Leave ’em Wanting Moore: In Praise of Julianne Moore

julianne-moore-forgottenAll the action adventure girls have red hair,” he said. “Whenever it is an independent girl, not a sidekick person, when she has her own mind or does as good as the guys, she has red hair.”

― Marion Roach, The Roots of Desire: The Myth, Meaning, and Sexual Power of Red Hair

A versatile actress who excels in roles serious and silly alike, AND can play it hot…or not, Julianne Moore has continually wowed audiences with her range, adaptability and lack of self- consciousness in front of the camera. She’s equally at home playing a prom queen or a politician, a paleontologist or a serial killer-seeking Secret Service agent. 

A striking redhead, Moore was born in Fort Bragg, North Carolina on an Army base, the daughter of a paratrooper father who became a military judge, and a psychologist and social worker mother born in Scotland. The family moved around a lot and when they landed in Frankfurt, Germany, the 18-year-old got involved in the theater program in her school. Later, her pursuit led to Boston University where she eventually received a BFA in Theater.

“So many people from military backgrounds…,embassy backgrounds… ministry families with parents who travelled and had  itinerant childhoods, become actors,” the actress told the New York Times in an interview. “It’s a causal thing. People think behavior is character– because so and so behaves this way, they are ‘x.’ But one thing you learn about moving around a lot if that no behavior is just behavior and there are things about people that is universal.”  

 Off to New York Moore went after college, where she got jobs in off-Broadway shows and a 1985-1988 gig on the soap opera As the World Turns, where she won a Daytime Emmy Award for playing dual roles as half-sisters. This led to parts in TV movies and a lengthy workshop with Andre Gregory of My Dinner with Andre fame for an experimental version of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya. The experience was recreated for filmmaker Louis Malle for 1995’s Vanya on 42nd Street.

Although her first official film role was in 1990’s Tales from the Darkside: The Movie in which she played a nefarious college grad student who gets stuffed with flowers by a mummy, Moore was initially noticed by most viewers in Curtis Hanson’s surprise 1992 hit The Hand That Rocks the Cradle. She played a realtor friend of Annabella Sciorra, a woman who hires psychotic babysitter Rebecca De Mornay to care for her infant. The effort was a surprise hit and, although De Mornay was the diabolical focus of the film, Moore drew raves for her scene-stealing supporting part and scared audiences with her glass-shattering demise.  

The strong impression caught directors’ and casting agents’ attentions as well, as Moore was handed key supporting roles in four 1993 releases. In the offbeat romantic comedy Benny & Joon, she plays Ruthie, a waitress who gets involved with Aidan Quinn’s car mechanic Benny, brother to emotionally troubled Joan (Mary Stuart Masterson). In the TV series adaptation The Fugitive, she gave a performance (heavily edited pre-release) as a doctor at a hospital where Harrison Ford’s Richard Kimball stops after his escape from a prison bus. In the roundly-booed Madonna-starrer Body of Evidence, she’s the wife of Willem Dafoe, the lawyer defending the “Material Girl” in a murder trial. Originally rated NC-17, the film boasted several strong sex scenes with Madonna as well as one with Dafoe and Moore.        

It was the fourth release of 1993, however, that really garnered attention for Moore. In Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, inspired by stories written by Raymond Carver, Moore plays a painter involved in a heated argument with physician husband Matthew Modine. Ah, yes: Moore does the arguing sans pants, which was quite a feat, and showcased Ms. Moore au natural and as a chance-taking actress to be reckoned with.

Although the roles were now coming to the actress from the Hollywood studios at a fast and furious pace, she always kept one foot in the door of the independent world. Winning raves from critics was her part in Todd Haynes’ Safe, in which she played a married woman in the San Fernando Valley trying to cope with a mysterious and debilitating environmental disease. In Paul Thomas Anderson’s Boogie Nights, she was got her first Oscar nomination for her part as Amber Waves, a veteran porn star playing surrogate mother and onscreen lover to XXX newcomer Dirk Diggler (Mark Wahlberg). In the Coen Brothers’ The Big Lebowski, she put a charge into her acting and sensual persona as way-out vaginal artist Maude Lebowski, who beds Jeff Bridges’ “The Dude.”    

In between those indie offerings were such Hollywood productions as Nine Months, in which she’s pregnant with Hugh Grant’s baby; Assassins, as the surveillance expert caught between hit men Sylvester Stallone and Antonio Banderas; and as a paleontologist encountering The Lost World: Jurassic Park, Stephen Spielberg’s sequel to his Dino-sized hit.

While making The Myth of Fingerprints, a romantic indie comedy about a gathering of a dysfunctional family at Thanksgiving, Moore fell in love with director Bart Freudlich, nine years her junior, and the two later married. Freudlich, who has two children with Moore, also directed her in   2001’s World Traveler and 2005’s Trust the Man. Previously, the actress was married to actor and director John Gould Rubin.

In addition to her Best Supporting Actress nomination for Boogie Nights, Moore has received three other Academy Award nominations: as a lover to novelist Ralph Fiennes, her husband’s best friend, in The End of the Affair; in Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes’ salute to the melodramas of Douglas Sirk, spotlighting Moore as a seemingly perfect mother and wife in 1950s Connecticut whose life and outlook radically shifts when she discovers her husband (Dennis Quaid) is gay and she begins a relationship with her black gardener’s son (Dennis Haysbert); and as a distraught Los Angeles housewife transfixed by reading Virginia Wolfe’s Mrs. Dalloway in The Hours, which also featured Meryl Streep, Nicole Kidman and Ed Harris.  

A resume for any 53-year-old actress would be impressive based on the films mentioned here, but Moore has several other high profile turns to her credit.  She worked again with Paul Thomas Anderson on his 1999 epic Magnolia, playing the  younger wife of the dying Jason Robards, Jr. who she married for money; again with Robert Altman as Glenn Close’s shy sister in 1999’s Cookie’s Fortune;  once more with Todd Haynes, playing a Joan Baez-inspired character in his Dylan experiment I’m Not There (2007); with Lasse Hallstrom in the Swedish director’s adaptation of the best-seller The Shipping News, as the widow who gets involved with columnist Kevin Spacey; and with Alfonso Cuaron in the futuristic Children of Men, an intelligent futuristic sci-fi thriller with Moore as the leader of a radical group who coerces ex-husband Clive Owen into undertaking a special mission that could save the world.       

Moore’s attraction to provocative roles permeates her entire career. It’s no surprise that when Jodie Foster decided to skip a second go-round as FBI agent Clarice Starling (a role that Michelle Pfeiffer stepped away from)  for Ridley Scott’s Hannibal because of the ultra-violent aspects of the film, Moore stepped in, reportedly beating out Angelina Jolie, Cate Blanchett and Helen Hunt in the process. .

She’s also done same-sex lovemaking scenes in Chloe, opposite Amanda Seyfried, and was the neurotic longtime female partner of Oscar-nominated Annette Bening in The Kids Are All Right, Of the latter part, the Los Angeles times film critic Betsy Sharkey observed: “There are countless moments when the actress strips bare before the camera—sometimes literally, sometimes emotionally … and Moore plays every note perfectly.”

Recent credits include A Single Man, where Moore played the boozy best friend of a depressed gay university professor essayed by Academy Award-nominated Colin Firth.  And—you betcha!—her amazingly accurate tour-de-force turn as vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in HBO’s Game Change, an acclaimed behind-the-scenes look at the 2008 presidential election, won the performer an Emmy, a Golden Globe and a Critic’s Choice award.

What makes Moore–and the character’s she inhabits—tick? Take a quick zip through her resume and you’ll see troubled women who try to find some normalcy in their lives while dealing with the threat of failure or a sense of insecurity.

“I never care that [my characters] are strong, I never care that they’re even affirmative,” Moore confessed to James Lipton on a 2002 installment of Inside the Actor’s Studio. “I look for that thing that’s human and recognizable and emotional. You know, we’re not perfect, we’re not heroic, we’re not in control. We’re our own worst enemies sometimes, we cause our own tragedies … that’s the stuff that I think is really compelling.”

As busy and diverse a career Moore has had as she approaches her 53rd birthday, she’s found time for other professional endeavors as well.  She has written a series of autobiographical children’s books featuring the character Freckleface Strawberry, based on her childhood self, which was adapted into a musical. She’s made one go at Broadway, starring with Bill Nighy in David Hare’s The Vertical Hour, a drama directed by Sam Mendes in which she played a war correspondent covering the Iraq War. She received mixed reviews for her work. In 2002, she even returned to her old stomping grounds of the soap opera And the World Turns for an appearance. 

Response was varied on Moore’s multi-episode stint on 30 Rock, where she played TV comedy producer Alec Baldwin’s old pal and new romantic interest. Some media outlets commented on Moore’s skittish Bahstan accent, with New York Magazine noting “…She sounds like she’s in a Tampa dinner-theater adaptation of Good Will Hunting…”

Of course, this wouldn’t be the first time the prolific actress hasn’t scored well with critics and/or audiences. There have been big budget disappointments (Ivan Reitman’s sci-fi comedy Evolution and the Nicolas Cage fantasy action effort Next among them), interesting efforts that barely registered (Freedomland, The Prize Winner of Defiance, Ohio, Savage Grace, An Ideal Husband, and The Secret Life of Pippa Lee), romantic comedies that fizzled (Rules of Attraction) and curios that will likely remain curios for better or worse (6 Souls, Marie and Bruce).  And, of course, there is one that will forever be buried in the “Temporary Loss of Senses” folder in Moore’s filing cabinet: limning the role of Lila Crane, sister of the murdered Marion Crane (Anne Heche), in Gus Van Sant’s 1998 remake of Psycho.

When the New York Times asked Moore how she feels collectively about the diverse roles she’s played, she responded “They’re like people you knew and you remember all of them. But it’s not like Sybil where you can reach in and pull someone out.”

 Julianne Moore keeps on chugging along. In fact, if you take a look at her activity over the last few years, she’s been busier than ever.  She had small parts as Steve Carell’s divorcing wife in Crazy, Stupid, Love and as Robert DeNiro’s spouse in Being Flynn. Now in theaters—and soon on DVD—are What Maisie Knew, an updating of a Henry James novel in which a young girl is stuck in the middle of a custody battle between her embittered divorced parents, an aging rock star (Moore) and art dealer (Steve Coogan); and The English Teacher, showcasing Moore as the spinsterish lead, character a high school instructor helping an old student of hers (Michael Angarano) by staging his play—and helping him in other ways as well.

Whew. Over the next few months, we’ll also see the actress—whose politics lean to the left– Moore will reenact Piper Laurie’s Oscar-nominated role as Margaret White, the fanatically religious mother of Carrie, in a new treatment of the Steven King story. In theaters sooner is Don Jon, Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s directing debut, in which he plays a Jersey guy obsessed with porno films who gets therapeutic help from Moore, a free-spirited student of the night class he attends.        

The tireless actress also has three high-profile projects in various stages of production, which will likely be released in theaters over the next several months: the actioner Non-Stop (which could be the name of her autobiography) with Liam Neeson; The Seventh Son, a period horror fantasy with Jeff Bridges; and David Cronenberg’s Hollywood drama Maps to the Stars, penned by writer Bruce Wagner (Wild Palms) and featuring Robert Pattinson, John Cusack and Mia Wasikowska. 

Strangely enough, Moore worries about the offers slowing down and not working.

“There are always times when it’s stressful and you feel like, ‘I haven’t had a job for a while,’” Moore said in an interview with the New York Times. “I don’t want to fall into that ditch of not working. So I just try to look straight ahead and hope that the jobs keep coming.”