According to best friend Ellen Barkin, Julianne Moore is "the Meryl Streep of her generation". Who can doubt her, given Moore's indelible, strong performances?
Yet although the 54-year-old New Yorker received a run of Oscar and Golden Globe nominations in the late 90s and early noughties for Boogie Nights, The End of the Affair, Far From Heaven and The Hours, she has only one Globe win to her name - for her portrayal as Sarah Palin in TV's Game Change (2012).
But things are looking up. Moore won last year's Cannes best actress award for Maps to the Stars and is now an Oscar frontrunner for best actress for her astounding performance as an academic/psychologist with early-onset Alzheimer's in Still Alice. On Monday (NZ time) she's up for Golden Globes for Maps and Alice.
When her lack of a seemingly long-deserved Oscar is mentioned, unlike other actors who feign bashfulness, Moore embraces the idea wholeheartedly.
"Tell everybody! It's terrible! I remember working with Nathan Lane, we were doing a little movie together and he is so funny. I forget why it happened but I said, 'Oh Nathan, I realise why I do this. I crave praise!" she admits.
Still Alice is based on the 2007 novel by Lisa Genova, a neuroscientist whose emotional story was a reaction against the clinical writings she encountered when researching her grandmother's Alzheimer's. The film was written and directed by Wash Westmoreland and Richard Glatzer, who suffers from neurodegenerative Lou Gehrig's Disease. The directing couple were attracted to the insider's point of view Genova's book provided. Glatzer directed scenes using a text-to-speech programme.
Julianne Moore appears in a scene from the film, "Still Alice." Photo / AP
The considerable heft of Alzheimer's advocate Maria Shriver, as well as Trudi Styler and Christine Vachon's Killer Films (the company behind Far From Heaven) helped push the movie into production. The casting of Moore, who lost her own mother at 68 - "Losing her has been tremendously difficult" - was also integral to the financing.
Moore plays Dr Alice Howland, a psychologist and academic who gradually loses all her abilities while her husband Dr John Howland (Alec Baldwin) and daughters Anna (Kate Boswell) and Lydia (Kristen Stewart) offer her support.
Moore throws herself into the role which, like the book, offers us a rare glimpse from the sufferer's point of view.
"I felt like I had an obligation to the people who have experienced early onset Alzheimer's to personally get it right," Moore says. "I met a lot of people living with the disease and they were trying to explain it but they had limited language so it was absolutely fascinating and incredibly emotional."
Why did she want to do the film?
"It's so touching and it's about who we are essentially. Where is the human being? You don't go away, you are there and you recognise people and you're feeling things. In a way it's an expression of our mortality, too, which is something we like to dance around."
Moore is so full of life it's hard to reconcile the vibrant even-keeled woman with some of the dark and troubled characters she plays.
Certainly the actress, who will be long remember for her half-naked scene in Robert Altman's 1993's Short Cuts, remains fearless.
"I was in the hands of a really brilliant director, one of the great auteurs of our time, who I was fortunate enough to have crossed paths with," recalls Moore about the movie, one of her first with some of modern cinema's edgiest directors, including Paul Thomas Anderson, the Coen Brothers, Todd Haynes, Alfonso Cuaron and David Cronenberg, who directed her in Maps to the Stars. "If what you're doing is human and you are telling a story that's not going to be exploitative, then I'm not afraid."
She says she has different fears. "I am very afraid of going really fast in a car or even a bike and I don't like to go downhill really quickly. I feel out of control. I don't like skiing and I am scared of the ocean. If it gets really dark suddenly and I can't see, I'm like, 'I can't see!'" she bellows.
"But in an imaginary world, in a story where there is an emotional narrative and I have somebody at the reins telling the story, I am not afraid. You can't get hurt by feeling something."
She says her family helps keep her life together. After a failed first marriage to actor and stage director John Gould Rubin, -"I got married too early and I really didn't want to be there" - Moore met director Bart Freundlich on The Myth of Fingerprints in 1996 and they have been together ever since. They've been married for 11 years and it's probably no coincidence that her career took off around the time they met. Handsome, tall and Jewish, the 44-year-old is opposite in colouring and size to Moore, so their kids, Caleb, 17, and Liv, 12, are an unusual mix of their parents' looks.
"What's amazing is that they look so much like him and so much like me," she says. "I think the weird thing about genetics is that it's like seeing somebody shoved through the sieve of another person. I've really experienced that with our children because they are both so tall and long limbed like him and they're both so fair-skinned and with different shades of red hair like me. I am like, 'Wow, how does that happen?'"
Moore's red hair may be an asset now but growing up was not easy. She has channelled some of the early experiences into her successful series of Freckleface Strawberry children's books.
She is known to younger audiences as President Alma Coin in Hunger Games. Photo / AP
Moore likes to mix it up with studio movies like Liam Neeson thriller Non-Stop and Carrie. And joining the The Hunger Games franchise for the final two films Mockingjay Parts 1 and 2 means she's also in blockbuster land, having last been there for Steven Spielberg's original Jurassic Park in 1997.
In the Hunger Games, Moore plays the enigmatic President Alma Coin, the leader of the militant District 13. "It's really devastating because the third book is all about the revolution," Moore says. "Francis Lawrence is a wonderful director and really has such an eye for the huge scope of things as well as the minutiae of relationships. It's also nice to be in something that my kids want to see."
Who: Julianne Moore
What: Still Alice, opens on January 22
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