Julianne Moore interview: Moore than a woman

JULIANNE Moore can play nice with the best of them. She is encouraging when you fumble for a question, and possesses a keen, self-deprecating sense of humour. She'll tell you that she worries about her weight and that she struggles to reconcile herself to growing older. She doesn't even mind when I ask about her Scottish ancestry, even though it turns out that earlier that morning another journalist has been plaguing her with queries about bagpipes and tartan.

This is all the more remarkable when you consider the contrast between Moore in person and the women she plays on screen. In more than two decades of film work, the 48-year-old actress has charged up roles where the women range from difficult to morally ambiguous and emotionally complex. There's her faithless wife of the heart-wrenching drama The End Of The Affair, her inappropriately maternal porn star in Boogie Nights, and the even more inappropriately incestuous mother in Savage Grace. And in her latest film, Rebecca Miller's quirky, A-list-studded portrait of a female mid-life crisis, The Private Lives Of Pippa Lee, this easy-going mother of two plays a predatory lesbian dominatrix photographer. Although she's made her share of studio blockbusters, it is imperfect, tortured roles that draw her in.

"We allow for many more gradations of personality in life than we do in art," says Moore, who makes a point of reading scripts herself. "If you always see someone who's perfect on the screen, then who the heck are you? But we see that again and again in the movies, so you start thinking, I'm not as funny as her, I'm not as pretty as her, and I can't save the world, so I'm a big loser."

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Her imperfect women struck a chord with audiences, critics and even the conservative Oscar voters, who have nominated her for roles in Boogie Nights, The End Of The Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours. As an actress, Moore is in the same class of cool, challenging women as Meryl Streep except that, despite making her share of studio blockbusters, it doesn't sound as if she would agree to an Abba musical. "I like an apocalypse," she will say. Or at least an opportunity to get stuck into something that doesn't offer up women as plaster madonnas. In the case of Pippa Lee, which debuts at the Edinburgh Film Festival this week, she found herself nodding along to Miller's central theme of the struggle that women have to maintain their identities after marriage and children.

"You do learn a tremendous amount of patience," she says. "Children's pace is glacial, and you can't change that. Literally, just walking down the street with them, I thought I was going to tear my hair out, but that's where they are. It's not difficult to take care of a child; it's difficult to do anything else while taking care of a child. Trying to clean up the kitchen after you've had a baby is a nightmare because you have to wait for the baby to be asleep, you're exhausted, and you really don't want to clean up the kitchen now."

In recent years, Moore has cut back on work and tries to keep films close to home in New York, where her family lives, or undertake projects in summer when the schools are on holiday and her children can join her on location. "I just did a movie called Shelter in Pittsburgh, which was tough. But it was only six weeks so I came home on weekends. It's hard, so my husband Bart and I try not to work at the same time." She has two children, Caleb, 11 and Liv, seven, with film-maker and second husband Bart Freundlich, 39. They met when he directed her in Myth Of Fingerprints in 1996, and when they worked together a second time on Trust The Man, their kids also had cameo appearances as Moore's son and daughter.

"We thought it was important for Cal and Liv to see what we do. They're starting to understand that their mother is not just on the cover of a magazine (Moore is on the front of British Vogue for July) because she's Mother."

Family is important to Moore. When she married Freundlich in their back garden in 2003, her engagement ring had the names of her two children written inside: "They came first so they should be in the ring." Her children also inspired a newfound second career as a children's book writer. Freckleface Strawberry is a little red-haired girl learning to be comfortable in her pale freckled skin, a colouring Moore inherited from her Scottish mother.

"When I was seven, these kids in the alley behind our house in Omaha called me Freckleface Strawberry. I hated my freckles and I hated that name. I thought it was humiliating in the way that only a seven-year-old could hate it.

"My son was seven when I wrote the book, and it seems to be the age when kids start to notice they're different; they start not liking themselves physically. The kids who respond to the book will say, 'My ears are very big. My dad has big ears too.' There are a lot of stories about kids overcoming obstacles – the ugly duckling grows up and becomes a swan. But I didn't change. I still have freckles and I still don't like them but it just doesn't matter as much. It's less a transformation than a process; there's more of you that stays the same."

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Anne Smith used to urge her daughter to be proud of her Celtic looks. "She used to tell us, remember, you are not an American," recalls Moore. "She didn't become a citizen of the US until she was older. She held on to her UK citizenship for a long time because she had always thought that she would eventually go back."

Although mother and daughter visited Scotland several times, Moore's mother, who died in April, never did return to Scotland for good, and her daughter has not always heeded her mother's advice. "She said, 'Why waste your brain?'" recalls Moore. "When I look back on it now, I think, 'If I had a 17-year-old daughter who I thought was going to go to an Ivy League school and she suddenly said, 'I want to be an actress,' I'd feel the same. We lived in Germany at the time, and my mother and I got on a plane to New York so I could audition for drama school. I told her, 'If I don't get in, I'm going to go to a regular college.' I got in and my parents were astonishingly supportive."

When she started acting, Moore didn't expect longevity. A move to New York City in 1983 yielded roles as good and evil cousins on an American soap called As The World Turns. "It's my most enduring work," she quips. "A woman once came up and asked if I was a soap actress. I said yes. And quite concerned, she then said: 'So – are you acting any more?'"

The Private Lives of Pippa Lee shows at the Edinburgh International Film Festival 18 June at 8.30pm, and 19 June, 7.30pm, and is on general release from 10 July, www.eiff.co.uk

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