In her latest role, the Oscar-winning actress plays a woman who befriends her ex-husband’s new wife. Here, the twice-married actress talks candidly to Martyn Palmer about complicated modern relationships and busting taboos
Julianne Moore is suffering from a nasty bout of flu, picked up on a whistle-stop tour of Europe.
It has been red carpets, interviews and posh frocks, which all sounds very glamorous, but it has been exhausting, too. Julianne might look pale, but then she always does, and apart from her slightly scratchy voice, you’d never guess that she was under the weather.
One of the most accomplished actresses around, Julianne, 55, won an Oscar last year for her moving portrayal of a professor with early-onset Alzheimer’s in Still Alice, having previously received other Academy Award nods for Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours.
Other A-listers may well have cancelled their appointments if they were feeling in the least bit sniffly, but Julianne is a no-nonsense trouper (perhaps because of her Scottish roots, of which more later). Complaining isn’t her style.
‘Really, I’ll be fine,’ she says, sipping hot water with honey and lemon, when we meet in her Berlin hotel. ‘I’m flying home tomorrow to my family. Let’s do it.’
Families, in all their ever-changing, complex permutations, are very much on the actress’s mind. Julianne’s latest project is a romcom titled Maggie’s Plan, in which she plays a high-flying academic called Georgette whose marriage is falling apart.
The Maggie of the title is a single 30-something woman, played by Greta Gerwig, who, desperate to have a child, chooses an old college acquaintance (excellent father material) to be her sperm donor.
But then she falls in love with John (Ethan Hawke), an aspiring author who lectures at the college where she works as a careers adviser, and follows her heart.
John, however, is married – to Julianne’s character Georgette. He leaves his wife and their two children, and sets up home with Maggie. The twist is that, over time, Maggie and Georgette find that they are more similar than they expect.
At first, Georgette seems frosty and work-obsessed but as the story unfolds, Georgette warms to Maggie, and the two women discover they actually like each other.
Thrown together because of shared parenting duties, they become one big, messily extended family who have to rub along for the sake of the children.
It is a fact of life that, generally speaking, first and second wives rarely have much common ground.
The presence of the first wife may cast a long shadow over the second, and the second wife may be a constant source of irritation to the first, particularly if she is younger.
Indeed, apart from marrying the same man, the two women often share very little; they may barely be able to tolerate each other.
But Julianne isn’t one to blindly accept stereotypical beliefs.
‘I’ve had women tell me, “You know what? I love his new wife, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the kids love her, and if they’re OK with her, then so am I,”’ she says.
‘Whatever their differences, people usually have a common goal, and that is to make their children happy and ensure they are well cared for.’
Julianne says the situation in the film intrigued her.
‘I like that Maggie had this idea of Georgette based on what people had told her, not what she had seen.
‘And Georgette, when she finally meets Maggie, says, “Thank you, you’ve been really great to my kids. Let’s figure out a way of communicating about this.” I see that a lot in modern families.’
Julianne has been married twice. She met her first husband, the actor John Gould Rubin, in 1984 and they wed two years later. The couple divorced in 1995. She rarely talks about why they split, but has said that work dominated her 20s and early 30s.
‘I don’t think I felt happy,’ she said of that time in her life.
‘I didn’t have the kind of personal life I wanted. I’d spent my 20s trying to get wherever there was, which wasn’t really anywhere. It was just a job, and I really wanted a family.’
After studying theatre at Boston University in the early 1980s, Julianne moved to New York.
She was a regular in the soap As the World Turns for nearly three years, winning a Daytime Emmy for her performance, before breaking into the world of film as a scientist in Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster The Lost World: Jurassic Park and an artist in the Coen brothers’ cult comedy The Big Lebowski. By the 1990s, she was one of the most in-demand actresses in Hollywood.
Julianne met her second husband, director Bart Freundlich, on the set of The Myth of Fingerprints in 1996, when she was 35.
Their son Caleb, now 18, was born two years later, followed by their daughter Liv, 14, in 2002, a year before Julianne and Bart married.
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