When it comes to huge movie stars, Julianne Moore both is one and isn’t. She is, insofar as she’s near the tippy-top of the female A-list—beneath, say, Julia Roberts and Angelina Jolie but right alongside the now-semi-retired Gwyneth Paltrow and Jodie Foster (when she comes down from the mountain every other year or so). Indeed, in career terms, Foster is the female actor Moore’s come to resemble the most. Both are capable of transcendent performances (The Accused and Far From Heaven, for a start), but more important, no matter what they do, both seem incapable of ever being bad.
Of late, both actresses have had their default mode set to wounded mom—compare Foster’s recent “I swear I really have a daughter” action film, Flightplan, to Moore’s “I swear I really have a son” thriller, The Forgotten. Or to Moore’s next film, Freedomland, opening February 17, in which she stumbles into a hospital, frantic after a carjacking during which her son was inadvertently kidnapped. Freedomland is a racial powder keg of a movie: Two furious blue-collar communities, one black, one white, rub up against each other, shooting sparks over an ugly crime that may or may not have occurred. (I swear I really have a son!)
“It’s a script that Scott Rudin sent me around the same time he sent me The Hours,” Moore says. “I read the script on a plane and I just cried and cried.” After she signed on, the film attracted director Joe Roth, a former studio executive with a spotty record. (America’s Sweethearts, anyone?) And Moore co-stars with Samuel L. Jackson, a talent who never met a paycheck he didn’t like. It’s a dark film in a cold season and therefore a tough sell. But then there’s Moore. See, that’s the thing about her: No matter how unpromising the film, or hackneyed the premise, or worrisome the marketing campaign, you’re intrigued—and reassured—by the fact that she’s in it.
These days, though, there’s another measure of stardom that happens entirely offscreen, and by that yardstick, Moore’s barely a celebrity at all. When’s the last time you saw her on the cover of Us Weekly? When’s the last time Star went through her trash? Moore and her husband, director and writer Bart Freundlich, may not quite be Brangelina (Julibart?), but you’d think we’d occasionally get to read about their exploits in breathless, first-name-only cover lines. Moore has a few theories on why we don’t: “When you look at it, most of the attention is focused on very young people, the Jessica Simpsons of the world. Because a lot of the interest is from young people,” she says. “So when you’re 16 years old, Jessica Simpson matters to you. The older you get, the less that stuff matters. So, number one, I’m out of the age range.” (She’s 45. Yes, really.) “Plus, I don’t think that we do anything that’s particularly interesting.” Well, neither do Ben Affleck and Jennifer Garner, but that doesn’t stop us from seeing a flip book of photos every time they stop to buy a latte.
“When I go home at the end of the day, I can’t say, ‘Mommy can’t talk to you. She’s been crying all day.’ ”
And the tabloids and the paparazzi and the nonstop swirl of attention can’t be so easy to avoid as all that, right? Because all the Jessicas and Britneys and TomKats and Brangelinas and Vincefers will swear up and down that if they could just blink and make it go away, they would. “I don’t think it’s entirely an actor’s fault when these tabloids get ahold of their lives,” she says. “But some people do court it. And I don’t think it helps your career. Somebody was saying recently that this celebrity interest is spreading across the world like a bacteria. It’s people searching for some kind of stimulation. Like watching a big soap opera. It’s about stimulation; it’s not about content.”
It’s not that Moore scrambles away from celebrity—more like she sidesteps it gracefully, as though politely carrying on a conversation while avoiding someone else’s yappy little dog. And like any actress trying to shape her career, Moore is challenged by things both within her control (what movies she chooses) and beyond it (when they’re released). “You may do four movies over the course of two years. Suddenly, they all come out at the same time and everyone in the press says, ‘What’s the matter with her? Why is she working all the time? Why do we have to see four movies with her in it?’ ”
But being a stealth celebrity can do wonders for your reputation as a star. In part, Moore may be insulated, all critical goodwill aside, because she’s never had that monster, Pretty Woman hit—nor does she seem all that eager to pursue it. (Hannibal was the one exception—stepping in for, yes, Jodie Foster—but she got upstaged by Anthony Hopkins’s eating Ray Liotta’s brain.) In general, Moore would have you believe that she’s just a mom, with a family, and a house, and a job, just like you, more or less. And as she speaks from her West Village home, she sounds more or less like exactly that—until you remember that her job, unlike yours, is to be one of the greatest movie actresses in the world. As the coked-up den-mother porn star in Boogie Nights. As the allergic-to-the-world heroine of Safe. As the brittle, blossoming fifties housewife in Far From Heaven. As a similar character, with a different soul, in The Hours. In 2003, she became the ninth actor to be Oscar-nominated for two different roles in one year, The Hours and Far From Heaven. Somehow she got beat twice, in a double injustice: Best Supporting Actress went to Catherine Zeta-Jones in Chicago, and Best Actress to her Hours co-star, Nicole Kidman, who won by a nose.
Yet here she is, getting her 8-year-old son set up on the computer and apologizing for delaying the interview by an hour. “My son has strep, so we went to the doctor, then we had lunch, then we got the medication—you know, it was one of those things.” And when I ask about taking on an emotionally harrowing role like the one in Freedomland (in which she spends a lot of time crying; Julianne Moore is really good at crying), she says, “I’m just like anybody else in the world. I have a job and I have a family. When I go home at the end of the day, I can’t say, ‘Mommy can’t talk to you. She’s been crying all day.’ I’m sure you have days like that.”
Surely her job and her kids and her home life can’t be all that mundane; after all, her husband’s a writer. In fact, their latest film together is a Manhattan relationship comedy titled Trust the Man, about two couples fraying at the edges, set to come out in June. A relationship comedy? With a husband and wife? He must have mined their relationship for salacious nuggets—just the kind of stuff the tabloids would crave.
“Obviously, when you live with a writer, everything in your life is up for grabs,” she says. “And whenever I have to go on Letterman, you sort of scrounge around for funny things that have happened to you. With me, it’s always in my family. My son literally at lunch today—the one thing with 8-year-old boys is that they’re never really listening. So when they hear something, they say, ‘What did you say?’ So he wanted his father to repeat a story, and Bart said, ‘I don’t understand. Why do you want me to repeat this? Why weren’t you listening the first time?’ And he said, ‘Well, you said one thing that sounded really interesting to me: titty!’ ”
And from elsewhere in her house, just within earshot, comes an embarrassed caterwaul, the kind that could be heard in almost any home, anywhere: Moooooom!