Julianne Moore talks extreme violence, marital harmony ... and bananas, with Celia Walden.
Julianne Moore turns out to be the kind of woman who shows you pictures of her husband and children on her iPhone. She's the kind of woman who refills your water glass, turns questions back at you and insists on seeing what is in the shopping bag at your feet. She's immediately girlishly intimate, unaffected and, unlike most Hollywood actresses, seems to relish the meandering turns an interview can take. One of these turns has led her to showing me her husband's grinning head superimposed on a banana on Snapchat ("He sent it to me this morning," she says. "And it's still making me laugh so hard.") She explains what I've already guessed is a marital in-joke. "Every morning it makes me crazy that he slices a banana in half and then leaves the other half of the banana out. For what? For someone else to eat? Oh, it drives me crazy!" But she's telling the anecdote to illustrate her point on marriage and what makes a successful one. "It's definitely humour, isn't it?" she flings back when I ask what has kept her and the writer-director Bart Freundlich together for 21 years. "Because at a certain point you've just got to laugh." And she does.
We're in a hotel room in Cannes and halfway through a photo shoot in which Moore is wearing a scary quantity of Chopard diamonds - which is why there's a bodyguard the size of an obelisk seated directly behind her (there for the diamonds, not Moore), and why room service has just delivered a club sandwich. Traffic noise drifts through the open window, and the occasional shriek of a gendarme's whistle perforates our chat, but none of this is straining the dynamic. With one pale and lightly freckled leg slung over the side of her velvet armchair, 56-year-old Moore has the unflappable allure of a French film star. And when I tell her she was once described as "the closest thing to a French actress the English language has", she claps her hands together. "Wow! I'll take that. That's awesome."
It's also true - and probably down to the childhood the North Carolina-born actress spent in Europe. The daughter of a counselling psychologist and a military judge, Moore lived in 23 different places around the world as she grew up, discovering Germany at 16, "and from there a whole new world: the UK, France, Italy". She observes, "Back then each European country had a very defined culture, so you could really notice the differences in behaviour and culture."
Moore spent her teenage years watching films by Sam Peckinpah, Robert Altman - who would later cast her in Short Cuts - Truffaut and Godard. "There was this one Godard film," she tells me, "and all I remember is that Nathalie Baye gets out of bed, puts on her clothes and walks straight out of the door. She doesn't even wash her face or brush her teeth - and she was so, so beautiful!" Moore pauses. "I've never in my life not had a shower and mornings are somehow always so angst-filled ... Anyway, I remember thinking, 'I wish I were that woman'."
I know from the banana story that Moore is not that woman. One quote recurs in her interviews, and it's Flaubert's, not hers: "Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." I can see why it's a favourite: whatever the genre, there is a violence to Moore's performances that define her as an actress. An easy and overused illustration is the scene in Altman's 1993 film Short Cuts, where she delivers a monologue to her screen husband, Matthew Modine, while naked from the waist down. But even when she's playing repressed housewives in Todd Haynes's 1995 drama Safe (an affluent woman seemingly poisoned by her environment) and his subsequent Far From Heaven (in which Moore has to deal with the closeted homosexuality of her husband in 1950s Connecticut and embarks on a scandalous affair of her own with their black gardener), you're always waiting for her to unravel. Because no one unravels quite like Moore.
In order to have this quality on screen, she needs a measured and orderly home life. Moore has a love of place mats and napkins and has described herself as "obsessive compulsive" in the past. Back in her early 30s, when she was doing Uncle Vanya in an abandoned Broadway theatre (an experimental affair that later became the film Vanya On 42nd Street), she developed a morning breakfast routine that could not be deviated from. "And that was a kind of superstition," she admits now. "I still find it really comforting to have a routine, because what I do is such erratic and emotional work, so knowing that the real stuff - getting up at the same time, doing yoga every day and eating the things that I like - stays the same helps give me a little structure. And I like structure. I like to feel steady. I want to feel steadier the older I get." And does she? Moore contemplates this. 'I think so ... I'm certainly feeling that I'm controlling my life now, rather than allowing it to control me.'
She tells me about an American self-help writer, Perri Klass, who wrote about the particular fulfilment women tend to find in their 50s. "And I would have found it a surprisingly satisfying period, had my mother not passed away." A brief internal wrangle plays out across her features as she struggles to contain a grief she clearly still feels, eight years after losing her adored Scottish-born mother to septic shock. "But ... but ... otherwise I would say that I'm through the most challenging part, where your kids are little and you feel almost dizzy with emotion and tiredness. And as they get more independent, life does get easier and steadier."
By Flaubert's logic, this increased steadiness would mean more on-screen "violence". And it has, if her latest offering, Kingsman: The Golden Circle, is anything to go by. In the sequel to Matthew Vaughn's 2014 British spy film, Moore plays a red-plaid-wearing villain named Poppy with a fondness for 1950s nostalgia and the sadistic slaughtering of "disappointing" employees. By stylising the action sequences and injecting the plot with a heavy dose of black humour, Vaughn gets away with some pretty extreme violence, and it's precisely that "cartoon-like" aspect that Moore enjoyed.
"Because the tone is between action and comedy - and in all the most successful action dramas there is usually a central character who offers you a little wit, so that's what Matthew does with all of his characters. He gives you the genre and he plays with the genre at the same time." When Moore first read the Kingsman script she was reminded of the original Superman, in which Gene Hackman was the villain. "I was so young when I saw it but that was my template: the comedy doesn't prevent it from being shocking - but you're still laughing away.'
So chillingly perfect is Moore as a dulcet-toned she-devil, and so seductive is she in her red plaid, that one feels the part must have been written for her - just as one felt when watching her in David Cronenberg's Maps To The Stars (where Moore plays a needy, fading actress, a performance that won her Best Actress at Cannes in 2014), and Richard Glatzer and Wash Westmoreland's Still Alice (she won an Oscar in 2015 for her portrayal of a woman diagnosed with Alzheimer's). Certainly, Todd Haynes will have had no one but Moore in mind for the role of a 1920s silent movie star in his much-anticipated forthcoming mystical drama, Wonderstruck. In fact, since turning 40, Moore has played some of the richest roles of her career. "I've been very fortunate,"she says - almost apologetic. "But also I do hate to keep beating that 'there's nothing for women out there' drum, because I feel like the more you say it the more you make it true." The business is hard for men over a certain age too, she points out, and like any business, it can't function on an ideological basis. "So I always try to remind myself that we're creating a product that goes out in the world to be sold."
One subject Moore is happy to beat the drum for is equal pay. "I think what Jennifer Lawrence is doing is very, very impressive. Because if a young woman with her degree of box-office success can say, 'Okay, I am the value in this film and I need to be paid equally,' then it might make things change. We're 50 per cent of the population and it's ridiculous that we're not paid the same in every industry."
She will also admit to niggles of annoyance over some contemporary terminologies. The word "still" could be expunged from every "still fabulous" headline about a woman over 30, for example. "It's really saying, 'Wow, look at her - she's hanging on!', isn't it? And I hate it when they say 'playing an ageing ...', and you think, 'Well, we're all ageing, every minute of every day: that's what being a human being entails, so why make it pejorative?'" When she started out, did she feel that her looks were a help or a hindrance? Moore does a little disbelieving laugh into her curved palm. "Honestly, I think people are considered more attractive than they are when they're successful. So maybe I'm viewed differently now but back then I had an agent who would tell me before I went in to auditions that I should 'try to look pretty'. Apparently the feedback kept coming in: 'Could she be prettier?' And I remember thinking, 'Oh dear, I'm not sure I have much control over that.'" And yet around that time Moore won the part of Elena in Uncle Vanya - who wasn't simply beautiful but the most beautiful woman Vanya had ever laid eyes on. "And again I kept saying, 'I just don't feel that I can do that. I don't feel I am that.' And my agent said, 'You don't have to be the most beautiful girl in the world. You just have to be the most beautiful girl in that room.'"
Thanks to social media, every room is now infinitely large, and the comparisons much starker. As a mother to a 15-year-old girl, Liv (her son Caleb is 19), Moore admits this a concern. "I think a lot about how aware girls are of their own image now - and all that comparing of yourself to other people. Our pool was smaller because you were just doing those comparisons in your own school or community, but now girls are looking at all these models and that's the difference. It's a lot of pressure."
Like her own parents, who only allowed their daughter to study acting once she had a degree, "so that then I could still go to graduate school if I needed to", Moore has kept her children focused and grounded by emphasising the importance of academia. "I grew up with a mother who finished college when I was in eighth grade," she explains. "Her parents hadn't even been to school and there was no expectation of her going to college because she was a woman, so she trained as a nurse, had three kids and then got her degrees piece by piece. She was always reminding me how hard things used to be for women and how birth control wasn't even legal in the States until 1965 - which means I'm aware that the benefits I had were hard won, and I never take anything for granted."
Rather than getting into any discussion on the changing face of feminism, however, Moore is anxious to bring things back to the general concept of equality. "Because just as not every movie is for every person, there is no reason why everything has to be unified. Allowances have to be made for everybody, male or female, because we're all different."
This means, she maintains, that people shouldn't be told how to behave, especially within marriage and partnerships. "If you want to pick up your husband's socks as a woman, you do it. After all, marriage is a partnership and it's great to be interdependent with somebody and to do things for one another."
Suddenly remembering the banana photo and throwing her phone an amused glance, she says, "Because that's when you really thrive."
Kingsman: The Golden Circle is released on September 21.