’Having written this whopping great part for an American actress, I knew Julianne was a good fit,” says British playwright David Hare. “And as soon as she said she wanted to go back onstage, I wanted her to do it.” Hare’s much-anticipated The Vertical Hour—directed by Sam Mendes, starring Julianne Moore—is a political drama that aims to mash all of our post-9/11 buttons; it’s Moore’s big Broadway moment after years away from the stage; and it’s Hare’s first play to debut on Broadway (on the heels of his Bush-administration satire Stuff Happens). But the collaboration would likely never have happened except for the fortuitous meeting of two moms.
Moore had already passed on The Vertical Hour—although she found the play “brilliant,” she told Mendes that her filming schedule made it impossible to say yes. “And I thought, I shouldn’t have read it!” Moore groans at the memory. Then she bumped into Mendes’s wife, Kate Winslet, at the preschool the two actresses’ children attend, mentioned how disappointed she was, and Winslet fanned the project back to life.
A bit of schedule-rejiggering later, Moore is ready to portray a war correspondent turned Yale professor who meets a man who challenges her assumptions about the world. “She’s somebody who has been marked by the history of U.N. intervention in the last ten years,” explains Hare. “It’s about how Brits and Americans see the world differently.” He adds that Moore is perfect for this very American role because of her European qualities. “In France, in Italy, in Spain, in England, Julianne is the most admired American actress. We think of her as one of our own.” Asked to describe these European qualities, he remarks that there’s “no obsequious attempt to please in Julianne’s performance. She expects the audience to meet her halfway.”
As for Moore, she demurs when asked to say too much about the character she will be playing. “You know what? I don’t know. I haven’t really done it yet. I’ve always felt that it should be inherent in the material, and I’m positive that Sam has a very strong vision.” She’s more forthcoming when it comes to the value of drama that looks out instead of gazing inward. “So much stuff these days prides itself on ‘this is not political’: It’s human and emotional,” says Moore. “But if you fail to acknowledge that stuff, you’re just being incredibly isolationist and you’re living in a dead world. Well, this is one of the things the play is about: Which side are you on? Are you engaged?”
—The Vertical Hour, By David Hare; Music Box Theatre; opens November 30. Next: Twyla Tharp’s The Times They Are A-Changin’