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The Film Club - Julianne Moore

The Film Club - Julianne Moore

Posted Thursday, 5 February 2015   |   1969 views   |   Women's Interest   |   Comments (0) As her new film Still Alice is released to wide acclaim, award-winning actress Julianne Moore talks to Chrissy Iley about her Scottish roots, ageing in Hollywood and breaking through the preconceptions of those who might dare to define her.

In her latest film, Still Alice, Julianne Moore plays the Alice of the title, a brilliant linguistics professor, leader in her field, who is diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s disease. As we watch her go from brilliant to bumbling and the words that were her life’s passion become lost to her, we are gripped. There is a scene where she is cognisant of a future where she will not know the names of her children or who she is. She has left instructions for that future, depleted self, telling her where the overdose pills are and that she has to swallow them. I’ve never willed anyone to die on or off screen, but in this moment, you want her torture to stop. You want her to swallow the pills uninterrupted. When someone comes in and she is foiled, you know the next scenes will be unbearable.

Alzheimer’s disease is terrifying, that prospect of a living death. It’s particularly terrifying to me as I watched my father, a physicist and brilliant businessman, lose himself day by day to that condition. By the end he had lost all words, except that, rather bizarrely, he was able to say ‘Poirot’ when the Belgian detective appeared on the TV screen.

We feel most comfortable when we know who we are, when we have a strong sense of ourselves. To lose that is universally chilling. Moore, who deservedly won the Golden Globe for Best Actress for this role, agrees: ‘No-one has a level of detachment about it.’

Still Alice is based on the bestselling novel of the same name by Lisa Genova, and was adapted and directed by married couple Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland. In 2013, Glatzer was diagnosed with ALS, a degenerative motor neurone disease. He can no longer speak and has lost the use of his hands. He communicates by typing with his toe. So there are excruciating parallels between life and art, making the film all the more powerful.

Moore’s research was a four-month process, speaking to various women who had been diagnosed with earlyonset and having talks with the head of the Alzheimer’s Association in the US. ‘I went to Mount Sinai hospital and talked to the leading researchers in the country. Their scientists administer the cognitive tests. I didn’t have the full amount of tests, but they were extensive and challenging.’ All of this gruelling research came in a very big year for Moore. She began 2014 with the thriller Non-Stop and the impressive, dark David Cronenberg film Maps To The Stars, as well as the juggernaut trilogy that is The Hunger Games, where she plays President Alma Coin.
Moore is known for her edge and her fearlessness. She has played the angry, the dispossessed, the fragile, the crazy, the blind. She was Annette Bening’s lover in The Kids Are All Right. She snorted cocaine in Boogie Nights. She was a depressed, runaway 1950s housewife who abandons her son in The Hours. Her role in Robert Altman’s Short Cuts, where she raged at her husband while naked below the waist, is often considered her most defining. In The End Of The Affair, her sex scene with Ralph Fiennes was so radical, it was cut for American cinemas as it was considered too racy. She played an incestuous mother in Savage Grace, the story of Bakelite heiress Barbara Daly Baekeland and her relationship with her son.

Her on-screen presence suggests a spikiness and directness which isn’t there in person. Instead she is demure, sweet, giggly, girlie, easily embarrassed. Her alabaster, freckled skin often blushes. We meet in a café for breakfast in New York’s Meatpacking District. She is wearing a cluster of pretty rings: one spells the name of her son Cal, 17, and the other her 12-yearold daughter Liv, and another spells something I can’t make out. She grimaces. ‘That’s my wedding band. It’s personal.’ And her face floods pink.

She is married to writer/director Bart Freundlich. They met working on the movie The Myth Of Fingerprints. Was it an instant attraction? ‘It wasn’t instant. It built up when we were working together and we didn’t want it to end. We opted to continue.’ She smiles.

It’s her second marriage – the first ended in 1993. She looks uncomfortable and sad at the mention of it. ‘We didn’t stay in touch. You can’t have experience without residue… Are you in touch with exes?’ she asks. When I tell her I’m not, she laughs with relief.

She asks as many questions about me as I do about her. She’s not the kind of actress who just wants to talk about herself and her process. She’s very unshowy, wearing a loose linen top, jeans and Converse trainers. There’s not a hint of any of that anxious falling-apartness that she’s so good at in her on-screen portrayals. She puts this down to her Scottish heritage. When she was growing up, her Scottish mother always used to tell her, ‘Remember, you’re not an American.’ She loves all things Scottish and to visit Scotland. When she talks about her mother and grandmother, her eyes well up with tears. When her mother, Anne, died in 2009, Moore claimed British citizenship ‘for her memory.’ In 2013, she published a children’s picture book celebrating diversity called My Mom Is A Foreigner But Not To Me. Her red hair is obviously Celtic and she tells me when she was shooting a movie in Dublin, she looked like every other woman in the street and nobody noticed her. And there’s the essential contradiction: Moore loves not to be noticed, yet she’s in a profession where she is constantly on show.

Her father was in the US Army. She was born in North Carolina, but the family moved around throughout her childhood, which she doesn’t refer to as dislocated or lonely. ‘It gave me a great sense of the whole globe.’ And you sense that she liked the idea of always having to find a new way to blend in.
She wore glasses until she was 16, then got contact lenses. ‘That’s the thing about beauty; it’s perceptual, not about what you look like,’ she muses. ‘I had glasses and no-one thought I was terribly attractive. Then suddenly, I wore contacts and everyone thought I was pretty. But I was the same person perceived as pretty.’ It seems to still ba e her. At 54, she has ridden a decade that is notoriously difficult for women in film. She has never stopped working and has never succumbed to any facial topiary. ‘I don’t know why people have work done. It doesn’t make them look younger; it just makes them look like they’ve had work done. You’re never going to look like you did at 25. What are you going to do about it?’ she shrugs. She points out new lines that seem to have just appeared on her face. She tells me how much she hated her freckles growing up, how she was nicknamed ‘Freckle-faced strawberry’.

Her husband is nine years younger than her. In recent films Don Jon and What Maisie Knew, she played women with younger lovers. Much is always made of it. ‘It’s about the connection with the person,’ she says. ‘I have women friends who are significantly younger or older than me. It’s not about cultural references; it’s about who you are and I’ve been on both sides of that.’ Her first husband was 10 years older than her.

She’s never seemed to mind being naked if the character required it. ‘I’ve done plenty of nudity and I always say that if it’s part of the story, then that’s fine.’ Is she comfortable in her own body? ‘Oh, I wouldn’t go so far as to say that,’ she laughs. ‘I don’t think anybody is comfortable in their own skin. Sometimes you think, ‘‘this is who I want to be’’ and you feel quite good about it, you feel attractive. But it’s not possible to feel good about yourself at all times.’

Does she think the overtly sexualised women she plays so well may end at a certain age? ‘I try not to see the boundaries in anything. You find a way to be comfortable in the chaos and the challenge. Ultimately what it comes down to is not about age, it’s about the physical breaking down. We’re all scared of that. It’s terrifying. I don’t want it to end, nobody does.’

I tell Moore about my father’s Alzheimer’s and her eyes tear up again. ‘You’re going to make me cry.’ I tell her he was so clever and over-stretched and it was as if all the circuits in his brain blew one after another. I tell her how my mother struggled to keep him at home – he’d escape and walk to the garden of his boyhood home and call for his mother. First, he didn’t recognise his dogs, then he thought my cousin was his sister. Then his perfect recall of moments in the past gave way to gibberish and a man who asked again and again: ‘Is it Tuesday, do we have to take the bins out?’ For respite for my mother, my father was taken into a nursing home where he led the other inmates to a rebellion because, even in his forgetful state, he managed to work out the security code to release the door. After that, they medicated him heavily and he had a stroke. He never came home.

Watching Still Alice, I shudder when they talk about putting Alice in a home. In the end, the youngest daughter – the most rebellious one who argued most with her mother – comes home to care for her, their roles reversed. Moore is emotional as we chat, then lights up when she talks about her own daughter. ‘I’m very lucky to have a boy and a girl. I wished all the time for a girl and I got a girl. I can remember lying in the bathtub when I was pregnant and didn’t know what I was having, and I thought two boys would be so close and how nice it would be to have brothers. I was trying to get used to that idea. But at the same time, I was wishing and wishing and I always tell Liv: “I wished and wished and wished for you”.’

As for balancing work and family, it’s really not that difficult. If there is a film that’s a long way from

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