Julianne Moore, Relishing Complicated Characters
In the film What Maisie Knew, Julianne Moore plays a troubled rock star whose young daughter witnesses her parents' volatile behavior as they argue over custody during their rocky separation.
On the surface, Moore's character, Susanna, might seem to be an entirely terrible one — a self-involved person and inappropriate mother who's not paying attention to her child. But Moore makes her more complicated than that.
"What's interesting to me about Susanna as a mother, particularly, is how inconsistent she is," Moore tells Fresh Air's Dave Davies. "You see how much she loves this child, and how much she would like to be able to parent this child — and then her own inability to do it."
The crux of that is Susanna's inability to communicate.
"In that sense, [Susanna] really shouldn't be someone who has a child," says Moore, "or has a relationship, because she's not willing to share herself with anything but her music."
In this and other films such as The Kids Are All Right, Magnolia, The End of the Affair, Boogie Nights, Short Cuts and The Hours, Moore has shown a knack for sympathetic portrayals of complicated women. The same capacity was on display in 2012 when she played former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin in Game Change.
Moore's portrayal of Palin earned her critical raves as well as a Golden Globe, an Emmy and a Screen Actors Guild Award. Moore herself acknowledges that when she saw herself as Palin on the big screen, she was pleased with the completeness of the transformation.
"You don't usually get the opportunity to kind of obliterate your physiognomy when you're acting," she says. "And that was really fun and kind of welcome, because we're always trying to effect some kind of transformation in our heads, and then it's disappointing when you finally see the movie and you still see yourself there. But in this case, because I had so much physical help, [I felt] like I was able to look at someone else, which I loved."
On working with a 6-year-old
"One of the things that I would do with Onata [Aprile, who plays Susanna's daughter] — especially in the scenes where the behavior was extreme — I'd say, 'Listen, you know, I'm going to yell in this scene. I just want you to know, I'll talk like this [whispering], I'll talk like this and then I'm going to yell really loud, so don't be scared.'
"Or, you know, 'At this point I might be crying,' or 'If I start crying don't be upset. It's just part of the scene.' I would tell her exactly what I was planning on doing, because then she was able to handle it. ... I never wanted her to be afraid with me. I wanted her to be completely comfortable and relaxed, and I wanted to give her the room as a person and as an actor to be prepared for stuff and do her own work."
On discovering her interest in acting
"I read a lot growing up. It was kind of my comfort, you know; I loved it. I love story. I love narrative. I was academic. I wasn't particularly athletic. I didn't make the drill team. I didn't go out for sports. There wasn't much for me to do after school except the drama club, so when I kind of started doing drama club, it seemed to be something I could do. It seemed more like an extension of reading. It was like reading aloud, and it was all about story and being in the story. Like, actually being in the book.
"So I continued doing that just as my after-school thing, but it wasn't until I was 17 and we had moved to Frankfort, Germany, and I had a teacher ... who [was] our English teacher and the after-school drama coach, and rather than doing things like Afternoon in the Park, her first production there was Tartuffe — Moliere's Tartuffe -- which is pretty unusual for a high school drama teacher, and I found it incredibly challenging and really interesting. And she said to me out of nowhere, 'You know, you could be an actor.' And I was shocked. It never occurred to me that the actors were real, that anyone had a job doing that. Movies and TV seemed very far away. I had never seen a real play. I'd just seen, like, high school plays and community theater, and so I was like, 'So that seems interesting.' And she handed me a copy of Dramatics magazine with all these schools listed in it, and I came home and said to my parents, 'I'm going to be an actor,' at the dinner table, and they were shocked."
On what she learned working on soaps
"I learned to be a professional. You might have, as a character, 30 pages of dialogue a day if you're what they call a 'front-burner story.' So you go home, you learn your lines for the next day, you get up, you're there at 7 in the morning, you do a quick rehearsal, you're on camera, you might leave, you know, at 7 at night and start the whole thing over again. And you have to do it. Everyone's working very, very quickly.
"There's not a lot of time to help anybody, you know, and they have to get it down, too. Unless somebody really blows a line, that's going to be the take they use. That's just how it is. So you sometimes don't give the kind of performance you want to give, and there's just not enough time. And you go home, and you watch it, and you're like, 'Wow, I was terrible.' And so you think, 'How can I make this better?' "
On studying Palin's speech patterns for Game Change
"I listened to the vocal patterns before I added the physicality, because sometimes, if you just watch videotape, you see the physicality, and you miss the nuance in the speech. So I spent a lot of time just listening.
"I went running. I wiped everything off my iPod except for Sarah Palin. I would listen to it in the car when I picked my kids up. That was all I heard. So I just listened, listened, listened, listened — and then, when I felt like I had the vocal mannerisms down, I started looking at her physically. I watched all the YouTube stuff, and all of the conventions, and the television shows and the speeches. Everything, everything's documented. It's all on YouTube."
On preparing to shoot a steamy scene
"Whenever I'm doing anything romantic with an actor, or if there's a director around, I never want anybody's wife to feel threatened by me. So the first thing I do is go up and be like, 'Hi, my name's Julie, and nice to meet you, and how many kids do you have, and I have two kids and blah blah blah.' ... [B]ut basically you want to say to somebody, 'I'm not a threat. I'm not a threat, and I want you to be comfortable with me, and I don't want you to feel bad about any of this, because we're just pretending.' "
TERRY GROSS, HOST:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Our guest, actress Julianne Moore, is starring in the new movie "What Maisie Knew," a modern-day adaptation of the Henry James novel. Moore won an Emmy and a Golden Globe last year for her dead-on portrayal of Sarah Palin in the HBO film "Game Change." She earned Oscar nominations for her performances in "Boogie Nights," "The End of the Affair," "Far From Heaven" and "The Hours."
Her other films include "The Big Lebowski," "Children of Men" and "The Kids Are All Right." In "What Maisie Knew," Moore plays a rock star named Susanna who splits up with the father of her seven-year-old daughter Maisie. The father is played by Steve Coogan. Both parents are very self-involved, and the film is centered around Maisie's reactions to her parents' often irresponsible behavior.
Julianne Moore spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies, and they began with this scene. It's shot from Maisie's point of view as she walks in on her parents arguing about who will get custody of her. Maisie's mother is yelling about how Maisie's father is not capable of taking care of a child.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHAT MAISIE KNEW")
JULIANNE MOORE: (As Susanna) You're not capable of taking care of a child.
STEVE COOGAN: (As Beale) (unintelligible).
MOORE: (As Susanna) No, I know you.
COOGAN: (As Beale) Really?
MOORE: (As Susanna) Yes, yes, I know you.
COOGAN: (As Beale) No, Susanna, you don't know anyone. You don't know anyone except yourself.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Shut up.
COOGAN: (As Beale) You bring pain wherever you go. That's your real talent.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Shut up, shut up, shut up.
COOGAN: (As Beale) Hey, do you know that's why the judge and the experts, they saw that?
MOORE: (As Susanna) No.
COOGAN: (As Beale) They saw you. Then why are they not giving you sole custody?
MOORE: (As Susanna) Because we got a female judge. That's why.
COOGAN: (As Beale) If that's what you want to tell yourself, then fine. If you want to tell your deluded self...
MOORE: (As Susanna) Don't take her, man. Come on, man, don't take her.
COOGAN: (As Beale) I'm not taking her. I'm not taking her. They gave her to me. Hey.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Hey, baby.
COOGAN: (As Beale) Just the person we want to see. Honey, why don't you get some clothes and things and stuff to take with us?
MOORE: (As Susanna) Just do it.
COOGAN: (As Beale) It's OK. It's OK.
MOORE: (As Susanna) She doesn't need you to tell her what I say is OK, (beep).
COOGAN: (As Beale) Temper, temper.
DAVE DAVIES, HOST:
DAVIES: Well, Julianne Moore, welcome back to FRESH AIR. It's great to have you back.
MOORE: Thank you. Nice to be here.
DAVIES: In the scene we just heard from "What Maisie Knew," what's interesting here is that the audience is seeing it from the kid's point of view. It's the kid's point of view that matters. And you know that. And yet one of the things about your character that makes her a bad mom is that she completely forgets that and calls her, the Steve Coogan character, an a-hole in front of the kid.
MOORE: Yeah, she's terribly inappropriate - not a great mom, you know.
MOORE: But for me, the thing that was so interesting about Susanna is that if she's just a terrible mother, and she's, you know, always inappropriate and always yelling and not paying attention, then it's not very complicated, and it's not very interesting in terms of the relationship with the mother and the child. What's interesting to me about Susanna as a mother, particularly, is how inconsistent she is.
You know, you see how much she loves this child and how much she would like to be able to parent this child, and then her own inability to do it. And so, you know, she has moments with Maisie where she's so loving and so close, and then not able to deliver on the kind of - the regular mom stuff, you know, let me get your lunch. Let me take you to school. Let's talk about your day. Let's talk about you. How do you feel? You know, she's really - she's so self-involved, Susanna, that she's really not able to be a parent.
DAVIES: Right. The other interesting thing about your character in this film is that she's a rock star.
MOORE: Yeah. Yeah.
DAVIES: Tell us about getting into that persona. Was there - is there a female rock star that kind of - that you kind of modeled yourself you?
MOORE: It was super - you know, it was super fun to me, and something that's so alien, because people who know me know that I'm incredibly square and not really very cool, and I don't know...
DAVIES: You can't say that. You're Julianne Moore.
MOORE: Yeah, I am.
MOORE: And I'm not - you know, I'm just not one of those - I'm just - I'm, like, regular, you know. So it was obviously very enticing for me to play a rock star and try to kind of inhabit that persona. And so I looked at - you know, I looked at video. I looked mostly, actually, at Courtney Love and Patti Smith, who I think are really interesting, very kind of - Courtney Love, in particular, has kind of an explosive personality, and she's someone who has a daughter who's now an adult. And Patti Smith actually has a couple of children, as well.
And I just - you know, I listened to their music, I looked at some video footage. I kind of - you know, just to give myself sort of a shape, I guess, I don't know, something to draw on. And then she was, you know, she was there on the page, too, Susanna. She was, you know - a lot of the inconsistency and the kind of overweening self-importance and - you know, a lot of that was there in the script, as well.
DAVIES: Maybe it's a cliche to say that, you know, to be a rock star, you've got to have a huge ego and obsessed with maybe yourself and your own career. And maybe there's just not room for a six-year-old kid.
MOORE: I don't think - I don't know if that's true, because, you know, Patti Smith has - is a very successful parent, I believe, from what I understand. So I don't know that that's true. Yeah, I don't know that being, you know, being a musician or an actor or a painter, you know, any of those so-called, you know, artistic professions means that you can't be a successful parent.
But I do think that there are personalities that are not conducive to parenting, you know. And I think, for me, the thing that was interesting about Susanna is that she's not able to communicate to anyone. You know, she doesn't communicate to, you know, Steve Coogan's character. She doesn't communicate to Alex Skarsgard's character.
She - the only - her only form of communication is her music. So she's someone who is - you know, that's who - that is who she is. So, in that sense, she really shouldn't be someone who has a child or has a relationship, because she's not willing to share herself with anything but her music.
DAVIES: I want to play another scene here, and as your character and the Steve Coogan character break up, it's not a spoiler to say that what the nanny, the young nanny who was with you, named Margo, turns out to have been having a relationship with Steve, and then moves in with Steve's character, right.
MOORE: Whoops, uh-oh.
DAVIES: Right - not the first time...
MOORE: I've seen that happen a couple of times, honestly, yeah.
DAVIES: Right, it does happen. But here is a scene in which your character, Susanna, doesn't yet know that, and you've picked up Maisie, and you're driving back in a taxicab in New York. And in the conversation, it becomes apparent that Margo is hanging out with her dad, and you talk about it. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "WHAT MAISIE KNEW")
MOORE: (As Susanna) Oh, my baby, I missed you so much.
ONATA APRILE: (As Maisie) I missed you, too. Look.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Jesus. Jesus how did that happen?
APRILE: (As Maisie) I touched my arm on the stove, and I got burned, and I cried.
MOORE: (As Susanna) I bet you did. I bet that hurt. What happened? Did Daddy let you cook by yourself or something? Oh, God. OK. The court says that I'm not supposed to say anything, but I would be, like, totally negligent if I didn't tell you that you really have to watch yourself when you're alone with Daddy, OK?
APRILE: (As Maisie) Margo was there.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Margo? You mean our Margo? Margo who was at our house, that Margo? Do you have a nice room at Daddy's?
APRILE: (As Maisie) Uh-huh, I have a canopy bed.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Oh, that is nice. Does Margo have a nice room?
APRILE: (As Maisie) It's tiny, and when you look out the window, there's a wall.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Ooh, Daddy must not like her very much if he gives her a room like that.
APRILE: (As Maisie) He likes her.
MOORE: (As Susanna) Yeah? Does he give her a kiss, anything like that, to show her how much he likes her?
APRILE: (As Maisie) I don't know.
MOORE: (As Susanna) No?
DAVIES: And that's our guest Julianne Moore with the young actress Onata Aprile in the new film "What Maisie Knew." This young actress is really remarkable in this role.
MOORE: She certainly is. She's just extraordinary.
DAVIES: And what's interesting about what we just heard is that, you know, if you're doing a scene with a 14-year-old actor, they understand kind of some of the basics about life and sex and relationships - some of it, at least.
DAVIES: In this case, you have a six-year-old, and does she get the subtext of what's happening here, that you're finding out about a relationship through questioning her? That must have been...
MOORE: I think she kind of does. I mean, I think there are things that she definitely understands. You know, what's interesting to me in the script is that in that scene, she immediately, the child, you realize that they're all kind of manipulating one another in different ways. The first thing she does is show me the burn on her wrist.
And I say what's this you know, what's this? Because she's, you know, she's trying to get her parents back together. So she's, like, look what happened to me while you weren't there, mommy, you know. And then I - and I'm like, oh, daddy is terrible. And then it allows her to say, well, Margo was - you know, so there's all this kind of back-and-forth, this very sort of subtle way of manipulating each other.
And I don't know that Onata, as a six-year-old, certainly understands that stuff entirely, but I do think she does have a pretty nuanced understanding of relationships and communication. You know, she's so - she's very, very smart and very, very comfortable and at ease, I think, with people. And I think because of that, she's able to pick up kind of the nuances of behavior.
DAVIES: Yeah, I think she's on your lap in this scene in the taxicab, and there's a lot of...
MOORE: Yeah, yeah, she's on my lap facing me.
DAVIES: ...a lot of physical closeness, obviously, between a mom and a daughter. So I guess you really had to develop a level of comfort with her.
MOORE: Yeah, and I - you know, it's certainly - it's helpful that I have children of my own, and one of the things that I would do with Onata, especially in the scenes that - where it was - you know, like, behavior was extreme. I'd say, listen, you know, I'm going to yell in this scene. I just want you to know I'll be like I'll talk like this. I'll talk like this, and then I'm going to yell really loud. So don't be scared.
Or, you know, at this point, I think I might be crying, or if I start crying, don't be upset. It's just part of the scene, you know, where I'm going to - I would always tell her exactly what I was planning on doing, because I think that then she was able to handle it. She's a great sport and very easy, but I never wanted her to be afraid with me. I wanted her to be completely comfortable and relaxed, and I wanted to give her the room - as a person and as an actor - to be prepared for stuff and to, you know, to do her own work.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Julianne Moore. She stars with Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgard in the new film "What Maisie Knew." We'll talk more after a short break. This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and our guest is actress Julianne Moore. She stars with Steve Coogan in the new film "What Maisie Knew." Well, we have to talk about "Game Change," the HBO film in which you play Sarah Palin.
DAVIES: This was directed by Jay Roach. I think the...
MOORE: The wonderful Jay Roach, yeah, marvelous director.
DAVIES: Right, the screenplay Danny Strong, who did "Recount," the story of the Florida recount from the 2000 election. And it's based of course...
MOORE: Yeah, they both worked on that.
DAVIES: ...on the Mark Halperin-John Heilemann book, or part of it. So when you took this role, I mean, Sarah Palin was still a major public figure. Did you have any hesitation about taking this on?
MOORE: Hell, yeah.
MOORE: Oh, my goodness. I mean, I got Danny's extraordinary script and had had a brief conversation with Jay, and I read it very quickly. And I was, like, OK, OK, I'll do it. You know, I got on the phone, I was, like, I'll do it. And it really wasn't until, like, I hung up the phone with Jay that I was, like, what did I say? Why did I say yes? This is going to be a career-killer. I'm finished.
And, you know, we had a very short pre-production time. I had two months to prepare. And I didn't know if I could do it. You know, I really didn't know. It was - I'd never played a well-known, living person. She certainly was at the forefront of the news. You know, she didn't recede during that time that we were working on it.
You know, and I just, I thought, OK, well, I need to be as accurate as I physically can, you know, actually starting the physicality, starting with the vocalism and physicality. I'm, like, I need to get that stuff, I mean, really, really precise, and then start - you know, and then work kind of on the inside. But it was a tremendous, tremendous challenge, and I did not, did not know if I was going to be up to it or not, honestly.
DAVIES: Well, I think everyone agrees that you did.
MOORE: Well, thanks.
DAVIES: Let's listen to a clip. This is early in the film, and early in the presidential campaign, when Sarah Palin is drawing big, enthusiastic crowds on the stump. The campaign has not yet let her do any media interviews. And this is a moment where you, as Sarah Palin, are on the campaign bus, and you're speaking with the campaign strategist Steve Schmidt, who's played by Woody Harrelson. Let's listen.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "GAME CHANGE")
WOODY HARRELSON: (As Steve Schmidt) I just want to take a moment to inform you of how thrilled Senator McCain is. You're exceeding his wildest expectation for what a running mate could achieve.
MOORE: (As Sarah Palin) I am so happy to hear that.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) These are the largest crowds I've ever seen in my entire political career, ever.
MOORE: (As Palin) Really? You know, I just love talking to people in the rope lines, getting to hear their problems. It's really moving to me.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) Well, you know, that comes across. You're a transformative figure, governor. You could be the party's next Ronald Reagan.
MOORE: (As Palin) Holy geez, I - yeah. He's my hero. So...
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) Mine, too. So, the next step is just we're going to start doing some interviews.
MOORE: (As Palin) Great. I've been dying to talk to the press, and also, I feel like I could really help you there. I've always been very, very open with the press in Alaska.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) The reasoning behind holding you back is the entire press corps is in the tank for Obama. So all they want in life is to trip you up with obscure questions.
MOORE: (As Palin) Gotcha questions.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) Gotcha questions. So we just want to make sure you're fully prepped before we unleash...
MOORE: (As Palin) What about the local Alaska papers?
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) There are no local papers anymore. Anything you say goes national the instant you say it.
MOORE: (As Palin) Yeah, got it.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) OK. So I think the best way to prep would just be to go through some sample questions.
MOORE: (As Palin) Sure. Let's do it.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) Let's start with something simple. How do you plan on maintaining our alliance with Great Britain on Iraq, even though support for the war there is at an all-time low?
MOORE: (As Palin) I think the United States has always maintained a great relationship with the queen, and John McCain will continue to have an open dialogue with her.
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) Governor, the queen is not the head of government in England. She's the head of state.
MOORE: (As Palin) Well, then, who's the head of government?
HARRELSON: (As Schmidt) The prime minister.
DAVIES: And that is Woody Harrelson and our guest Julianne Moore playing Sarah Palin in the HBO film "Game Change." Well, that's one of the first moments in which the campaign comes to realize some of the deficiencies in Sarah Palin's knowledge base, let's say. And, you know, I mean, in a lot of ways, this is not a flattering portrait of Sarah Palin, although there are certainly some sympathetic moments.
But, you know, as an actor, you need to identify with the character and find ways to inhabit them.
DAVIES: How did you get to that? You had to find things you liked about Sarah Palin, didn't you?
MOORE: Well, first of all, you know, in terms of her being, you know, whether or not she was the appropriate candidate, you know, the responsibility for that lies with John McCain's campaign and their choice of her. She was not properly vetted. It was very, very quick. So their shock and surprise that she was not prepared, you know, there's no one - they're the only ones responsible for that, you know.
So, that being said, they put her in a really incredibly untenable position, where she was not prepared for this office, and yet they tried to kind of cram her for it. And she was a very good student. You know, she worked very, very hard. She learned quickly. When she - you know, often what would happen is there would be a gaffe, you know, or an obvious, like, lack of knowledge, and the next day she would come in and say can I do that interview again? Or can I do - because I know it now. Because she learned it, you know.
I also thought she was - you know, I was there, I mean, I saw it with the rest of the country when she was announced, and she walked onstage and she was completely electric. She was - she's unbelievably charismatic, which is something that, you know, fortunately or not, we have a tendency to respond to in our politicians, and in everybody. You know, charisma is something that we all respond to.
You know, when you have a politician like Bill Clinton, someone who is so bright and such a great leader and also kind of, you know, funny and handsome and charismatic, everybody's like, you know, bingo, here we go. And that's what they thought they had with Sarah Palin, too.
They thought here's this person who's, you know, pretty and funny and sparkly. People kind of want to look at her, you know. That kind of stuff is not - That's not dime-a-dozen stuff. So the fact that she had that and had that ability to communicate was pretty, pretty extraordinary.
DAVIES: Do you want to talk about getting her physically, the speech?
MOORE: The speech happened first, actually. That's was what was interesting, is that when I was working on it, I actually listened to the vocal patterns before I added the physicality, because sometimes if you just watch videotape, you see the physicality, and you miss the nuance in the speech. So I spent a lot of time just listening.
It was on my - you know, I went running, I wiped everything off my iPod except for Sarah Palin. I would listen to it in the car when I picked my kids up. That was all I heard. So I just listened, listened, listened, listened. And then when I felt like I had the vocal mannerisms down, I started looking at her physically.
I watched all the, you know, the YouTube stuff and all of the conventions and the television shows and the speeches, everything. Everything's documented. It's all on YouTube.
DAVIES: Tell us about the physical transformation. Did you have to have - how did you get to look like her?
MOORE: Yeah. I had an extraordinary hair and makeup team, Elaine Offers and Alan D'Angerio. Elaine was the makeup artist, and Alan was the hairdresser. And we were in a little room, in a little tiny trailer covered with images of Sarah Palin. And the whole process took about two hours every day because, you know, she's considerably darker than I am. So we had to paint out all my freckles, too.
So there was - the skin tone was different, and then you have to kind of, like, shade it. And then Elaine would literally - she drew - we didn't use any prosthetics. She drew my lips. You know, she has a very different mouth shape. And then she also a different way of kind of moving her mouth. And then the eye makeup and the glasses and the hairdos.
And, you know, so everything was - they were great. I mean, they were amazing, and I think also loved the challenge, too. It's not very often you get to do something that's that precise. But it was a huge physical, you know, hair and makeup job.
DAVIES: What was it like to look in the mirror and see Sarah Palin?
MOORE: It was so weird. It was so weird. And there were a couple of times when we were on set in Baltimore, and people would spot me, and they'd say Sarah Palin is here. And that, to me, was really gratifying, that I was actually mistaken, you know, for her in person.
It's - you don't usually get the opportunity to kind of obliterate your physiognomy when you're acting. And that was really fun and kind of welcome, because we're always trying to kind of affect some kind of a transformation in our heads, and then it's disappointing when you finally see the movie, and you still see yourself there.
MOORE: Because you think you transformed. But in this case, because I had so much physical help turning into something else, you know, it really did seem - it really made me feel like I was able to look at somebody else, which I loved.
GROSS: Julianne Moore will continue her interview with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies in the second half of the show. Moore stars in the new film "What Maisie Knew." I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. Let's get back to the interview Julianne Moore recorded with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Moore stars in the new movie adaptation of Henry James novel "What Maisie Knew." She won an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her portrayal of Sarah Palin in the HBO movie "Game Change." Her other movies include "Boogie Nights," "Far From Heaven," "The Big Lebowski," "Children of Men" and "The Kids Are Alright."
DAVIES: You moved around a lot as a kid.
DAVIES: Like an Army brat? Is that fair to say?
MOORE: Yeah. Yeah. That's right.
DAVIES: Do you think that helped you as an actor, just constantly moving and hearing different dialects and seeing different cultures and...
MOORE: Well, it's not unusual for actors to have some kind of a peripatetic upbringing. You know, you find like embassy kids, and army kids, and traveling salesman's kids and minister's kids and, you know, people who'd, kind of, moved around, a lot of them become actors. And I think it is because you do, you are exposed to different cultures, different communities, different countries sometimes. The thing that I learned, anyway, is behavior is not character. You know, I think often people feel like oh, you know, so-and-so behaves this way, that's who they are. You know, it's like know, behavior is mutable. You know, you go from one environment to another and people will be, have an accent or a way of moving, or just there's something even culturally that will seem kind of inherent to them. And you go, no, no, no, no, it's actually more of the place. So all of those things can change and then - and can change the behavior of a person. So once you've realized that you're like OK, there's a universality to, you know, to us all, so you kind of try to locate that and then all the other stuff that goes on top, that's the stuff that can change.
DAVIES: When did you get interested in acting?
MOORE: Well, I was a big reader. You know, I read a lot growing up. It was kind of my comfort. You know, I mean I loved it. I loved story. I loved narrative. I was academic. I wasn't particularly athletic. I would never make the drill team. I never - I didn't go out for sports. There wasn't much for me to do after school but the drama club, so when I kind of started doing drama club it seemed to be something I could do. It seemed more like an extension of reading. It was like reading aloud. And it was all about story and kind of like being in the story. Like, actually being in the book.
So I continued doing that just as my after-school thing, I really enjoyed it. But it wasn't until I was 17 and we had moved to Frankfort, Germany - my father was stationed there, and I had a teacher named Roby Taylor, who was our English teacher and the after-school drama coach. And she, rather than doing things like "Barefoot in the Park," her first production there was "Tartuffe." Moliere's "Tartuffe."
MOORE: Which is pretty unusual for a high school drama teacher. And I found it incredibly challenging and really interesting. And she said to me kind of out of nowhere, she says, you know, you could be an actor. And I was shocked. It never occurred to me that the actors were real, that, you know, anybody had a job doing that. You know, the movies and TV seemed very far away. I had never seen a real play. I'd just seen, like, high school plays and community theater. And so I was like well, that seems, that's interesting, and she handed me a copy of Dramatics magazine with all these school listed in it and I came home and said to my parents, I'm going to be an actor...
MOORE: ...at the dinner table. I mean, that was really - they were shocked. They were shocked.
DAVIES: And what did they tell you?
MOORE: They were very upset. You know, I mean listen, my parents were the first people in their families to go to college. My mother was a psychiatric social worker. My father was a judge in the Army. They both put themselves through college and graduate school. I was their oldest child and doggone it, I was going to be a doctor, you know, that was the projection for me - or certainly something where I had to go to, you know, graduate school. And this sort of derailed their plans a little bit. And my mother felt that I was too smart to be an actor - which, of course, is, you know, but she didn't know anything about acting and that, you do have to have a modicum of intelligence to be an actor.
MOORE: Yeah. But she wanted, you know, she just wanted me to be a doctor, really.
DAVIES: So you didn't go to college and you got a fine arts degree.
DAVIES: Was it from Boston University?
MOORE: Boston University. I was not allowed to go to a conservatory. I wanted to audition for Juilliard but my parents said no, because they wanted me to have an undergraduate degree in case I changed my mind and decided to go to graduate school...
MOORE: ...which I think is actually very sound advice.
DAVIES: Right. You got that...
DAVIES: Right. Right. You can always, if this doesn't work out...
MOORE: If it doesn't work out.
DAVIES: ...you can just go back and...
MOORE: You can, yeah.
DAVIES: Now it's also, you did three years on "As the World Turns" early in your career.
MOORE: Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. Yeah.
DAVIES: What did you learn from doing soaps for three years?
MOORE: Oh my goodness. So much. I learned to be a professional. You know, you might have, as a character, 30 pages of dialogue a day if you're what they call a front-burner story. So you go home, you know, you learn your lines for the next day, you get up, you're there at 7 o'clock in the morning, you do a quick rehearsal, you're on camera, you might leave at, you know, at 7 o'clock at night and start the whole thing over again. And you have to do it. You have to - everybody's working very, very quickly.
There's not a lot of time to help anybody. You know, I mean and even if they - the only thing, you know, they have to get it down, too. It's like, unless somebody really blows a line, that's going to be the take they use. That's just how it is. So you sometimes don't give the kind of performance that you want to give, and there's just not enough time. And you go home and you watch it, and you're like, wow, I was terrible. And so you think, how can I make this better?
I learned how to take care of myself. I learned how to make a scene work. I learned how to make dialogue work. I learned to be a professional. I worked with a whole range of actors, young people, older people, quite elderly sometimes, people who were playing the grand parents, you know, I mean it was a really great experience with really, really wonderful people, I have to say.
DAVIES: We're speaking with Julianne Moore. She stars with Steve Coogan and Alexander Skarsgard in the new film "What Maisie Knew." We'll talk some more after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)
DAVIES: This is FRESH AIR, and if you're just joining us, our guest is actress Julianne Moore. She stars with Steve Coogan in the new film "What Maisie Knew."
I wanted to talk about the film "The Kids Are Alright," the 2010 film...
DAVIES: ...with director Lisa Cholodenko. A lot of fun. Let's listen to a scene here. I mean you're in this film. Folks have seen it, will remember that you're in a long-time lesbian relationship with the character played by Annette Bening.
MOORE: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
DAVIES: You have two kids who are teenagers.
MOORE: That's right. Yeah.
DAVIES: And the plot is centered around the fact that they wanted to discover the sperm donor which were used in their conception, and he's played by Mark Ruffalo comes into their lives. This is a scene in which you have been unfaithful to your partner, Annette Bening.
DAVIES: And you come in. She's watching TV with the kids and you interrupt and turn off the television and just tell them you have something to say. Let's listen.
MOORE: Oh. Right.
(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "THE KIDS ARE ALRIGHT")
MOORE: (as Jules) I need to say something. It's no big secret your mom and I are in hell right now, and bottom line is, marriage is hard. It's really hard. Just to people slogging through the (bleep), year after year, getting older, changing. It's a marathon, OK? So sometimes, you know, you're together so long that you just, you stop seeing the other person; just see weird projections of your own junk. Instead of talking to each other, you go off the rails and act grubby, make stupid choices, which is what I did and I feel sick about it because I love you guys and I love your mom. And that's the truth. Sometimes you hurt the ones you love the most. I don't know why. I, you know, if I read more Russian novels and - anyway, I just wanted to say how sorry I am for what I did. I hope you'll forgive me eventually. Thank you.
DAVIES: Wow. That is our guest...
DAVIES: ...our guest Julianne Moore in the film "The Kids Are Alright." Boy, what a beautifully written discourse on...
MOORE: It was. It was beautifully written, wasn't it? Lisa wrote such an amazing script and it really is about love and family and adult love and long-term relationships. And people don't write movies about that very often.
DAVIES: Well, I was going to ask you would appeal to you about this role, Jules.
MOORE: Oh, I love Jules. I loved her. She was so unfocused, you know. I think, so often in the film you see a character who has got an intention, and knows who she is, and there's the - she's got her obstacle and she's going to achieve it and, you know, and there's a direction to it all. And with Jules, Jules is lost. She's so lost she can barely articulate anything. You know, I have a scene early on about wanting to be a landscape designer where I actually lose track of what I'm saying and then Annette's character kind of comes to my rescue and finishes my sentence because she can't, you know, she really doesn't know. And I love the uncertainty and I loved all the mistakes that she made. You know, she gets so, she so lost that she almost destroys the one anchor that she has, which is this family. You know, it's tragic. You know, that's what I really loved about it, the kind of - the tragedy underneath all that comedy.
DAVIES: You know, one of the things I liked about the film is that, you know, this is a lesbian relationship and that's obviously an important part of the plot since the sperm donors sort of drives the narrative in some way. But it doesn't feel like that's at the center of it.
DAVIES: And I wondered if you prepared for the role for this marriage any differently than you would a marriage to a man in the film.
MOORE: No. No differently. And I think Annette and I didn't know one another before we did this, but the thing that we have in common was we've both been in really in long-term relationships and we both had children and so that's what we brought to it. You know, we know what it's like to sit at the dinner table with teenagers. We know what it's like to get in bed with the same person every night for, in my case, 17 years. You know, we know, you know, we know about that. That was our preparation. You know, it's funny because I kissed my son on the way - after I made his breakfast this morning I kind of leaned over and kissed my 15-year-old son and he just sort of kept edging out of my embrace the way that Laser like moves away from his moms in "Kids Are Alright." And I was like yeah, we're all living the same life, you know?
DAVIES: Yeah. I mean it's true.
DAVIES: I mean, I have been through it too.
DAVIES: Yeah. I read that director, Lisa Cholodenko, liked your lesbian surfer thing.
MOORE: Yeah. Right. Yeah.
DAVIES: Meaning what?
MOORE: It was, it was based on Lisa, honestly. That was what was funny about it is that I had this vocal pattern - Lisa's very - she's a real California girl, you know? She was, you know, grew up out there. She lives out there now. She has a very relaxed way of speaking. I love her language, that thing like, you know, sort of getting all grubby and that kind of business. And she has a laconic, kind of laconic tone that I was aping for this, actually. And she was like oh, I like that like lesbian surfer thing. And I'm like it's you, Lisa.
MOORE: And, you know, that also there were a lot, I wore a lot of Lisa's girlfriends T-shirts in the movie and some of her jewelry. And, you know, whenever you play a character you try to personalize them, you know, in one way or another. And sometimes, you know, what you're looking at - your research is really close to you, you know, and you're like hey, can I wear that shirt?
MOORE: And it kind of it ads a texture that's really nice.
DAVIES: And you shot this film and something like three weeks, right? You kind of became a family.
MOORE: Twenty - it was 23 days. It was really fast. Yeah. It was super, super fast. Mark Ruffalo and I had made a movie together called "Blindness" and so spent a lot of time on that, thankfully, because we shot our entire storyline in three days. And had I not known him it would have been very difficult to accomplish what we accomplished. So it helps to know somebody, yeah.
DAVIES: It's interesting you mentioned that because, you know, I read that you're good friends with Mark Ruffalo's wife.
MOORE: Yeah. Yeah. Sunrise. Yeah.
DAVIES: And that's one of the ways you got him into the film, right?
DAVIES: As kind of suggested that she reminds him that there's this terrific project and so he came on.
MOORE: He had passed, actually. He had been offered the movie and passed on it because he had been working a lot and didn't want to be at away from his family. He has three little kids. And then we had a problem with the person we went to next, and they - I didn't know what to do. And Sunrise and I were on the phone and she said...
DAVIES: Sunrise is his, Mark Ruffalo's wife.
MOORE: Sunrise is his wife. Yeah.
MOORE: And she said whatever happened to that movie that you're doing this summer? You know, who's doing it? And I said - she says why didn't Mark do it? I guess she had read the script and I said well, he passed, I said because he doesn't want to be away from you guys. And she was like, what? She goes, I don't care. It's a great script. I said you tell - I said honestly, if he says yes I can get him an offer today and it just sort of happened like that.
MOORE: And so we were very lucky. But it was great because, you know, Sunny had read the script and she loved it and we were on the phone and yeah, so weird stuff like that happens sometimes.
DAVIES: Right. And so you're in a situation here on the film where you're doing some pretty steamy scenes with Mark Ruffalo.
DAVIES: You're very good friends with his wife.
DAVIES: Does that make it harder or easier?
MOORE: It makes it easier, frankly. I think whenever I'm doing anything romantic with an actor, or if there's a director around, and I never want, I never want anybody's wife to feel threatened by me. So the first thing I do is just go up and be like, hi, you know, my name is Julie and nice to meet you, and how many kids do you have, and I have two kids and, you know, blah, blah. I just, I want to let them know that...
DAVIES: And I'm about to have sex with your husband.
MOORE: Yeah. I mean...
MOORE: Yeah. But basically you want to say to somebody, like, I'm not a threat. I'm not a threat. You know, and just -I want you to be comfortable with me. And, you know, and I don't want you to feel bad about any of this because we're just pretending. And then with Mark the great thing was I had said to Lisa, I didn't want - she wanted to have our clothes off, but I didn't want to see - I didn't want anybody to see anything.
Of my body. Because I felt like then it wouldn't be funny. I feel like sometimes the minute you see that it's like you've lost the joke. Everybody's just looking at a body. So because I know Mark so very well, I said, listen. Do me a favor. Just don't ever pull your chest away from mine. Just stay locked. Let's just stay - our bodies stay locked this entire thing. So we were able to roll around and be pretty comedic with it.
Without - and be - and clearly not have clothes on but also not show anything. So for me then it remained more humorous.
DAVIES: Yeah, I think you're right.
MOORE: Yeah. Yeah.
DAVIES: I think it works that way. Yeah. Yeah. I'm wondering how your kids see your career.
DAVIES: Do they take it for granted? Do they enjoy it? Are they embarrassed by it?
MOORE: I don't know. I don't think they pay a lot of attention to it. My son said something really gratifying to me not too long ago. He's, you know, he's a freshman in high school and he has a lot of work. They have so much work in high school these days. And he said, you know what, Mom? I think you and I work the hardest.
MOORE: That made me feel so good.
DAVIES: That is nice.
MOORE: Because I think he, you know, for me he was acknowledging that what I do is work. And I do work hard at it. And so that's sort of the most important thing that I want to communicate to my children, is that they should, you know, that it's important to have a work ethic. You know, so I talk about that with my work a lot.
I talk about, you know, I know they know I really love my work, that I am doing something that I enjoy. Because I talk about that with them too. Like I want you to find something that you love doing and pursue that. You know, know that you have to make a living and whatever, but it'd be great if you could find something that you enjoy. Why don't you do that.
So I don't, I mean, that they know - I think luckily, too, they know a lot of creative people, other parents that are creative. They know some people who are musicians and painters and other actors. And so it doesn't seem unusual. You know, and their father is a filmmaker.
MOORE: You know, so what I do just doesn't seem unusual at all to them. I don't know how it will be, you know, growing up. You know, as they get older, as they become adults. They have never seen - well, no. My son has seen "Crazy, Stupid Love" and I think he told me just recently that he saw parts of "Hannibal" on television, which I didn't know about.
He was in somebody else's house and saw that. And it turns out, like, turn that off, you know. But they really haven't seen much of my stuff. You know, just a couple of clips of, like, little funny things. And so I think my being an actor is more something that I do; it's not something that they've seen.
DAVIES: Do you try and keep them from seeing your stuff? I mean, you son I think is, what, 17 or so?
MOORE: He's 15.
DAVIES: Oh, 15. OK.
MOORE: Fifteen. Yeah, I just don't ever offer it as an option. You know? I mean it's not like - well, for one thing, my movies are not for children. You know, I have a few - there are a couple in there that are OK for kids to watch but for the most part, they're not good for kids. So, yeah, they're not for children.
So they wouldn't be allowed to see them. And then I think also, I don't know if it really is great.
MOORE: I think your mom should be your mom, you know? And I think that's how they want to see me. You want to have just a regular mom. You don't need to have a mom who also plays all these other people. I feel like maybe someday they'll grow up and they'll see it. Maybe they'll be interested or maybe they won't. But for now, as children, I think that's the better relationship to my work - that it's sort of nonexistent.
DAVIES: Yeah. And it's interesting that that's workable in an age in which, you know, there's so much media...
DAVIES: ...that's in kids' palms. You know.
MOORE: Yeah. Well, they've seen me on bus stops and billboards and commercials and magazines. And, you know, the funny - that New York Times cover. My daughter saw that and she went, eww. Mommy, that's weird.
MOORE: And I wanted to say, no, it's not. It looks really great. But, you know, I didn't say anything. I was like, oh, you think so? Oh, OK. You know? So, yeah, it is - it can be done but I also think that kids have less interest in their parents' work than we think they do. I mean I always say - I'll always say to an adult quick, describe your parents' office. You know, your mom or dad's office.
And they'll go, um, it's on that building on 54th, I think. You know, we, even as adults we don't have the same relationship to our parents' work that you would think. You know, we really just want a parental relationship.
DAVIES: Thank heavens. Well.
MOORE: Yeah, right? Yeah.
DAVIES: Well, Julianne Moore, it's been fun. Thanks so much for spending some time with us.
MOORE: Thank you. It's been so nice to talk to you, Dave. Thanks for having me.
GROSS: Julianne Moore spoke with FRESH AIR contributor Dave Davies. Moore stars in the new movie "What Maisie Knew." Coming up, our TV critic David Bianculli reviews the new HBO movie "Behind the Candelabra" starring Michael Douglas as the piano showman Liberace and Matt Damon as his young boyfriend. This is FRESH AIR.
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