moore was a waitress at Benjamin Restaurant & Bar, a hideaway in Manhattan’s Murray Hill district, when she landed a part in an off-Broadway play, which then led to her first break: dual roles as Frannie and Sabrina Hughes on the long-running CBS soap As the World Turns, for which she eventually won a Daytime Emmy. “I was [at the restaurant] for about six months when I got the call about the play,” she says. “I had just given my notice when I ran into my friend Ginger, who was looking for a wait job. I told her to go into the restaurant and tell them she could work these specifi nights, so that they’d be like, ‘Oh my God! I can’t believe it! We just lost somebody for those nights.’ She got the job.”
Moore still stops in for the occasional meal. Remembering a recent visit, the restaurant’s current manager says, “She came in for brunch one day when it was really busy. I was running around, pulling out my hair. She looked at me, smiling, and said, ‘You know, I’m still available to pick up the odd shift.’”
In 1990, Moore starred in her first film, Tales from the Darkside. “It was,” she says, “a terrible mummy movie—the scariest thing about it was that I had to drive a car into a driveway without my license.” The film also starred Steve Buscemi, Deborah Harry and Christian Slater, but this was not the ensemble project that jumpstarted her career. That came three years later with the release of Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, which featured top-tier actors like Frances McDormand and Robert Downey, Jr. In a now infamous scene, Moore’s character fights with her husband while wearing nothing from the waist down. She describes the experience as “totally terrifying—every famous person was in that movie and I was a total unknown.”
Anonymity was short-lived. Moore worked steadily, appearing in blockbusters such as Jurassic Park: the Lost World and The Fugitive, as well as independent films from master storytellers like Todd Haynes (Safe) and the Coen Brothers (The Big Lebowski). “All of a sudden,” she says, “I had 10 years of experience behind me. That’s when I realized, Wow, this is an actual career.” She delivers the word “career” much like someone else might describe, say, her position as an employee of the U.S. Postal Service. There are no slips in intonation to suggest the grandeur of her profession. “Acting is pretending,” she says. “I don’t like when actors mistake what they’re doing as actors with what real people have suffered. I hate when somebody says, ‘I know what it’s like to be blind now, because I’ve played a blind person.’ No, actually, you don’t. We do the best we can as actors to try to understand the circumstances of others, but that doesn’t mean the two become one.”
This position might help explain how Moore, a fully put-together adult, mother, wife and career woman, can continue to create master classes in the art of coming undone, as she does in her most recent projects: Tom Ford’s directorial debut A Single Man and Atom Egoyan’s psychosexual thriller, Chloe.
A Single Man is based on Christopher Isherwood’s acclaimed novel about a bereaved, gay professor, played by Colin Firth, navigating his grief after the loss of his partner in 1960s Southern California. Moore plays Firth’s swishy best friend Charley, a British expat who wastes her days re-applying makeup, emptying bottles of gin and throwing herself at her old friend. Despite Ford’s inexperience as a filmmaker, Moore signed on without reservation. “The thing I love about Tom,” she says, “is that unlike a lot of fashion people, he doesn’t pretend that there’s any mystery to design, like, ‘Oh, I did this fashionable thing and it’s magical!’ Instead, he’s very matter-of-fact about what it takes to achieve certain outcomes. I look for that in directors, too. I get really frightened when they can’t put into words their vision, or when they say, ‘Let’s just see what happens.’ Um, no, let’s not just see what happens. Let’s talk about it!”
Moore attended the Metropolitan Museum Costume Institute Gala a few years back where she ran into Ford and asked about the film everyone knew he’d been planning. “He got so excited,” she says. “He and his boyfriend Richard [Buckley, the former editor of Vogue Hommes International] exchanged quick glances and Tom said, ‘I can’t believe you asked me that. I have something to send you!’” Moore attached herself to the project almost immediately. “He’s just so funny and smart and well-mannered,” she says, between healthy bites of an egg-white omelet. “I remember this time when Tom and I were at some big party together. I got up to go to the bathroom. He got up, too, followed me to the restroom and waited outside until I was done. Can you imagine?”
The adoration is mutual. Of his leading lady, for whom he wrote the part, Ford says, “She is so completely grounded and not at all like most actresses I meet. She has a great sense of humor and a wonderful laugh.” That laugh—undeniably winning—is put to great use during her limited screen time in A Single Man, in which she lolls on a string of cigarettes and wraps her discontent in exaggerated mirth.
Whereas Charley escapes into cloudy, willful ignorance, Catherine, in this month’s Chloe, is tireless in her search for the truth. She is so troubled by the possibility of her husband’s infidelity that she hires a prostitute, played by Amanda Seyfried, to seduce him.
Production on the film was cut short last March when Liam Neeson, Moore’s husband in the film, lost his wife, actress Natasha Richardson, in a devastating skiing accident. When Neeson was ready to return to set, Moore says, “We tried to be present for him however he needed us to be.” Tears begin to pool in her eyes and the faintest burst of crimson rushes into her freckled face. Her mother also passed away last year, at the age of 68, from septic shock. Moore was on a plane flying home to see her when it happened. “We talk a lot about death in magazines and newspapers, because there’s a sensational aspect to it,” she says. “But death is something that you don’t come back from. That’s it. That’s the end. I don’t think the story of Liam’s tragedy is mine to tell.” And then, to break the tension, she blurts out, “Let’s talk about fashion!”
Instead, our conversation shifts to the racy love scenes she shares with 24-year-old Seyfried, a subject that has journalists and online message boards panting for details like dogs in heat. This is not the first time Moore has shared an onscreen lesbian kiss. She has twice gone sapphic, in The Hours and Rebecca Miller’s The Private Lives of Pippa Lee, and will do so again as Annette Bening’s partner in Lisa Cholodenko’s upcoming comedy, The Kids Are All Right, a breakout hit at this year’s Sundance Film Festival. “I knew that it wasn’t going to be prurient,” says Moore, unfazed by Chloe’s sex scenes. “I knew Atom wasn’t going to exploit the material.”
I wonder aloud if the gravity of her character’s affair is somehow less contemptible because Seyfried is a woman. “We made so many jokes about that. It’s that straight-male fantasy thing: ‘You had an affair? Oh my God! You had an affair with a woman? Tell me all about it!’”
Seyfried, whose big-screen girl-on-girl experience was limited to a truth-or-dare-style make-out session with Megan Fox in Jennifer’s Body, entered into those scenes a little less assured. “When I heard Julie had signed on to do the film, it was a dream—but also a nightmare,” she says. “I was like, How the fuck am I going to do a love scene with this woman? I was fascinated by her.” Not surprisingly, it brought them closer together. “We were totally proud of ourselves when we got through it, like girlfriends trying to do what was required of us under incredible pressure,” Seyfried says, adding, “She knows exactly what she’s doing.”
Moore is not “grounded” in the way that most actors are grounded in the presence of journalists. It’s not something she turns on and off to burnish her image. At the photo shoot for this story, for example, she spent the afternoon doling out advice (“You should put a cold pack on your back, because heat will just make the pain worse”) and cracking jokes at her own expense (“At a certain age, you’ve just got to put them away,” she said when we asked her to pose in a sheer top).
Her perspective on stardom seems like it might belong to, well, a Boston soccer mom similar to the one she played earlier this season on NBC’s 30 Rock. “There was never any confusion that I’d achieved something because I was famous,” she says, slicing her hand through the imaginary divide that separates talent from notoriety. “If I’m recognizable, it’s because people have seen me on television or in movies. My celebrity has never had anything to do with me.”
There is a world of difference, she tells her children, between the woman who folds laundry at home and the star who appears in ad campaigns for Bulgari fine jewelry, as she did recently, armed with 115-carat Colombian emerald earrings and two cockatiels. “Our parents are our parents, so that’s my connection to my children,” she says. “My kids have some knowledge about my work, but they’ve never seen any of my movies, not even Jurassic Park. It’s not like I say, Gather around, everyone! It’s time to watch one of mommy’s movies!”
But the reality of being a Hollywood star does, without welcome, bleed into her personal life, specifically in the form of paparazzi waiting outside her children’s school. “Not often is it a real intrusion,” she says, “But it’s a pain.” Moore remembers one particular instance when walking home with her now 7-year-old daughter Liv. “She fell down and I had to pick her up. I was holding her, and all the while this guy kept taking pictures. That’s when I said, Come on, that’s enough!”
It’s not the photographers who bother Moore most—they provide a service, she says, for which there is a regrettable demand—but rather our culture’s desire to prop up celebrities in order to watch them fall. “Sometimes I see other moms reading tabloids and I always tell them how dangerous they are for young people,” she says. “Don’t waste your time investing in the story of some pretty blonde who just got extensions and broke up with her boyfriend. Spend that time thinking about your own girlfriend who just got extensions and broke up with you. Keep it in your own life.”
It’s an unexpected comment from a woman who has spent the past 20 years embodying characters who are so far, in so many ways, from her own life. “Hopefully,” Moore says, “When it’s done well, film allows an audience the ability to see themselves in the lives of these characters. That’s what cinema is about. You get to see your own story acted out. Acting is pretending, sure, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t feelings behind each performance.”
Our meal over, we prepare for the weather outside, layering in equally drab combinations of cotton and fleece. On our way to the exit, we walk past a table of ladies, one of whom whispers, “Isn’t that…” Moore doesn’t seem to notice as she rushes out into the bitter winter afternoon. With a tight hug, she waves goodbye and hurries down a street she knows well. It’s time to drive her son to the orthopedist.
Photograpy by Serge Leblon Styling by Christopher Campbell Hair by Thomas Dunkin @ the Wall Group, using Sebastian Professional Volupt, Makeup by Linda Hay @ the Wall Group, Manicurist Bernadette Thompson @ The Magnet Agency, Set Design by Jim Gratson @ Creative Exchange Agency, Digital Tech Nick Bean @ Imag’in Productions, Photo Assistants Ian Rutter and Michael Prezioso, Shot on location at the Lafayette House, NYC. Fashion Assistants Nello Noory and Anabelle Netter.
First Photo: Robe by Viktor & Rolf, Bra and Panties by Agent Provocateur, Stockings by Wolford Second Photo: Earrings by M. Graves Jewelry, Coin Bracelet by Bulgari, Bangle Bracelets by Finn, Top by Stella McCartney, Jeans by Bebe Third Photo: Jumpsuit by Etro, Necklace by De Vera, Watch by Bulgari Fourth Photo: Caftan by Tigerlily, Necklace by Dries Van Noten