Fast chat with ‘Savage Grace’ star Julianne Moore

[5 June 2008]

By Joe Amodio

Newsday (MCT)

NEW YORK - Julianne Moore is wearing little to no makeup and killer platform boots. And her laugh - she laughs a lot - is infectious. The whole casually sexy vibe is a far cry from Barbara Baekeland, the eccentric, socialite wife of a Bakelite plastics heir whose tragic life unfurls in Moore’s latest feature film, “Savage Grace.”

Moore plays Baekeland from the 1940s to the `70s, at times ballsy or bewildered, disconnected from her philandering husband (Stephen Dillane) and sinking her claws ever deeper into the nubile skin of her strange son (Eddie Redmayne). Later this summer comes “Blindness,” a film based on the Nobel-Prize-winning novel, in which she plays a more modest figure: the only sighted woman in a community stricken with a sudden, terrifying malady.

Moore has built a career making such formidable roles look effortless. She became the ninth person to receive two Academy Award nominations in the same year - best actress (“Far From Heaven”) and best supporting actress (“The Hours”).

She also earned Oscar nominations for “The End of the Affair” and “Boogie Nights” and critical acclaim for films like “Magnolia,” “Short Cuts,” and “The Myth of Fingerprints.” A “Myth” bonus - she fell for and married writer-director Bart Freundlich. The couple now lives in Manhattan with their two children, Caleb, 10, and Liv, 6.

Joseph V. Amodio sat down with Moore at Manhattan’s Regency Hotel to chat films, secret passions and the trick to enjoying Long Island beaches without burning one’s porcelain skin to a crisp.

Barbara Baekeland is larger-than-life. Did the role require a lot of prep?
I hate to say it, but I really don’t do a lot of research. (She laughs, then leans forward, covering her face with her hands.) If my character is some kind of mountain climber, then I’ll go out and take a look at the equipment. But I’m not one of those people who climbs a mountain for eight months to really absorb it. I’m just - I’m kind of - I’m just lazy. (She laughs again.)

Well, you’ve also got two kids ...
Even before I had kids ... That said, we did have the book (“Savage Grace,” by Natalie Robins and Steven M.L. Aronson). Barbara’s described as this monstrously narcissistic, boundary-less person. She has no awareness of where she ends and the world begins.

So is she the hero or the villain?
There are some who said she was the life of the party. Others said, “I couldn’t stand her.” She was probably a sociopath, but she was a person, so it’s my responsibility to make her ... human.

What’s this I hear about you and birds?
Oh, I like birds, yeah. I had a big African gray - parrot-sized. He’s living with my friend in California now. He was nutty and demanding, and I had a dog who loved chasing birds, so it wasn’t a good match. But I think they’re pretty.

I heard you’re also quite the decorator, and have done a few homes.
It sounds crazy to say you’re really interested in furniture, but I am. ... I like to create environments. But you have to really look around. That’s the tough part, particularly if you’re trying to save money. A lot of it is just looking and looking and looking. You have to be patient.

I’m reading “Blindness” now and heard you’re playing the doctor’s wife. That’s quite a role.
Yeah, it’s pretty harrowing. (My character’s) heroism takes her by surprise. She was never planning on being any kind of a leader.

You went blonde for the role.
That was my idea. I just didn’t picture her with red hair. We were about to start the movie, and Fernando Meirelles said, “So I theenk I want you to cut your hair ... and be a leetle fat.”

He said that?
Yeah. I wear a suit at the beginning - there wasn’t enough time for me to gain and lose weight. Probably would’ve gained it and never been able to take it off. He didn’t care about hair color, but to me, red just felt ... too strong. So I bleached it. I’ll never do that again. ... It’s not who I am.

With summer coming up, I imagine you’ll be spending time at your place on Long Island. But ... with your skin, isn’t the beach some sort of death wish?
I have what I call “my outfit” - long board shorts, a long-sleeved rash guard and a hat. Everyone else is in a bikini. It’s pretty unattractive, but it allows me to be in the water.

How did you end up choosing a place on the East End?
My husband grew up in the city and used to go out to Long Island with his family. We’ve been together now for, what - 12 years? It’s just always been meaningful for us. I was pregnant with my first child there, and we went out when the kids were little. Now they have lots of memories, too. ... I have a great sense of community here in the city, but I also have it on Long Island, too. It’s such a nice thing to have in your life, that kind of attachment to people and to a place. That’s a pretty fortunate position to be in.

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