“I’m starving!” exclaims Julianne Moore after a late morning yoga session as she settles in at her favorite table in a West Village eatery, menu in hand. “I don’t even know why I’m looking. I know what I’m going to eat.” Egg white omelet, salad and a side of zucchini fries. “Have some; they’re so delicious!” she raves.
There’s a directness to her comportment that feels familiar to me, having seen her in one searing performance after another since her departure from soap operas (including a Daytime Emmy-winning role on As the World Turns) for big-screen glory. Now 54, Moore is so present on screen, so deeply embedded in the skin of her characters, that it should come as no surprise when, in real life, she is also fully present, her vibrant green eyes making direct contact throughout lunch as she considers each question. Some answers come hurtling out in a gut-level reaction; others unfurl slowly, thoughtfully. I ask the beautiful redhead about the Modern Luxury shoot, for which she was decked out in an array of holiday-ready dresses from the likes of Chanel and J. Mendel. “It was completely fantastical and fun—and probably as far away from my real life as I get,” she declares. Today, she’s the picture of understated New York chic in a dark gray top, black pants, black Marsell boots and a black braided leather Joseph Altuzarra bag. “Yeah, everything’s gray or black!” she says, and laughs.
Both an indie icon and a Hollywood leading lady, Moore always gives gripping, intensely human performances. No matter what the role, she enhances every movie, whether it’s an art-house masterpiece like Safe (1995) or Far From Heaven (2002)—for which she received her second Oscar nomination for best actress—or a Hollywood blockbuster like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997). In 2015, three decades into an exceptional career, she won her first Academy Award for best actress for Still Alice, playing a linguistics professor who slowly loses her mental faculties due to early-onset Alzheimer’s. “It’s absolutely delightful to think that that many people—my peers—had to go out of their way to check the box next to my name, to give me an award. That is really, really touching and meaningful,” she says. “They’re acknowledging your work, and that’s nice because I love my work. I really, really care about it.”
Never one to let such an honor go to her head, she promptly went right back to work on another indie film, Maggie’s Plan. “I literally started filming the day after I won the Academy Award,” she says. “The awards were on a Sunday; I flew home on a Monday; and I was on a set in Brooklyn on a Tuesday.” Although its U.S. release date has yet to be announced, when the movie recently debuted at the Toronto Film Festival, it earned raves for Moore’s performance as a heavily accented, highly eccentric Danish academic.
Hundreds of scripts are sent her way, but she instinctively knows which ones are right for her. “The great ones just kind of pop out; you just read it, and you’re desperate to do it,” she explains. “Like with Safe, for example, I had never heard of Todd [Haynes, the director] at the time. I thought, ‘This is great. This is gorgeous. How could this not be cast?’ Whenever I make an instant decision, I’m usually right. The same goes with Still Alice, and Freeheld—I just loved the story right away.”
A recent release, Freeheld is the true-life story of Ocean County, N.J., police officer Laurel Hester’s fight to leave her pension to her same-sex domestic partner after she is diagnosed with terminal cancer. The drama struck a chord with Moore, a longtime vocal supporter of gay rights. She remains incredulous over how long it took for marriage equality in the United States. “We build our lives around meeting someone, starting a life with them, then getting a house, getting a dog, maybe having children, living in a community—that relationship is the very, very center of our lives,” she reasons. “And to think people were denied that, are denied any of these basic rights—what a rip-off!”
This month, Moore can also be seen reprising her role as gray-haired, gray-eyed, power-hungry President Alma Coin, leader of the rebellion, in The Hunger Games finale, Mockingjay Part Two, out Nov. 20. “Because you see Coin from the view of Katniss, she’s not fully fleshed out in the books,” says Moore. “But I wanted to give her a kind of an arc. I don’t want to give it away, but there’s a sense of evolution with Coin that leads potentially to a sense of disillusionment. I wanted her to evolve from someone who was revolutionary to someone who has inserted herself in a power structure.” Ultimately, she adds, the young adult book series and film franchise asks an important question: “How do you find your own moral compass in a world that says you must do this; you should do that?”
Born Julie Anne Smith in Fort Bragg, N.C., Moore’s own moral compass evolved while she was growing up, a military brat, in various cities across the country and in Germany. After graduating from Boston University in 1983, she moved to New York City to begin her career in acting. In the spring of 1996, she met and fell in love with director Bart Freundlich while working on his film The Myth of Fingerprints. They wed in 2003 and now have two children—son Caleb, 17, and daughter Liv, 13.
Two decades into the relationship, her love and appreciation of Freundlich continues to deepen. “Who somebody is, how they look at the world, the support that they offer you, is invaluable,” she confides. “Bart made me a mixtape when we first met, and I played it so much that I wore it out. I just loved him so much that I just had to play that mixtape over and over, literally, until it wore out.” Still, as in every relationship, there are compromises. “My husband is the one who loves the ocean. If it were up to me, I’d probably be in the mountains,” she says. This is surprising, considering they’ve had a home in Montauk, a beach town at the eastern end of Long Island, for many years. “I love him a lot!” she says with a laugh.
After all these years, Moore has deep roots in the city. “I love the sense of community that you have in New York. We know people in our neighborhood, the people at our kids’ school, and at various stores. I come here to this restaurant all of the time. I mean, my husband and I often have an argument like: ‘This is my table!’ ‘No, this is my table,’” she says. “He comes here with his guy friends, and they have breakfast; and I come here for lunch.”
While promoting her current movies, she is beyond thrilled to be able to spend time at home during the holidays. “We always have a big Thanksgiving at our house, which has ranged from 25 to 40 people, and it’s absolutely our favorite. We cook; we roast a turkey and we fry one. We have a turkey fryer that we keep in our basement and drag out once a year. We have all our family and friends, and it’s a pretty big event,” she confides. Christmas is a quieter family affair: “It’s usually just us, and we try to take a trip somewhere warm.”
At the top of her holiday wish list this year? “Gun safety!” It’s exactly the kind of response one might expect from Moore. “I can’t bear it anymore. I don’t want my children, or anybody’s children, to be in danger when they go to a movie theater or to school. I want to close the loopholes that are allowing dangerous individuals to purchase guns,” she continues. Another cause dear to her heart is the Children’s Health Fund, for which she is a tireless fundraiser. “They have mobile health care units that bring health care right to the communities that need it most.”
Her film work has only strengthened her resolve to help others. “What you gain, hopefully, as an actor all the time is a sense of empathy. You’re trying to put yourself in someone’s shoes and really see what it feels like,” she says. “I don’t know what it feels like to be closeted. I don’t know what it feels like to have cancer, luckily, or Alzheimer’s. So I have to approximate it. And the only way I approximate it is by learning about it and asking about it. On every job, you’re trying to hone your sense of empathy.”
Off-screen, she’s living a rich, full life. Weekdays, she’s up at 6:30AM to make coffee and feed the dogs before preparing breakfast for the kids and seeing them off to school. Then she makes it a point to take time out for herself with a regular morning yoga practice. “All those years of running and working out in gyms, I just don’t like any of it anymore like I like yoga,” she says. “The mind-body thing is really important for me. It’s the one thing that really grounds me.”
Right now, she’s savoring the last year of having her son, a high school senior, at home. “We’re going to his last basketball tournament as a senior over the holiday. It’s a year of lasts! It’s really challenging,” she admits. “You don’t think that far ahead; you don’t think that you’re going to have a senior in high school! So, it feels like a pretty emotional year, actually.” What will it feel like when he leaves? “Oh, don’t!” she pleads. “He can’t, ugh,” she says, moaning for effect.
Still, Moore is not complaining. “I feel good right now,” she says. “I’ve had an amazing year in terms of work. I feel pretty lucky.”