Julianne Moore
Photo by Carolyn Cole

Julianne Moore: “We want to feel something”

Short Profile

Name: Julianne Moore
DOB: 3 December 1960
Place of birth: Fayetteville, North Carolina, United States
Occupation: Actor

Ms. Moore, you once remarked that an actor’s career could evaporate in an instant. Does that still worry you?

Well, I think what I said is that it’s not unprecedented. It does happen. You often find yourself thinking, “What happened to that actor? Where’d they go?” I mean of course there are extenuating circumstances, generally something has happened, but it’s not a guarantee. Acting is a freelance job just like any freelance job. And even these days, even a job that’s supposed to be long-term is not always long-term. They say people have six or seven careers in their lifetime now — so you don’t know.

You are way past that stage, but could you imagine yourself in another career?

At this point it would be hard because I’m so old. (Laughs) To try to find something brand new… I don’t know. It’s funny because when my son was looking at colleges, my husband and I were visiting schools with him. Of course everywhere we went, it makes us feel like we want to go back to school! When you’re older that you think, I want to learn that. I would like to do that. And I did say to my husband, “Maybe I’m going to be one of those ladies who goes back to Adult Ed.” Who knows?

“The funny thing about acting is that whenever you feel like you’re done with it, something else pops up.”

I guess you never really appreciate your college years until you’re done with them.

Right, it’s only when you get older that you realize, “Oh my gosh,” you know, you don’t really appreciate college when you’re that age. I only studied drama when I was in college — now I’m like, “How could I have just done that?” But I was so single-minded. And of course now I don’t want my kids to do that. I want them to try this, try this, try this, you know? But no one could have said that to me at that age because I was just like, “I’m doing this.”

There was never a moment where you wanted to give up acting?

The funny thing about acting is that whenever you feel like you’re done with it, something else pops up. That’s what’s great about it, it does encompass so much learning: every time I do a job, I have to learn about something else: you learn an accent, you learn a little bit of a language, you study behavior, you pick up different skills. Like, I once had to drive a car really fast and spin it in a movie! I would never, ever do that in real life, but in the movie I was like, “Yeah!” (Laughs) I don’t know why but if it’s a work thing, I’m able to put it in a part of my brain where I go, “Okay I am learning this thing because it’s for this job.” I still do get terribly nervous though…

How do you overcome that?

You just have to find a way to focus. You have to be aware of what you are doing and where the cameras are, what else is happening on the set. That requires an intense focus.

Julianne Moore accepts the Academy Award for Best Actress for her role in Still Alice (2015).

Is the ability to focus maybe the most important skill an actor can learn?

I actually think empathy is the most important quality. You have to try and figure out how people are feeling. Whenever I am doing research, that’s always the big question. If I can ask somebody, “Tell me what it feels like.” I am interested in that. That’s one of the great things about being an actor is that we get to dive into that stuff. With this film Freeheld, for instance, I played Laurel Hester, a detective who is dying of cancer and who is denied the right to leave her pension benefits to her partner, Stacie Andree. You’re trying to represent someone. The real Stacie was so generous with her time; she let me come into her home… I also felt grateful for the experience, but it was very emotional and it’s a lot to be entrusted with.

Is there less pressure involved in shooting a comedy?

They both have different challenges. You try to find truth but in comedy it’s sometimes harder because you don’t know if you are funny or not. No one can laugh on the set, everyone is quiet, and if they do laugh, you think they’re just trying to be nice. (Laughs) Acting puts you in touch with stuff, and comedies can do that too. Anytime you’re dealing with relationships, stuff comes up. Anything that ends up being real, you know? That’s why we like the movies.

What does a character need to make a part interesting for you these days?

They have to be on the page. The character only exists in the narrative, and I don’t know what the narrative is going to be — I can’t make a character out of thin air. People say things like, “You can do whatever you want.” But if there’s nothing there, I can’t make it up. I am very much driven by language and story.

So you don’t look for something of yourself in the women you play?

I hope who I am is not influencing a role. My life is a separate thing. The older I get, the more I want to be authentically myself. People like to talk about strong female characters, but it’s not important for the actor to be strong. In order to play Superman or Superwoman, you don’t need to be strong. You just need to feel like the character. And anytime you have an opportunity to really feel stuff, is a great one.

“The older I get, the more I want to be authentically myself.”

Do your on-screen experiences ever get under your skin?

I always try to leave it all behind when I get home because I feel like my children deserve my full attention. Plus, I am pretending when I am working, it’s not happening to me. But I can honor that it happened to somebody: there was real loss. A real person died. I know how it is to lose somebody and how devastating that is. And it’s important to talk about it.

Even if that can be very difficult…

A feeling is something that’s really important to have! Real life is not always easy. You cannot always look at the good stuff. But just because something is not positive, it’s not like it’s going to kill you. You don’t have to say, “No, no, no.” It’s important and oddly, one of the reasons why we read or go to the movies and we drive cars in circles really fast and go to amusement parks and we travel is because we want to inject new life into something. We want to feel something.