February 03, 2016

Women of Doubt: Julianne Moore's Studied Ordinariness

Julianne Moore doesn't rehearse.

She says she'd rather live in that moment, experience it, on the stage or film, not in her living room. She memorizes her lines and determines "parameters" that she'll perform within for any given scene--then she lets it go. She wants to find the moment her character cries. She doesn't want to draw on her own memories to create emotional experiences, but rather, immerse herself in her character's experience, their feelings and memories, until she hits that point, according to an interview she did with The New Yorker. 5

By all accounts, this is doable because of Julianne's imagination:

"Julie's great adventure is her imagination," her younger brother, the novelist Peter Smith, said…. "She understands the force and wildness of it. It's a blessing and a warning. It's this big crazy thing. It's something that makes her feel really confident." 5

Perhaps it's that imagination that makes it so striking when Moore says she knows there is nothing "there", when she speaks openly about her atheism.

Whatever it is, Moore is a striking character whose past plays an incredible role in her success today.

Early Life and Education

Julianne Moore was born Julie Anne Smith on December 3, 1960, in Fort Bragg, North Carolina. Her mother, Anne Love, was a Scottish-born woman married to Peter Moore Smith, Jr, an American service member. 4

Because of her father's military service, the family moved extensively, and Moore lived in "over two dozen locations around the world with her parents." 4 Her mother had come to America from Scotland at age ten, met Moore's father at 12, and they married when she was 19 and Peter was 20. By the time she was 25, Anne had three children. 1 A year after Julie's birth, she would be joined by younger sister Valerie, and four years later, younger brother Peter rounded out the trio. 4 Anne struggled to keep the family together during the elder Peter's tour of duty in Vietnam. 1

Still, war has a way of creeping into even children's consciousness:

Though she was in kindergarten, Moore still remembers the anxiety that gripped her family during Vietnam. "You feel the fear through the adults," she says. "It's a very scary feeling." 1

Even when Moore's father left the military, the family continued to move around before he eventually returned to it:

After Vietnam, their father left the Army and uprooted the family again, to Nebraska, where he attended law school. After Nebraska, the next stop was Alaska, where he worked as a lawyer in private practice in aviation law. He followed that with a stint in New York before going back in the Army as an attorney and later a military judge. "I went to nine different schools between the ages of 5 and 18," says Moore. 1

The family was close-knit, and Moore's parents valued education:

Moore’s parents, according to her, “liked the life of the mind” and preached the gospel of education. They were aspirational, the first in each of their families to earn a university degree. 5

Anne used small traditions to encourage a sense of normalcy for her children:

But every week, no matter where they were, Anne took her brood to the library to check out books; in the shifting ground of their peripatetic life, literature was a comfort. “We were moving all the time. I had a lot to adjust to,” Moore said. “But you pick up a book, and you know you’re going to get a story. You know how it’s going to make you feel. The constancy of storytelling is a great thing.” 5

Because of the constant moving, Moore became "adaptable and as adept at reading people as she was a reading words." She'd start a new school by "[studying] the social behavior of those around her." 5 She told The New Yorker:

"I didn't want to distinguish myself. My interest was in fitting in--seeing how do they walk, how do they talk, what do they do, what are the rules here?" 5

Moore herself "Stresses the positive side of these moves", which she says made her "mutable" and "quick to adapt." 1

Moore's adolescent globe-trotting ended in Frankfurt, Germany, where she graduated from Frankfurt American High School in 1979. 4

It was in high school that Moore recognized what has become the defining characteristic of her public life:

When Moore was in her teens, she discovered acting. She was a "nerd," not very good at sports and "not particularly popular," but she came alive onstage and was told by a teacher that she might consider acting professionally. The young girl was thrilled; her parents were not. 
"They were worried and said, 'Well, you have to go to college,' " she recalls, "and so I applied to a few schools. My mother said it was too scary for me to live in New York, so I auditioned for Boston University and Carnegie Mellon and chose BU, arbitrarily." 1

She graduated with a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the School of Performing Arts at Boston University. 4

Breaking Into Film And Theatre

After her graduation in 1983, Moore moved to New York. It was here that she changed her name, combining her first names and taking her father's middle name as a surname, when she registered with the Actors Guild because all variations of her given name were taken. 4

She found some nominal success in theatre at the time, with off-Broadway appearances in the Caryl Churchill plays Serious Money and Ice Cream with Hot Fudge and a role as Ophelia in Guthrie Theatre's Hamlet. 4

However, Moore didn't necessarily feel like she was meant to be a stage actress, as she told the New Yorker:

To her, the stage experience feels too “externalized,” and she wants what she’s doing to be internal. “I like to pretend no one’s watching,” she said. “The thing that was so wonderful for me about film acting, when I finally discovered it, was that it felt like walking into a book you wanted to be in.” 5

Thus in 1985, she landed her first major television role, beginning as Frannie Hughes on As the World Turns (eventually, she'd also play Frannie's twin sister, Sabrina). She won a Daytime Emmy Award for her work. 3

She was, like many actresses in the mid-1980s, somewhat stuck with soap operas, mini-series, and made-for-TV movies. 4 In 1990, she broke through to the big screen with her film debut Tales of the Darkside. It was 1992's supporting role in The Hand that Rocks the Cradle that really garnered notice, though. 3

The 19990s saw Moore with over 20 roles, according to IMDB, not counting made for TV movies.

I'd be remiss, as the spouse of an ordained Dudist, not to mention one role 1998 role in particular:

Moore continued to work with interesting filmmakers, appearing in Joel and Ethan Coen's The Big Lebowski (1998). While not a box office hit, this offbeat comedy starring Jeff Bridges has become a cult classic. 3

The next decade (and millennia!) saw her continuing her pace:

As the 2000s progressed, Moore had established herself among Hollywood's elite actresses. She appeared in a slew of films, including The Forgotten(2004), Children of Men (2006), and A Single Man (2009). She also experimented on Broadway, debuting in David Hare's The Vertical Hour in late 2006; however, critics were generally unenthusiastic about her performance as Nadia, a former Iraq war correspondent whose views get challenged. 3

The end of the first decade 2000s saw Moore sailing past the Actress Cliff of 40, and right into her 50s unabated.

Still Alice and the Academy

Moore has blatantly "defied one of the truisms of Hollywood--that an actress is finished at 40--and has down much of her best work since then." She has also managed to "seamlessly [mix] commercial work such as The Hunger Games with independent films," which Hollywood Reporter likens to Meryl Streep's career prowess. 1

Moore still holds her process close to her chest, but she did tell The New Yorker:

“Acting is not all about feeling,” she said. “It’s not all about what’s on the inside. There’s a physicality to what the frame is. Sometimes you want to see what story it’s telling.” 5

It's said that Moore reads every script she receives. She found Still Alice, the story of a linguistics professor experiencing early onset Alzheimer's, compelling, but was caught up in her commitments to The Hunger Games. 3 Luckily, it worked out:

Lionsgate proved supportive, and then Moore turned to The Judy Fund for help with research. "They set up Skype calls with women who've been diagnosed with 'younger onset,' which means under 65," says Moore. "The youngest, Sandy Oltz, was 45 when she was diagnosed."

At the same time, Moore went to meet with Dr. Mary Sano, the head of Alzheimer's research at Mount Sinai Hospital in New York. "I took the memory test that a neuropsychiatrist gave me. You listen to a story. Then you put the story aside, and the doctor gives you a list of 30 words and immediately asks you to repeat the list. And then she'll say, 'How many animals can you name in a minute?' And then she goes back to, 'Now tell me about the story that you read.' " 1

After five nominations across her career, her performance in Still Alice garnered her an Academy Award. 3

Beyond Acting

In 1997, Moore met Bart Freundlich on the set of his movie The Myth of Fingerprints. 1 As noted in an interview last year:

"We were shooting about a week before we became involved," says Moore. "It seemed unlikely that it would last when we met, but that was almost 19 years ago." 1

Still, they are now married with two children, Cal and Liv who are 17 and 12. 1

Her personal life tends to stay personal. She comes across as someone who likes to compartmentalize. Moore learned a lesson early on, after devoting most of the 1980s and 1990s to her career, that is especially poignant, I think:

Unsure what to do, Moore turned to a therapist, who got straight to the point: She must give her private life its due. "I discovered that was as important as my professional life," says the actress. "I didn't spend the time; I didn't invest. One thing I used to tell my women friends was, 'There's an expectation that your personal life is going to happen to you, but you're going to have to make your career happen. And that's not true: You have to make your personal life happen as much as your career.' " 1

Far from the hard-asses she has sometimes played on screen, Moore describes herself as non-combative:

“I feel I’m really like a Labrador—‘I mean no harm. I mean no harm,’ ” she told me. “I lead with friendliness. I feel that works for me. I don’t want to be aggressive. I don’t want to push to be in a dominant situation.” 5

She really makes you wonder if the true draw of acting for her is the storytelling, not the spotlight:

Hiding in plain sight is how she tries to negotiate her public life. “I try to make myself small,” she told me. “I try not to call attention to myself. ” 5

In 2009, Anne Smith, Julianne's mother, died unexpectedly after experiencing an embolism that led to septic shock. Her mother's death seems to have been the catalyst for Moore's changing spirituality--it "may have led to Julianne changing her mind about God." 2

Acting has not been her only artistic pursuit, either:

In addition to acting, Moore has found great success as a children's book author. She drew from her own experiences to write Freckleface Strawberry, which was published in 2007. Moore has since written several follow-up books in the Freckleface Strawberry series, as well as My Mom is a Foreigner, But Not to Me, published in 2013. 3


Overall, Julianne Moore seems to want a normal existence:

When she's at her home in New York, her life is one of studied ordinariness. She usually rises around 6.30 a.m. and does yoga three times a week. She reads constantly, including Donna Tartt's The Goldfinch and Amy Bloom's Lucky Us. "And I read Amy Poehler's Yes Please. I loved it," she says. 1

Who can argue with that?


1 Galloway, Stephen. "Julianne Moor Believes in Therapy, Not God (And Definitely Gun Control)". <http://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/julianne-moore-believes-therapy-not-767484> Published January 28, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.

2 Hadley, Glenn. "Julianne Moore Atheist: She Stopped Believing in God After Mom's Death". <http://www.inquisitr.com/1797738/julianne-moore-atheist-there-is-no-god/> Published January 29, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.

3 "Julianne Moore: Biography". <http://www.biography.com/people/julianne-moore-9542282> Accessed February 2, 2016.

4 "Julianne Moore: Biography". <http://www.imdb.com/name/nm0000194/bio?ref_=nm_ov_bio_sm> Accessed February 2, 2016.

5 Lahr, John. "The Sphinx Next Door." The New Yorker.  <http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/09/21/the-sphinx-next-door-profiles-john-lahr> Published September 21, 2015. Accessed February 2, 2016.

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