COMING BACK FOR MOORE by Dennis Hensley

Though Julianne Moore has two Oscar nominations (for The End of the Affair and Boogie Nights) and has worked with such esteemed directors as Robert Altman (Short Cuts) Lasse Hallstorm (The Shipping News) and Ridley Scott (Hannibal), to me, what says the most about her appeal as an actress is that she was in a Jurassic Park movie and I didn't want to see her get eaten by dinosaurs. I usually want everyone in those movies to get eaten by dinosaurs, starting with the kids. It's just more fun that way.  

I tell this to Moore at the outset of our chat, and though she's appreciative, I sense she doubts my sincerity. "You wanted me to survive, even with that awful hairdo I had?" she asks me. "That twisty ponytail was very upsetting to me."

"Even with the twisty ponytail," I tell her.

"It's funny, my four year old son, Cal, has a Sarah Harding action figure," she continues, referring to her paleontologist character in The Lost World, Jurassic Park 2, "which occasionally comes out with us. Sometimes he'll call the doll Mommy. He'll say, 'Look, Mommy, I brought Mommy and the Green Lantern!' and the two dolls will have a conversation while we're having dinner."

Unfortunately, Moore can't tell us how her doll's relationship with the Green Lantern is coming along because, at the moment, she's not even sure where they are. "I'm in the middle of a horrendous renovation and everything's in bubblewrap," she laments, calling from the Greenwich Village apartment she shares with her boyfriend and Cal's father, writer-director Bart Freundlich. "You can probably hear the drill right now."

Though Moore's home life may be undergoing major changes -- the couple will probably have welcomed their second child by the time you read this -- her work life seems to be humming along nicely as is. Her latest film, the indie drama World Traveler, written and directed by Freundlich, hits theaters this month. "I was very, very moved by the script," says Moore, who met Freundlich on the set of his first film, The Myth of Fingerprints. "Bart teases me because he'll give me something to read and he's always really pleased when I burst into tears because that means that it's effective."

GOTHAM: What happens in World Traveler?

JULIANNE MOORE: Billy Crudup plays a man who one day just leaves his wife and child and goes on this journey across the country. I play one of the people he meets along the way. It's about being a child and about being a parent. You don't see that stuff explored from a male perspective that often at all. Certainly not with guys in their thirties, never.

How was working with Bart different on this movie than the first?

On the first film, we didn't know each other at all so it was like working with any other director. Then we ended up sort of seeing each other on the movie.

Was that exciting or were you mortified?

I was so mortified. I'm usually very professional. It was his first movie and my girlfriend, Ellen Barkin, kept telling me, "Stop it, you're going to ruin his movie." But we've stayed together for five and a half years so it's fine. This movie was different because now we know the nuances of each other's behavior. I tend to be quiet, so if I'm upset, most people aren't going to notice. Bart will.

Do you consciously try not to talk shop when you're off set?

No, we'd talk about the movie. Though just as easy for us to watch TV. We can do either one. (Laughs)

What's your idea of Must-See TV?

Sex in the City. Every time I see a film crew in my neighborhood, I want to walk over and ask if it's Sex and the City. I just want to see them all having brunch.

Would you ever want to be a guest star on it?

No. I don't think I'd want to infiltrate my show. If I go on it, it'll be tainted.

I have friends that can't understand Carrie didn't marry Aiden but I totally get it.

Aiden's too much of a girl. Not to slam John Corbett -- I'm talking about the character -- but when he was like, 'Hi, honey. How was your day?' I thought, "Oh, God. Too girly." He's not urban enough for her, either.

You and Bart are expecting your second child. Are people in New York kind to pregnant women?

Women are and younger men are, but there's this one age range of white guys that just aren't. If one more white middle-aged man does not get up for me on the subway, I'll brain somebody. They're the worst. And they stand in front of you when you're hailing a cab. Unbelievable.

Have your feelings for the city changed since September 11th?

Well, it's always been the place I've felt most at home. When September 11th happened, I think the rest of the world was surprised by the reaction of the city and how people helped each other out. But people who live in New York weren't surprised. That's why we live here.

Are New Yorkers pretty mellow when they recognize you?

They're very cool. When they do, they just smile or wave. I love it when the police officers say Hi to me. It's funny. My mother and I look very much alike people tell her all the time that she looks like Julianne Moore. She usually says, "Yes, I'm her mother." This one time, a girl goes, "No, I mean the movie star Julianne Moore." My mother had to go, "Yes, that's my daughter."

You first big gig was playing twins on As the World Turns. I think if you're gonna be on a soap opera, you have to play twins.

You should, because when else are you going to get the opportunity to bore yourself with your own acting that way? (Laughs)

Was there ever a crazy scene or story line that you thought, 'How on earth am I ever going to make this work?'

All the time. Steven Weber played my boyfriend Kevin and there was one scene where I turned to my stepmother in the living room and said, "Now that I know that Kevin's out of jail, I think I'll take a nap." I thought that line was so funny I refused to alter it.

After your soap years, you moved to Hollywood and played the field for a few years. What was that like?

It was like Sodom. It was fun for a while, dating and running around, going to parties, but then it gets to be very boring.

I'm sure journalists always ask you why you and Bart aren't married but does anyone else?

Not really. Mostly people don't care. We're virtually married. We live together, and we're going to have two children soon. Our lives are very mingled.

Because of your job, what does your son know that most four-year-olds don't?

He knows that movies aren't real. He's been on sets where there's been a monster or something, and I'll say, "See, there's a guy under there, it's not real." I don't think I had that awareness when I was a kid.

Same here. After I saw The Poseiden Adventure, I was sure a tidal wave was going to hit my house.

Oh, I loved it, except the part where Shelly Winters drowns which made me claustrophobic. And why did everybody have to take off their pants but Shelley?

Probably a director's choice. Growing up, your family moved around a lot because your father was a military judge. What's the upside of that kind of life?

It makes you view the world in terms of universals. Although there are many differences, in terms of what people want and who they are, there's a universal dynamic that's operating all the time. I find that very comforting.

When did you first know you wanted to be an actor?

I'm not sure why but I tried out for a play in junior high and it was remarkably easy for me, like reading aloud. I was a big reader as a kid and I thought, 'This is like being inside a book.' Later, when I was 17, I had a teacher who said "You can do this for a living," and pointed me in that direction.

What did you think the first time you saw yourself on the big screen?

It was horrible but after a certain number of years, you get better at standing outside yourself and looking at yourself physically. Sometimes you're thinking so hard that you're somebody else that you almost believe that physically you are different and when you finally see the movie, it's always a letdown that it's just you again.

Like, "That's odd. In my mind, my character had brown eyes?"

Exactly. "Oh, damnit, it's that same nose, that same way of walking. It's just me. What a bore." (Laughs)

Were you taken aback when people started treating you like a movie star, like "Can I get you some coffee, Miss Moore?"

Yes. The funny thing about being on a film set is that people are waiting for you to start doing something nutty, because they have this expectation about actors. But you know what? Success doesn't do anything but exacerbate your personality. People that I know that are crazy as movie stars were crazy before they were movie stars.

What something you're good at that might surprise people?

Cleaning. I like it because it's finite. Something's dirty, you clean it, and it's done. My new thing is the Swifter.

Do you have good Swifter technique?

I do. Actually, Bart was Swifting earlier today...

Is that the verb, swifting?

I think so. (Laughs) Anyway, he said, "I'm getting a lot of soap on the floor," and I said, "That's because you're Swifting with too much pressure."

You once described the Oscars, which you've gone to twice as a nominee, as the biggest prom in the world. When you're sitting there, do you try to look engaged at all times in case the camera's on you?

Well, I don't want to be seen muttering, "Not, that stupid motherfucker." You have to be fairly well-behaved. It's very long and you get hungry, but for the most part, it's a fun evening. Everybody's happy to be there.

One of your nominations was for Boogie Nights. Was it challenging to act like a bad actress for the scenes where you were making the porn movie?

Not at all. It was fun. Somebody who can't act is someone who can't figure out what regular rhythm in speech and behavior is, so for those scenes my vocal rhythm is off, my physicality is off. One of my favorite gestures is when I take a pause in the middle of a sentence to push myself away from the desk. When you're in real life, you integrate those things. She couldn't do both at the same time.

I love the late-70s. I think if I worked on that movie, I would have taken home all my costumes and half the set.

Up close, you wouldn't have. A person can't have all that Qiana and feel good about themselves. (Laughs) What was funny is when we were doing my hair early on, the stylist was using a curling iron. It was so tedious so I said, "Let me show you what to do," and I did my hair the way I did it in 1979, which was with six hot rollers. Take 'em out, shake it upside down, and you're done.

Speaking of beauty tips, you're the new face of Revlon. Does that make you more aware of your appearance on a day to day basis?

Unfortunately, I think I still wander around the neighborhood looking like bag lady.  (Laughs) This is when you think to yourself, 'Madonna doesn't look like this, Gwyneth Paltrow doesn't look like this. Why is it necessary that I look like this?'

But we love you for looking like a bag lady.

Oh, that's nice. (Laughs) Well, thanks.

In addition to World Traveler, you shot two movies in which you play 1950s housewives which will come out later this year: Todd Haynes' Far From Heaven and The Hours, based on the novel by Michael Cunningham. Do you plan to act again soon?

No. I'm going be home taking care of my children and being a Revlon girl for a while.

I think you should put "Revlon Girl" on your tax return under occupation.

That's sort of excellent. I love that.

Far From Heaven is directed by Todd Haynes. When you last worked together, on Safe, you were a relative unknown and now you're a movie star. How was this time different?

It wasn't. We've both come a long way in the business but it was like, 'Wow, all this time and it's still the same.' Todd and I are both kind of nice people, which I appreciate. His sets are nice, comfortable places to be. It's so funny, because I can remember my audition for Safe. It was in the Chase Bank in Soho and every time I walk by there I remember how nervous I was. I wanted that part so badly, and I couldn't believe they didn't cast a movie star in it. That movie was a kind of seminal event for me. Todd didn't know my work at all, and he really cast me on that audition on faith.

Going back to being nice, how much are directors willing to overlook bad on-set behavior, if an actor delivers when the cameras are rolling?

They're absolutely willing to overlook it. There are people who are unbelievable, unbearable pains in the asses that continue to work. I don't like it when people really act like movie stars, when some pigs think they're more equal than other pigs. I just get exhausted by it. It makes me crabby. Film is a collaborative effort and everybody is important.

I loved the ending of Hannibal with Ray Liotta's brain being cut open. Was that all done on computer?

Not all of it. They did some amazing things with an animatronic head that was just like Ray's but with cow's brain in it that they could cut into.

A literal cow's brain, like someone would call out, "Can we get the cow's brain on the set?"

Yeah. Then poor Ray would sit there with a green screen beanie on for the computer stuff. I remember saying to him, "That's the wonderful thing about acting. It's so very dignified."

From what I've read, neither you nor Anthony Hopkins care to talk much about the intricacies of your craft. You just shut up and do it.

Absolutely. Some people love to talk about it and that's fine. I would really rather talk about what I'm gonna have for lunch. It's funny. Bart was watching the dailies of World Traveler and there's one scene where I'm driving, and Billy Crudup's in the back of the car. We'd reached the end of the scene as written, but Billy just kept ad-libbing. I turn around, like, "Are you still acting back there? We're done, come on." I'm on to lunch.

While you were shooting Hannibal, you and Anthony Hopkins had dinner at the White House with President Clinton. How was it different than what you were expecting?

The rooms are smaller than I imagined. It was actually very informal. We all kind of sat out on the porch, and while we were there I could see people hundreds of feet away stopping to take pictures of the White House and probably thinking to themselves 'Who are those people on the porch?' I was like, 'Holy cow, I'm one of the people on the porch.'

You had a stunt double on Hannibal. Someone I know once said having a stunt double like having a superhero who's you.

It's kind of true, and I loved my double, Cynda. She's fearless, she taught me how to do things, and she's even thinner than me, which I love. You wouldn't want somebody who's twice your size. (Laughs)

Have you ever thrown a good star tantrum?

I yelled at a producer on Far From Heaven because there was a scheduling conflict. I just kind of lost it and I yelled at him, and my makeup artist with whom I'm good friends was like, "Holy cow?!"  I apologized to the producer later.

What do you love about your job?

I love just about everything about my job. You get to meet really interesting, exciting, creative people. I also love the blue-collar aspect to the job. I like that you get there and people are sawing and there's a big physical effort that goes into it.

Do you ever show up on a gorgeous set and think, 'Now it's my turn, I better not blow it?'

All the time actually. You think, 'Look at all this effort. I better pull it together.'

My favorite compliment to get about something I've written is that I made someone laugh in a public place, like an airplane. What's your favorite compliment?

I like to hear that people cried. (Laughs) This sounds horrible but the greatest moments are when people come up and talk to you about something they've seen, and then they start to cry while they're talking. You're thinking, 'Oh, that's fantastic.'