ONE might think that after her Oscar-winning portrayal as an Alzheimer’s-afflicted academic in Still Alice that Julianne Moore might have had enough of fading away before our eyes on screen. Yet here she is in Freeheld playing terminally ill with lung cancer as the real-life decorated New Jersey detective Laurel Hester, fighting so that her earned pension benefits can go to her partner Stacie Andree (Ellen Page).
“I think it’s a coincidence,” Moore admits. “I was just so happy to get these two great roles.”
The age-defying 54-year-old is earthier here in hipster pants and with big hair and plays a woman working in an otherwise equal environment with male detectives who have no idea that she is gay — just that she gets the job done and is someone not to be messed with. It’s a fitting legacy that even as she neared death in 2006 and had tubes coming out of her nostrils to keep her alive, that Hester was in court holding her partner’s hand helping to pave the way for the rights of others.
“The movie is first and foremost a love story and I think that’s the most important thing in the world,” says Moore. “It’s the idea that you are going to find someone to share your life with and to have a home and a life together in a community. But then it becomes a movie about civil rights which is extremely important to me.”
A supporter of Barack Obama during his two election campaigns, the highly articulate Moore has always been a liberal thinker who has never been afraid to speak her mind on issues as wide-ranging as pro-choice issues, gay rights, and gun control.
Since 2008 she has been an ambassador for Save the Children. Even her empathetic bestselling Freckleface Strawberry children’s books, which began as a reaction to being heckled in her own childhood, allows her to offer tips to young ’uns.
“I always say I’m not Philip Roth,” Moore chuckles. “These are just little books for kids, the latest ones are for early readers and I try to make them about ideas that loom large in childhood. So I have a whole book about loosing a tooth and another about putting stuff in your backpack that you shouldn’t and having stuff get on your homework. Then there’s a book about a kid with a really loud voice,” at which point she lets out a hearty holler of her own.
Her 2013 standalone book, My Mom Is a Foreigner, But Not to Me, tackles inter-racialism by paying homage to mothers from other countries, including her own late Scottish mum and the German muttis she came across in Frankfurt. Above all, Moore says her social worker mum and her American military judge dad, fiercely independent types who paid for their own university tuition, instilled in her the confidence that made her such an indelible creative force. She attended nine different schools as her father was stationed around the US, and when she was 16 the family moved to Germany.
“I lived on an army base in Frankfurt when the city was seven per cent American,” she recalls. “So it wasn’t like I was an outsider. But we’d always travelled a lot and I was exposed to a lot of different ideas. I was the one being different, the new one in places.”
If she wasn’t already free-thinking in her ways by the time she studied at drama school, her views were certainly broadened then.
“In terms of my exposure to different sexualities there was a lot of fluidity,” she admits. “Most importantly I graduated from college in 1983 and moved to New York at the very beginning of the Aids epidemic. I was 22 and knew a guy and everybody said, ‘Jeffrey went to Mexico and he came back with the Mexican flu and he’s really, really sick.’ He died two weeks later. He had Aids, of course.
“People were dying so quickly and I became an activist inadvertently because we all were galvanised by this plague. You can’t help but be aware of discrimination of what’s happening to people who are marginalised and what it takes to turn around hearts and minds. So from the beginning of my life that’s just how it was.”
Of course, same-sex marriage became legal in the US last June, six months after Freeheld was filmed and almost a decade after Hester took her fight to court. Moore concedes so much has changed.
“Certainly you can see historically that Laurel dying and affecting a change in the Domestic Partnership Act in New Jersey [nine months after her death] paved the way for marriage equality in New Jersey and therefore in the rest of the United States. And all this happened in the space of ten years, which is extraordinary. So I feel like the movie is a celebration of how far we’ve come —and how fast.”
Passionate, enthusiastic and rarely self-indulgent, Moore is the kind of actor who is more likely to return to New York to her kids rather than whoop it up in Cannes or at some celebrity bash. Even so, it was impossible not to get caught up in the Oscar hype, especially when she won after missing out so many times, most notably for her portrayal as a bored 1950s housewife in Far From Heaven. It’s in fact refreshing to hear how excited she is to have won an Oscar when others say they don’t care.
“I know, I’ve heard people say, ‘Oh I just threw it away!’ I’m like ‘What? Why would you throw it away?’ It was such a great experience. Obviously it’s something that you think could never happen to you because even as a kid the Oscars have a huge cultural impact. I’m like, ‘Is this happening to me?’ It was wonderful and to have my husband there with me and he was so supportive,” she says of director Bart Freundlich, who she met on his 1996 movie The Myth of Fingerprints ( she appeared in his subsequent movies World Traveller and Trust the Man).
“He cried when he sat beside me and he cried at the Freeheld premiere too.”
Tall, dark and Jewish, Freundlich could not be more different in appearance to his wife, so that their kids, Caleb, 17, and Liv, 13, are distinctive: tall, pale-skinned and red-headed. They couldn’t care less that their parents work in showbusiness.
“Who wants to watch their mother work? Nobody!” Moore asserts. Except of course when it comes to The Hunger Games — Moore reprised her role as the despicable President Alma Coin in the second Mockingjay instalment.
“I wouldn’t have even known about The Hunger Games if my kids hadn’t read those books; they’re the ones who introduced me to it,” she explains. “It’s a great story about equality and asks how do you live and let everyone have a life and be free? The three young actors. Jennifer, Josh, and Liam set a wonderful tone on set and Woody [Harrelson] did as well.”
Again she asserts that her kids don’t care about their mother’s role. “They’re just like, ‘Can you take me to Katniss’s house?’”
Moore isn’t keen for her kids to watch her frequently R-rated movies in any case. Nor would they be interested in her latest New York romantic comedy, Maggie’s Plan, directed by her friend Rebecca Miller (Daniel Day-Lewis’s wife), which has the intriguing premise of Moore being married to Ethan Hawke, who dumps her for Greta Gerwig.
It’s one of those New York films Moore loves to do where she was working with friends and it marks her first movie with Hawke. “We had kids at the same school and my husband and Ethan are buddies,” she explains. “Ethan is very, very generous, a consummate actor and lovely to be around. It was a lot of fun.”
And of course her character survives all the drama, just for a change.