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Julianne Moore: ‘Like every other woman in the world, I do ceramics’ | Julianne Moore

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From The Hours and Still Alice to The Hunger Games and Boogie Nights, Julianne Moore’s career has spanned blockbusters and romantic comedies, period dramas, low-budget horror and indie cult classics. She inhabits each role with empathy and meticulous attention to detail, and her latest, Gracie in Todd Haynes’s seductive, slippery May December, is no exception. In her 30s, Gracie scandalised America by having a sexual relationship with Joe, a 13-year-old boy. She’s served her time in jail, married Joe and raised three children when Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, a Hollywood celebrity, arrives to rake up the past in preparation to play Gracie in a movie.

What drew you to the role of Gracie?
Generally, when you find two women opposite each other in a script, they’re either in a love affair or it’s a familial relationship – very rarely do you see something where they’re equally matched, in a struggle for narrative dominance. Gracie has the story that she’s telling and she has the reality of having committed this enormous transgression, and in between there’s this unbelievable fragility and emotional volatility and shame.

It was shot in just 23 days, yet you have this intense on-screen dynamic with Natalie Portman. Did you already know each other?
I knew her a little bit socially from Hollywood events and saw her once at a Stevie Wonder concert, but I think we work very similarly. We both do a great deal of preparation, and we’re serious about our work and maybe not so serious about ourselves.

The research Elizabeth does for her role takes a darkly immersive turn. Did any aspect of her process resonate with you?
Even for this, Gracie is a home baker, so I went to visit a woman who’s a home baker, and I visited a florist who showed me how to arrange flowers and gave me specific language. You’re hopefully not like Elizabeth, who is vampiric, but you’re there to learn, otherwise there’s going to be someone in the audience who’s like, ‘That’s not how you do it!’ People see that stuff and it takes them out of the movie.

Tell me about your decision to give Gracie a lisp.
The narrative Gracie is promoting is that she was a princess who was rescued by her prince, but of course that prince was 13 years old, so to keep the story afloat, she has to elevate that boy to a man, and she remains forever a child. I thought about what I could have, in terms of signifiers, for Gracie to tell her story, and the lisp was something concrete for Natalie to be able to copy, because she was basing her character on mine.

Moore in Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven, 2002. May December is her fifth collaboration with the director. Photograph: Focus Features/Allstar

This is your fifth film with director Todd Haynes. Has he ever come to you with a project you’ve said no to?
No. I never imagined when I auditioned for Safe 30 years ago that it would be a collaboration that would last this long, but he’s a phenomenal artist and he’s so interested in stories about identity and performance and culture and gender – all of the things that really thrill me. I feel less excited by action in a movie, but if you give me a dramatic relationship between two people, I’m riveted. We have really similar tastes in that sense.

You’ve played some really complex, compelling characters. Are you at all haunted by any of them? Do they stick with you?
You’re always looking forward in film. My job is to be as prepared as possible, to really know my lines, to know how I feel and do all my research, so that the scene can happen at that moment on camera. There’s something electric about it, but then you’re like, “Next!” It’s almost like eating candy. You don’t think, “Oh, that was great”, you just want more.

How do you find what’s needed to play some of the messier, wilder roles you’ve tackled?
You play a facsimile of these people. You do all the work, then you use your imagination to get as close as possible to the story. When you read a great book, you almost feel you’re inhabiting it, and to me that’s what it feels like when I’m acting. The great thing is that film-making is such a collaborative medium; I’m not in that book by myself, we’re all in there. It’s this wonderful experience of play, and of pretend, but also a desire to understand behaviour.

Are you a big reader? What are your books of the year?
I’ve always loved to read. This year I loved Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, Elliot Page’s book, Pageboy, and the Mike Nichols biography by Mark Harris. Also Michael Cunningham’s Day.

For which you’ve just recorded the audiobook, right? What is it that you love about his writing in particular?
He’s famous for these long and complicated and emotionally evocative sentences. Trying to say them fluently, giving them the right emphasis and all of that – I’m like, “Wow, this is loaded prose.” I bow down to him, he’s an exquisite writer.

The Sag-Aftra strike recently ended after 118 days. What was it like having so much free time?
I’d been having a really crazy year, so I thought it would feel relaxing. Of course, it didn’t. It was agonising because so many people were out of work and there was a tremendous amount of collateral damage. It’s not just actors, it’s everybody in the industry, even people who do catering and security. We were all very anxious to get back to work.

What do you do when you’re not working?
Like every other woman in the world, I do ceramics. I want to see my friends, but I get tired of having lunch – this is a way for us to do something together and talk.

Do you ever give your pottery as gifts?
I do, I give most of it away but not for Christmas, because really, who wants that for Christmas?

Have you got any exciting festive plans?
My kids are now 21 and 26 and we still have Christmas at home. We do stockings and Christmas crackers, and a big Christmas dinner and go for a walk. We’re going to the theatre, too – I got tickets for Merrily We Roll Along and we’re going to see Sweeney Todd because I love a musical and I love Stephen Sondheim, so I’m very excited about that.


From The Hours and Still Alice to The Hunger Games and Boogie Nights, Julianne Moore’s career has spanned blockbusters and romantic comedies, period dramas, low-budget horror and indie cult classics. She inhabits each role with empathy and meticulous attention to detail, and her latest, Gracie in Todd Haynes’s seductive, slippery May December, is no exception. In her 30s, Gracie scandalised America by having a sexual relationship with Joe, a 13-year-old boy. She’s served her time in jail, married Joe and raised three children when Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, a Hollywood celebrity, arrives to rake up the past in preparation to play Gracie in a movie.

What drew you to the role of Gracie?
Generally, when you find two women opposite each other in a script, they’re either in a love affair or it’s a familial relationship – very rarely do you see something where they’re equally matched, in a struggle for narrative dominance. Gracie has the story that she’s telling and she has the reality of having committed this enormous transgression, and in between there’s this unbelievable fragility and emotional volatility and shame.

It was shot in just 23 days, yet you have this intense on-screen dynamic with Natalie Portman. Did you already know each other?
I knew her a little bit socially from Hollywood events and saw her once at a Stevie Wonder concert, but I think we work very similarly. We both do a great deal of preparation, and we’re serious about our work and maybe not so serious about ourselves.

The research Elizabeth does for her role takes a darkly immersive turn. Did any aspect of her process resonate with you?
Even for this, Gracie is a home baker, so I went to visit a woman who’s a home baker, and I visited a florist who showed me how to arrange flowers and gave me specific language. You’re hopefully not like Elizabeth, who is vampiric, but you’re there to learn, otherwise there’s going to be someone in the audience who’s like, ‘That’s not how you do it!’ People see that stuff and it takes them out of the movie.

Tell me about your decision to give Gracie a lisp.
The narrative Gracie is promoting is that she was a princess who was rescued by her prince, but of course that prince was 13 years old, so to keep the story afloat, she has to elevate that boy to a man, and she remains forever a child. I thought about what I could have, in terms of signifiers, for Gracie to tell her story, and the lisp was something concrete for Natalie to be able to copy, because she was basing her character on mine.

Moore in Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven
Moore in Todd Haynes’s Far from Heaven, 2002. May December is her fifth collaboration with the director. Photograph: Focus Features/Allstar

This is your fifth film with director Todd Haynes. Has he ever come to you with a project you’ve said no to?
No. I never imagined when I auditioned for Safe 30 years ago that it would be a collaboration that would last this long, but he’s a phenomenal artist and he’s so interested in stories about identity and performance and culture and gender – all of the things that really thrill me. I feel less excited by action in a movie, but if you give me a dramatic relationship between two people, I’m riveted. We have really similar tastes in that sense.

You’ve played some really complex, compelling characters. Are you at all haunted by any of them? Do they stick with you?
You’re always looking forward in film. My job is to be as prepared as possible, to really know my lines, to know how I feel and do all my research, so that the scene can happen at that moment on camera. There’s something electric about it, but then you’re like, “Next!” It’s almost like eating candy. You don’t think, “Oh, that was great”, you just want more.

How do you find what’s needed to play some of the messier, wilder roles you’ve tackled?
You play a facsimile of these people. You do all the work, then you use your imagination to get as close as possible to the story. When you read a great book, you almost feel you’re inhabiting it, and to me that’s what it feels like when I’m acting. The great thing is that film-making is such a collaborative medium; I’m not in that book by myself, we’re all in there. It’s this wonderful experience of play, and of pretend, but also a desire to understand behaviour.

Are you a big reader? What are your books of the year?
I’ve always loved to read. This year I loved Crying in H Mart by Michelle Zauner and Tom Lake by Ann Patchett, Elliot Page’s book, Pageboy, and the Mike Nichols biography by Mark Harris. Also Michael Cunningham’s Day.

For which you’ve just recorded the audiobook, right? What is it that you love about his writing in particular?
He’s famous for these long and complicated and emotionally evocative sentences. Trying to say them fluently, giving them the right emphasis and all of that – I’m like, “Wow, this is loaded prose.” I bow down to him, he’s an exquisite writer.

The Sag-Aftra strike recently ended after 118 days. What was it like having so much free time?
I’d been having a really crazy year, so I thought it would feel relaxing. Of course, it didn’t. It was agonising because so many people were out of work and there was a tremendous amount of collateral damage. It’s not just actors, it’s everybody in the industry, even people who do catering and security. We were all very anxious to get back to work.

What do you do when you’re not working?
Like every other woman in the world, I do ceramics. I want to see my friends, but I get tired of having lunch – this is a way for us to do something together and talk.

Do you ever give your pottery as gifts?
I do, I give most of it away but not for Christmas, because really, who wants that for Christmas?

Have you got any exciting festive plans?
My kids are now 21 and 26 and we still have Christmas at home. We do stockings and Christmas crackers, and a big Christmas dinner and go for a walk. We’re going to the theatre, too – I got tickets for Merrily We Roll Along and we’re going to see Sweeney Todd because I love a musical and I love Stephen Sondheim, so I’m very excited about that.

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