Is All Right
by Jay S. Jacobs
Julianne Moore has reached rarified air in Hollywood. She is one of the few actresses who is consistently looked at as one of the great talents of her generation, and yet she is adventurous enough to search out quirky independent films.
Moore has had a career that has run over twenty years and started with stardom in the long-lived (and recently-cancelled) daytime drama As the World Turns. After first turning heads on the big screen in supporting roles in the likes of The Hand the Rocks the Cradle and The Fugitive, Moore’s career exploded. Opening eyes and gaining praise in the likes of Boogie Nights, Short Cuts, The Big Lebowski and Magnolia, she soon was courting Oscar gold. In fact, in 2003 she became one of very few actors in history to be nominated for two different films in the same year – for Best Actress in Far from Heaven and Best Supporting Actress in The Hours. This year, Moore also returned to television for a vital recurring role on the critically acclaimed comedy 30 Rock.
However, Moore is courting Oscar whispers again with the release of her latest film, The Kids are All Right. Written and directed by Lisa Cholodenko (High Art and Laurel Canyon), the film is a sweetly funny look at an aging lesbian couple with growing children whose lives are thrown in disarray when the kids decide to track down their anonymous-sperm-donor father.
With a spot-on cast that also includes Annette Bening as her somewhat uptight wife, Mark Ruffalo as the free-spirited donor and Mia Wasikowska and Josh Hutcherson as the children, the film is a moving and funny look at the modern American family. It is particularly interesting because of the subtle way that there is nothing made about the fact that it is a single-sex marriage – this could be about any couple anywhere.
About a week before The Kids are All Right was to open, Moore met with us and several other websites at the Waldorf-Astoria in New York City to discuss her latest film and her interesting, quirky career.
This is a script that you’ve been championing for a few years now. What was it about the script that really grabbed you?
It was Lisa [Cholodenko, the director]. It was always Lisa. I met her at a “Women in Film” lunch and went over and introduced myself and asked why I hadn’t seen the script to High Art. Yeah, I kind of really was like, excuse me, but I could have done that job! – Which is a terrible, very actor-y thing to do. (laughs) And she was like, “What?!” But, I said, look I think your work is great and I’d love to do something with you. She was like, “Back at you.” We had a meeting and she said, “I’m going to write something for you.” Then, adding to the thing, what happened was it takes forever to get financing and real life intrudes – she had a baby – and then all told it took four and a half, five years before we were finally done.
You’ve had a year lately where you have had a lot of characters with different sexual orientations.
You’ve become something of an expert here. What revelations and insights do you have to share?
I don’t think as far as sexuality… I think it has very little to do with that. I think this film in particular is a movie about family and more importantly of relationships. At the heart of every family, there are two people who’ve got to be together and have children together. These people have been together for over twenty years. Who you are when you start, where you are in the middle of it, where you’re going with it… I think that the desperation of that is pretty fascinating.
You and Annette worked so well together. Did you talk a lot before the movie started about how you were going to do this?
No. Not really. (laughs) I mean, what we had going for us is that we’ve both been married for a super-long time. We both had children. She has four, I have two. The family unit thing is pretty darned familiar to us. And for the kids as well, Josh [Hutcherson] and Mia [Wasikowska], they are living in this. They both were still living at home.
Speaking as a mother, how difficult was it to do the parts where you were taking your daughter away to move to college?
That is so sweet. Annette and I were talking about that, because obviously that’s always… I mean, my oldest child is twelve and a half. He’s really on the cusp of adolescence. So, it’s something that you see coming. It’s so poignant. I mean, the whole movie is so poignant, because it takes place in the last summer they are going to have as an intact family. And they all know it. They all have that pressure. They’re all like how are we going to make that count? It’s really important. It’s the last time. It’s the last time. So, you kind of see it. You see it in all of them. It’s really, oh my gosh, it’s a lot to handle, for everybody.
Your character’s passion is landscaping. Do you have any side passions you’d like to pursue?
To pursue? I have lots of passions, I don’t know if I’m going to pursue them. (laughs) I mean, you know, in any kind of legitimate way. But, yeah, I have lots of things. I love to decorate. That’s no secret. I love that.
Have you spoken with people who relate to the film – not so much in the sexual part, but from the family point of view – a long term relationship and then an interloper comes in, or the kids going away to college? What have people who have seen it told you?
What have they said? The reactions have been incredibly positive. People basically think that they relate to it. They relate to it in terms of what it’s like to be in a family, about what that dynamic is, just about the natural intimacy and familiarity of that relationship, of the marital relationship. It’s interesting talking to somebody about it, too. Marriage is interesting because you can’t get closer to somebody, really. Then you also end up, you’re always individuals. The idea of two becoming one is kind of baloney. Nor should it be a goal, actually. So, when you’re like, I’m going to co-exist, you have a partner in your life. That’s a big thing. I think people really recognize it.
Did you discuss the script with your husband [writer/director Bart Freundlich]?
I don’t think I did. I talked to him… I tend to talk to him piecemeal about stuff, “Oh there’s a scene,” or “this line I think is really funny,” or “I think this is good” or “I think that…” So, he hears little things. Every once in a while, I’ll ask him to read something.
With the flap that has been developing over Prop 8 in California [a law for equal rights for gays which was voted down in 2008], do you think this film will have a chance of perhaps enlightening people?
I do. I don’t think Lisa… I certainly don’t think that was her intention. She’s the first person to say she’s not making a political movie. But, there was an article on the front page of The New York Times a couple of months ago about “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” and about why it’s important that it be repealed. Because, basically, the more you know about the other soldier in your unit, the less scary it is. What really changes people’s opinions is proximity of knowledge. If suddenly there’s a soldier that you’ve been in a unit with and you’re like, “Oh, he’s gay? Oh, oh, well he’s not so different. Just like me.” Or your next-door neighbors, like, “Oh, they’re gay? Oh, okay.” That’s what people coming out and people being public and that kind of knowledge is what actually changes people. So, I think this film can be one of new things where people are presented and it’s no longer so alien.
It was interesting that the couple being gay was not really even a plot point other than a few little minor details. It could be any relationship. Was that something you were aiming for in making the film?
There was almost no discussion of that at all, because that is very clearly what it was. I love the scene where they talk about how they met. All this kind of really silly stuff about the office and this and that. Then I say, “You know, you were really funny.” [She says,] “You were really pretty.” Every couple has that. They have that moment. That’s what it’s about. These people met, they fell in love. Gay, straight, it was never an issue.
There is a sense of realness and intimacy in the characters. How did Lisa work with the actors to bring that out?
I think it’s in the script. A lot of it was just what she wrote. She also is very, very, very well prepared. She has a very relaxed attitude herself. You can just look at her movies and realize she’s so interested in nuance and subtlety. She doesn’t like a broad stroke. She really likes things to play out through the spaces. There were just so many. There’s that scene where I’m playing ping pong with Laser and there are so many things going on at the same time; that I have this thing happen with Paul, that I have to play ping pong and she’s haranguing him about the thank you note. So, we’re not talking and they’re not talking and this is happening – I think that kind of texture really helps.
What did you learn in making this film that you would apply to your own life, like the daughter going away to college part?
That’s the good thing about acting in general. It’s supposed to focus you on behavior and on being present in some things. So, it can force you to reexamine a particular moment or a particular kind of behavior that we all have or you have a reaction at whatever. But I don’t think we always know when it happens at the time, either. Even with movies. Something funny is sometimes people ask you about a movie, if you’ve just finished it there’s not enough time left for you to talk about it, to articulate it. You can’t. You’re just like, “I just finished it. I haven’t really thought about it yet. I don’t know. I don’t know what it turned into.” I think life is that way, too. (laughs) You need a distance where you understand what you did.
Another thing I really like about the film is though lots of really dramatic things happen, it’s really funny. You’ve also recently done an important arc on 30 Rock. While you have done comedy throughout your career, you are known more for drama. Do you enjoy doing comedy? Do you find it harder or easier than drama?
I said to somebody earlier this year, the older you get, the less appealing tragedy becomes. (laughs heartily) So, you know, that’s where I find myself.
How did your 30 Rock arc come about? Was it different going back to working on TV after being in films for so long?
It’s not any different. It’s not. It was great. They called me and they said they had a part for me. I was in London. Tina Fey called me about the character. She said, “Okay, she’s somebody he [Jack, Alec Baldwin’s character] went to high school with. She’s recently divorced. She has two kids that are real strung up. She doesn’t have a job.” I said this doesn’t sound funny at all. (laughs) I was literally: This is a tragedy! But that’s how it happened. It’s not terribly different, except for the speed.
Any Broadway coming up?
No. You know what? It’s too hard at the age of my children.
You have this big upcoming comedy coming up with Steve Carell and Ryan Gosling and a huge cast. What’s that about?
It’s a great cast. It was fun. To be honest with you, literally, I wrapped it on Monday. So, it kind of falls into that “I don’t even know what it’s about yet” category.
Who do you play?
Are you going to watch the final episode of As the World Turns?
Oh, I think I probably will.
One interesting thing about your character in The Kids Are All Right was how she treated Luis, the gardener. That was so mean and wrong. It did not resolve anything. How do you live with that?
But that’s what’s great. Jules is not… I mean, my gosh, what a pain in the neck! What a selfish bourgeois pain in the neck she is. But how great, you know? It’s great to see somebody do that in a film. And you’re still like, oh, my God, that’s horrifying. She’s so guilt-ridden that she is scapegoating somebody else. She even says, it was wonderful, she acknowledges it. She is like, “I am so fucked up.” You expect her to say something about Paul, and she goes “I can’t believe I fired Luis!” So, she knows she’s doing it in a way to alleviate her own guilt. She’s aware of it and guilty about that. But then she makes herself conveniently forget it. My God, in life people have abhorrent behavior. We might think that we’re all so sainted, but get on an airplane sometime. Watch how people talk to a flight attendant. People, we’re not all so great.
Do you feel differently about a film while you are working on it? Do you become separated from it and then look at it and see it as something quite different?
Hmmm… that’s an interesting question. I get very attached to the process of making something. That’s the other thing about getting older. I’m more interested in what happened while I was working. That’s the experience I’ve had. That was my experience of being in the movie, of doing it. So sometimes what comes out, I don’t really like to see it: I see it once, maybe twice, and that’s it. Because my thing that happened, it happened on the set. So very rarely I could see the films as different sometimes, different than what I experienced, but my feeling about it are still attached to what happened in the process.
What do you think about seeing how the scenes played out as compared to how they felt while you were at work?
I was delighted. Stuart Blumberg and I were talking about this the other day, because the thing about it that is so appealing about it is its tone. That’s the thing that is hardest to do. You have to… the tone is not… it is like am I too high or too low? The speech that I have by the television could be very maudlin. And it can’t be, because it has to be funny. So, you’re like, is the tone right? That was the most pleasurable thing about it, seeing all that come forth.
Do you mostly watch yourself or are you able to kind of look at the big picture?
I don’t know. I really don’t know. I try not to think about it too much. The older I get, the less it is about seeing movies.
There seems to be a real renaissance when it comes to female filmmakers recently. Also, actresses have finally proved to studio heads that they are very box office viable. What do you feel about the renaissance and would you ever direct something?
I thought you were going to be, “Are you ever going to be a studio head?” (laughs) I don’t know. The thing about this movie business is that old joke about it not being “show art.” It’s show business. I think gender and nothing matters as long as stuff makes money. If things make money they are going to continue to make it. I think there’s always a female audience, too. Certainly, in the old studio days it was huge news. People sort of decided at this point that there wasn’t. They’re there, they just won’t go. If they don’t make a movie with a woman in it I don’t want to go. (laughs) You know, it’s hard. Who do you look at? How do you enter the story? But directing, I don’t know. I always say it’s good to have a goal of trying something new.
You are a very mainstream actress who achieved that playing very offbeat characters. How do you think that happens? Is that something you found or was that given to you?
I don’t know. I think, first of all I was super fortunate. I was really, really fortunate that in that when I started my advent in film was the beginning of the independent film movement – and that changed everything. I auditioned for movies then, I just didn’t get them. That was in the Breakfast Club days and all those types of movies, St. Elmo’s Fire and that stuff. I just didn’t get it. It just didn’t happen. With independent films, suddenly I had all this work. There were all these really interesting things, too, things that I felt compelled to do. When I first saw Safe, I didn’t understand why it wasn’t going to a famous person. I was like, “Nobody’s playing this?” It ended up being kind of lucky. And things have kind of come along. There’s still some stuff that I’ve done that seem way outside tastes. That people just hate. But I loved Savage Grace, I don’t care! (laughs)
Did you audition for Breakfast Club?
No. No. I didn’t, but there was a whole kind of genre. But it would be like Savage Grace, which was the same thing. I hung onto that for four years when we made it. I loved it. I still love the movie. It came out and people were like, “That’s disgusting!” So, some stuff succeeds and some stuff fails.
|#1 © 2010 Suzanne Tenner. Courtesy of Focus Features. All rights reserved.|
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Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 9, 2010.